5 dark tourism locations


In the Netflix show Dark Tourist, the viewer is exposed to unusual sites, rituals and ceremonies that occur worldwide. Dark tourism is actually a genre of tourism that has been growing in the last few years. Why do tourists flock to these macabre sites? It could be that the historical significance and the story of the site is extremely intriguing to the visitor. Those in academia may be interested in these sites for an understanding of a specific event such as Holocaust studies and war history.

The following five dark tourism sites are located on three continents where mass death has occurred. In Europe we explore Dachau Concentration Camp and the ancient city of Pompeii. In North America we visit the very poignant 9/11 memorial and Pearl Harbor. In Asia, the site is the famous bridge in Kanchanaburi, Thailand that was built over the River Kwai.

Dachau Concentration Camp

This concentration camp located on the outskirts of Munich, Germany where over 40,000 prisoners have died. At first the camp was opened to hold political prisoners then functioned as a forced labor camp. It was a place where cruel medical experiments were conducted on many of the inmates. The camp also had gas chambers and a crematorium to dispose of its prisoners. A solemn feeling washes over you as soon as you set foot in the camp. Many visitors to the site were brought to tears as they explored the grounds. Dachau Concentration Camp is an important site for remembering victims of the Holocaust and World War II history. We should never forget this atrocity so it will not be repeated.

Pompeii

Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD and the residents of Pompeii were helpless. Up until that point, they had lived a life of decadence. When you walk through Pompeii and see the homes, shops and even the infamous brothels in the city, a visitor gets a sense of what life was like at this time. Tour guides can provide visitors with a rough timeline of events during the eruption. In some areas in the ancient city, visitors can view plaster casts of some of the residents and you can see from their facial expressions that the last few moments of their lives were filled with fear and pain. Unlike the other sites in this blog, the mass death of Pompeii was a natural, not man-made occurrence. Today, this ancient city is visited by over two million tourists a year.

9/11 Memorial

September 11, 2001 was a horrible day that most Americans will never forget. Most people will be able to tell you exactly where they were on that day when America changed forever. This outdoor memorial located at ground zero has two wading pools where the towers formerly stood. The names of all that died in the terror attacks of 1993 and 2001 have been engraved along the outer rim of the pools. Adjacent to the property is the museum which contains over 14,000 artifacts from that day such as images, video and oral recordings, a damaged fire truck and steel from the original towers. A callery pear tree that was recovered from the rubble a month after the attacks has been named the Survivor Tree. After some intense care the tree has survived and now again sits on this site.

Pearl Harbor

A visit to the Arizona Memorial on the Hawaiian island of Oahu is a sobering experience. The surprise air attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor occurred in the early morning of December 7, 1941. It was a day that President Roosevelt said will go down in infamy. Pearl Harbor and the Arizona Memorial are visited by more than one million people each year. This site is special due to its role in triggering the beginning of the United States’ involvement in World War II. The USS Arizona is a permanent underwater burial for the 2,400 servicemen that perished that day. Visitors are expected to keep quiet while visiting the memorial to show respect to the dead.

The River Kwai Bridge

In Kanchanaburi, Thailand is the River Kwai Bridge, best known from the novel and the 1957 movie starring William Holden and Alec Guinness. During WWII POWs were forced by the Imperial Japanese Army to build the ‘Death Railway’. During the harsh conditions an estimated 13,000 British, American and Dutch POWs and as many as 100,000 civilians died during the construction. Adjacent to the bridge and railway is the JEATH museum. This museum contains many artifacts from the war and the construction of the bridge. Many of the POWs are buried in the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery or Donrak War Cemetery as it is called locally.

How is it that mass death and tragedies have become tourist attractions? Today’s seasoned traveler may want a little bit more than just your typical tourist experience like a ride to the top of the Eiffel Tower or a visit to Times Square. Just as some of us love horror movies, we love exploring some places on the planet with a dark history.

While all these places have historical significance, the idea of taking a selfie at any of these locations seems disrespectful to those that had died there. It is important to remember our history, both the good and the bad. When we reflect on past tragedies, it can help us appreciate all the good in the world and empower all to celebrate life.


Comments (10)

  1. Jane says:

    Generally, many of us believe that we ought to remember the dark side of humanity. Personally, I feel that people should visit Cambodia’s “Killing Fields”.

    I’m a teacher and on our school history trips to Berlin we visit the concentration camp just outside the city and also the house where the evil “Final Solution” plan was devised. Seeing what mankind has done in the past is essential for ensuring that it doesn’t happen again.

    • Suresh Allu says:

      Such an amazing experience your writing was extraordinary felt like have to visit these wonderful places in life time to know more.
      Good read 😍 😍

  2. Rob says:

    My visit to the 9 / 11 memorial was even more poignant than most. I didn’t know that you had to buy tickets online in advance. The guy behind us worked out what was going on and gave us two tickets saying, “My friends were gonna come but they just couldn’t face it.”

    Once we got into the site we realised that it wasn’t a normal Sunday. It was First Responders’ Day. It was a day for those people who had been there on 9 / 11 to grieve for those who had lost their lives.

    Their tears made it all the more traumatic and we felt that we were frauds as we shouldn’t really have been there at all.

    • Nicole Bergstrom says:

      Rob,

      That is an interesting story. In a similar vein, by pure coincidence the day I visited Pearl Harbor was Veteran’s Day so the visit became very poignant as we were honoring those that served our country.

  3. Dave says:

    There are as many reasons for travelling as there are people on the planet. Luckily we all want different things from travelling. If not the world’s beaches would be even more packed or the queue for Anne Frank’s house would stretch for dozens of miles.

  4. Effie Squires says:

    The article title immediate made me think of the Netflix series. Before. I didn’t know that there is such a thing as dark tourism. Or people who wanted to specifically visit places like those in the series. I know most of these places are of historic significance not only to their countries but for the world. I could understand having to visit as “dark” destination as part of your visit to that country. But to specifically seek them out or tick them out of a checklist is kind of unusual. And may I say, a bit depressing. Just imagine visiting and knowing all the horror stories of the concentration camps. Or the instantaneous deaths of the people of Pompeii. And I do love paranormal tv shows, and would probably try to visit a haunted forest or house.

    • Nicole Bergstrom says:

      Effie,

      I do have a taste for visiting tourist sites that have historical significance and many of them are dark tourism sites.

  5. GIORGOS Sl says:

    I think this kind of tourism is not for the everyday traveller. You have to be prepared for the things you are about to see in these places.

    • Nicole Bergstrom says:

      Giorgos,

      I was on my first tour of Europe 20 years ago. When we were in Germany, we had a ‘surprise’ excursion that was not on the tour itinerary and that was the visit to Dachau. So we were not prepared for that visit as we did not know it was a possibility. On my website I have an article about my visit to the camp.

  6. Jen Scott says:

    I’d like to check out that Netflix show, that’s the kind of thing that interests me too. I think many of us can be subconsciously drawn to the dark and macabre. I always used to find bizarre or dark things intriguing when I was a kid, but then again I was raised on the FBI files and horror films so maybe that explains it. These sites though, I’m not too sure. I find war-related things very different to, say, houses that are supposedly haunted after a murder happened there, or a site where a cult used to exist. There’s something very moving and very, very real about Pearl Harbour or the concentration camp. For me, that would be less about dark and macabre, and more about paying my respects and never forgetting the lives lost in history. Excellent post, Nicole.

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