*Warning: this article may be disturbing to some viewers. Please continue with caution.*
Dark Tourism is a term that describes the act of visiting places that are associated with the macabre. It has become a world-wide trend through the popularity of the Netflix show Dark Tourist, although its roots date further back than the show’s premier in 2018. Dark Tourism is a global travel phenomenon that is perceived as exotic, adventurous, disturbing, dangerous, and surprisingly educational.
Dark Tourism Examples
There are thousands of sites all over the world that could be considered locations for Dark Tourism and reach all corners of the globe. But there are a few places in particular which are widely regarded to be the “hottest spots” for Dark Tourism. People travel thousands of miles to these locations, which, ironically, can significantly help a countries travel industry and economy. Although many locals don’t appreciate the negative connotation to their hometown.
As some of you may have guessed, one of these places is the Nazi concentration camp in Poland, Auschwitz. More than 1 million people died here during its operation between 1940 to 1945. It is a structural reminder of some of the most horrific times in history.
Other dark tourism locations include Chernobyl, Ukraine; Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan; the Killing Fields in Cambodia; and the Kumsusan Memorial Palace of the Sun in North Korea. The majority of the sites are places of genocide, prisons, natural and man-made disastors, war zones, and tombs.
My favorite place to find out about Dark Tourism locations (as well as fun, unique, and quirky places and experiences) is Atlas Obscura. It’s a great website to sift through to get a preview of some of the world’s hidden wonders. In fact, that’s where I found the creepy German museum, Designpanoptikum. Give it a look if you can.
Why Is Dark Tourism So Popular Today?
Dark Tourism attracts a wide variety of people of all backgrounds and ages. So-called thrill seekers and adrenaline junkies alike certainly find a lot of entertainment in this. I believe that this is what attracts the majority of recent Dark Tourists, along with the obvious need for people to feel “in the loop.”
People interested in and passionate about history have long taken a liking to this unique form of travel. They claim that it allows them to have a deeper understanding of the tragedies of history and refuse the notion of turning a blind eye to certain events. Additionally, it’s the desire to see these places with your own eyes, much as you would with other travel destinations.
We may have grown up hearing about these places and seeing them on TV or social media. However, it’s extremely difficult to convey the feeling and emotions that one experiences when visiting places of devastation, tragedy, and death. This is why I, personally, have partaken in Dark Tourism, along with the historical aspect. Among the places that I have visited are the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria, the Berlin Wall, every location of the Jack the Ripper murders in London, the 9/11 Memorial, the beer hall in Munich where the Nazi party was formed, and the Paris catacombs.
Negative Impacts Of Dark Tourism
One of the conflicts that are found within Dark Tourism is the fact that, at times, it can be offensive for some people, especially those that were directly affected by it. For example, I went to Japan for two weeks in November and have heard a lot about Aokigahara Forest at the base of Mount Fuji, which is more commonly referred to as “Suicide Forest.” This is because it is the second most popular destination in the world for suicide, following the Golden Gate Bridge.
When I told my friend, who was born and raised in Tokyo, that I wanted to visit the forest, she told me that it wasn’t the best idea. It’s a really sensitive subject in Japan and there is a lot of resentment around tourists who go and “gawk” at a place heavily associated with shame and devastation.
The act of gawking or ogling at sites of devastation and the misery of others is what many people find offensive. Some people also consider this travel trend to be a form of unethical voyeurism, as well as being exploitative and insensitive. Quite frankly, I feel the same way when I see people smiling at the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin or giving thumbs up in their photos of Chernobyl devastation sites.
It should also be said that there can be significant health and safety risks associated with Dark Tourism, especially in places where one could be exposed to radiation or harmful bacteria.
Besides the obvious motivations of these behaviors, I believe that by practicing respect and honesty during these travels can make Dark Tourism less taboo. It doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
It can be a great way for people to have a more realistic understanding of history and that will always have positive impacts on both individuals and society as a whole. Maybe it is best that we see it, remember it. These places demand our attention, lest they be forgotten.
I, for one, am completely in favor of Dark Tourism, as long as it is done respectively. I’ll leave you with this quote, which sums up my beliefs.
“Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” – George Santayana, philosopher.