dark tourism

What Is Dark Tourism? Here’s What You Need To Know

If you’ve seen the Netflix show by David Farrier titled Dark Tourist, then you know the general meaning of Dark Tourism. “Popular” dark tourism attractions include Auschwitz, Chernobyl and Ground Zero.

Dark refers to “a dark chapter of history”,  these dark aspects of history and humanity have shaped the current climate we are living in. This growing interest in a dark past has been on the rise and has fed into tourism. However, it’s not to say that this topic hasn’t caused much debate surrounding the ethics of it.

Dark Tourism: What You Need to Know

What is Dark Tourism?

Dark Tourism is any sort of travel to a site or destination associated with death, disaster, and atrocity. Recently, this trend has caught the attention of both the academic world and that of the wider public.

The term was first coined in 1966 by two professors at the Glasgow Caledonian University, years later in 2000, they released an academic paper called Dark Tourism: The attraction of Death and Disaster. This paper obviously gained a lot of attention and caused a lot of academic and ethical debates. 20 years later it’s clear to see that this trend of travel has really gained some traction.

Why are People Visiting?

For many dark tourists, it allows them to reflect on the human condition and past experiences. These experiences may or may not relate to them but they end up putting a microscope to their own lives which puts everything into perspective.

One of David Farrier’s conclusions after finishing the show Dark Tourist was that when returned home, he felt grateful and happy after visiting those places, he relived experiences that he never normally would have. Paradoxically, it seems that people feel better than expected after reliving other people’s misfortunes.

Are You a Dark Tourist?

Have you ever visited or thought about visiting a war museum, a memorial, or a concentration camp? If so, then you might fall under the category of a Dark Tourist.

Close to a million people visit the Berlin Wall annually: it’s the top destination when visiting the city of Berlin but for many people, they don’t recognise the atrocities associated with it. And in the case of the 9/11 Memorial, with an astonishing 5 million visitors a year, it could be said that this is the most visited dark site in the world.

That being said, not all dark tourist sites are as popular and many are unknown and off the beaten track.

Top Destinations for Dark Tourists:

  1. Chernobyl, Ukraine
  2. Choeung Ek killing fields, Cambodia
  3. Hiroshima & Nagasaki, Japan
  4. National 9/11 Memorial & Museum, “Ground Zero”, New York,
  5. Rwanda – Murambi, Nyamata and Kigali genocide memorials
  6. Auschwitz-Birkenau, Poland
  7. The wreck of the Titanic, North Atlantic

dark tourism

What is Not Dark Tourism?

Haunted houses, abandoned places (theme parks, hospitals, etc), or visiting homes of criminals.

There needs to be a tragedy associated with the site, so when you’re visiting a home that may or may not have a haunted spirit and think you’re a dark tourist, think again.

Is Dark Tourism Unethical?

Auschwitz and Chernobyl have both seen a rise in problematic selfies, posing in front of a memorial is not okay, and the problem generally lies with the person behind the camera.

In the past, tourists have been shamed for taking selfies at the Jewish Memorial in Berin. It’s how people choose to conduct themselves at dark sites that makes it unethical.

However, not all dark sites should be visited, especially those that still have political or social unrest or active war zones.

dark tourism

Ultimately the stories associated with these dark sites matter, and need to be shared and remembered. The longer a tragedy is ignored, the more chance the mistakes of that past will be forgotten and repeated.

If you do plan on visiting a dark site, just remember to be respectful: taking selfies is almost never okay.

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Siobhan McKenny
Siobhan McKenny

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