Dark tourism (also known as “black tourism” or “grief tourism”) refers to the popular tourism practice of travelling to specific locations because of their historic association with death and tragedy. As a tourist practice, it is something that has gone on for many years, referring to a variety of different types of pilgrimage sites and travel destinations. The types of places that tend to qualify as dark tourism destinations vary greatly, ranging from specific prisons and castles to entire towns and battlefields. If you, too, are fascinated by the dark and macabre throughout history, then these five destinations are an absolute must to kickstart your dark tourism career:
Top Dark Tourism Destinations
5. The Tower of London
The Tower of London, formally known as Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress, is by far one of the most famous dark tourist destinations in the United Kingdom. The first section of the Tower was built in 1078 AD on the North bank of the River Thames in Central London, and was expanded upon over the next 200 years. The Tower has had numerous functions, including acting as an armoury, a mint, a treasury, a public records office, a menagerie, and home to the Crown Jewels. The Tower is however mostly famously known for its role and function as a prison. Indeed, this aspect of the Tower was popularized in the 16th and 17th centuries by religious propagandists who cemented its reputation as a place of torture and death. This grim aspect of the Tower’s history is one of the main reasons it exists as one of London’s most frequented dark tourist attractions today.
4. Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary
Opened in 1934, Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary functioned as a maximum security prison until 1963. Situated on Alcatraz Island just off of the coast in San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz was intended for inmates who could no longer be kept in other penitentiaries due to excessive dangerous behavior or disobedience. It earned its dark reputation as a result of the numerous high profile (and highly dangerous) inmates, ranging from gangsters like Al Capone to notorious murderers like Robert Franklin Stroud. Alcatraz came to be recognized as one of the most fearsome prisons in the world, as past inmates later reported extreme instances of abuse and cruelty while being detained there. Today, the prison has been turned into a museum, which attracts roughly 1.5 million visitors annually from around the world.
3. Catacombs of Paris
The Parisian Catacombs are a vast series of underground ossuaries beneath the city of Paris, France. Constituted of a maze of ruinous stone mines, the Catacombs house the remains of over six million people, earning its reputation as “The World’s Largest Grave.” The bones found within the Catacombs range from enormous indistinguishable masses to almost artistic arrangements. The sheer enormity of the Catacombs’ endless labyrinths is enough to cause feelings of unease, stretching for kilometers beneath the city above. First opened as a tourist attraction in the late 19th century, it has since become one of Paris’ most famous landmarks, as well as one of the world’s most popular dark tourism destinations. If you think this is awesome, check out the Top Catacombs Around the World.
2. Salem, Massachusetts
Salem, Massachusetts has become famous across the globe as the site of the notorious Salem Witch Trials of 1692. These trials resulted in the executions of 20 individuals accused of witchcraft and magic- most of whom were women. The trials were conducted in a handful of small villages in the area that is now known as the City of Salem, and have shaped the city’s identity in history and today’s society alike. Cited as one of the most infamous cases of mass social hysteria in relation to belief in witchcraft, the Salem Witch Trials have been and continue to be associated with perceptions of witches and witchcraft in popular culture. As a result, Salem has become an incredibly popular place of pilgrimage for those who are fans of the history of magic and the occult, earning the city the reputation of being a must-visit dark tourist hot-spot.
1. Sedlec Ossuary
The Sedlec Ossuary is certainly the hidden gem of our dark tourism list. Located about an hour’s train ride from Prague in Sedlec, Czech Repulic, this small Roman Catholic chapel contains the bones of an estimated 40,000 to 70,000 different people. The cemetery become a popular place of burial as a result of a past abbot of the Cistercian monastery sprinkling soil brought from Jerusalem throughout the plot. As a result, the chapel was eventually built to accommodate the enormous number of individuals who sought to be buried there- the majority of whom were victims of the Black Plague, or the Hussite Wars in the early 15th century. One of the twelve World Heritage Sites in the Czech Republic, the Sedlec Ossuary now attracts over 200,000 visitors annually who come to see the darkly beautiful skeletal decor of its chapel. Find out how you can visit the Sedlec Ossuary, and learn more about similar Famous Catacombes Around the World.