Netflix's hit series Dark Tourist opened viewers' eyes to a niche that's been a part of travel in one way or another for centuries. Humans are naturally drawn to the macabre. It stirs something inside to witness places associated with darkness, a somewhat unexplainable thirst to understand things that seem unbelievable.
Though dark tourism has come under criticism for being exploitative, visiting sites with dark histories is an indispensable way to learn about how things happened, why they did, and how they can be prevented in the future. These destinations around the world are perfect for travelers interested in learning about the world in a way that's often missing from formal education.
*Note: As always, it's essential to be respectful of one's surroundings when traveling. Due to the nature of these places and their sensitive history, it's vital to be especially respectful when visiting.
Updated by Lauren Feather, February 18, 2022: The world overflows with just as much horrific history as that which is glorious. Many of the planet's most devastating events still echo suffering of past where they once happened, and it's possible to visit such places in order to learn all about them. With dark tourism popularity on the rise, much of the world's most discerning travelers with an interest in natural disasters and volatile history choose to enrich their learning by actually visiting the areas where such events took place. As such, some of the most popular places were darkness once occurred have been added to this fascinating yet macabre list of dark tourism destinations. And as always, please tour these places respectfully and with an open mind and heart.
11 Eyjafjallajökull, Iceland
The eruption of Eyjafjallajökull volcano put Iceland on the global map in April 2010. Most people had never even heard of it, until the massive ash cloud it spewed out grounded flights for over two weeks. The ordeal cost the European economy about five billion dollars, however tourism in Iceland has since accelerated, and consequently, helped to compensate the loss.
Before the volcano let rip, most travelers wouldn't even think of visiting the Land of Fire and Ice, but thanks to the fame it achieved (for somber reasons albeit) tourists from all corners of the world have added the cold northerly country to their bucket lists. From glaciers, icy lagoons, and the legendary Northern Lights to the midnight sun and the volcano that caused all the chaos, travelers have so much to do and see in this chilly country of spectacular icy scenery.
10 Pompeii, Italy
Pompeii is perhaps one of the first dark tourism sites to gain popularity, attracting international travelers for over 250 years. The fallen city is one of the best-preserved places to see Ancient Roman architecture, due significantly to the violent eruption of Mount Vesuvius.
Volcanic ash blanketed the city, somewhat ironically protecting the structures from the elements. The residents trapped in Pompeii perished, their bodies transformed into plaster statues. Mount Vesuvius remains active, and scientists say the volcano is overdue for an eruption.
9 Catacombs - France
Tourists flock to Paris' Catacombs to witness a massive, real-life underground graveyard that's inspired literature and film over the years. During the 18th-century, Paris' population expanded faster than its cemeteries could, and overcrowding meant burials posed a threat to human health.
Officials decreed to use the city's underground quarries as makeshift cemeteries, at first simply tossing the deceased into the tunnels. Eventually, the remains were stacked in an orderly fashion, with skulls lining the walls like a macabre interior design choice. Upon entrance, visitors are greeted with an exhibition room to learn about the history of the Catacombs, and two kilometers of tunnels are open for observation.
8 Auschwitz - Poland
The atrocities that occurred during the Holocaust are among the worst in human history. It's unfathomable to consider how human beings were held against their will, forced to labor, starved, abused, experimented on, and exterminated. There is no nice way to put it, and it serves no purpose to surround the tragedy with euphemisms.
Visiting the notorious concentration camps of Auschwitz allows people to feel the weight of the atrocities in a way that learning about them through the pages of a book never could. It's a sobering experience that forces people to confront the harsh realities of impenetrable darkness and learn about the events that led to such a deep stain in the fabric of human history.
7 Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Cambodia is home to the stupefying Angkor Wat, which is one of the world's largest and most impressive religious monuments that's a UNESCO listed temple. Despite its intrigue and beauty, it doesn't overshadow its horrific past and the people who are still recovering from the suffering they endured under the Khmer Rouge regime only a few decades ago - during which an estimated one million people were brutally murdered.
Travelers with a discerning eye can get a feel for the dark times and misery when they visit the Tuol Svay Prey High School and the killing fields of Choeung Ek, which, in spite of the scars that are still present, are ever important grounds in Cambodia's volatile history that played a crucial role in the country becoming what it is in the modern day.
6 Hiroshima - Japan
Since its invention, nuclear weaponry has gripped humans in fear. Drills during the Cold War sent children beneath their desks in preparation for an attack. In recent years, the possibility of nuclear war regularly echoes from the nightly news. Several countries currently possess bombs powerful enough to wipe out entire nations, a sad fact considering the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.
The A-bomb destroyed the city and took the lives of thousands of innocent people. The residents of Hiroshima are fiercely dedicated to promoting peace on a grand scale. To visit Hiroshima is to witness the strength of humanity to rebuild. UNESCO designated the A-bomb Dome a World Heritage site, the building preserved as a reminder of the horrors of nuclear warfare.
5 Port Arthur - Tasmania
Located on the Tasman Peninsula is one of several convict sites steeped in dark history. Convicts at Port Arthur were subject to brutal floggings, hard labor, and long stints in solitary confinement, a practice that's frequently called into question for its cruelty. Many men lived and died within the walls, their hard work responsible for large chunks of architecture in Tasmania. Guided tours and interactive exhibits educate guests about Port Arthur's history, leaving none of the dark bits out of the stories.
4 The 9/11 Memorial & Museum - United States
Two decades have gone by since the attack on the World Trade Center, and people can still vividly remember exactly where they were when it happened. Thousands of people lost their lives on September 11, 2001, and the New York City skyline changed forever. In the aftermath, the country put all its differences aside and united to rebuild.
People slowly cleared the rubble, dust, and debris. Life resumed as it has and will continue to in the wake of tragedy. Ground Zero and the 9/11 Memorial and Museum are among the top-visited dark tourist destinations worldwide. It is difficult to imagine what the city looked like 20 years ago on that fateful day. It's amazing to think about how human beings can come together to tend to the emotional wounds left behind by such events.
3 Berlin Wall - Germany
A majority of the Berlin Wall was dismantled after the Cold War, but fragments throughout Berlin serve as a reminder of the negative impacts division has on society. The large concrete barrier separated East and West Berlin for nearly 30 years. An area known as the "death strip" contained guard towers, beds of nails, barbed wire, and more, the defenses intended to keep people from crossing.
In 1989, the world watched on as the Berlin Wall fell, symbolically reuniting Germany and marking the fall of Communism in Europe. The remnants of The Berlin Wall are scattered throughout the world, but the largest portions can be found in Berlin. Stunning graffiti from past and present add pops of color to the city, a reminder of art's transformative and healing power.
2 Chernobyl, Ukraine
There's not a soul in the world that doesn't know about the devastating event that took place in Chernobyl in 1986, where a nuclear power plant explosion set off an apocalyptic chain of events that saw the place become a dangerous, desolate wasteland. The bravest of travelers can take guided tours of the uninhabitable, decaying city of Pripyat to see a real-life post-apocalypse that still continues today, where empty schools, abandoned residences, rusted structures overgrown with greenery, and derelict buildings stand as a reminder of the horrors that once occurred.
At the time, local communities were told they were only evacuating their homes for three days, however, what they didn't know was that they were never going to return ever again. Countless power plant staff, rescue services, and civilians died as a result of the tragedy - some right in the aftermath, whilst others suffered for many years, eventually passing of terminal diseases like cancer - caused by exposure to the dangerous radiation emitted by the power plant's explosion.
1 Darvaza Gas Fire Crater, Turkmenistan
A large crater has been burning in Darvaza, Turkmenistan for 50 years now, attracting tourists to witness the site commonly referred to as the "Gates of Hell." The natural gas field in the middle of the desert collapsed in the 1960s. It was set ablaze in 1971, though there are no solidified records of who did it or why. The dark tourist destination in the desert is a popular spot for wild camping, and thousands of travelers head to Turkmenistan to observe a piece of the earth on fire.