What is Dark Tourism?

Dark tourism encompasses travel related to the mysterious and macabre to the tragic and sad. Covering a wide variety of circumstances and experiences, dark tourism is a relatively new phrase in the travel industry referring to some very old practices.
Prepared By:

Shannon Lowery

Writer & Traveler

Dark tourism is a term that was originally coined in the 1990s by Scottish academics J. John Lennon and Malcolm Foley. The phrase is barely old enough to be considered a millennial, but the concept has been around for centuries. Before we cared about the educational and memorial aspects that drive so much of today’s dark tourism, humans were mostly concerned with making a spectacle of others’ misfortune. After all, what would the Roman Empire be without gladiator battles? A few centuries later, picnics at public hangings and front row seats to battlefield bloodshed were still considered elite entertainment. Today, dark tourism incorporates both somber remembrance and natural human curiosity and is dependent on both the attraction and the individual.

Are You a Dark Tourist?

Whether you visit the beaches of Normandy or go on a ghost tour through a historic home, you’re a dark tourist. It’s not an insult, just a matter of fact. Put simply: regardless of intentions, any travel or visitation to a destination derived in loss is, by definition, dark tourism. 

Pompeii's Mt. Vesuvius eruption is a dark tourism attraction

How to Be a Respectful Dark Tourist

Respect is at the center of the dark tourism conversation. Unlike your Roman ancestors, ridiculing the suffering isn’t cool anymore. While many attractions include reminders like “Be respectful” signage, knowing what exactly is appropriate is still technically open for individual interpretation. Here are some safe rules to follow to minimize your chances of offending anyone:

1. Be respectful with your phone & camera

Dark destinations can be emotional for visitors. Never stick a camera in someone’s face or obstruct their view just to get a shot. Put your phone on silent. No one wants to be reflecting on a tragic event and hear you giving the grocery list to your husband.

2. Keep your voice down

Watch what you say and how loud you say it. 

The 9/11 Memorial in Manhattan is a dark tourism site

3. Watch your step

Dark attractions may also be sacred spaces. Mind where you’re stepping, especially in places like cemeteries, burial grounds, and historic sites. 

4. Set your intentions

Visit with an open mind, and be open to any emotions a dark destination may evoke. Understand that the site may represent something different to others and they may express emotions differently. Give yourself time after your visit to process what you’ve just experienced.

Dark Tourism Destinations

Paying your respects at your favorite musician’s grave, visiting a memorial or museum honoring a tragedy, traveling to a place with a mysterious history, or attending an art gallery exhibit depicting tragedy are all variations of dark tourism destinations.

If you’re specifically interested in the creepy and macabre, be sure to check out our list of the spookiest places in the world.

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