Overlap of dark tourism with other forms of tourism
– (as a part of cultural tourism) of course, historical vestiges, relics, ruins of palaces, temples, etc. have long been a classic and important part of tourism, even many a beach holiday also includes visits to ancient ruins or temples. And dark tourism overlaps a lot with history tourism – as long as it's about recent & dark chapters of history (why 'recent'? – see the concept of dark tourism
Heritage tourism – a cover term very similar to history tourism, but perhaps somewhat narrower, as it implies the pursuit through travel of a specific heritage.
– if the researched heritage in heritage tourism is oneself, then it's roots tourism – and finding out about family roots can overlap with the dark, e.g. roots tourism of African Americans to sites associated with the slave trade (see Senegal
's Maison des Esclaves
, for instance). Museums dedicated to emigration/immigration largely fall into this category too (e.g. Hamburg
, or New York
's Ellis Island
Jewish heritage/roots tourism
– truly a well-defined branch of specialist tourism, and with a big overlap not only with heritage/roots tourism but especially also with dark tourism, a sub-branch of which is of course Holocaust tourism
. Naturally, Jewish heritage tourism goes beyond those very dark aspects and includes former Jewish settlements, shtetls, synagogues and so on. But in countries such as Poland
most of this almost always rubs shoulders with dark tourism too, because the Jewish legacy can hardly be dissociated with what happened to the Jewish community during WWII. Conversely, Holocaust tourism undertaken by non-Jews, esp. in Poland
!), etc., ethically
and intellectually requires a certain amount of Jewish Heritage understanding on the part of the traveller. Lack of such understanding can lead to highly dubious behaviour, which in my view is the most problematic aspects to be encountered in dark tourism: thoughtless disrespectful behaviour at sites such as Auschwitz
, like posing for snapshots grinning as if on the beach or in Disneyland, or munching chocolate at the very spot where thousands of starved bodies were cremated – it's witnessing things like that that sometimes makes me have my doubts about promoting dark tourism. But then again, I emphasize the importance of proper behaviour, so … I just hope that my admonishing achieves something.
– as a part of history tourism
there's a good degree of overlap between war tourism and dark tourism too, as long as it's about the dark side of war (the defining death and disaster aspects), and not the merely technical-historical, let alone the glorifying. Thus I am very restrictive as to which parts of war tourism I include in these pages. For example, Hitler's Wolfschanze
bunker complex in Poland
is covered (also because it was the site of Stauffenberg
's failed assassination attempt) while other sites of Hitler
's former HQs are not, and the vast majority of those countless old war bunker complexes in so many countries aren't either (also that's largely part of another specialist branch, underground tourism
). Similarly, the sites of the Death Railway
include a couple of war cemeteries, and in that context they are granted a mention here too, but obviously I cannot and will not list all the war cemeteries in the world (only if there's some other special aspect).
'War tourism' can also be read as 'travelling to active war zones in order to watch actual wars'. For "fun"! Not because you have to – like soldiers or war journalists! Needless to say, war tourism in this sense is not only ethically questionable to the max, it's also downright crazy, for the health and safety
aspects alone …
– sometimes suggested as an alternative term to 'dark tourism
', and thus with a very large degree of overlap, only the focus is slightly more shifted towards the death side (and less disaster). It can go somewhat beyond what I consider dark tourism in that it may include more of cemetery tourism (pilgrimages
to famous graves in particular) and with a stronger emphasis on actually grieving for the dead. Whereas dark tourism, in my understanding, can go beyond grief tourism in the strict sense in that it may include things like communism tourism (including grief-less pilgrimages
to mausoleums), or natural disaster tourism to places of e.g. volcanic destruction where no casualties were involved and thus probably hardly any grieving either – see categories of dark tourism
– in a wide sense this can be more or less the same as grief tourism
. Some academic scholars even use the term thanatourism as a synonym for dark tourism (see the concept of dark tourism
and other sources
). I prefer 'dark tourism' for its wider conceptual range, while thanatourism literally is restricted to visitations of site directly associated with death only (also etymologically: in so much as 'thana' does indeed mean 'death' in Classical Greek) - thus it would have to exclude e.g. disaster areas where nobody died (e.g. Heimaey
) or such forms as underworlds tourism
or middle-of-nowhere tourism
But in a more literal narrower sense of 'death tourism' it would be an extreme form that may only appear to vaguely overlap with the concept of dark tourism, but is actually too dark: namely travel for the purpose of witnessing actual deaths, i.e. in particular public executions. I'm aware that this sort of thing used to be part of "public entertainment" – and in some places such as Saudi Arabia it may still exist. But, please: not as an acceptable type of modern tourism!! Make no mistake: I DO NOT ENDORSE that sort of weirdo stuff. Plus: I'm fiercely opposed to capital punishment.
Admittedly, though, the topic can indirectly overlap into more kosher dark tourism too – see e.g. the executions section of Bangkok
's Rommani Nart prison museum
; but that's "only" depictions of executions and the display of artefacts that were or could be used for capital punishment … but not watching actual deaths … that's just gross ...
A much milder, but still questionable form of thanatourism can take the form of attending funerals, not for one's own grief, but funerals of unrelated strangers (attending sky burials in Tibet would have to rank as the most extreme expression of this). However, once it's funerals of famous people it becomes more acceptable and in fact quite a common thing. Whether this constitutes dark tourism (or tourism at all) is another question, though.
Thanatourism may also be seen to partly overlap with suicide tourism.
Suicide tourism – this can mean two things: travel to sites that are well-known and popular suicide spots (esp. somewhere high, where people jump off) … or it can refer to travelling somewhere to commit suicide oneself. Both are highly controversial. Most people find the former too dark – and the latter despicable in itself. There are good arguments, both morally and practical, but it's not necessarily as 100% unjustifiable as is extreme thantaourism (travelling to watch actual deaths).
Can you really tell people where not to commit suicide? I don't know. And is getting a kind of eerie kick out of knowing that a particular place, say the Golden Gate Bridge
in San Francisco
, or Beachy Head
in Great Britain
, is a favoured "toppers site", really so totally wrong? Why should it be worse than visiting the site of mass murder (where death happened against the victims will!) such as a death camp
When it comes to the sites of famous people's suicides the issue becomes even less clear. In such a context it could be perfectly acceptable modern pilgrimage tourism
. And then there are places that are primarily dark war tourism
sites precisely because they revolve around suicide (see, in particular, Okinawa
); and travelling to such places has to be undeniably legit.
– as part of 'grief tourism', and thus overlapping partly with dark tourism too, e.g. where famous graves and mausoleums are concerned, but the dark goes beyond the grief in its pilgrimages: e.g. visiting the grand mausoleums of deceased communist
leaders such as Mao or Ho Chi Minh
is part of dark tourism much less for genuine "grief" but rather out of curiosity about the weird cult-of-personality aspect
involved. Similarly, visiting what has to be the most famous mausoleum in the world, the Taj Mahal in India
, probably involves very little grief on the part of the visitors (in that case it's probably the architectural beauty of the building that draws the crowds).
A particular aspect of grief tourism and modern pilgrimages that can briefly be mentioned but will not be covered here in any depth either is this: visits to sites of pop star deaths such as Graceland, where fat Elvis Presley died "on the throne" to the eternal distress of his flocks of eternal fans. Generally I don't include such sites quite simply because there are just too many of places where famous people have died, so covering all those would go way beyond the scope of this website (although in that particular case of Graceland I also refuse to cover it here simply because that's mostly a celebration of kitsch, which I do not consider particularly dark, only obnoxious …)
Murder site tourism
– possibly also part of grief tourism, esp. where it's about recent murders – although this form of tourism easily borders on plain voyeurism, especially if it's about very recent murders. Established and more historical murder-site tourism is prototypically exemplified by those Jack-the-Ripper-tours in London
, which are widely regarded to be part of dark tourism, at its more commercial end (and probably much less for grieving than for the sheer horror-film-like thrill).
A few high-profile murder sites are unquestionably a core part of dark tourism, the most popular example being the Sixth Floor Museum
, which – in an authentic location – deals with the assassination of JFK. Other places may be borderline, esp. if there's nothing but the place itself, possibly marked by a plaque or small memorial, but nothing informational, such as the Dakota Building and Strawberry Fields in New York
, i.e. places associated with the murder of Beatle John Lennon in 1980.
– tourism gone underground, as it were. This is mostly about exploring old bunkers or any subterranean structures, including 'dead' (disused) metro tunnels, sewers and the like. It overlaps with dark tourism especially where (potential) death is involved, such as the tours of old WWII
air-raid shelters offered e.g. in Berlin
, or underground Cold War
installations, be it shelters for the public (again, in Berlin and Hamburg some such places can be visited) or rather former government and/or command bunkers (e.g. Atombunker Harnekop
, or The Greenbrier
in the USA
). Obviously the latter sites overlap with Cold War tourism
and/or war tourism in general. So do e.g. the Vietcong
tunnels in Vietnam
that have been developed for tourism, esp. the Cu Chi tunnels
Another kind of underground tourism is caving, i.e. the exploration of natural caves and caverns – but that's largely outside the scope of dark tourism (more a branch of extreme landscape tourism
, only underground), unless there's an additional dark element (e.g. the suicide caves on Okinawa
Extreme landscapes tourism
– Death Valley in the USA
has to be given a mention here for its name alone. But there's also the sub-branch of volcano tourism that often overlaps with dark tourism (e.g. Montserrat
). Whether the potential deadliness of deserts make them part of dark tourism too, is debatable. Man-made disasters can also result in extreme landscapes – and that could quite clearly be within the scope of dark tourism; including most notably nuclear test sites such as Semipalatinsk
, but also e.g. the shrinking Dead Sea
or the desert left behind by the largely dried-up Aral Sea
– short for 'urban exploration', this means entering abandoned buildings that are in various states of dilapidation. Often this involves what is strictly speaking 'trespassing', the illegality of which seems to give many urban explorers an additional kick. Typically 'Urbex' is done to get some outstanding photo ops (and many urban explorers are in fact professional or semi-professional photographers, it seems). But there is of course something profoundly dark about abandoned things and dilapidation, especially when there is also an element of human tragedy lingering on a different level, as e.g. in the case of abandoned former lunatic asylums, hospitals or prisons (see e.g. Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum
or Eastern State Penitentiary
). A special sub-branch also includes former communist structures such as Buzludhza
, a classic of both Urbex and dark tourism. Note that, despite the name, 'urban exploration' does not necessarily mean it has to be literally in an urban landscape, i.e. a city – it can also involve industrial, military, or as in the case of Buzludzha
, isolated middle-of-nowhere locations.
– the most extreme form of "off-the-beaten-track tourism", which includes a lot that is non-dark, but may occasionally overlap with it, e.g. Easter Island
, the Falklands
(the latter is also part of war tourism, of course), or remote volcanoes (which is extreme landscapes tourism
at the same time).