5 Best Destinations for Cultural Tourism

Every traveler has a unique motivation behind their wanderlust. Some people explore the globe to see its natural beauty, others do it to discover and enjoy new food, and many do it for the  sense of adventure. However, for curious art lovers and history buffs, cultural tourism can be the most appealing way to see the world.

Cultural tourism is the practice of traveling to learn and experience the various aspects of a destination’s culture. Whether you’re visiting historical landmarks or attending festivals to indulge in art, food, and music, cultural tourism is the perfect opportunity to appreciate how diverse people live and gain unforgettable experiences. As the world grows more interconnected and multicultural families become the norm, cultural tourism also offers the opportunity for you to connect with your heritage.

If traveling for the sake of culture sounds like the right choice for you, consider these five travel destinations for your next trip.

1. Hawaii

When people think of cultural tourism, the United States — a country with less than 300 years of history — doesn’t often come to mind. However, the state of Hawaii was first populated by Polynesians over 1,000 years ago, which led to the formation of a unique Hawaiian language and culture. Tourists seeking an authentic experience can visit the home of Hawaiian royalty at Iolani Palace, attend luaus hosted by locals, and more.

Interested in the unique blend of cultures that make up modern Hawaii? Many of the state’s festivals, including Maui Matsuri and the Hawai’i Kuauli Pacific and Asia Cultural Festival, showcase the prevalence of Japanese culture on the islands. Landmarks like the USS Arizona Memorial also provide snapshots of American history.

2. Greece

If ancient history is your cup of tea, Greece is the perfect destination for you. Filled with archaeological sites like the Acropolis of Athens and Delphi, this country is filled with beautiful ruins that offer a peek into centuries of religion, wars, politics, architecture, and more.

In the liveliest places in modern Greece, including the urban areas of Athens and Santorini, you can find an abundance of Mediterranean culinary experiences, visit local farmer’s markets called “laiki” or take Greek dance lessons to embrace the local arts.

In northern Greece, three weeks before the Great Lent of the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Xanthi Carnival is celebrated. This carnival was founded formally in the 60s and celebrates folkloric traditions based on Thracian elements. Various folklore clubs participate in everything from sports to dance to feasts. Each year has its own theme and the festival is closed by burning the “Tzaros,” or a man-made model perched on a pile of holly trees.

Xanthi Carnival greece
XANTHI, GREECE – Masquerade participants march and have fun in colorful costumes. Small and big groups of Greek people parade annually on city streets in thematic festival outfits

3. Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan is a unique destination for cultural tourism that’s often overlooked. Tucked inside Central Asia between China and the Mediterranean Sea, this country was central to the Silk Road, a trade route that allowed some of the first major civilizations to thrive. Thanks to this history, Uzbekistan is filled with grand structures like the Ark of Bukhara, where royal emirs lived. Many lively markets reminiscent of Silk Road bazaars still exist within Uzbekistan today.

The Registan in Samarkand is another can’t-miss site for history lovers. This massive city square has been ruled by Persians, Mongols, Chineses, and Russians, among many other cultural and ethnic groups that rose and fell through political battles.

Uzbekistan also has plenty of stunning mosques that showcase Islamic history.

Registan Square in the City Center of Samarkand in Uzbekistan
Registan Square in the City Center of Samarkand in Uzbekistan

4. Italy

Italy is another country filled with archaeological wonders, including the Colosseum, Pantheon, and the Catacombs of Priscilla. You can spend days exploring the ancient sites of Rome while hitting up plenty of authentic Italian restaurants and cathedrals — perhaps making a pitstop at the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City, a country that’s landlocked within Italy.

If you want to take part in a lively event, head over to the Venice Carnival, which is often held in February or March. This festival brings together people dressed in fantastical attire in a massive celebration and allows you to take part in a tradition with centuries of history.

Venice carnival
People with traditional mask at the Venice carnival

5. Vietnam

Vietnam is rising in popularity as a tourist destination, and that’s largely due to the rich, traditional culture that’s still prevalent throughout the country. On top of visiting the Imperial City in Hue, where the last Vietnamese royalty resided, or heading to the Old Quarter in Hanoi, which has been a business and cultural hub for centuries, you can take part in some of Vietnam’s many markets and festivals.

Perhaps one of the best times to visit Vietnam is during Tet, otherwise known as Vietnamese New Year. During this season, locals in Hoi An (among other cities) paint lanterns and create a celebratory mood that’s felt across town.

hoi an

Explore New Cultures

Cultural tourism allows you to take part in meaningful, once-in-a-lifetime experiences that you’ll remember forever. Whether you’re taking part in Hawaiian luaus, visiting ruins in Greece and Italy, touring historical sites in Uzbekistan, or enjoying Tet in Vietnam, you can experience first-hand the cultural diversity that humanity has to offer.

Through cultural tourism, you can expand your knowledge of how people live around the world and literally step in their shoes. Once you land at your destination, don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and ask locals for their unique recommendations.

Lived in England since 1998 and travelled the world since 2005, visiting over 100 countries on 5 continents. Writer, blogger, photographer with a passion for adventure and travel, discovering those off beat places not yet on the tourist trail. Marco contributes the very best in independent travel tips and lifestyle articles.

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