Dark tourism, in case you're wondering, normally refers to holidaymakers who deliberately visit locations associated with death, suffering or the supernatural. Why you might ask? I'm not sure I know the answer but can tell you that the places which have made my dark tourist "gotta go" list are interesting in their own right, even if you don't embrace the dark tourist vibe. Grab a glass, help yourself from the bottle and join me in a look at some of the best (or worst) dark tourist attractions on the planet.
1. Auschwitz (II)/Birkenau, Poland
Auschwitz concentration camp consisted of around forty different extermination and concentration camps, of which Birkenau was the largest and possibly the most well-known. Birkenau became operational in 1942. By 1945, when the remaining inmates were liberated, it is estimated that between 1.3 and 1.6 million people were killed there. Around 90% of those murdered were Jews. Today the former camp is a museum and memorial. A monument to the horrors of the Holocaust, I find this a sobering destination, but also one that's extremely important and relevant today.
2. Berlin, Germany
A cheap flight across the border to Germany brings me to Berlin. An ancient city with a checkered past, Berlin has more dark tourist attractions than almost any other city in Europe. Top of my "dark must visit" list is what remains of the Berlin wall. Built in 1961 by the then separate country of Eastern Germany, the wall was intended to keep out both West Berliners and capitalism! Around 150 people were killed trying to cross from East to West Germany. Whilst I'm in Berlin, I also want to check out the WWII bunkers and air-raid shelters which form "underground Berlin", as well as take a peek at Anhalter train station ruins and the exhibition housed in the bunker behind it.
3. Chernobyl and Pripyat, Ukraine
Cheap fares to Ukraine see me embark on the next leg of my dark tourist journey. Ukraine has more than its fair share of dark destinations, of which Pripyat, scene of the terrible Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. An accident in reactor number 4 of the Chernobyl nuclear power stations resulted in a catastrophic steam explosion which precipitated a reactor core fire, releasing enormous amounts of radiation across Russia and Europe. The inhabitants of the nearby city, Pripyat, were evacuated, transforming it into a ghost town overnight. For decades, entry was considered too dangerous due to high levels of radioactivity. Visitors have been allowed back (under strict conditions) since 2010.
4. Darvasa Gas Fire Crater, Turkmenistan
A man-made inferno my dark agenda, the Darvasa gas fire crater is located in Turkmenistan, Central Asia. I would take advantage of cheap flights to Ashgabat Central Airport before opting for a bus to Darvasa, home of an enormous crater of gas fires which have been burning for decades. Caused by an industrial drilling accident, the sight is an eerie one, particularly at night. With nothing but desert for kilometres, Darvasa really does look like the gateway to hell! Definitely not for the faint-hearted. If you do want to take me up on my suggestion of paying Darvasa a visit, make sure you don't wait too long - a little bird tells me that the current president intends to try and extinguish the fire!
5. The ghost city of Agdam in Azerbaijan
The final destination on my dark tourist trail, Agdam is a ghost city due to the bitter Nagorno/Karabakh war. During the latter stages, when the war swung in favour of the Armenians, the mainly Azeri population were forced to flee. Today the city is still in Armenian control and visitors are not encouraged. My sources tell me that if you stay to the east of the mosque you should be able to visit without incident. Literally a sea of ruins, the entire city is deserted. A bleak testimony to conflict, Agdam is a city that's been largely left to nature.
Well, there you have it - some of the darkest destinations from across the globe. Whilst I'm not entirely sure a whole dark tourist tour would be for me, these are certainly very intriguing destinations that can reach out to teach us plenty in all sorts of ways.