We’re approaching the New Year, and as usual it feels like a good time to plan ahead. Looking toward a blank calendar can be incredibly inspiring. It reminds us that even though time seems to move quickly sometimes, a year is a long time, and there’s a lot of activity that can be packed into one. A couple years ago we wrote about realising travel dreams throughout 2016; the truth is that each New Year brings an opportunity to do the same thing.
Looking ahead to 2018 however, I didn’t want to write up just another generic travel list, nor imitate popular blogs’ choices of the “trendiest” destinations (which often seem to be chosen somewhat arbitrarily). Instead, as a shameless and self-professed history lover, I thought I’d scribble down a travel bucket list for history lovers. The world is full of fascinating destinations and sights that have defined human history, and in my view there’s no better purpose for travelling than to see some of them in person. So without further ado, here’s my list!
We may as well start with a destination that’s close to home! Agra is a very popular spot for tourists in India, and offers a lot of creature comforts these days. For instance, there are several lovely hotels in the area, and it’s even become known for some restaurants and specific kinds of food (such as the petha). The main reason to visit Agra, however, is to see the Taj Mahal – arguably India’s most significant man-made monument, and one of the most famous buildings anywhere in the world.
Contrary to popular belief, the Taj Mahal isn’t actually a palace. This idea has come about partially because the domed, pointed rooftops simply look palatial, and also because the building was (supposedly) the inspiration for Disney’s animators when they made the film Aladdin. In actuality, the Taj Mahal is a burial site, erected to honour the wife of a 17th century emperor. In a way that makes it all the more fascinating, putting it in a category with places like the Egyptian pyramids (which we’ll get to below!). The Taj Mahal is beautiful enough to humble you and magnificent enough to make you marvel at the capabilities of humans even several hundred years ago. It’s a sightseeing pilgrimage worth an entire vacation.
Bath is a little bit less glamorous than Agra in that there isn’t a wonder of the world there to look at. However, it’s a fairly unique place to visit in that it combines modern British luxury with ancient Roman influence. The town was inhabited by Romans, and there are extraordinarily well-preserved public bath facilities that you can still tour today. It’s a simpler way of getting a feel for Roman culture than actually going to Rome (though that should certainly be on your list too if you’re a history lover). Ultimately, a trip to Bath is a terrific combination of relaxation and historical sightseeing.
If you have never seen the pyramids of Giza, you may feel that you’ve gotten an adequate idea from various films and fictions. However, interpretations of the pyramids are often skewed away from reality. For instance, the famous animated film The Prince Of Egypt furthers the popular myth that the pyramids were built by slaves, when in fact recent evidence indicates workers were paid. The television show Ancient Aliens would have you believe extraterrestrial beings helped organise the buildings. Somewhat similarly a popular game called “Phoenix Sun” circulating on internet casino platforms attaches a mystical air to the pyramids, describing “an eerie green mist” around them.
In reality, the pyramids are neither mystical, nor alien-inspired, nor the fruit of slave labour. But they are absolutely awe-inspiring. The tallest of the three main Giza pyramids was the world’s tallest man-made structure for over 1,000 years, and archaeologists are still discovering new rooms and hidden secrets today. It’s the rare site that rejects mythology only to become more interesting in person.
Williamsburg, United States
So far we’ve mostly discussed places where you can see a particular sight or get a feel for a specific cultural influence. But visiting Williamsburg in the state of Virginia on the United States’ East Coast is a little bit different. Here you can get a feel for an entire era of history, and one that changed the course of the world as we know it. Williamsburg was not necessarily a consequential location during the American Revolutionary War of the 1770s, but it is probably the best representation of that world.
A piece sifting through the best U.S. destinations for history buffs stated that visiting colonial Williamsburg offers you the chance to walk the streets of colonial America. This city was the capital of Virginia for nearly 100 years leading right up to the Revolution, and parts of it have been preserved and reconstructed to resemble what they were like in the late-18th century. It’s all a little bit contrived, as there are paid workers walking about in colonial garb, themed restaurants, etc. But so long as you know that going in, it’s actually quite a charming place. You get a sense of community, gain a knowledge of hard-working people, and soak up the simple pleasures of an older, and incredibly important time.
Looking East, there are of course innumerable destinations in China that are wonderful for lovers of history. But none top Qufu, a city in the Shangdong province a short distance inland from the Yellow Sea. That is because Qufu is the location of the “three Confucius sites” relating to the great Chinese philosopher. Here you will find the temple, cemetery, and one-time residence of Confucius himself, who lived sometime around 500 BC and has had a lasting influence on Chinese philosophy, culture, and in some ways even religion. It’s a pleasant city to stay in, and there’s something sensational about exploring places where such an ancient and important figure actually walked.