10 Great holiday destinations for history buffs

Updated August 10, 2017

Some people go on holiday for the scenery, while others go to bask in the winter sun. Still others go for the shopping, or for the chance to pamper themselves in luxurious surroundings. For the history lover, though, every holiday is a chance to learn more about the past of the country and to experience the remains of ancient cultures. For history buffs, some destinations acquire a special significance, rich in the history of many different periods.


Turkey's varied regions include a wide range of historical sites, from ancient Greek and Roman ruins to Byzantine churches and Ottoman palaces. Istanbul houses major historical attractions such as the Hagia Sophia church, now a mosque, and the Topkapi Palace. Another great destination for history lovers is Efes (classical Ephesus), with many major Greek and Roman sites.

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Angkor Wat

During the middle ages, kings of the Khmer Empire founded a series of massive Hindu temples near Angkor, the capital of the empire. Of these, the most famous is Angkor Wat, which survived the succeeding centuries as a site of worship for Buddhists even after the city of Angkor fell into disuse. Located near the modern city of Siem Reap in Cambodia, Angkor Wat is a spectacular example of the art and culture of the Khmer Empire as well as a spiritual destination for many.

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St Petersburg

Capital of the Russian Empire until 1918, St Petersburg is still an example of the wealth and power of the Tsars. Often called Russia's most Western city, the former capital combines traditional Russian styles with then-cutting-edge neoclassical architecture. Unmissable sights include the Winter Palace and the world-famous Hermitage museum.

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Maya Cities

Between approximately 250 and 900 AD, the Maya civilisation developed to its greatest height, constructing massive cities best known for their pyramidal temples. Maya ruins can be found in the present-day countries of Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador. Among the most popular destinations for travellers are Tikal in Guatemala, Copan in Honduras and Tulum in Mexico.

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In AD 79, Mount Vesuvius erupted, blanketing the nearby city of Pompeii with smoke and ash. Thousands of inhabitants were killed, buried under a thick layer of ash. However, the eruption that destroyed the city also preserved it. Details usually lost to time, such as artwork on walls and even graffiti, were preserved, as were the bodies of the victims. The result is both a stark memorial to a tragedy and a fascinating glimpse into the daily life of a Roman city.

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The walled medieval city of Carcassonne in the south-west of France is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Like many of France's medieval fortifications, it was restored in the 19th century and represents how historians and architects of this period saw the middle ages as much as the reality. Nonetheless, the walled town's fortifications contain enough hidden gems to delight any history enthusiast.

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Most visitors to the Caribbean come for warm sun, beautiful beaches and breathtaking scenery. Barbados has all these things, but the island also works hard to preserve and commemorate its colonial history. A trip to Barbados is an ideal combination for parties which include a history buff or two as well as other members who would rather sunbathe or water-ski.

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Another location that combines natural beauty and historic interest is the Greek island of Santorini, also known as Thera or Thira. This is actually a small group of islands surrounding a large volcanic caldera, the remnant of an eruption that destroyed the centre of a single large island in approximately 1600 BC. This huge natural catastrophe may have contributed to the collapse of the Minoan civilisation. An excavated Bronze Age settlement, Akrotiri, has recently been reopened to the public.

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Mesa Verde

Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado preserves a group of cliff dwellings created by the Native American culture known as the Anasazi or Ancestral Puebloan people. These elaborate settlements were abandoned around 1300 AD, and are as remarkable for their architectural sophistication and complexity as they are for their striking natural setting under a massive rock outcropping. Hikes through the National Park take visitors to many of the outlying settlements.

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Jordan has a wide range of historic sites and areas of natural beauty, but none are so famous as Petra, the capital of the Nabataean kingdom. Greek and Roman influences are also present in the city's architecture. Petra's tombs, temples and other buildings are cut into the cliff faces of a narrow valley at the foot of Mount Hor. These remarkable buildings, as well as the site's elaborate water conduit system, have attracted travellers for centuries.

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About the Author

Dr James Holloway has been writing about games, geek culture and whisky since 1995. A former editor of "Archaeological Review from Cambridge," he has also written for Fortean Times, Fantasy Flight Games and The Unspeakable Oath. A graduate of Cambridge University, Holloway runs the blog Gonzo History Gaming.