For history buffs and eager students alike, these five super-specific travel destinations are absolutely crucial additions to any historically rich travel bucket list
From ancient ruins to pivotal battlefields, these gems offer immersive experiences that go beyond the typical tourist attractions— whether alone or in the company of fellow amateur historians, each place on this list will remind you of why, exactly, it’s so important to remember the struggles, failures, and victories of these monumental (and fascinating) eras of our political history.
Honolulu, Hawai’i (Polynesian History and World War II)
Hawai’i has no shortage of fascinating history, and much of which remains untouched by public schooling. Explore the islands’ Polynesian history with a visit at the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum in Honolulu. This museum was built at the request of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, the last legal heir of the Kamehameha Dynasty, and contains over 24 million Polynesian and Hawai’ian cultural artifacts.
As for World War II history, Honolulu (obviously) boasts an abundance. The spectacular USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor presents a huge shrine with the names of all 1,177 men who died on board as well as recovered wreckage from the ship. The Arizona itself sits only six feet below the surface of the water, but is entirely inaccessible to all but the most adventurous divers. The USS Bowfin—the submarine that launched a counterattack after the collapse of the Arizona— is located adjacent to the Arizona Memorial. Visitors are able to go below deck of the Bowfin, which is absolutely astonishing and truly impresses upon guests the wartime reality of its 80-man crew.
Naples, Italy (World War II)
If you’re looking for some World War II history from the side of the Axis Powers, Montecassino Abbey is the place to go.
In between Naples and Rome sits the magnificent Montecassino Abbey, one of Europe’s oldest monasteries and the site of a hugely decisive World War II battle. In the spring of 1944, the abbey was used as a shelter for civilians, but was mistakenly taken for a German hideout by the Allies. Troops staged a months-long series of offensives, eventually demolishing the monastery in an aerial bombing. Despite 230 civilian casualties and over 55,000 Allied troop casualties, Montecassino was a decisive win for the Allies. The German Winter Line was forced back into Poland, allowing the Allied Troops to capture Rome.
After the War, the Montecassino Abbey was entirely rebuilt—for the fourth time since its original construction. Today it contains thousands of original manuscripts, books, and sketches from monks who lived there dating back to 529, a fascinating series of sixteenth-century crypts, remains of Medieval capitals and Roman artifacts, and photographs of the Abbey’s ruins after the World War II battle.
Robben Island, South Africa (Apartheid and Banished Groups)
The captivating history of Robben Island— an iconic site off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa—is moving, complicated, and current. Once an immense prison between the 17th and 20th centuries, Robben Island bears witness to innumerable human rights struggles against oppressive regimes. Nelson Mandela was confined on the island for eighteen years during apartheid, among hundred of other political protestors.
The prison was finally closed in 1996 after South Africa’s democratic independence, and has since been transformed into a museum and World Heritage Site to ensure the remembrance of lives lost to the island during its centuries-long operation. Surviving today: 17th-century quarries, the tomb of exiled Muslim leader Hadije Kramat, the only known remnants of a leper colony, and the brutally intact maximum-security prison that housed the Apartheid rebels.
Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A. (Civil Rights Movement)
If you’re looking to step into the vibrant history of the Civil Rights Movement, look no further than the Sweet Auburn Historic District in Atlanta, Georgia. This culturally significant neighborhood was the epicenter of African American life and activism during this pivotal era in American history.
The district is home to the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, where visitors can explore Dr. King’s birth home, and pay their respects at his final resting place, and experience a profound connection to the struggles, triumphs, and ongoing quest for social justice at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) headquarters.
The Apex Museum, also in the district, is a rich celebration of African American history, highlighting the contributions and challenges of Atlanta’s black community.
Through engaging exhibits, historic sites, and immersive storytelling, this extraordinary district serves as a reminder of the indomitable spirit that shaped America’s path towards a more inclusive future.
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (Vietnam War)
And finally: Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. The city hosts an abundance of unique and eye-opening sites from the Vietnam War. One of the most notable are the Cu Chi Tunnels.
An immense underground network, the Cu Chi Tunnels were used as the operation base for the Tet Offensive and played a crucial role in the underground guerrilla effort for Viet Cong troops. Tours are available through sections of the network, providing visitors with firsthand witness to the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the fighters who worked within them. Guides provide informative explanations about the tunnels’ history, construction techniques, and the daily lives of the soldiers who lived and fought underground. Visitors can witness demonstrations of the traps and weapons used to defend the tunnels and view numerous photographs and artifacts that illustrate the harsh conditions faced by the Vietnamese during the war. The experience allows tourists to gain a deeper understanding of the conflict and the resilience of the Vietnamese people.
Overall, travelling to Ho Chi Minh and visiting the Cu Chi Tunnels offers a compelling journey into the past, providing a somber reminder of the realities of war and the enduring spirit of the guerrilla fighters.
By Lucca Shields
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