“Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it” – George Santayana, Spanish philosopher
History and travel are so entwined they’re pretty much the same thing. You can’t visit a destination without somehow being affected by what has gone before, and the lasting effect that has had on the current infrastructure, traditions and people. From past wars, to religions, to finances and agriculture, where a country is at now is all down to the history that's gone before.
Look back in history and people have always travelled. Back in ‘the olden days’ it wasn’t a case of ringing your friendly travel agent and handing over a few hunner though. Early explorers would travel for weeks, months or in the case of Christopher Columbus years, to seek their treasure. The world is built on travel – Brits love tea thanks to India, Australia is built by criminals who were banished to this far off barren land years ago, Jesus and his disciples are thought to have travelled all over the place spreading the word and uniting and dividing nations, while the Vikings set up Iceland and Greenland and brought their traditions and ideals with them. That's just to mention a few of the many tribes of people who've lived to shape this world into the one we know it as now.
At first travel for commerce was popular, and then came pilgrimages for the religious, then the wealthy decided to travel to seem more worldly. In 1841 Thomas Cook put together the first package holiday in history – no idea how much that must’ve cost the lucky few who took him up on it. Nowadays just £20 can buy you a point to point flight in Europe and we’re all at it. It’s important to use the fact that travel is cheaper and more accessible than ever before to see more of the world and to understand our history better so we can understand the future. And who knows what the future holds? Space travel for all? Hoverboards? Time travel?
Until time travel is a reality, we'll just have to make do with studying and visiting our ancient predecessors sites. So here are our selection of trips and projects that will take you to them and maybe even teach you something new!
Popular Historical Destinations
The history of Asia is fascinating. In Japan in particular many of the ancient traditions are still alive, juxtaposed against one of the most forward thinking countries in the world. In India you can visit the old buildings and travel the ancient trains as they rattle from city to city. Like many countries, the history of Cambodia is all kinds of horrific - check out the Killing Fields for the most poignant of reminders. It's likely you'll need to head to the Buddhist temples to settle your mind again afterwards, and explore the Sultan Mosque in Singapore for the best snaps.
Greece is a hugely popular destination for history lovers. From Greek mythology to philosophers to poets, Greece has produced some of the most popular thinkers of our time. Take a trip to the Greek Islands to take in the Kolonna ruins in Aegina to the picturesque sheltered coves of Perdika and Hydr and maybe you could be one of these inspirational thinkers. Of course Italy is another fascinating European destination worthy of a history-lovers time and attention – take a summer course in something, anything, here and you’ll get to know all the more about your surroundings, making you appreciate them all the more.
Castles, museums, and churches can be found all over Ireland, Germany, Northern France, Norway, and the rest of Europe really. It's a hugely popular continent for anyone with even a vague interest in history.
Notorious as a top destination for animal-loving gappers, Central America has a rich and fascinating history too. Make sure to include Mexico in your itinerary to take in the Mayan ruins of Chichén Itzá, Palenque and Tikal with their famous stepped pyramids. While the Spanish conquest in the 16th Century has left a trail of Spanish influence visible in Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama. It’s a fascinating pocket of the world to visit.
If you’re into your history there’s loads to see and do in South America. The magical Incas would be your first stop into the world of Ancient civilisations. Instability, the crash of the stock market and the everchanging political atmosphere has left an ‘interesting’ history and present day continent with a lot to offer anyone interested in history. Years of independence, dependence and industrialisation have left some fasicnating architecture, history and traditions behind.
Errm, interesting. In 1770 Captain James Cook ‘discovered’ Australia and claimed it for Britain. The fact that the aboriginal people had already been living there for tens of thousands of years didn’t seem to bother his ego. The Brits decided to use the beautiful island with its lush beaches and brilliant year round temperature as a penal colony and on 26 January 1788, the First Fleet of 11 ships carrying 1,500 people – half of them convicts – arrived in Sydney Harbour. Since then Australia has become the number one travel destination among gappers and the descendants of those criminals are laughing all the way to the hot, sunny beach, while the Brits shake off their umbrellas back at home. Thanks to this Australia’s history is short and it’s not really cited as one of the great historical destinations of our world, but has many other positive characteristics.
Canada and New England in the USA are popular choices for history buffs looking for a good variation of old delights. In New England, attractions and deep rooted cultural and historical influences from the United States’ early years. In Canada, you can find French and British influences dating from the 15th Century, Post-Confederation Canada, and you'll love the quaint villages, landmarks, and historic forests.
Top 5 Historical Sites
There are millions of notable sites in the world, too many to mention here, but if you’re looking for a quick top ten round up we’ve narrowed it down to the gapyear.com top 10 based on popularity and historical significance to make it easy for you.
Machu Picchu, Peru
You’ll find our number one historical site in Southern Peru. To reach the top you have the option of a four-day trek, or a leisurely train journey depending on your finances and your fitness. Machu Picchu was an important cultural centre for the Inca civilization, but was abandoned when the Spanish came. The whole location was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983 and was also named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007.
La Sagrada Familia, Spain
This huge cathedral in Barcelona is an absolutely incredible feat of architecture. Look out over the city’s skyline and you’ll see its domination at the heart of the city. It’s the most famous work of Antoni Gaudi, but as yet is not actually finished. The Sagrada Familia has been under construction for more than 130 years, and it’s estimated it’ll be at least another 15. This is no IKEA flat pack creation that’s for sure. Gaudi died in 1926, famously saying that ‘his client wasn’t in a hurry’.
Taj Mahal, India
This was originally built in the 1600s as the ultimate testament to undying love. Emperor Shah Jahan built it to commemorate his third wife Mumtaz Mahal in Agra, India, and millions of travellers have ventured out to see it ever since. The white marble tomb was also named a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World too.
Another UNESCO World Heritage Site and New Seven Wonders of the World, Petra in Jordan was created in 312BC. If you haven’t been you’ll know it from Indiana Jones when he tries to find the Holy Grail. It’s now one of the most celebrated attractions in the world, and the best way to see it is at night when they put the candles out and it honestly just looks absolutely magical.
Read more about exploring Jordan on your gap year here.
Colosseum, Forum and Pantheon, Italy
Located in just a few minutes’ walk from each other, Rome deserves its spot as a top 5 destination for history lovers. Visit this area and you’re standing in the spot Caesar stood, and where he saw gladiators battle life out to its bitter end. Some parts of the Colosseum are open to the public and are well worth paying the entrance fee to see. This place was built in 70AD, incredible. The Forum is free to walk around, and there are often shows there. Head to the Pantheon to witness the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome, the attention to detail and concentrated art work that’s gone into it is incredible and painstaking to see.
Other big historical sites for gappers include the Pyramids at Giza, Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Chichen Itza in Mexico, Christ the Redeemer in Brazil and the Great Wall of China in... China.