I’ll start with a confession: I am a complete history buff. In particular, I’m fascinated by Russian aristocracy. And while the failings and fables of Russian royalty completely enthral me, I find all cultures to be fascinating. In fact it is perhaps the weirder, the better. The stranger and more unbelievable the tales are, the more I believe them. So with that confession out there for the world to see, lets take a look at the complete history travel bucket list. This is a checklist for travellers who love diving into the weird and wonderful, but most importantly, the real. These are real historic places with stories to tell. How wonderful this world is!
St Petersburg, Russia
We will begin with one of my favourite cities in the world: St Petersburg. And certainly it would be my top choice for history lovers. There’s just so much to discover in St Petersburg and it becomes more and more fascinating the further you dive into the history of Russia.
This being the historic capital of Russia, there is a lot to unpack. It all starts in the heart of the city at the Hermitage Museum. But this isn’t any ordinary museum. This is the historic Winter Palace which once housed royalty. So as much as the museum is about the art collection in which it possesses, it is also just a fascinating building in itself.
And of course, if you visit the winter palace you must make your way to the summer palace, too. Located outside of the city perimeters, Peterhof was commissioned by Peter the Great. What is great about this palace is that it has largely been kept intact. Not just inside but outside, too. The summer gardens are a story in themselves – with trickery fountains and quirky trimming of hedges. You really can’t dream this stuff up!
Machu Picchu, Peru
Chances are you have seen photographs of Machu Picchu before. It is no secret this location has quickly become one of the most sought after destinations in the world. This Incan citadel sits high in the Andes Mountains in Peru, above the Urubamba River valley. It is undeniably picturesque, especially given no two visits ever feel the same. The clouds play a big part in changing the feeling of the place, though it always feels magical due to the mystery that surrounds it. The use of Machu Picchu remains a mystery, which adds to the ethereal nature of the site. You can visit as a day guest or make your way by the Inca Trail, a four-day, three-night hike to the site.
There are so many historical sites to visit in India that it would be unjust to pick just one. So instead we’ve picked a city instead. Jaipur is but one of many cities to visit in India, however for history buffs it is essential. There are endless historical sites to visit, including the City Palace, Hawa Mahal and the Amber Palace. Jal Mahal is another fascinating site, a palace built in the middle of a lake. And when you tire of Jaipur, you’ll find plenty of other historical sites to visit throughout India (like the iconic Taj Mahal).
Dating to around 300 B.C., Petra was once the capital of the Nabatean Kingdom. Containing tombs and temples carved into pink sandstone cliffs, the site has earned the nickname “Rose City”. The site pictured (and that which has made its way around Instagram and Pinterest many times) is known as The Treasury. The famous structure stands at 45 metres high, a temple with an ornate Greek-style facade. Traversing rugged desert canyons to get there makes this location even more ethereal. So if you’re looking for an epic destination with enough history to last many lifetimes, this is one for you.
Sistine Chapel, Vatican City
The Vatican City is the smallest country in the world by land mass, but it certainly packs a punch for things to see and do. As the centre of Catholic faith, The Vatican has a lot to unpack. And it all starts with the Sistine Chapel, certainly an essential bucket list for history buffs.
The Sistine Chapel is one of the chapels of the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican City Stat. It is also where the pope’s official residence is located. The name Sistine Chapel comes from Pope Sixtus IV who ordered its restoration between 1473 and 1481. Since that time this chapel has served to celebrate papal acts and ceremonies of the Catholic Church and continues to be of the utmost significance to the church to this day.
Kyoto is the ancient capital city of Japan and as such, it is without a doubt a bucket list destination for history buffs. Located in the Kansai region, Kyoto continues to have a high importance to Japanese people to this day and thanks to its incredible history it is one of the most visited cities in Japan for international tourists.
Kyoto is famous for its numerous classical Buddhist temples. There are so many that you’ll need at least a few days just to see the highlights! Kyoto is also home to many gardens, imperial palaces, Shinto shrines and traditional wooden houses. Then there is of course the famed Bamboo Gardens, which I have had the pleasure of visiting twice. On my second visit years later they were much more crowded, so you can expect to share the serene walkway with other visitors. My top tip is to arrive as early as possible to beat the crowds.
Visit the mysterious Easter Island
Easter Island is quite a magical place as well as it is mysterious. Its native name is Rapa Nui, which it is still sometimes referred to today, especially by the locals who inhabit the island. Before I visited, I remember reading about the mythical moai statues, which to this day remain quite a mystery.
The moai statues are carved figure heads and there are variations throughout the island. Be sure to visit all of them as you will soon start to hear stories that unpack their significance and purpose. It is quite intriguing indeed!
Egypt is the country that links Africa to the Middle East, which in itself is reason enough to visit. This unique blend of cultures has evolved over the years, but one thing that has stayed the same is just how much depth there is to the history and culture of this land. The country is concentrated along the lower reaches of the Nile River and was the home of one of the principal civilizations of the ancient Middle East and was the site of one of the world’s earliest urban and literate societies. Pharaonic Egypt was thriving for some 3,000 years through a series of native dynasties that were interspersed with brief periods of foreign rule. After Alexander the Great conquered the region in 323 BCE, urban Egypt became an integral part of the Hellenistic world. There is much more history to discuss about Egypt, as it has played an integral role throughout history. But the best way to experience Egypt’s fascinating history is to of course visit for yourself and really feel the earth beneath your feet.
Athens is the capital city of Greece and has an incredible history to unpack. Ancient Greece was once a powerful civilisation and empire and was of course at the heart of Greek methodology. To this day the city is still dominated by prominent landmarks, leaving much to discover for history buffs. For example be sure not to miss the Acropolis, a citadel on top of a hill overlooking the city. Inside the museum you can view preserved items from the time including vases, sculptures and even jewellery. This is a must visit travel destination for history lovers and conveniently serves as the gateway to the beautiful Greek Islands.
Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Last but certainly not least, Angkor Wat in Cambodia is not one but a series of temples that make up this ancient site. You might recognise some of the temples from the famous film Tomb Raider, which is said to be when Angelina Jolie herself fell in love with the country on set. Many do not know until they visit that Angkor Wat is also the largest religious structure in the world by land area. It measures a whopping 162.6 hectares, so be sure to allow a full day to visit!