The main artisans’ street of the Etar Open-air Museum near Gabrovo in Central Bulgaria. Photo: Etar Museum
World cultures are intriguing and worth exploring the next time you go on vacation. From ancient architecture and history to traditional food, music, and clothing, there is so much you can see and do to understand other people around the world.
Best of all, you don’t have to be a history buff to incorporate cultural tours in your itinerary. This article details the five best cultural tourist destinations in the world.
To get you started, we will start with Bulgaria and dive deep into Egypt – the home of the Pyramids, before going over to Kenya, where we will introduce you to the most photographed people in the world, the Masais.
Bulgaria is a culturally rich nation, with history dating back to the medieval empire of the 7th Century AD.
This culture is further cemented by Slavic, Greek, Persian, and Ottoman influences that have interacted with the people of Bulgaria over the years.
Other than impressive architecture, Bulgaria is renowned for its popular traditional dances and lively costumes.
Perhaps best way to start your cultural tour in Bulgaria is to visit the many museums for a quick recap of its history.
The National History Museum in the outskirts of the capital, Sofia, carries exhibits showing important political milestones.
Other smaller museums such as the Etar Open Air Museum, the Stara Zagora Museum, and Abritus Interactive Museum give great insight into how life looked like hundreds of years ago.
If you are wondering how ancient Bulgarian towns looked like, Nessebar, Sozopol, and Plovdiv will take you back to that era.
Plovdiv still features an ancient theater that held actual gladiator fights. The old Roman seats are still intact, and you can catch a live concert here in the summer.
Egypt is one of the most culturally rich countries in the world. When you think of Egypt, you instantly see images of ancient Pharaohs, mummies, sphinxes, and mythical religion.
The ancient Egyptians gifted us with mind-boggling architectural and engineering feats that are still evident today. Without a doubt, your first stop in Egypt should be at the Great Pyramid of Giza.
The Great Pyramid of Giza is the oldest wonder of the world, completed around 2,560 BC. It is largely believed to have been constructed as a tomb for Pharaoh Khufu, and for 3,800 years, it remained the tallest structure in the world.
Other than the pyramids, the Egyptian Museum is a must-visit as it contains the most extensive collection of Egyptian relics. You can see papyrus documents, ancient coins, mummies, and statues.
Other places of interest include The Valley of the Kings and The Avenue of Sphinxes. Finish off with a beautiful evening cruise on River Nile.
Japan has a rich culture, for the most part, mostly uninfluenced by other cultures. This is because, during the Edo period, Japan greatly isolated itself from the world. When this period ended in 1868, the country opened up to other influences, primarily from China.
One of the best places to start is with the cultural “capital" of Japan, Kyoto. This beautiful destination is located on the Honshu Island, and was once the seat of power in Imperial Japan.
Some of its main attractions include temples, shrines, beautiful gardens and palaces, most classified as UNESCO heritage sites. Kinkakuji, or the Golden Pavilion, a Zen temple completely covered in gold, is a must-see.
Another intriguing aspect of Japanese culture is the Geisha – traditional Japanese women entertainers. You will see them in the streets of Kyoto dressed in traditional garb. They are well trained in traditional Japanese music, poetry, and dancing.
Kenya is most renowned for its white sandy beaches and vast savannahs where wild animals roam free.
Another exciting aspect of this East African country is the intriguing Maasai Culture. The Maasai are one of the 43 tribes found in Kenya. They are largely pastoralists, herding cows and goats for a living.
What makes the Maasai unique is their stubborn clinging to ancient traditions amid modernity. For starters, they still wear traditional shukas (cloth), which only replaced cowhide and sheepskin in the 1950’s.
They also still live in traditional huts called Manyatta’s, made from a mixture of cow dung and soil, and are predominantly constructed by women. A tour of Kenya cannot be complete without a visit to a Maasai homestead.
When it comes to European culture, Italy takes a firm lead. It is home to some of the most intriguing structures in the world, from the famous Colosseum to the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
The Colosseum is a massive amphitheater most popular for staging gladiator fights during the reign of Emperor Vespasian and his son Titus, who were as important as the Kentucky Derby is for horse racing fans nowadays. Today, parts of the amphitheater have fallen to ruin, but it remains a popular tourist destination.
If you are an art lover, you will be at home at the Sistine Chapel, where some of Michelangelo’s most famous work lives.
There are numerous museums in cities such as Rome, Florence, and Venice, all covering different historical and cultural aspects.
For music lovers, Italy is the original home of Opera, and you will be able to enjoy some original tunes in the many opera houses in Rome.