How to be a cultural tourist? I have been writing about some wonderful examples of cultural tourism on this blog since 2016. And I realised that during that time, I hadn’t written an article in which I would explain well what cultural tourism actually is, who are cultural tourists and how to be one. So here it finally is – cultural tourism explained!

How to be a cultural tourist

Are you a cultural tourist if you’re visiting museums while travelling? Or if you go to the old local church during your summer trip? And what about if you read a novel set up in that destination before your visit? You could be a cultural tourist in all those cases, but not necessarily.

But how to be a cultural tourist then? And what is cultural tourism actually?

Read more: 15 Best museums in Europe you have to visit this year

History of cultural tourism

Let’s start with some basics first. As you probably know, people have been travelling already for centuries. During Ancient Rome, more than two thousand years ago, wealthy people travelled to their holiday homes on the Mediterranean Sea coast.

Later on, in Middle Ages, pilgrimages became the most popular type of travel. People travelled for religious purposes and, along their way, visited numerous churches and cathedrals. However, in the Renaissance and Baroque times, artists travelled quite a lot. They were learning about art by visiting famous churches to observe artworks in them. For the same reason, they would visit other artists’ studios and get acquainted with their art.

A bit later, the Grand Voyages became popular among the wealthy European youth. They would go on a few months-long journeys to visit some of Europe’s art and culture centres. Those trips would often include Paris, Rome and some of the best archaeological sites in Europe.

All of those early travellers were cultural tourists. They were all motivated by local art, culture and unique traditions to visit those destinations. So, if you exclude survival as one of the first reasons for early migrations, then culture is one of the earliest motivations to travel.

Read more: The travelling artists & artworks in Renaissance Europe

Culture as opposed to the mass tourism

Only from the mid-20th century did mass tourism become a thing. Before that time, travellers mainly were cultural tourists. However, with the introduction of mass transportation, people also started to go places for other reasons. And only in the 1970s is cultural tourism start being spoken about again.

Many tourism boards around the world are trying to focus more on cultural tourism in their destinations lately. So, perhaps in the near future, it will be one of the main reasons to travel again.

Read more: History of travelling – How people started to travel

How to be a cultural tourist

If you’re wondering who cultural tourists are and if you are one, then keep reading to learn more about this type of travel. Cultural tourism theory recognises many types and subtypes of these kinds of travellers. However, not to bore you with the tiresome theory behind it, here are ten points to help you understand how to be a cultural tourist.

1 – Learn about the local culture while travelling

When deciding where to travel next, make culture one of the primary motivators for picking up that destination. When in the Netherlands, visit Dutch Golden Age heritage sites, in Croatia, learn about the local Istrian fishermen’s traditions or explore its cuisine while in Italy.

Your goal could also be to learn more about the famous local artist while travelling to a particular destination. An excellent example is exploring the Impressionist art movement in Paris or following the footsteps of Rembrandt in Amsterdam.

Read more: Locations linked to Vincent van Gogh in Europe

2 – Visiting museums & cultural sites while travelling

If museums and cultural sites are high on your bucket list when visiting a new destination, you can consider yourself a cultural tourist. Museums, galleries, great architecture, archaeological sites and beautiful churches are all considered cultural sites and are of interest to cultural tourists.

Visiting the Louvre Museum and Musée Marmottan – Monet in Paris or the Rijksmuseum or Moco Museum in Amsterdam are all considered cultural tourism activities.

Read more: How to visit the museum – A guide for the perfect museum visit

3 – Meet locals when travelling

Learning more about the local life and meeting some locals while travelling is one of the main goals of cultural tourism. It could be done by booking the tours organised by locals, going to local cafes and restaurants or visiting the local market.

Meeting the locals is one of the best ways to understand the local culture. If you’re wondering how to be a cultural tourist, meet some locals during your trip.

4 – Read about the destination before visiting it

Cultural tourists are individual travellers who prepare well for their trip in advance. Not only do they book their accommodation, transport and activities online. But they also read a lot about their destination before the trip.

You can get information about the destination you’re going to visit on travel blogs and in travel guides. However, one of my favourite ways of preparing for the trip is by reading a novel set in a destination I’m going to visit. Descriptions of its streets, architecture and life in that place make planning the trip even more exciting.

5 – Join guided tours while travelling

Guided tours are some of the best ways to learn about the local culture and destination you’re visiting. I don’t talk about mass group tours but small or private guided tours. You can join some while visiting a museum or a historical site. Or, you can learn more about the city’s history or specific areas during some of those tours.

My favourite places to look for guided tours are websites like Get Your Guide, Viator or With Locals.

Read more: 21 Most beautiful castles in Europe

6 – Try to learn a few words of the local language before and during your trip

If you plan to listen to tip no. 3 (meet some locals) from my list of how to be a cultural tourist, then this point is pretty important. If you want to be a proper cultural tourist, try to learn a few words of the local language before and during your trip.

Saying hello and thank you are some of the basics. But, if you’d like to go that extra mile, then a few more words would do magic. It’s also a great way to show respect towards the locals. Something proper culture tourists always do!

7 – Visit less known destinations for better cultural experiences

Popular and very touristic destinations often won’t give you genuine insight into the local culture. If you want to have more of an authentic experience, aim for the smaller places. Small fishermen’s villages around Barcelona will show you more true Catalunya than its capital. Small towns in France will give you a better insight into the French lifestyle than Paris.

An example I always love to give is museums with Van Gogh‘s artworks. Most tourists who want to see the work of that famous Dutch painter visit the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. But, that museum is often packed with people, and you won’t have a chance to enjoy his paintings that much. However, very few visit another Dutch institution, the Kröller-Müller Museum, home to the second-largest collection of Van Gogh’s paintings. It’s home to numerous fantastic artworks, but much less crowded and a place where you can enjoy his artworks in peace and quiet.

So, you understand my point here – visit less known destinations for better cultural experiences!

8 – Search for cultural events worth visiting

Have you ever considered visiting a destination just to attend some cultural events like concerts or festivals? If yes, you could definitely consider yourself a cultural tourist. I often visit some destinations because of the temporary exhibitions organised there. For example, I plan to go to Amsterdam at the beginning of the next year to see Johannes Vermeer‘s exhibition that will be organised in the Rijksmuseum.

Some local festivals are even better reasons to visit a particular destination. Christmas markets are some of the best known. However, many interesting cultural events are organised across Europe in the summer.

9 – Try local food while travelling

Local food shows you the soul of the country. My favourite way of learning about the local culture is by visiting the market of a destination I’m seeing. It’s a perfect place to try some local food, learn about it and feel the lifestyle of a destination.

It’s also a great way to meet and chat with some locals. And don’t be afraid if you don’t speak the local language. A smile and a few words in English can mostly be enough.

Read more: The most interesting European myths and legends

10 – Read and follow Culture Tourist for travel inspiration

Are you Culture Tourist’s regular reader? If you are, you can already consider yourself a cultural tourist!

Shameless self-promotion aside, reading about some great and inspiring examples of cultural tourism worldwide could help you be a cultural tourist. It makes it easier to stay informed about exciting destinations to visit and inspired about fun cultural trips to take.

With its focus on local communities, art and sustainability, well-executed cultural tourism is the future of travel. I hope this article helped you understand how to be a cultural tourist.

Do you consider yourself a cultural tourist? What are some other things you do to be one? Let me know in the comments below!