Our love of ‘things’ is increasingly being replaced by experiences – especially those that involve archaeological and historical sites. Finding a gift to suit everyone’s tastes and interests just got easier.

A view of Prague Castle in the snow.
Historic Prague. Photograph by Julius Silver

One of the most memorable gifts I have received was a four-day Christmas break in Prague. I still have a few souvenirs purchased during that trip, but it was the walk back to our hotel in the early hours of Christmas day that is as clear in my mind today as it was over 20 years ago.

Two friends and I decided to spend Christmas in Prague. For an added indulgence we had booked a table for Christmas eve at a 5-star hotel near Prague Castle. Our evening started with champagne and canapés in the hotel’s luxurious library, from where we progressed to the glass-roofed dining room. Each course of delicious traditional Czech dishes was followed by musical performances by a string quartet and a very accomplished Soprano. At midnight the glass ceiling opened up and we were treated with some of the city’s fireworks. Our meal finished at about 2.30 am, and despite the very light snow (actually I think it was because of the snow) we decided to walk back to our hotel across the Vltava River in the Old Town.

Roman and Medieval city walls of Carcassonne, France.

Charles Bridge almost deserted at night; try and imagine this with a light dusting of snow.

There were very few people about at that time of the morning. Crossing the Charles Bridge we all but had it to ourselves. With a light dusting of snow and street lamps still burning, the view across the bridge to the Old Town was truly enchanting. As this was before smartphones-cum-cameras all I have is a memory. But what a memory. No painting or photograph of the Charles Bridge I seen since has come close to the image I carry with me all the time. An image that has taken me back to enjoy the Czech city three more times.

Prague has a fascinating history, and is understandably a popular destination. Not surprisingly because survey after survey recently has shown that historical sites and museums are high on peoples lists of things to do when they travel. No matter what our level of interest, apparently, we greatly enjoy going to places of historical interest. While there is an increasing desire to see something new, we are still drawn to the iconic sites of the world.

Heritage is and always will be big business. And now we are starting to understand why.

Roman and Medieval city walls of Carcassonne, France.

An olive grove outside the Roman and Medieval walls of Carcassonne.

Visiting Heritage Sites is Good For Us

The positive effect on the economy of people visiting heritage sites is surely uncontroversial and perhaps even obvious. Such arguments are frequently used for political purposes. For example, Royalists in the United Kingdom counter anti-monarchists by stating that the Royal family, sites such as Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace, and the pomp and ceremony of such occasions as the trooping of the colour are crucial for the Great Britain’s tourism industry. Republicans contest this view, countering with statistics that show more people visited Chester Zoo than Windsor Castle. Whatever your position (I recommend reading Claire Haven-Tang’s Fact Check: do tourists visit Britain because of the royal family? as a starter to the debate), no one denies that heritage is good for tourism and a nation’s economy – even if responsible tourism seeks to keep tourism in check by making it more sustainable.

Equally uncontentious, I would have thought, is the idea that visiting archaeology and history attractions is good for learning and education. Otherwise why do we see so many school groups visiting historical sites and museums? Perhaps what most of us are not explicitly aware of is the increasingly discussed notion that visiting heritage sites is also good for our wellbeing.

Yes, heritage makes us happy!

In 2014 Historic England published a report based on research commissioned by Heritage Counts that examined the impact of visiting heritage sites on wellbeing. Read the report (here: 2014 – The Value and Impact of Heritage), it is a fascinating read, as are the various case studies. Briefly, the report concluded that visiting heritage in general has a significant positive relationship with life satisfaction, and that that relationship is slightly higher than the impact of participating in sport and the arts.

Hot air balloon ride over the west bank of Luxor.

Bucket-list experiences, riding a hot air balloon over ancient Egyptian sites on the west bank of Luxor.

The Best Way to Experience Heritage Sites

Things are out. Experiences are in. The reasons for this are surely complex, but they are also having an impact on our gift giving. Would you prefer a book about the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, or would you prefer to fly over the same ancient structures in a hot air balloon at dawn? As much as I love books, and despite my fear of heights and having enjoyed a balloon ride in Italy, experiencing those remarkable funerary temples from above as the sunrises is high on my list of things I would love to do.

Sharing that experience with friends or someone special would be so much better than sitting together leafing through a book, no matter how exceptional the photographs. Not only would that experience be so much more fun, it would also have a greater impact on our own and collective memories. This is why newly weds like to do something special for their wedding, whether on the day itself or the honeymoon.

Also, the buzz we get after buying things begins to fade as those objects become part of our daily life. And apparently this is equally true for giving and receiving things. Giving experiences, that can be shared, is giving a gift that is more likely stand out.

Giving an Unforgettable Gift

Those online websites that sell tours and activities around the world report that while travellers are interested in outdoor activities and sports, culinary and cooking classes, it is heritage and history experiences that continue to become more popular. In particular people are choosing not to stand in queues for hours. Sales of skip-the-line tickets are top of most companies’ lists in many of the major destinations. This makes buying that perfect gift so much easier now. Whether you are looking for something ‘small’ but appreciable for a work colleague, neighbour or a distant cousin, or a more remarkable and outstanding experience for someone special, there is an activity, ticket or tour for them. Whether they are travelling far or not.

Historical experiences make for excellent gifts for history lovers, or anyone remotely interested in history who is about to travel whether for a holiday or a weekend break. And these gifts can be anything from a skip-the-line entry to a popular museum or archaeological site, a guide tour or an activity that really is different. How about a mini hot rod tour of Berlin for sightseeing with a difference.

For a bit more than the price of a pair of socks or bar of soap, you could buy someone a Skip-the-Line Entry Ticket to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. You will be giving so much more than a ticket to a museum. Remember:

  • visiting heritage sites is good for our wellbeing
  • we enjoy experiences more than things
  • skip-the-line tickets are the most popular products

All that for under €20. Secret Santas should never be the same again!

Over the years I have worked with a few companies, promoting their tours and experiences here on Archaeology Travel. Since 2014 I have been working with GetYourGuide, a platform that advertises the best local activities and experiences. There are over 35,000 to choose from, in destinations all around the world. As I have booked a number of their products myself, I have no hesitation in recommending their portfolio of activities and tickets to my readers on this website.

And there is more than history, archaeology and museums, check out these food tours and cooking classes.

If you can not decide what to give, the good people at GetYourGuide have come to your rescue again. Just in time for Christmas 2018, they have launched a Gift Card. Instead of you choosing, let your friend or loves ones make the choice themselves.

Sunrise on the ancient Peruvian site of Machu Picchu.

The morning’s sun rays lighting up the extraordinary ancient mountain settlement of Machu Picchu.

21 Unforgettable Experiences at 21 Stunning Heritage sites Around the World

GetYourGuide has over 35,000 experiences, tickets and activities to choose from, for destinations all around the world. From walking tours lasting a few hours to tours and cruises over several days, costing anything from a few Euros to a lot more. Whether it is small token of appreciation you are looking for or something special for a unique adventure, you will definitely find something for the destination you are interested in: view all the tours and activities by destination. Spoilt for choice, or just not sure what to buy, then let them choose with your personalised GetYourGuide Gift Card.

If you need any further convincing, will any of the following do?

2-Day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
Definitely one for hikers, a two-day journey along the Inca Trail to the mountain settlement of Machu Picchu where you get a full day to explore this extraordinary site.

Full-Day Tour to Petra from Amman
Petra is on many people’s bucket lists. Perhaps not that surprising as it is one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Take a day-trip from Amman to see the magnificent rock-cut architecture in the rose-red rock canyon.

Kathmandu: Full-Day Tour of 5 World Heritage Sites
Explore the Nepali capital’s 2,000 year history and culture while visiting five of the seven UNESCO World Heritage sites in the Kathmandu Valley. See temples, pagodas, stupas and the ‘place of palaces in the Durbar Square before heading out of the city for breathtaking views of the Himalayas.

Stonehenge and Bath Full-Day Sunrise Tour from London
Take a day-trip from London to enjoy two of England’s most iconic archaeological sites. After watching sunrise from within the prehistoric circle of Stonehenge you will head to Bath to see the thermal baths of Aqua Sulis – one of the most important Roman sites in England.

Chichen Itza Sunrise Tour
Chichen Itza is one of the new seven wonders of the world. Beat the crowds and watch sunrise at one of the most spectacular Mayan sites in Mexico.

St. Petersburg Imperial Residences Tour
Experience pre-revolutionary Russia at two Imperial summer residences. At Catherine Palace get to see the expertly reconstructed Amber Room, the original of which was stolen by Nazi soldiers during World War 2. Walk around the gardens of the Peterhof Palace – built for Peter the Great and intended to rival the French Palace of Versailles.

Vatican Museums: Skip-the-Line Guided Tour with Breakfast
After a buffet breakfast inside the Vatican Museums discover the highlights of the Papal art collection with an official Vatican guide. One of the highlights of your visit will be a small-group tour, with no more than 10 people, of the famous Sistine Chapel.

Alice Springs: 3-Day Camping Tour to Uluru
Starting and ending in Alice Springs, take a three day camping trip in the Australian outback. Get to see both sunrise and sunset at Uluru and hike the Kings Canyon – another of Australia’s most extraordinary natural landmarks.

Exclusive Castle Tours of Hamlet’s Kronborg & Frederiksborg
Visit two of Denmark’s most important castles, one the setting for Shakespeare’s Hamlet and the other home to an important collection of Renaissance art. During this private tour with an expert guide you will be introduced to Danish history and art, see magnificent tapestries and gardens, and hear indelible Viking tales.

Cappadocia: Hot Air Balloon Flight and Day Tour
Enjoy at hour long balloon ride at dawn over the stunning lunar landscape of Cappadocia followed by a guided tour of the 5th and 13th century rock-cut churches and monasteries with their vibrant frescoes in Goreme, including the Dark Church, the Apple Church, the Church of the Serpent and the Saint Barbara Church.

Jinshanling Great Wall of China Hike
Another extraordinary hiking experience – this time in China along a majestic section of the Great Wall at Jinshanling. Escaping the crowds for a ten km stretch of the wall, there will be opportunities to take evocative photos of well-preserved ramparts and watchtowers as the Wall snakes across the mountains.

San Rock Art – Drakensberg World Heritage Tour
Take a 3km hike through one of the most spectacular landscapes in South Africa to see exquisite rock paintings in the Giant’s Castle Nature Reserve in the foothills of the Drakensberg mountains. After this you will visit the striking monument at the site of Nelson Mandela’s capture on 5 August in 1962.

Amsterdam: Rembrandt House Museum Entrance Ticket
With so much art in Amsterdam, why not visit the house where Rembrandt lived for 20 years and see an wonderful collection of paintings by artists inspired by the Dutch master. You can even create your own masterpiece during an etching workshop.

From New Orleans: Whitney Plantation Tour
There are a number of Plantations in the American south, but none that offers such a personal look into the lives of slaves and their owners. The 262 year old Whitney Plantation in Antebellum Louisiana opened to the public, making this the only plantation in Louisiana that focuses on slavery.

In the Footsteps of Van Gogh – Half-Day Provence Tour
Following in the footsteps of Vincent Van Gogh through scenic Medieval villages in Provence you will discover many of the sites in Arles and St Remy de Provence that inspired some of the artists most famous paintings.

Walking Tour of Roman Lisbon
Occupied in ancient times by the Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans, Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in Europe. On this guided tour through the historical centre of Lisbon you will get a glimpse into what the Portuguese capital was like during the Roman period.

Prague: Mozart Dinner in Neo-Baroque Boccaccio Ballroom
Head down to Prague’s Old Town and the striking Boccaccio Hall. Savour a three-course traditiional Czech meal while listening to the best of Mozart’s operatic music performed by musicians from prestigious Czech opera houses.

Cradle of Human Kind Tour with Wonder Cave
Just north of Johannesburg is a series of caves that have yielded important hominin fossils. This UNESCO World Heritage site has been described as the Cradle of Human Kind. Only here can you get that bit closer to the final resting places of some of our earliest ancestors.

Ancient Pompeii: Wine Tasting and Lunch
Who has not been spellbound by images of Pompeii, the site of one of the earliest archaeological excavations in modern times. Do something different, following a guided tour enjoy a typical menu from ancient Pompeii and taste four different wines grown in an experimental vineyard.

Ouarzazate Full-Day Tour from Marrakech with Lunch
Experience desert landscapes and remote mountain villages on a day tour from Marrakech. One of the highlights is a tour of the UNESCO listed, fortified city of Ait Ben Haddou kasbah – used as a backdrop for a number of films, including Gladiator.

Polonnaruwa Sigiriya Tour from Dambulla, Sri Lanka
Discover two of Sri Lanka’s magnificent UNESCO world heritage sites and some of the finest archaeology in that country: the ruined ancient city of Polonnaruwa, the second kingdom of ancient Sri Lanka, and the truly awesome fortress at Sigiriya Rock.