Heritage Tourism: Create a Personalized Travel Experience

December 2, 2019  - by 
Heritage Tourism - Girl looks up in alleyway

Heritage tourism is traveling to understand the cultures and places of the past—including those of your ancestors. Here’s how to make heritage tourism the ultimate vacation!

One of the best ways to understand history—including your family history—is to go to a place where you can relive it. This kind of travel is called heritage tourism, or “traveling to experience the places, artifacts, and activities that authentically represent the stories and people of the past and present. It includes visitation to cultural, historic, and natural resources.”1

Though many places offer heritage tours that you can pay for and join, you can also create a personalized heritage tour—and save some money—with just a little research and preparation. Here are some tips for enjoying heritage tourism that is customized to your personal history and heritage.

Tips for Creating Your Own Heritage Tour

Try finding the exact location of your ancestor’s home or property.

Heritage tourism is all about finding the right places to explore and “tour.” Look for street addresses in census records, civil or draft registrations, vital records, correspondence, old family address books, and newspaper articles.

Need a place to start? Here’s a quick how-to on searching records. You can also start here by typing your ancestor’s name and any details you know about his or her life.

Identify other places of interest associated with your ancestor’s life.

Study records about your family to find the names of workplaces, churches, schools, cemeteries, or other landmarks. Locating and visiting these places, if they still exist, may build your sense of connection to your ancestors.

A man walks through a graveyard on a heritage tour

Visiting an ancestral grave can be an especially poignant experience. You may be able to find the location of your ancestors’ graves using this Find a Grave Index.

Look for maps from your ancestors’ time period.

Compare these maps with Google Earth. See what has changed and what has not. Try to pinpoint the modern locations of sites that are key to your family’s history. Borders may have changed; so may have the names of streets and towns and even house numbers.

Make a list of traditional, authentic recipes you want to try.

Heritage tourism is more than exploring a place—it’s exploring the culture! And what better way to do that than to trying the cuisine? Research what food was available to your ancestors at the time they lived there. For example, what local food was grown? What animals were raised? What spices did locals use? Look up traditional recipes of the country and region, and be sure to try them during your visit.

A father and daughter make a heritage recipe

Read up on the history of the region.

Before you travel, research the culture and history of your ancestral homeland, keeping in mind that this history is part of your history. Heritage tourism can begin long before you visit the place as you study the history and culture of the region. Make a list of historic sites and museums to visit so that you have a better idea of what your ancestors’ may have experienced.

Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. Heritage tourism includes visiting  cultural and historical landmarks.

Watch for industrial museums, mining or logging camps, restored homes or villages, decommissioned military posts, or religious landmarks. Don’t ignore the exhibits of small historical societies near your ancestral home. These may have displays or artifacts especially relevant to your family’s story. Some museums and historic sites even offer living history or interactive experiences that more fully immerse you in the past.

Consider contacting a local history expert or someone associated with an ancestral place.

An older woman and a young girl point out a building on a heritage tour

You may be able to schedule a tour or conversation with someone while you are there. That person may even be able to connect you with relatives who still live in the area.

Can’t make a personal visit? Try taking a virtual tour of your ancestor’s neighborhood or village.

Yes, heritage tourism can happen at home! If visiting your ancestral homeland isn’t possible, you can also try to find an immigrant community or cultural heritage society near you with the same ethnic roots. You may be able to visit ethnic neighborhoods, churches, restaurants, festivals, or clubs where that heritage still thrives. You can even go on these pre-created virtual tours!

You don’t need to travel to your ancestors’ homeland to connect with your heritage and learn more about your family history. Right at home, you can discover your family story through searching records, starting a family tree, and exploring and preserving important family memories.

Are you looking for tips a little more tailored to the specific country you want to visit? Check out our country travel guides, which can aid your heritage tourism endeavors by providing a list of the best places to visit to discover your heritage.

Learn More about Heritage Travel

Two sisters travel to Italy and hold a map in their hand

Sunny Morton

Sunny Morton teaches personal and family history to worldwide audiences. She's a Contributing Editor at Family Tree Magazine, past Contributing Editor at Lisa Louise Cooke's Genealogy Gems, and the author of How to Find Your Family History in U.S. Church Records (co-authored with Harold Henderson, CG); Story of My Life: A Workbook for Preserving Your Legacy; "Genealogy Giants: Comparing the 4 Major Websites," and hundreds of articles. She has degrees in history and humanities from Brigham Young University. Read her work at sunnymorton.com.

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  1. E·stas herramientas de Google, son maravillosas é increíbles,pues nos permiten viajar a la ciudad de nuestros antepasados. Muchas gracias.

    Translation: These Google tools are wonderful and incredible, as they allow us to travel to the city of our ancestors. Thank you very much.

  2. I am interested in learning about the Irish immigrants to St. Lawrence County, New York who arrived around the time of the Famine in Ireland (1845-51) . They settled as farmers near the Canadian border and apparently had extensive contact with the Native peoples in the region.

  3. Auszeichnet! In 2008, I was able to travel to see where my German ancestors lived in Croatia and the Czech Republic because of the old days during the Austro-Hungary Empire. At that time, my credit card accumulated free miles until ti had enough to fly myself round trip. I begged my wife to let me go for two weeks as a part of my gift combined with my birthday, Father’s day, Christmas and Easter. I had to plan in advance with my boss to get that time off, and… every minute was worth it! I met an unknown cousin at a family reunion and within two years… I was able to land my foot upon Croatian soil and met some several good cousins who shared their food, bedding, directions, and even one cousin offered to drive me to out to the country side to visit two different villages where my German grandparents grew up before they immigrated to America. I cannot say enough how powerful was the Spirit of Elijah was with me when I met my great grandparents gravestones 4,500 miles away from my home. At another town to see where my other great grandparents lived, I saw the street where my grandmother used to play when she was much younger… Actually she refused to tell me about her family tree because of the anti-German sentiment in the USA during WWI and WWII… until earlier I sent my sister to Croatia while traveling around Europe in 2006 with my instructions to ask the village people if they knew my grandmother’s maiden name… HOW AMAZING she found the lost connections and when I visited them in 2008, I was blown away to find rich stories enough to make an epic movie about my family history that would rival over Star Wars movies. I have too many things that cannot be contained here, but fast forward to visiting my early ancestors several kilometers across the German border to the Czech republic, I was upset to learn that I couldn’t rent a car to cross the border because Czechs like to steal cars with German plates and couldn’t afford to pay high insurance rates. I sat in my room at Gasthof (Guest House), deeply disappointed for not being able to see two different cemeteries dating back to the 1600’s. I nearly wept and said my prayers… soon enough the Spirit said go and look at the phone book with your last name… surprisingly I found one whom the clerk said only lived some blocks away… I left a note when no one was home. Soon they came to meet me at the Gasthof and they welcomed me as a perfect stranger but I shared my genealogy information. Although we may come from a common ancestor, but we sort of bonded with each other. In my deepest shock of all time, they offered to drive me and tour the villages and cemeteries for the next day! I almost lost my sanity the following night, pondering how great the Lord hath done for me… the next day was the greatest day of my life, finding the lost names, and I even visited a memorial spot where my ancestors were baptized, married and attended church there for about 200 years… Too many rich experiences that makes you feel richer than a billionaire… Later we hiked to a small village no longer in existence because of WWII, but I did find many old foundations where the homes once stood… I walked on the very same path where my ancestors walked, guided their horses carrying harvests of hay, wooden logs, etc… and the children who played along the path… it was like returning back home, a real home! I even found something interesting… I saw a huge tree, estimated to be about 300 years old… and a thunderbolt struck me! My ancestors knew that tree in and out of the village! I walked around the tree in awe and amazement, then a funny feeling came to me… somewhere behind that tree, was a nice spot where my great-grandparents and great-great grandparents must have secretly kissed each other before they got married, to avoid the prying eyes at the outskirts of their village. Too many things cannot be said here again… I am not done yet, so I know where to collect more details and genealogical data from those places… upon returning home, I was somewhat depressed but I reflected my adventure could be billed as like being “Indiana Jones” as the “Tomb Raider of the Lost Spannbauers and Kindermanns” if you have seen his action movies. Finally, the more you learn about your ancestors, you learn more about yourself that cannot be learned from being psychoanalyzed or from a book… please plan everything in advance, save your money, and go there with many prayers!! The best times of my life. To be continued!

    1. Thank you so much for your response. This is my desire to do the same thing in England. I loved your description of the experiences you had. I hope I can walk in my ancestors footsteps also. I have some addresses of homes and cemeteries. Just reading what you wrote has made my holiday season. It has given me hope that I can do the same. I’ve got sky miles also, enough to cover my trip. Thank you for taking the time to write in depth about your trip.

  4. Me parece genial saber todo del lugar donde nacieron nuestros antepasados espero que se estima también a otros países o continentes soy de América del Sur de Perú. Gracias.

    Translation: I think it’s great to know everything about where our ancestors were born. I hope it is also estimated in other countries or continents. I am from South America in Peru. Thank you

  5. My cousins and I have been preparing and taking tours of our ancestral homes since 2005. We have taken Family History trips to Sweden, England, Wales, Several towns in Utah USA, and Canada using all the suggestions mentioned in the article. We have done the Family History research for every area by researching at the Family History Library AND the Church History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. We have found on line, by contacting parish councils, historic societies, museums, etc., experts on our areas of interest, who have helped us find places our ancestors lived, worked, attended church before baptism into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, even the places they were baptized members of that church. It has been a most enjoyable and informative journey for all of us!