Our appetite for true crime stories is insatiable.
From TV shows and films to podcasts and books, people are drawn to tales that explore the darker side of what humans are capable of.
And now, our morbid fascination with death and destruction is influencing where we travel.
Dozens of cities across the globe have fascinating criminal pasts and tour operators are taking full advantage of the trend towards dark tourism. These are just a handful of crime tours that draw you deeper into history’s greatest criminal exploits.
The drug lord
Boosted by the success of the hit Netflix series Narcos, Pablo Escobar-themed tourism has gained a stronghold in his hometown of Medellín, Columbia. During Escobar’s reign, Medellín was considered one of the most dangerous cities in the world as warring drug cartels caused harm to countless innocent civilians. Today it is much safer, though caution is still recommended for those travelling in Colombia.
One of the city’s many Escobar-themed tour operators in the city, Medellín City Services offers a tour led by former police officer Carlos Palau, who was part of the SWAT team that pursued the drug kingpin. Stops include La Catedral where Escobar was imprisoned and the cemetery where the drug lord is now buried.
The ghost town
Since the launch of the hit HBO miniseries Chernobyl, local tour operators have noticed a dramatic surge in travel interest in Pripyat, the deserted site of the infamous Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant disaster of April 1986. While the explosion directly caused around 31 deaths, millions of people were exposed to dangerous radiation levels – leaving unclear the final death toll due to long-term radiation exposure.
As one of the most polluted places in the modern world, the 2,600-kilometre-square Chernobyl Exclusion Zone – which now covers an area in Ukraine and Belarus – can only be visited with a licensed guide. While day trips to the ruins are most popular, there are also multi-day tours available, with the option of an overnight stay in basic accommodation within Chernobyl city. Visitors are screened before entering the site and urged not to sit down or touch anything while they’re there.
During the 1920s, Chicago was a hotbed of organised crime and home to one of the 20th century’s most notorious gangsters, Al Capone. Companies like Untouchable Tours with its Chicago’s Original Gangster Tour can take you through the Prohibition-era hangouts of such mobsters and bootleggers, complete with tour guides that take on the persona of a 1920’s gangster.
Escape into the city’s criminal underworld as you discover the exploits of gangsters Al Capone and Bugs Moran, charming bank robber John Dillinger, and Polish mobster Hymie Weiss. Sites include the Biograph Theatre, Holy Name Cathedral, and the St Valentine’s Day Massacre, one of Chicago’s most notorious murders.
The cult leader
It’s a name that needs no introduction. Charles Manson and his ‘Family’ carried out a series of infamous murders in the late 1960s. These atrocities have been made all the more real through Dearly Departed Tours’ four-hour Helter Skelter Tour, which explores the Tate–LaBianca murders and reconstructs the lives of both killers and victims in the hours leading up to the horrific crimes.
Through audio recordings, you’ll hear the killers reveal their motivations and describe the heinous acts as you visit both murder locations. The tour is led by Scott Michaels, Manson Family expert and creator of the documentary The Six Degrees of Helter Skelter.
The serial killer
Jack the Ripper
In 1888, London was terrorised by an unidentified killer who mutilated and killed at least five women. Despite countless investigations claiming definitive evidence of the brutal killer’s identity, Jack the Ripper’s real name and motive remain a mystery. All five killings took place within a mile of each other, in or near the Whitechapel district of London’s East End.
Established in 1982, the original Jack the Ripper Tour will take you on a walk through the cobbled Victorian alleyways where his victims’ bodies were found. Your guides are crime authors that are internationally recognised as some of the world’s leading experts on the case, providing you with the most in-depth look at the infamous unsolved Whitechapel murders.