Sometimes a vacation is about kicking back, and sometimes it’s about immersing yourself in a whole new place. For those looking to go beyond the deckchair, here are the top five destinations so rich in culture that you won’t want to miss them. (Trust us, you’ll leave your getaway with more than a tan.)
Read on to learn what experiences await, and to narrow down the best destination for you and your bucket list.
This once-sanctioned island, now accessible for Americans, is overflowing with history—from the famous nightspots of Havana to the country’s artisan merchants, and the classic 1950s cars dotting its streets. A trip to this nation is one of our newest (and coolest) cruises you can take this year.
Touring the city, you’ll see Revolution Square, where political rallies are held; the impressive National Capital; and all the historic buildings of Old Havana. If you’re looking for a stylish way to ride, see the sights in a classic American car, and stop by the Almacenes San Jose craft market, which was built in 1885 and is home to all manner of authentic ceramics, paintings, and traditional Afro-Cuban instruments.
At night, what better way to soak up authentic island flavor than at the legendary Tropicana cabaret, where Cuban rhythms and nearly 200 bedazzled performers will immerse you in an experience of salsa, conga and rumba, all accompanied by a live orchestra and local rum?
See how you can get your culture on in Cuba here.
Historians have found documentation referencing “Germania” that goes back to 100 A.D., so this European nation’s legacy runs deep. You can tap into it today through its extensive museums, historic buildings, and even via castles once home to the nation’s dukes.
The bustling port city of Rostock—an important trading hub since 1159—is a perfect gateway to German culture; the university there was founded in 1419 and the city is home to the famous St. Mary’s church. Beer making goes back hundreds of years in Germany—this is the nation that gave the world beer halls, after all—so a microbrewery tour is a necessity.
A quick motor coach ride will get you to Berlin, a must-see urban capital. A visit to Tiergarten park, Brandenburg Gate, Victory Column, Berlin Cathedral and the Reichstag building all should be on any culture-seeker’s list. For a more laidback way to take in the sights, catch a boat ride on the Spree River, which cuts through the heart of the city.
Head here for more adventures with stops in Germany.
Home to an ancient culture unlike any other, Mexico boasts Mayan ruins and history going back 3,000 years. From Costa Maya, journey deep into the jungle to explore the Mayan city of Cacchoben, where you pass sacred temples and beautiful gardens on your way to the enormous main pyramid, which rises above the trees. If you want to dive even deeper into this ancient culture, you can visit Kohunlich and Dzibanche, two remote but archeologically fascinating sites.
From Cozumel, you can travel to the pyramids at Chichen Itza, and you also can experience another important social and religious aspect of Mayan culture: chocolate. Uncover its culinary history by taking a delicious tour, which also includes sampling tequila, a traditional spirit.
Catch a cruise headed to the ancient Mayan sites of Mexico here.
Italy rightfully comes to mind when you think of culture; and as the birthplace of the Renaissance, Rome is a heavy hitter. You can tour the arena of ancient gladiators at the Colosseum, toss a coin into the Trevi Fountain to ensure your return to the Eternal City (or two more if you’re looking for romance and marriage), and travel into the walled enclave of Vatican City to see St. Peter’s Basilica—the holiest Catholic site as well as a pinnacle of Renaissance architecture.
Besides these well-trod attractions, there are even more culturally significant sites to see. Walk the meticulously manicured gardens at the Pontifical Villas, the summer residence of the Pope; or descend into the Vatican Necropolis to see St. Peter’s tomb. Roman architecture is a famous sight to behold highlight, but sampling local wines or tasting homemade Italian olive oil is an equally authentic way to soak up the culture.
The lineup of sailings that visit Rome are closer than you think; you can find them here.
European churches aren’t the only important religious buildings to see in this world—Thailand has bragging rights of its own. In Bangkok, Wat Pho is one of the most famous Buddhist temples, known for its tall prangs, or tower-like spires featuring intricate engravings placed at the highest royal temples. You can’t miss the hundreds of golden Buddha statues displayed throughout, especially the famous reclining Buddha, which spans more than 150 feet. Other temples, like Ayutthaya – a UNESCO World Heritage site, let you look on the old capital of Siam via weathered but preserved ruins.
Head to the mountainous, rainforest-filled island of Phuket, home to another famously large Buddha, for a different taste of Thai culture. Wat Chalong is the most important temple on the island, dedicated to highly esteemed monks who led citizens against the Chinese rebellion in 1876. You can tour the temple with two monks, appropriately enough. A quick boat trip takes you to the Phi Phi islands, where you can see ancient wall drawings in Viking Cave while enjoying the crystal clear waters perfect for snorkeling.
Find out all the ways you can get a taste for Thailand here.
For more inspiration, you can explore our itineraries for cultural cruises to help decide which spot calls to you most.