If you’re into history, then wandering around museums might not always satisfy your curiosity. But exploring the remains of ancient civilizations and sites that have witnessed significant events throughout history is a hobby that can take you all over the world.

From 20th-century history in Europe to the shrines and temples of Cambodia and Japan, here are eight countries for history lovers to visit.

1. Germany

Germany

Like many other European countries, Germany is a treasure trove for people interested in history. As the home of ancient Germanic tribes, centre of the Holy Roman Empire, and protagonist of 20th-century war, you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to historic sites.

If you’re into 20th-century history, Berlin is the place for you. Here, you’ll find the Brandenburg Gate which, built between 1788 and 1791, became a marker of division in Germany during the Cold War – but, today, is a symbol of peace and unity. The Reichstag and Holocaust Memorial speak of German life under the Nazis – and there are sites where you can see remains of the Berlin Wall around the city too.

Germany isn’t short on castles either, and is home to an estimated 25,000 of them! Highlights include Nuremberg Castle, Heidelberg Castle, Eltz Castle, and the fairy tale Neuschwanstein Castle. These magnificent structures are ideal for learning more about Germany’s medieval and early-modern history.

Lastly, for those struck by architecture, Cologne’s Cathedral is a must-see. This Gothic masterpiece is cloaked with ornate stone carvings, striking stained glass windows, and towering spires that reach 157 metres. Though construction began in 1248, the cathedral wasn’t completed until 1880 and, having survived various wars and natural disasters, it’s a potent symbol of German identity.

2. Italy

Italy

Whether you’re fascinated by the ancient world, medieval times, or heroes of the Renaissance, Italy is a top choice for history buffs.

As the centre of the Roman Empire, there’s no better place than Rome to learn more about this formidable civilisation, which conquered much of the Western world 2,000 or so years ago. Wandering around the iconic sites of The Colosseum, Palatine Hill, and the Pantheon, you’ll feel as though you’ve stepped back in time.

If medieval history is more your thing, Venice is a top choice. This city of canals was once a significant trading centre that influenced much of the Aegean and Mediterranean seas. It’s also littered with beautiful and historic landmarks like St. Mark’s Basilica, The Doge’s Palace, and The Rialto Bridge.

Then there’s Florence, where you can get up close and personal with the history of the Medici Family, who ruled during the early Renaissance centuries. The Uffizi Gallery and the dell-Accademia are world-class museums where you can explore the formidable impact that the Medici family had on art and culture.

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3. Japan

Japan

While Japan is known for being futuristic, it’s also worked hard to preserve the landmarks of its rich history. As such, the country remains full of temples, shrines, and castles that span its long history – many of which are set against stunning landscapes, making visits to them even more enjoyable.

Fortresses have been built in Japan since early times, but a particular need arose during the 15th century. During this time, Japan consisted of several independent states, which fought each other and constructed castles for defence purposes.

While many castles were destroyed at the end of the feudal age (before 1868) or lost during World War II, a few remain and are well worth a visit. Top picks include Matsumoto Castle, Osaka Castle, Hirosaki Castle, and Maruoka Castle.

Japan’s impressive collection of shrines and temples, including the Kiyomizu-dera, Senso-ji, and Fushimi Inari Taisha, are fantastic places to learn more about the country’s spiritual heritage.

And the Nagasaki Peace Park and Hiroshima Peace Memorial are must-visits for anyone interested in the world’s first atomic bombs, which were dropped on Japan in 1945. If you’d prefer to explore Japan’s history via museums, Edo Tokyo Museum and Tokyo’s National Museum are some of the best.

4. Turkey

Turkey

Bordered by eight countries, Turkey’s unique geographic location has meant it’s witnessed the rise and fall of many empires throughout history.

The ruins of great cultures can be traced here, from the Greeks and Romans to the Byzantines and the Ottomans. Though, it’s worth saying that Turkey is a destination best suited to exploring ancient and medieval times than modern history.

On Turkey’s western coast, around 80km south of Izmir, is the historical site of Efes or Ephesus. Once an ancient Greek metropolis, Ephesus was abandoned around the 15th century when silt built up in the harbour, making it impossible for ships to reach the city. Today, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the world’s best-preserved historic sites of all antiquity.

You’ll find the remains of several extraordinary structures in ancient Ephesus, including an amphitheatre that once sat 25,000 spectators and the remnants of the Temple of Artemis, which is considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. After you’ve wandered the ruins, head to the Ephesus Archaeological Museum, where you’ll find items taken from the city.

Some of Turkey’s other must-see landmarks include the 17th-century Blue Mosque and the Basilica Cistern – which is the largest of Istanbul’s surviving Byzantine sites. For something a bit different, The Cappadocia Underground Cities are fascinating. These were built by early Christians to protect against Muslim-Arabs during the Arab-Byzantine Wars between 780 and 1180.

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5. Cambodia

Cambodia

From the introduction of Buddhism and Hinduism to the barbaric regime of the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia’s history has been marked by periods of peace and great destruction.

Angkor Wat is undoubtedly Cambodia’s most famous historical site and the country’s largest tourist attraction. Angkor was the ancient capital city of the Khmer Empire (802-1431) and its temple, built in the 13th century, is regarded as the largest religious structure in the world.

However, Angkor Wat is just one of the many captivating sites that make Cambodia a spectacular country for history buffs.

There are countless UNESCO World Heritage sites, including Koh Ker, Sambor Prei Kuk, and Beng Mealea Temple; and the Royal Palace of Cambodia has been the uninterrupted home of Cambodian royals since it was constructed in 1866.

However, much of Cambodia’s most turbulent history lies in more recent times, under the brutal regime of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. Phnom Penh’s Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum is completely sobering, but offers invaluable insight into the deep scars left on Cambodia during this era.

Tuol Sleng was originally a secondary school but the Khmer Rouge government converted it into a torture and execution centre called Security Prison 21. Of the 20,000 or so people held here, only 12 are known to have survived. Nearby are also the Choeung Ek Killing Fields – the most infamous of all Cambodia’s killing fields, where 8,895 people are buried in mass graves.

6. Greece

Greece

As the birthplace of democracy and ancient Hellenic empires, Greece is an obvious destination for history lovers.

In Athens, you can see the famous ruins of the Acropolis which, with the Parthenon at its centre, offers a taste of the sheer scale and magnitude of the Hellenic civilisation. The Parthenon was built as a chief shrine to the goddess Athena during the fifth century BC, at the height of the ancient Greek Empire.

However, step away from mainland Greece and you’ll discover many other treasures on the islands too. Crete, the largest Greek Island, was once home to the Minoans – an incredibly advanced Bronze-Age civilization that flourished from around 3000BC to 1100BC. Today, Crete is dotted with archaeological remnants of this vast empire – including the spectacular palaces of Knossos and Phaistos.

In Santorini, you can explore Ancient Thera and the Akrotiri Ruins; while tales from World War II and the Greek Civil War await you in Ikaria. Check out Context’s list of top 10 Greek Islands for history buffs for more ideas on where to go.

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7. Peru

Peru

If you’re into Incan history, Peru is a top choice. The name Peru comes from a Quechua word, which translates as ‘land of abundance’ – and this is certainly true when it comes to its rich history.

The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Machu Picchu in Peru’s Sacred Valley would rank highly on any list of must-visit historical attractions, and is undoubtedly the most famous remnant of the Incan civilization. Machu Picchu served as an Incan city for 100 years before it was abandoned to prevent Spanish soldiers from discovering it in the 16th century.

However, no matter how magnificent this mountaintop fortress may be, there’s much more to Peru’s history than Machu Picchu. Explore The Sacred Valley’s cliffside fortress of Ollantaytambo or the Maras Salt Mines. Or delve into the mystery of The Nazca Lines which, subject to much debate, are believed to have been created by the Nazca Civilization between 500 BC and 500 AD.

Then there are the cities of Cusco, Lima, and Arequipa. These too hold treasures from Incan times, but also speak to the more recent Spanish colonial period. And, at Lake Titicaca, which is the highest navigable lake in the world, you can learn more about civilizations that predated the Incas.

8. United Kingdom

United Kingdom

If you’d rather stay closer to home, why not explore UK history? Britain’s varied history has made for a landscape littered with everything from Iron Age forts and Roman ruins to medieval castles and modern palaces.

London alone is home to famous landmarks like St. Paul’s Cathedral, Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, and the Monument to the Great Fire of London.

However, step outside the capital, and the offerings are no less. In Somerset, you’ll find Stonehenge – a famous remnant of the Neolithic period built around 2000 BC. And at sites like Hadrian’s Wall, the Roman Baths, and the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, you can trace Britain’s Roman and Viking connections.

For a taste of more modern history, discover the tales of the World War II Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park or trace the heritage of the Titanic in Belfast. If it’s castles you’re after, you’ll want to head to Wales. Home to over 600 castles, Wales has more castles per square mile than any other country in Europe.

Final thoughts…

While we can learn much about history from books and films, visiting historic sites in person can offer an unrivalled way to connect with the past and learn more about the stories of those who lived through it.

For further reading, you might like to read our articles; 10 countries to visit to learn about ancient civilizations or 28 of the best historical sites to visit in the UK. Alternatively, head over to the travel or history sections of our website.

If you’re looking to book your next break, you might also like to browse our top travel deals.

Which country’s history interests you the most? Have any of the countries on this list sparked your interest? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.