How to Become a Cultural Tourist

Do you love to travel? Do you love to explore and immerse yourself in unknown cultures? Are you a tourist at heart? If you prefer to be a tourist off the beaten path, here are a few tips to get the most out of your next trip.    

In recent years, tourism has diversified to cater to individual interests and niche markets of the population. One area that is growing is cultural tourism, focusing on local culture and arts.

There are as many ways to experience culture as there are different cultures, but here are a few outstanding cultural tourist hotspots.


Arts festivals can be a great opportunity to experience big name artists as well as seeing up and coming ones. One of the world’s biggest music festivals is the Glastonbury Music Festival in Northern England. Attendees camp out for days in June, listening to headliners like Leonard Cohen and Coldplay as well as hundreds of other acts. In 2008, the Festival pushed a green agenda handing out biodegradable tent pegs to campers.

If classical music is more to your liking, then the Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival held at the end of July is one of Canada’s premiere events. Established over 15 years ago, the festival runs for nearly two weeks and listeners can hear over a hundred concerts, including many free shows in public venues.

Want to be transported to a different world or time with just a few magic words? The National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee in October is the place to be for a good yarn. Storytellers come from around the world to tell folktales, epic poems, ghost stories, long jokes and stories about everyday life in places such as Lake Wobegon and the Vinyl Café.

Putting the Tour in Tourism

If you’d prefer a more intimate visit with an artist, possibly even seeing them work, then studio tours are the easiest way. Local artist groups or arts councils arrange studio tours, and visitors can visit any artists’ work space along the tour route. Often studio tours require a fair bit of driving, but they also happen most frequently in the beautiful summer months when driving around—for example, Haliburton County or the Madawaska Valley near Algonquin Provincial Park—is prettiest.

If you’d rather go further afield to visit some of the world’s most intriguing artists then you should go down under with Aboriginal Art Connections, an Australian cultural tour company. Typical tours involve visiting artists in remote aboriginal villages, as well as plane trips to see the landscape that inspires the art. Accommodations, travel and meals are arranged through the travel company, which operates mainly in the northern part of the continent, and they can even help you arrange to have your artwork shipped back home. Since the art centres visited are owned and operated by the local aboriginal population, the income directly feeds the local economy.

Retreat and Get Artistic

A final way to experience cultural tourism is to be the artist yourself. Many of us have artistic yearnings that lack the venue or time to express it. There are many art schools that offer week-long or weekend courses for novices hoping to learn new skills and find an outlet for artistic passions.

At the Haliburton School of the Arts in Ontario, you can take semester-long courses that provide a solid foundation and even a certificate in skills such as blacksmithing, glass blowing and sculpting. During the summer, many weekly courses are offered in making beaded jewelry, drumming classes, writing and more.

South of the border, the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina, is a place where traditional skills such as quilting, woodcarving and calligraphy live on. Many of the nation’s best folk artists travel to the school every year to teach courses… and it might be because of the traditional family cooking that feeds attendees each day.

Finally, if spiritual growth or revitalization is what you have in mind, then consider the Grunewald Guild, an ecumenical Christian community in Washington State. Based at the feet of the Cascade Mountain range, the community offers many opportunities to worship, meditate, pray, and of course, make lots of art including stained glass, painting and weaving. It’s definitely not the type of art you did in Sunday School.

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