From historical holidays to archaeological sites, top destinations for the time traveller

If your idea of a good holiday is more about learning than lounging, there are a wide variety of trips that take travellers back in time.

Itineraries centred on history allow guests to visit ancient sites, ruins and archaeological digs along with experts who can shed more light on the life and times of past generations and lost civilisations.

From standing stones on Scotland’s coast that date back to the 19th century BC to a fifth-century castle that was once home to the “Dragon of Albania”, here are eight historical holidays to keep on your radar.

Human history in Western Europe

Three archaeologists are on hand to accompany those looking to delve into Europe’s past, as the 10-day Human History expedition by National Geographic explores the cradle of civilisation in south-west France and on Spain’s northern coast.

Adventure-seekers can step back 40,000 years by visiting cave carvings and paintings from the Dordogne to the Basque Country. Additionally, France’s famous recreation of Lascaux Caves, a Unesco World Heritage Site that dates back 17,000 years, is part of the trip. However, it is out of bounds to the public, with the trip instead taking travellers to the nearby International Centre for Cave Art, which is a recreation of the caves.

Among the highlights of the trip is a guided tour of Atapuerca, where Europe’s oldest known hominin fossils – of the earliest human lineage – were unearthed; a lecture from one of the world’s leading experts on Paleolithic art; and the chance to enjoy a “prehistoric” meal made with ingredients used by Neanderthals thousands of years ago.

The 10-day itinerary also includes stays in well-located, high-end hotels in medieval towns.

From $8,795 (Dh32,303), including food, transportation and accommodation;

Highlights of Albania

Still considered a hidden gem by many in the travel world, Albania is ready to reveal her archaeological secrets to curious visitors.

The 11-day small group trip Highlights of Albania by Responsible Travel – which includes accommodation, but not flights – opens up the Byzantine and Roman histories of this Mediterranean country. It begins in the capital Tirana where Italian architecture sits beside Ottoman buildings and mosques sit beside communist ruins.

Among the remnants of its ancient civilisations, architecture and Unesco World Heritage Sites, the medieval citadel of Kruje remains a highlight, with the fifth-century castle once home to military leader Gjergj Kastrioti, the “Dragon of Albania”.

From Dh5,471, including accommodation based on two people sharing;

Highlights of ancient Greece

Even history buffs can be overwhelmed by Greece. After all, where do you start? Exodus Travels takes the planning out of your hands with this 10-day trip called Highlights of Ancient Greece that visits as many lesser-known sites as famous ones.

Starting in Athens, there are guided visits to the ancient citadel, the Acropolis and the archaeological site of Mycenae, as well as the medieval castle town of Mystras.

The archaeological site of Corinth follows, where excavations have revealed a Roman forum, temples and fountains.

There’s also a visit to the Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus and the chance to spend a night in the ancient city-state of Sparta.

The trip includes breakfasts, shared accommodation at three-star hotels, plus domestic transportation.

From $2,235, including breakfasts, shared accommodation, domestic transportation, plus group arrivals and departures transfer available;

Calanais Standing Stones of Scotland

Home to remains and ruins from the Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age periods, the Outer Hebrides off the north-west coast of Scotland are steeped in history.

A five-day trip from Brightwater Holidays called The Ancient Stones of the Outer Hebrides, hosted by a local specialist guide, will take in the towering Calanais Standing Stones, which date back further than 1800 BC, allowing visitors to delve into the mystery surrounding the lost civilisation that erected them.

Places of archaeological interest to visit include Neolithic cairns, Bronze Age standing stones, Iron Age houses and Norse mills.

From £1,163.75, including accommodation, meals and coach travel;

Viking past of Denmark and Sweden

Viking trails, a 400-year-old warship and castles await in this tour of northern Europe, taking in Sweden and Denmark.

The eight-day tour, Archaeology of Denmark and Sweden, hosted by environmental archaeologist Clive Warsop and Brightwater Holidays, begins at the archaeological sites of Gamla Uppsala and Anundshog in Uppsala, around one hour north of Sweden’s capital Stockholm, before taking in the 17th-century Skokloster Castle.

There’s also the chance to visit the Viking warship Vasa, which sank in 1628.

The megalithic monuments known as Ales Stenar await in the Osterlen region before a train ride takes guests to Denmark for a visit to the Viking Castle at Fyrkat.

Guests will also get the chance to see the well-preserved remains of a man and woman who died at Silkeborg around 350 BC.

From £2,795, including accommodation, meals, train and coach travel;

Lost legions and Teutoburg Forest

Fans of Roman history will be in their element during this six-day tour called The Lost Legions: The Road to the Teurtoburg Forest by The Cultural Experience through the Netherlands and northern Germany.

Guided by Tony Wilmott, a senior archaeologist with Historic England, guests will follow in the footsteps of the ill-fated journey of Roman general Quinctilius Varus and his doomed three legions, who, at the start of the 1st century, were ambushed in the Teutoburg Forest by Cherusci tribes, resulting in the retreat of the Romans across the Rhine, from which they would never return.

The tour visits the historical towns of Leiden, Xanten and Paderborn, along with open-air archaeological parks, built on the sites of old Roman forts. The tour culminates with a visit to the ancient battle site where the legions were lost.

From £2,115, including breakfasts and dinners, plus attraction entrance fees, with add-ons for return flights and four-star accommodation based on sole occupancy;

Jordan’s history of the crusades

Respected archaeologist Konstantine Politis, who discovered and excavated the biblical sites of Lot’s Cave and Zoara, hosts this nine-day tour by Cox and Kings across Jordan.

During the Jordan: Crusaders, Raiders and Traders tour, guests will traverse the region from the desert castles of Amman to Mount Nebo and, of course, Petra.

In the ancient citadel of Amman, the tour takes in the early Islamic Umayyad Palace, the Graeco-Roman Temple of Hercules and Byzantine churches before a trip to the Azraq oasis and its Roman fort.

In Jerash, there are visits to biblical sites Gilead, Gadara and the Sea of Galilee, while at Mount Nebo, a crusader castle conquered by Saladin awaits.

From £3,395, including flights, domestic transfers, accommodation, meals and entrance fees;

Explore old Europe in Bulgaria

One of the cultural centres of the ancient world, the Balkans continues to attract history fans and archaeologists, drawn by its unspoilt and uncrowded landscape.

Here, guides from Hidden History will take travellers to the Thracian Tomb of Kazanlak in Hissar, central Bulgaria, which dates back to the Hellenistic period of the fourth century.

On the 12-day Bulgaria: Old Europe tour, guests will also see the Varna Gold Treasure, which is considered to be the oldest processed gold in the world dating back to the Copper Age of 4400 to 4100 BC.

Also included are visits to the town of Stara Zagora, home to one of Europe’s oldest and best-preserved prehistoric houses; the Karanovo Tell, which was occupied from the early Neolithic to the early Bronze Age; and the Madara Rider, a relief carved into a cliff, dating back to the eighth century.

From £2,245, including accommodation, some meals, transportation and entrance fees;

Updated: November 16, 2023, 2:07 AM