Medieval tourism: pilgrimages and tourist destinations

Recent research suggests medieval tourism was widespread, writes Paul Oldfield, and existed in a world of pilgrimage and classical curiosities...

An illustration depicting medieval pilgrims. (Ann Ronan Pictures/Print Collector/Getty Images)

This article was first published in the July 2012 issue of BBC History Magazine

One enduring perception of medieval Europe is of a static, confined world in which most people rarely travelled beyond their immediate locality, and when they did, movement was undertaken primarily for pragmatic reasons. Research in recent decades has significantly revised this picture – high numbers of people regularly travelled both short and long distances, and, more interestingly, some of this movement was driven by motivations which we might today associate with the modern-day tourist. If we readjust our modern understanding of tourism, and place it into a medieval context, we can soon see that many medieval people travelled for renewal, for leisure, and for thrill-seeking, and that an abundance of medieval ‘tourist’ services catered for these activities.

Want to read more?

Become a BBC History Magazine subscriber today to unlock all premium articles in The Library

Unlock now