9 Cultural Experiences From Around the World That You Have to Try

editorial feature

By Google Arts & Culture

From Venetian gondolas to Korean theater

Taking pictures of historic monuments can be fun, but experiencing a living, breathing culture first-hand is unforgettable. Sometimes you have to immerse yourself in a different culture to see the world from a different perspective... and isn’t that what travel is all about?

Here are 9 superb destinations where travelers will find something truly unique that's worth trying out.

1. Experience P’ansori at National Theatre of Korea, Seoul

Seoul’s National Theatre of Korea was created at the same time the Korean War broke out. Thankfully, the theater survived the conflict and is now hailed as the premier center for traditional Korean drama, dance, and music.

National Theater of Korea, Jung-gu, Seoul, South Korea

In recent years, one form of classical Korean drama that has grown in popularity is the p’ansori. These folk operas were initially created by peasants in the 19th century and slowly become fashionable with the upper classes. Believe it or not, the Koreans take p’ansori so seriously now that the government legally classifies great p’ansori singers as ‘national treasures.’ This is a spectacle not to be missed.

KB Haneul Round Theater (2012-12-11) by The National Theater of KoreaNational Theater of Korea

KB Haneul Round Theater, The National Theater of Korea, 2012-12-11 (From the collection of National Theater of Korea)

2. Hear a Concert at Wilton’s Music Hall, London

Although it might look unassuming on the outside, Wilton’s Music Hall is the best-preserved music hall in the British capital. Located in London’s East End, Wilton’s has a long history as a performance venue and bar stretching back at least to the 1800s. All of the décor in Walton’s is original, which helps it retain its Victorian-era charm.

Wilton’s Music Hall, London, United Kingdom

Wilton’s continue to show a wide array of live events and performances, ranging from contemporary music to thrilling cabaret. Wilton’s employees also work hard to educate the public on the many roles the music hall has played in the past, including a saintly stint as a Methodist’s Mission.

3. Glide across the Waters of Venice in a Gondola

Venice forces foreigners to experience her charms like no other city: on a gondola ride. While floating through the majestic ‘City of Canals,’ it’s impossible not to be taken aback by Venice’s hundreds of storied bridges, especially the dramatic Bridge of Sighs.

Ponte dei sospiriYouth Committee of the Italian National Commission for UNESCO

Ponte dei sospiri (From the collection of Youth Committee of the Italian National Commission for UNESCO)

You might expect this bridge to have a romantic story attached to it considering all the smooching that goes on here. But it actually has a much less glamorous origin: prisoners. The Bridge of Sighs connects a prison house with the Doge’s Palace. The “sigh” in the bridge’s name refers to the last breath prisoners took as they walked across the bridge, looked over at Venice’s grandeur, and then faced their executioner.

Venice, Youth Committee of the Italian National Commission for UNESCO

4. Skate on the Rideau Canal, Ontawa

Founded in 1832 to deter Americans from encroaching on Canadian territory, the Rideau Canal is better known today for its winter sports than its wartime origins. Situated between Ottawa and Kingston, the Rideau Canal is the longest functioning canal in North America, but most people recognize this canal from picturesque pics of locals skating here in the wintertime.

In case you were wondering, “rideau” means “curtain” in French and it refers to the way the canal’s waterways look as they meet in the Ottawa River.

5. Meditate at Mt. Mitoku Sanbutsu-ji Temple

For many Japanese people, Mount Mitoku Sanbutsu-ji Temple is one of the most sacred spots in the Land of the Rising Sun. In case your Japanese is rusty, sanbutsu-ji roughly translates to “three Buddhas.” Although many temples here are dedicated to Buddhist masters, there’s also a strong presence of Shinto spirituality in the area.

Mt. Mitoku Sanbutsu ji Temple, Misasa-cho, Touhaku District, Japan

Although knows much about the people who originally built these temples on the mountainside, it’s abundantly clear they wanted their architecture to complement nature and encourage meditation practice. Groups often meet at Sanbutsu-ji Temple to meditate together and study Buddhist sutras.

Monju-do Hall of Sanbutsu-ji Temple (16th Century Azuchi-Momoyama Period) by UnknownMt. Mitoku Sanbutsu ji Temple

Monju-do Hall of Sanbutsu-ji Temple, Unknown, 16th Century Azuchi-Momoyama Period (From the collection of Mt. Mitoku Sanbutsu ji Temple)

6. Explore Hong Kong’s Art Scene

Measuring an impressive 100 acres, Hong Kong’s neon-lit West Kowloon Cultural District was designed to encourage and educate local artists. An incredible 56 acres of this area on the harbor is available for local artists to use as they see fit.

West Kowloon Cultural District, 香港, Hong Kong

Guests looking for the latest in the Hong Kong art scene often first go to West Kowloon’s ultra-modern M+ Pavilion. On the off chance that there aren’t any art exhibitions, however, West Kowloon Cultural District is sure to be sponsoring some kind of outdoor entertainment.

West Kowloon Cultural District, 香港, Hong Kong

7. Take a Study Trip with the Siam Society, Bangkok

Headquartered at Asoke Montri Road in Bangkok, the Siam Society was created in the early 1900s to celebrate traditional Thai architecture, literature, and art. In addition to leading tours, the Siam Society helps foreigners better experience Thai culture by publishing books, preserving rare manuscripts, and sponsoring cultural experiences.

Kamthieng House Museum of The Siam Society, Bangkok, Thailand

Built in the traditional style of northern Thai architecture, the Kamthieng House is the centerpiece of the Siam Society’s efforts. Visitors to the Kamthieng House get to immerse themselves in the greatest examples of Thai folk art and cuisine.

Kamthieng House Museum (Not Applicable - Not Applicable) by UnknownKamthieng House Museum of The Siam Society

Kamthieng House Museum, Unknown, Not Applicable - Not Applicable (From the collection of Kamthieng House Museum of The Siam Society)

8. Taste the Wines of Lavaux Vineyards

The Lavaux district near Lake Geneva is one of the most photographed vineyards in Europe. While some historians believe these terraces have existed as vineyards since the Roman Empire, we know for sure that Christian monks cultivated this area around the 11th century.

Switzerland, Vaud, Lake Geneva, Lavaux, Alps, (2009-01-20) by Slow ImagesGetty Images

Switzerland, Vaud, Lake Geneva, Lavaux, Alps, Slow Images, 2009-01-20 (From the collection of Getty Images)

The vineyards we see today measure 2,050 acres and produce primarily Chasselas grapes for white wines. Due to the increased tourist demand, Lavaux now has biking trails, roads for cars, and even its own train.

Vineyard terraces at Rivaz in the Lavaux UNESCO World Heritage region, Vaud, Switzerland, Europe (2010-06-30) by Guenter FischerGetty Images

Vineyard terraces at Rivaz in the Lavaux UNESCO World Heritage region, Vaud, Switzerland, 2010 (From the collection of Getty Images)

The vineyards we see today measure 2,050 acres and produce primarily Chasselas grapes for white wines. Due to the increased tourist demand, Lavaux now has biking trails, roads for cars, and even its own train.

9. Explore the Largest Ancient Burial Grounds of Malta, Mdina

Saint Paul’s Catacombs offer a fascinating glimpse into the early days of Christianity on the island of Malta. Archeologists first unearthed this impressive 2,000 square meter complex in 1894 in the city of Rabat.

Agape table in main complexSt. Paul’s Catacombs

Agape table in main complex (From the collection of St. Paul's Catacombs)

Locals apparently buried their dead here until at least since the 4th century, which makes these catacombs the earliest signs of Christianity on the island. Research into this mysterious area is still ongoing. Visitors can experience two of the 24 catacombs through guided tours.

St. Paul’s Catacombs, Ir-Rabat, Malta

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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