Religious tourism

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Religious tourism (usually in form of pilgrimages) are journeys undertaken for religious reasons. Main targets in such trips are places connected with the history of religion, religious events of a religious nature and the sacred objects.

Types of religious tourism

Pilgrimage should be distinguished from religious tourism. Religious tourism is understood as trips undertaken to acquire knowledge about specific religious place or object. Their main purpose is mainly educational. Pilgrimages involve travel to a Holy place mainly for spending time in prayer. Only additionally tourists want to see and learn about the history and architecture of religious culture. If the last motive dominates, then we can talk rather about standard tourism for sightseeing. It is not religious in character. Pilgrimage is the journey in which the main purpose is to meet God, prayer, contemplation, personal thoughts, participation in religious celebrations.

Fig. 1. Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey near Barcelona/Spain. World-famous pilgrimage site.

Destination in religious tourism

Typical religious tourism destination are common to both afore mentioned types. Their difference is the motivation to take the trip: strictly religious purpose or religion combined with education and the desire to explore the cultural heritage. In the first case we are dealing with pilgrimage and the second with religious (cultural) tourism.

Features of pilgrimages

The essential features of pilgrimage is seasonality. It is linked to the calendar of religious holidays which is an opportunity to organize mass pilgrimages, strong religious motivation of participants, direction of travel and the program for one goal (holy places). An important element of such a trip is also joint participation in events (example of which can be solemn liturgy), prayer group at destination or wandering after the holy place.

The aim of the pilgrimage is prayer, the fulfillment of certain rituals and belief in supernatural forces operating in sacred places and especially in the miraculous healing. The most famous places of pilgrimage include Lourdes in France, Fatima in Portugal, Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

Religious (cultural) tourism - could be called "religious student travel" because its program has an educational component. Their main goal are places associated with the history of Christianity (or other religion), routes associated with the activities of saints or of great missionaries. An excellent example of such religious trips can be so-called: "Bible travels", e.g. To the Holy Land, Rome and Greece, the pilgrimage route of St. James de Compostela or travel in the footsteps of St. Paul, Martin Luther and John Paul II.

These tours are aimed to explore, include historical lectures and comments on the history of the object or place, participants become familiar with the sources and historical development of the cult.


It is worth mentioning Polish phenomenon of "pilgrimage-trips" this term is used by tour organizers, for trips (as standard tourist expeditions) connected with pilgrimages to holy places. The program of such trips is very wide, and can be treated as religious tourism, for it include lot of places with religious importance and visiting and learning about religious destinations.

Examples of Religious tourism

  • Hajj: The Hajj is an annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the holiest city for Muslims, and a mandatory religious duty for Muslims that must be carried out at least once in their lifetime by all adult Muslims who are physically and financially capable of undertaking the journey. It is one of the largest annual mass gatherings in the world, with roughly 2 million people attending in 2019. The Hajj includes several rituals such as the wearing of a special white garment, the circumambulation of the Kaaba, the holy shrine located in Mecca, and the symbolic stoning of the devil.
  • Christian Pilgrimage: Pilgrimages to Christian holy sites are a popular form of religious tourism. Popular pilgrimage sites include the Holy Land (Israel, Palestine, and Jordan), Rome, and Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Pilgrims often visit sites traditionally associated with Jesus, such as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Rome. Other popular sites include the Catacombs of Rome, where early Christians were buried, and the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal, which is said to be the site of a Marian apparition.
  • Hindu Pilgrimages: Hindus undertake pilgrimages to places associated with important Hindu deities and spiritual teachers. These include Kedarnath in the Himalayas, where Hindus believe Shiva resides, Varanasi on the banks of the Ganges, where Hindus bathe in the river to cleanse themselves of sins, and Tirupati in Southern India, home to the famous Tirupati Balaji temple. Hindus also visit the temples of the five Pandava brothers in the Mahabharata epic and the temples of the ten avatars of Vishnu.

Advantages of Religious tourism

Religious tourism offers many advantages including:

  • A chance to learn about and explore different cultures and religions. By visiting religious sites, tourists can gain a better understanding of different beliefs and customs, as well as how they interact with each other.
  • An opportunity to connect with fellow believers. Religious sites are often places to meet like-minded people from around the world, and to share spiritual and cultural experiences.
  • A way to promote peace and understanding. By visiting different religions, tourists can gain a better appreciation of different perspectives and beliefs, and can potentially help to bridge cultural divides.
  • An opportunity to experience a deeper connection to faith. By visiting religious sites, tourists can gain a greater understanding of their own faith, and can potentially deepen their spiritual connection.
  • An opportunity to experience spiritual growth. By visiting religious sites, tourists can gain a greater appreciation for the power of faith and spirituality, and can potentially find comfort and solace in their journey.

Limitations of Religious tourism

Religious tourism has several limitations. These include:

  • Safety: Religious tourism can be dangerous in some areas due to the political and religious tension in the region. Tourists should be aware of their surroundings and the potential risks.
  • Cost: Religious tourism can be costly in some areas, as many of the sites associated with the religion are not easily accessible.
  • Language: Many religious sites are located in areas where the language is different from that of the tourist's home country. This can lead to communication issues and misunderstandings.
  • Cultural differences: Religious tourism can bring tourists into contact with unfamiliar cultures and customs, which can be a challenge for some.
  • Accommodation: Accommodation can be difficult to find in some areas and may not meet the standards of the tourist.
  • Health: Poor health and hygiene can be a problem in some areas and can lead to illness.

Other approaches related to Religious tourism

Religious tourism can take many different forms, and can be approached from a variety of angles. These include:

  • Exploring the roots of one's faith: Many religious tourists undertake pilgrimages to visit the original sites associated with the history of their religion. This could involve visiting the birthplace of a prophet or a saint, or the site of a significant religious event.
  • Participating in religious events: Religious festivals and other activities are held throughout the world, providing a unique opportunity for tourists to see and experience the local culture and faith.
  • Interfaith exploration: Religious tourism can also provide a platform for tourists to learn about and explore other faiths, which can be a valuable experience.

In summary, religious tourism takes many different forms, from exploring the roots of one's faith to participating in religious events and exploring other faiths. Each form of religious tourism offers a unique opportunity to learn and experience the local culture and faith.

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