Twelve cultural experiences that every traveller should try

Time-pressed travellers, take heart. When we polled our Traveller team on their most memorable travel experiences, we discovered  there is a wealth of one-day wonders out there; activities that may be over in just a few hours, but that linger much longer in the memory.

LEARN HOW TO WEAR A KIMONO IN KYOTO, JAPAN

HOW LONG One to two hours.

THE EXPERIENCE Beauty is pain, or so it seems. We stand in our underwear in a home in Kyoto, struggling to breathe as we are corseted and bound in luscious silks that, frankly, feel more like a straitjacket than a robe. But the final result is incredible – the mirror image is of statuesque and a little-too-fair geishas, impeccable in formal kimonos. This simple cultural experience, run by the Women's Association of Kyoto – a program where housewives demonstrate their skills to international visitors – provides an intimate peek into the traditions of Japan, with laughter, hospitality and graciousness superseding any language barriers.

MAKE IT HAPPEN The cost is 6048 yen a person, cheaper for groups. 10.30am or 2.30pm daily. See wakjapan.com

TAKE AN ARCHITECTURE CRUISE THROUGH CHICAGO

HOW LONG One and a half hours.

THE EXPERIENCE Chicago's great fire of 1871 razed the city, allowing architects to start anew. The result? America's first skyscrapers. Today, the city is a masterclass in these soaring structures and the best way to admire them is on a Chicago Architecture Foundation First Lady cruise. With commentary by a certified guide, the cruise meanders along the Chicago River, passing many of the city's most notable buildings.

MAKE IT HAPPEN Cruises operate between April and October and cost from $US44 a person. See architecture.org

LEARN TO TANGO IN BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA

HOW LONG Two hours.

THE EXPERIENCE Watching a tango show is one thing, but learning the basics of this emotion-soaked Argentinian dance yourself is quite another. At La Catedral in Buenos Aires, teachers guide novice students across  an old converted warehouse whose decor could best be described as gothic chic. Add  wine and you have the perfect introduction to everything that's great about this cherished tradition. 

Advertisement

MAKE IT HAPPEN Two-hour  tango lessons at La Catedral cost between $1 and $1.50. See lacatedralclub.com

HUNT FOR GHOSTS AT PORT ARTHUR, TASMANIA

HOW LONG Three hours.

THE EXPERIENCE Ever fancied yourself as a Ghostbuster? During this paranormal investigation, you'll venture into the deserted grounds of Port Arthur after dark armed with EMF detectors, full spectrum cameras and video recorders. You'll visit several of the complex's most haunted sites with the aim of collecting concrete scientific evidence to prove the hundreds of unexplained encounters reported by visitors over the years. 

MAKE IT HAPPEN Tours cost $85 a person and run on the last Saturday of every month. Over-18s only. See portarthur.org.au

TAKE AN AMISH TOUR IN PENNSYLVANIA, US

HOW LONG Two hours.

THE EXPERIENCE More than 30,000 Amish live in Pennsylvania's Lancaster County and this tour provides a fascinating insight into their beliefs and lifestyle. Led by an Amish or Mennonite guide, you'll pass families in horse-drawn  buggies and see workers tend fields in traditional dress. You'll also visit small businesses selling beautiful handmade gifts and interact with the Amish families that run them.

MAKE IT HAPPEN The cost is $US53 for two hours (guide joins you in your vehicle). See mennoniteinfoctr.org

DO THE FOUR RELIGIONS IN A MILE TOUR OF PUSHKAR, INDIA

HOW LONG Three hours.

THE EXPERIENCE Religion in India  can be befuddling. This whirl around Pushkar, one of India's oldest and most holy cities, will help you make sense of it all with visits to temples dedicated to India's four main faiths: Sikhism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. Includes an ancestor ceremony conducted by a  priest at the sacred Pushkar Lake, and ends at the 14th century Brahma temple.

MAKE IT HAPPEN The cost is $US33; twice daily departures 8.30am and 4pm. See vedicwalks.com

SEE THE NIGHTLY WHIRLING DERVISH PERFORMANCE IN TURKEY

HOW LONG One hour.

THE EXPERIENCE Konya is home to the famous Sufi whirling, founded by Sufi poet Mevlana Rumi, whose tomb rests in this conservative Islamic town. Under the light of the moon and accompanied by live devotional music, you'll be pulled into a trance by this spinning ceremony where men dressed in white robes and conical hats whirl ecstatically to focus their minds on God.

MAKE IT HAPPEN Free outside the Mevlana Cultural Centre; Saturday 7pm. See turkeytourism.com

TAKE A PLASTIC REPLICA FOOD TOUR IN JAPAN

HOW LONG One hour.

THE EXPERIENCE Travel anywhere in Japan and you'll see elaborate displays of plastic food samples in restaurant windows. Not only can you visit the factory in Gujo Hachiman where they're produced, but you can also make your own. By pouring coloured waxes into hot water you'll create lifelike plastic replicas of tempura shrimp and iceberg lettuce. Only in Japan. 

MAKE IT HAPPEN Sample Village Iwasaki, 250 Jonan Cho, Hachiman-cho, Gujo-shi, Gifu-ken. Open 10am to 4pm. Classes cost 1000 yen. To book, email iwvillage@chic.ocn.ne.jp

WALK THE STREET OF HARMONY, PENANG, MALAYSIA

HOW LONG Three hours.

THE EXPERIENCE Wander down Penang's Street of Harmony on the George Town Heritage Walking Tour to sample the town's four main cultural influences – European, Chinese, Indian and Malay. Start at the elegant St George's Anglican Church, a testament to Georgetown's colonial roots, then walk to the Goddess of Mercy Chinese Buddhist temple where locals pray, light candles and read oracle sticks. Little India is where you'll find Bollywood music, sari-clad women and the Sri Maha Mariamman Kovil Hindu temple. Your last stop will be the grand Kapitan Keling Mosque.

MAKE IT HAPPEN $53, starts 9.30am or 7.30pm. See pht.org.my

ENJOY A "BLIND MASSAGE WITH SEEING HANDS" IN SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA

HOW LONG One  hour.

THE EXPERIENCE Not only are the workers at Seeing Hands very skilled at working out your knots after a day of temple hopping through Angkor, but in a society where the blind are often marginalised, spending your money here will contribute to them having an independent livelihood. Beware exploitative copycat businesses. 

MAKE IT HAPPEN $7 an hour; 324 Sivatha Street.

FOLLOW IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF CASTRO AND CHE, HAVANA, CUBA

HOW LONG Eight hours.

THE EXPERIENCE Cuba's revolution comes alive during this private tour of sites frequented by its instigators, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara: the Fortress San Carlos de la Cabana, seized by rebels and used as military headquarters; the University of Havana, a hotbed of pre-revolution foment against dictator Fulgencio Batista; Che's house, which overlooks Havana's port and is now a museum.

MAKE IT HAPPEN The specially tailored Urban Adventures tour costs around $190 per person with a minimum of two guests, departing daily. See urbanadventures.com/private-tours

DO THE BOMBING OF DARWIN TOUR

HOW LONG Four hours

THE EXPERIENCE Garry Gallagher's father and two uncles were in Darwin the day it was bombed by Japan on 19 February 1942. Armed with their eyewitness accounts, anecdotes and historical facts, he takes guests on an electrifying ride to the sites and relics pertinent to the catastrophe.

MAKE IT HAPPEN Tours run every day during Darwin's dry season, from April to November, and during the bombing anniversary week in February. The cost is $95 for adults and $50 for children aged five to 15, including entry to the Darwin Military Museum. See bombingofdarwin.com.au

CONTRIBUTORS: Elspeth Callender, Caroline Gladstone, Ben Groundwater, Ute Junker, Nina Karnikowski, Katrina Lobley, Catherine Marshall, Rob McFarland, Steve McKenna, Julie Miller, Craig Tansley

See also: Nine active experiences every traveller should try

See also: Eight outdoor experiences that every traveller should try

See also: Five urban experiences every traveller should try

See also: Six wildlife experiences every traveller should try​

See also: Six food and wine experiences every traveller should try

Comments