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Home / Travel / Follow the bloody trail: Cool crime tours around the world

Follow the bloody trail: Cool crime tours around the world

From mobsters in Shanghai and Pablo Escobar’s escape route to Melbourne’s brothels and the history of justice in Frankfurt, see how cities look at their criminal pasts and mine them for tourist revenue.

travel Updated: Oct 30, 2020, 18:13 IST
Rachel Lopez
Rachel Lopez
Hindustan Times
The 2001 mystery-horror movie From Hell looks at the unsolved Jack the Ripper murder spree from over a century ago. In contemporary London, dozens of city tours loop around the locations of the original grisly crime wave.
The 2001 mystery-horror movie From Hell looks at the unsolved Jack the Ripper murder spree from over a century ago. In contemporary London, dozens of city tours loop around the locations of the original grisly crime wave.(20th Century Fox)

Kyoto, Japan
Underground Kyoto Tour
On a walk through the Matsukoni area, where Kyoto’s grey markets flourish, visitors can see how the underground economy (and Japan’s crime-network, the Yakuza) operates. There’s also a visit to the city’s largest ghetto for the marginalised Burakumin community.

Palermo, Italy
Anti-Mafia Tour
To celebrate the heroes and martyrs who stood up to the Italian crime syndicates, Palermo offers a curated tour. It covers non-violent protest sites, a gallery of artists who took a stand against cartels, and a memorial to judges and prosecutors killed by the mafia.

Melbourne, Australia
Gangsters, Brothels & Lolly Shops
Leave aside the fact that Australia was initially where the Crown banished its criminals. This crime tour highlights the era from the 1850s to 1930s, when Little Lon, a slum quarter in Melbourne was bustling with opium dens, cocaine cafés, sly grogs or speakeasies, ‘Lolly shops’ that were actually brothels, and men of ill repute. The area was home to Australia’s most famous gangster, the wonderfully named Leslie ‘Squizzy’ Taylor, and an all-women crime network called The Combine.

Shanghai, China
The Shady Side of Shanghai
This gangster tour looks at opium kingpins and crime lords in the early 20th century, like Big Eared Du (who thought monkey heads were lucky) and Pockmarked Huang who distributed drugs in police cars. The trail covers the spots where their palatial hangouts and clubhouses once stood. As a bonus, you learn how to cheat at Blackjack.

Chicago, USA
Devil & The White City Tour
This was among the first cities to monetise its mobster past; there are Al Capone tours featuring guides in costume. This one, however, covers the grisly exploits of the serial killer HH Holmes, who operated the infamous Murder Castle during the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893. The tour covers the spots where Holmes picked up victims and what’s left of the fair today. Participants can get an inside look at Chicago in 1893 and what the world saw when it came to the Windy City.

Medellín, Colombia
Pablo Escobar Escape Route
Colombia’s crime-ridden cities are now so notorious (Netflix’s Narcos helped), they support a thriving crime-tourism industry. Visitors are encouraged to witness the transformation of neighbourhoods, and the revenues from these walks help fund local efforts to curb crime. The Pablo Escobar Escape Route tour is run by Medellin City Services, and led by a former police officer who pursued the drug lord. It covers the infamous drug dealer’s neighbourhood and his lair (with helipad, dungeons, dorms and an escape tunnel).

Gothenburg, Sweden
Goteborg Crime Walk
Long before The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Sweden’s true-crime stories were sending chills down people’s spines. This walk recreates the city of the 19th century, down the historic narrow streets of Haga, when murder, theft, prostitution and smuggling were part of city life. “Among other things you’ll find out why Anna Brita cut up her best friend,” says the site. “But you’ll also meet Pernilla, the horrifying baby-farmer.” What?

London, UK
The Jack The Ripper Tour
It’s been offered since 1982. Expert guides (some of whom have written books on the subject) lead visitors down East End’s winding alleys, where Jack murdered five women in 1888. He was never identified, let alone caught. Included, unusually, are photos of the area from back then, and copies of actual flyers circulated to catch Jack.

Dublin, Ireland
Old Dublin Crime Tour
Ireland’s capital has had drug-related gangs and associated organised crime since the ’70s. On this tour, however, the bad old days are really old. The guide, John (who does not use his last name), a lifelong Dublin resident, has a Master’s degree in History, specialising in historical crime. He leads participants through the city’s streets, covering events from the Viking age to the end of Queen Victoria’s reign.

Frankfurt, Germany
History of Crime
A walk that focuses not on the bad guys but the history of law and order in the city. There are visits to memorable scenes of crime, but also guard towers and prisons. You’ll see several former courts of justice, where famous cases from the Middle Ages to the 1950s were tried. And the apartment where Rosemarie Nitribitt, prostitute to the rich and powerful, was found strangulated, causing a national scandal in 1957.

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