Listening to history podcasts is a fantastic way to prepare to make your next trip and a more enjoyable and meaningful one.
As author David McCullough once said:
“History is who we are and why we are the way we are”
And that’s exactly why it matters so much.
Without at least some understanding of history, we can’t hope to understand and appreciate the world around us.
In this post, I’ll share 11 of the best history podcasts for travellers.
Some of these podcasts are broad and cover a wide range of topics. Others focus on a specific place or period in time.
All of them are excellent and will help you to better understand the places you visit on your future adventures.
Let’s get to it…
11 Of The Best History Podcasts For Travellers In 2020
Dan Carlin's Hardcore History
Hardcore History isn’t just one of the best history podcasts I know, it’s the best podcast I’ve listened to, full stop.
What really makes Hardcore History stand out is that the host, Dan Carlin, does his research. It’s the reason he only releases 3 or 4 shows a year… he clearly reads very widely on the episode’s topic in order to provide as informed a show as possible.
With Hardcore History, you don’t get frequent episodes, but when they do come out, they’re top quality.
This podcast is not just well researched, it also well produced. What makes or breaks many history podcasts is the quality of the presentation. You can have the the most interesting subject in the world but if it’s delivered in a dry, overly factual way it soon starts to feel like being back at school.
In Hardcore History, Dan uses real quotes, from real people who lived through the periods of history he discusses. And this really helps to bring the stories to life.
Ultimately, that’s really why Hardcore History is so good, in spite of the level of research and detail that goes into each episode, Dan has a way of presenting the material so that it feels like a story with a narrative arc you follow. It leaves you wanting to discover what happens next.
If you haven’t listened to this podcast before, I recommend checking out the 5 episode series on World War I (the episodes are called “Blueprint for Armageddon”), which is absolutely superb.
I listened to the entire series during a long bus journey to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil a couple of years ago and I was gripped all the way through.
Dan Carlin's Hardcore History Addendum
As you probably guessed, this podcast is a kind of “add-on” featuring all the interesting stuff that didn’t quite fit on the main Hardcore History podcast.
While the main podcast features Dan telling the history of the topic at hand, the Addendum podcast is much more eclectic.
It features interviews with renowned historians, such as Peter Hart (WWI export), as well as Dan’s own musings on interesting historical questions, such as comparing the strength of militaries from different periods of history.
If you like Hardcore History, you’ll definitely want to check out Hardcore History Addendum as well.
Irish History Podcast
The Irish History podcasts reminds me a lot of Hardcore History, except that the episodes are shorter and more frequent.
It’s very well researched and the host, Fin, knows how to bring history to life by using a narrative and referencing quotes and documents from real people who lived at the time.
If you’re interested in visiting Ireland or better understanding the country’s history and culture, you should definitely check out Fin’s series “The Great Famine”, about the potato famine which plagued Ireland in the 1840’s.
Listening to this series will go a long way to helping you understand…
- The Irish psyche
- Ireland’s relationship with Britain
- The role emigration plays in Irish history (and it’s impact on Britain and the US)
One of the great things about the Irish History Podcast is that there’s a good balance between longer in depth series that go deep on important as aspects of Irish history, and shorter one off episodes that tell intriguing forgotten stories from Ireland’s past.
BBC The Documentary
The Documentary isn’t technically a “history podcast” per se, but it deserves a mention nonetheless.
The focus of this podcast is “investigating global developments, issues and affairs” - exactly the kind of thing that curious travellers want to know about. And when you’re telling stories like these, history is always part of it.
No matter where in the world you’re travelling to, The Documentary has probably produced a couple of episodes telling a story about that place. So it’s well worth searching through the archive before your next trip.
It’s this focus on telling interesting stories that makes The Documentary stand out. Very few episodes cover important moments in history or talk about famous people.
Instead, these audio documentaries are focused on telling the stories of real people, more often than not, by speaking directly with those people.
The result is a podcast that allows you to better understand the lives of local people in different parts of the world and how their cultures are often very similar and yet very different to your own.
This podcast series, produced by the Washington Post, first ran in the lead up to the 2016 Presidential Elections in the US.
Starting at the beginning with George Washington, each episode focuses and one US President and discusses their life and presidency.
The series is well researched and presented in a fun way that makes it both an informative and entertaining listen.
The great thing about this series is that it will teach you about the less well known US Presidents like William McKinley or Millard Filmore (I swear, I didn’t make him up!).
You're Dead To Me
You’re Dead To Me is where history meets comedy. The show is presented by historian and comedian Greg Jenner and each episode features 2 special guests…
- A historian who specialises in the subject of the episode
- A comedian (who normally knows nothing about history)
The result is a light-hearted approach to history that’s entertaining and easy to listen to. But don’t be fooled, there’s plenty of interesting history in their too!
The point of this podcast is not to be comprehensive but it will give you interesting insights into some of the more unique and unusual aspects of history.
This podcast does exactly what it says on the tin… and does it pretty well!
Each episode is an hour long audio biography of a famous historical figure such as Michelangelo, Adam Smith or Marco Polo.
Admittedly, this podcast is a little more dry and factual than some of the others on this list, but if you enjoy history it’s far from boring.
It’s also ideal for travellers who want to get an understanding of a famous figure before travelling to a place they’re synonomous with.
- Planning a trip to Florence and want to know a bit more about Leonardo before you go?
- Travelling to Germany but never heard of Bismarck?
- Keep seeing Bolívar everywhere on your South America trip but don't know much about him?
The Historical Figures podcast has you covered.
This is not a show I listen to every episode of, but I always enjoyed dipping into it when a new episode about a person I’m interested in is released.
Germany: Memories Of A Nation
This is an older podcast, but it’s still a great one. If you’re planning to visit Germany or simply want to understand the most powerful country in Europe, it’s a must listen.
The podcast is presented by Neil McGregor, director of the British Museum in London, and has 30 episodes in total. Each episode is an audio documentary which discusses a different aspect of German history,
What’s great about this podcast is that it’s not designed to just "tell you the facts" about German history like many other podcasts or books.
Instead, its goal is to dive deeper to try and understand what Germany represents and how it has come to be the country it is today.
Witness: World War II
It goes without saying that the Second World War was one of the most significant events in human history. If you live in or have ever visited Europe, in particular, you’ll know that its impact and effect are still very present throughout the continent today.
In this podcast, the BBC opens up their archives and shares more than 50 first-hand accounts of the major moments of WWII from people who lived through them.
And that’s what makes it so unique…
Instead of listening to historians telling you about subjects they’ve studied, in Witness, you’ll hear the stories told directly by the people who experienced them first-hand.
It’s a great way to put yourself in someone else shoes and get a glimpse of what it might have been like for them living through the war.
The Age Of Napoleon Podcast
This podcast is centred around one character - Napoleon Bonaparte.
It’s not an over exaggeration to say that you simply can’t understand modern European or Latin American history, without knowing a least a little about Napoleon.
This podcast is relatively new, but it's earned it's place on the list by regularly releasing well-researched and entertaining episodes.
If you're travelling to France, learning about the Revolution and subsequent rise of Napoleon is a must.
In Our Time: History
In Our Time is more of a traditional radio programme than many of the other shows mentioned in this article. But that doesn’t mean you should discount it.
This is a serious history programme featuring expert historians discussing the topics they know best. What it lacks in light hearted fun, it makes up for in intelligent insight.
The topics covered on the show vary week to week, meaning it’s a great podcast to dip into if you’re looking for episodes related to a place you’re about to travel to.
Whether you want to learn about the Incas, Napoleon or Ancient Egypt, you’re sure to find plenty of episodes related to the places you plan to visit
As you can see, when it comes to history podcasts, you’re spoilt for choice!
Listening to history podcasts is a great way to prepare for your next adventure. But they’re also something you can take with you on the road too!
I’ve listened to many of the podcasts mentioned in this article while on planes, trains and automobiles in different countries around the world.
There’s nothing like a great podcast to bring a journey to life and teach you something at the same time.
Which of these great history podcasts are you most excited to start listening to? Leave me a comment and let me know!
Resources Related To This Article
The Anti-Tourist Club
The Anti-Tourist Club is a training and support centre for curious adventurers who want to do travel differently.
It is where anti-tourists like you and I come together with a common mission:
To put learning at the heart of our adventures and unlock the kinds of meaningful travel experiences most tourists never have.
There are lots of great podcast players available on both Android and iOS, but my favourite is Pocket Casts. It's easy to use, looks great and has a sleep timer and speed controls which often come in handy!
David McCullough photo - Nrbelex at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)]