Holidaying behind the Iron Curtain: The material culture of tourism in Cold War Eastern Europe


  • Carys Wilkins National Museums Scotland


Souvenir, Cold War, Friendship Society, Scotland, Eastern Europe


During the Twentieth Century, foreign travel underwent a process of democratisation. Increasingly, through the development of package holidays to ever more far-flung destinations, leisure tourism for the first time allowed ordinary people to experience different cultures first hand. With the increased availability and affordability of foreign travel, actively promoted by travel agencies with strong left-wing political affiliations and supported and facilitated by international friendship societies, the number of western tourists visiting Eastern Europe multiplied through the 1960s and 1970s despite the Cold War. This paper will explore western tourism in Eastern Europe during the Cold War in a Scottish context through the material culture of travel collected during this period, focusing on the collection of Miss Eileen Crowford (1913 - 1990) held by National Museums Scotland. Miss Crowford was a life-long Edinburgh resident and an avid collector. Her collection spans the 20th century and includes a significant collection of costume jewellery, mass-produced decorative arts and travel souvenirs. Drawing upon previously unresearched material in the archive and objects acquired on her travels, both items that she bought and things that she was given or obtained as part of the travel experience, provides a case study through which to explore engagement with communist culture and politics in a Scottish context. This paper discusses how these trips were being marketed to prospective Scottish travellers, and how souvenir production and distribution, as well as conditions of access, reflect an often-mediated experience of the Soviet East.





Wilkins, C. (2022). Holidaying behind the Iron Curtain: The material culture of tourism in Cold War Eastern Europe. Matkailututkimus, 17(2), 53–71.