Vintage Postcards Show Tourism from the Twentieth Century

Vintage Postcards Show Tourism from the Twentieth Century

While we were in Ireland last month on our mini road trip, we happened to find a thrift shop on York Street in Cork that sold all manner of treasures. In particular was a box full of old postcards and most had messages on the back and had been posted to someone in Ireland. There’s something magical about finding things like this as they are a snap shot of the past and insight into how people took trips back before there was cheap Ryan Air flights and package deals to Thailand. We managed to find quite a few vintage postcards to bring home and show you and where possible, we have tried to decipher the handwriting on the back, although it’s pretty difficult as people had quite curly joined-up writing in the olden days!

Location: Lake Como, Italy (1910)
This is the first postcard that we found from someone who calls herself ‘dbadge’ when she signs, but we’ve nicknamed her Auntie Madge.  She is very well travelled, sending this from Lago di Como (Lake Como) in Italy in the 1900’s, which has been Lake Como has been a popular retreat for aristocrats and wealthy people since Roman times. She writes that they are enjoying themselves in Italy “more than words can say” and that would be a very true statement as it would have been a very untouched and peaceful location, enjoyed by those that could afford to easily travel there.

Location: Montreux (possibly 1910)
What is so great about this scene is that it contains a steamer paddle boat which the sender (Auntie Madge) says is lovely see to see on the lake (Lake Geneva) and you can still get to cross Lake Geneva on one of these today.


Location: Barcelona (1958)
This card doesn’t have that much on it apart from the sender letting her recipient know where she is. It is however, fascinating to see how busy the Paseo de Colon is and the fact that the tram system seems to be busier than the cars on the road. This is surprising seeing as the local government had increased tram fare by 40% in December 1950, which had caused quite a lot of outrage. So much so that citizens boycotted the network in 1951, for a week, throwing stones at trams and marching through the streets. It did lead to an upgrade of the system in the 1960s, but our postcode shows a very different scene (as postcards are meant to) than the real one that was going on at the time.

Location: Montreux (1926)
We’re back to Montreux with Auntie Madge, although this time it’s in 1926 and we’re at les Dents du Midi (or The Teeth of the South) mountain range on the shores of Lake Geneva in Switzerland. They arrived safely and most likely by boat and train back in the 1920s, which means that Auntie Madge was probably very wealthy as only the rich could afford to travel back then. It’s possible that by train, we could do the trip in under 12 hours (thanks making it a very different experience.


Location: Penmaenmawr, Wales (1926)
Travel by train within the British Isles and Ireland was at best what most could afford to do in the 1920s and the sandy beaches at Bangor Bay established it as a holiday resort for families to escape the industrialisation of Belfast. The belief in the restorative powers of the sea air meant that the town became a popular location for sea bathing and marine sports. As was the pattern of domestic tourism spots in the 20th Century, Bangor’s popularity declined although it did spawn a folk song in the 1970s by Fiddler’s Dram called ‘Day Trip to Bangor (Didn’t We Have a Lovely Time)’
Location: San Remo, Italy (1910s/1920s)
It’s really hard tell the exact date on this card as the stamp has been steamed off, no doubt to be collected, and as such has taken a vital bit of the post stamp with it unfortunately. They are there for a fortnight and even managed to visit the section of the coast that the front of thepostcard shows. It’s this which suggests the period as the skirts are still below the knee and there is a man in uniform.
Location: Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex, UK (1960)
Another typically British message here as the writer pens: “We have lumpy beds, lousy food, long lectures and we are thoroughly enjoying ourselves.” Never ones to let on that we can’t cope, but always have to get a small moan in, this is the type of postcard that says at least I’m away and I’m bloody well going to enjoy it! 
Location: Llandudno, Wales (1922)
The “Queen of the Welsh Resorts” Llandudno, is now one of Wales’ biggest seaside resorts and has the advent of train travel to thank for it’s boom in popularity, making it easier for working class people to holiday across the UK. Llandudno has hosted several Victoria Extravaganza events which aim to recreate the town’s golden age with street theatre, maypole dancing in the street, carriage rides, parades and a Grand Victorian Ball and from the looks of some of the pictures, the steampunk generation love this!
Location: Exmouth, Devon (1958)
Our author writes: “The sun is actually out at the moment but otherwise it’s all rain. Another year we shall go where it isn’t so crowded. The camp is packed, but for all that we’re enjoying ourselves. Brian is in the sea. All our love, Jake, Vera and Brian.” So typically British to have moan and then finish it with but other than that all is well. If our travellers were in Exmouth at a holiday camp in the 1950s, then it’s likely that they were at Warners or a Pointins holiday camp and from the end of the war, through the 1950s and into the early 1960s the holiday camp industry was thriving, so it’s no wonder that they found it packed.

This postcard was a Donald McGill creation, who was synonimous with the bawdy seasdie-postcards that we associate with a bygone era. McGill produced an estimated 12,000 designs, of which 200 million copies are estimated to have been printed.

We hope that you enjoyed looking through these as much as we did. The research has brought up quite a few potential travel projects, one being a potential road trip to Lake Geneva. Watch this space and let us know if you have been to any of the above locations or indeed if you have any postcards from the past that you’d like to share with us.


  1. Could it be “Madge” and not “dbadge”? Look at the M in Mrs. and the b in Dublin….

    • Thanks Helen – I must have stared at her signature for ages! Will update post now.

  2. Any change of reading the name of the steamboat on the Montreux postcard?

    CGN still have thee paddle steamers from the pre-First World War in daily use (with a further two awaiting restoration.) Five Belle Epoque paddle steamers paraded a week ago at the annual Naval Parade ( old steamers go at the same speed as the modern diesel boats, as any faster travel would be unpleasantly windy.

    My guess for the date would be 1910 – to match the dates from the Como postcard. 1916 in the middle of the First World War seems a bit dicy but not impossible.

    • Thanks for the feedback! It makes sense that it would be 1910 because of WW1 and have updated the post to reflect that. I also really enjoyed reading about the Parade Navale – thanks!



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