From sacred geological features to sprawling megacities, peaceful islands to mining towns, there are abandoned places all over the world. Ruins are often eerily beautiful, as nature slowly reclaims them. We think it’s worth sharing their stories. While some come with creepy legends, others were simply left behind as the world moved on.
Remember: while visiting abandoned places can be exciting, it can also be dangerous. Avoid going inside any unsafe structures and always ask for permission or join an official guided tour so that you don’t get in trouble for trespassing.
The most interesting and abandoned places on Earth
- Kennecot, Alaska
- Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia
- Canfranc train station, Spain
- Varosha, Cyprus
- Tequendama Falls Museum, Colombia
- Craco, Italy
- Kalyazin bell tower, Russia
- Spotted Lake (Klikuk), Canada
- Rainbow Mountains (Zhangye Danxia), China
- Kayakoy, Turkey
- Bodie, California
- Aoshima “cat island”, Japan
- Angkor Wat, Cambodia
- Hirta, Scotland
- Kolmanskop, Namibia
- Lake Reschen Bell Tower, Italy
- Humberstone, Chile
1. Kennecot, Alaska
Built in 1911, Kennecot was once the beating heart of a huge copper mining operation. When the ore ran out, so did the work – and the town was abandoned overnight in 1938. Today the huge buildings sit in the wilderness of Wrangell St. Elias National Park, as testament to the willpower and ingenuity of the prospectors. Guided tours are available from May to September. As well as gaining access to the massive 14-storey concentration mill, you also hear interesting tales from the town’s heyday.
2. Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia
Once the world’s most famous – and expensive – prison, the Eastern State Penitentiary held famous criminals like Al Capone and ‘Slick Willie’ Sutton. It closed just 50 years ago, in 1971, and is one of Philadelphia’s most creepy sights. You don’t have to conduct a reverse prison break to visit the crumbling cell blocks – tours are available during the day and evening. Join to hear stories of daring escapes, see reconstructed 19th-century cells and enjoy a craft beer in the former prison yard.
3. Canfranc Train Station, Spain
During WWII this opulent station on the French and Spanish border was nicknamed the Casablanca of the Pyrenees, as it was an epicentre for espionage and trade. Despite this, the line itself was rarely used in the post-war years. After a freight train derailed in 1970 it raised safety concerns and led to its closure. Some parts of the station are still used, and there are plans in place to restore it to its former glory.
4. Varosha, Cyprus
Until the mid-70s, Varosha was Famagusta’s booming tourist district. During its heyday it could rival the French Riviera, attracting Hollywood stars like Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor and Brigitte Bardot. The resort was left empty when the Turkish claimed northern Cyprus in 1974. Unfortunately it’s not possible to visit, as it’s fenced off and patrolled by the military. You can peek through the fence at the long stretch of golden beach and crumbling luxury hotels, however.
5. Tequendama Falls Museum, Colombia
This elegant mansion was built in 1923, converting to a luxury hotel a few years later in 1928. After closing in the early 90s, it lay empty for years among rumours that it was haunted. Local legend says that indigenous people would leap from the falls to avoid capture by Spanish conquistadors, before transforming into eagles and flying away. The building found a happy ending, reopening in 2013 as a museum of cultural heritage and environmental restoration.
6. Craco, Italy
This ghost town in Southern Italy dates back to the eighth century. It survived 1,400 years of marauders, plague and conflict before faulty pipework led its residents to leave in 1991. Today, the empty, medieval streets make it a popular filming location, appearing in movies like The Passion of the Christ (2004) and Quantum of Solace (2010). Guided tours around the town are available for a small fee, or you can visit during one of the six holy festivals that take place throughout the summer.
7. Kalyazin bell tower, Russia
The bell tower of a centuries-old monastery peeks out of the Uglish Reservoir in Russia, hinting at the ghost town that lies beneath. The valley was flooded during Stalin’s efforts to modernise the USSR. While most of the buildings are fully submerged in water, which is 23m deep in places, the bell tower of St Nicholas Cathedral stands proudly above the surface. It’s possible to take a boat tour out and peer inside. Reinforced for safety, it’s sometimes used to host Orthodox Christian ceremonies.
8. Spotted Lake (Klikuk), Canada
Nicknamed ‘the most magical place in Canada’, Spotted Lake looks like any other body of water for most of the year. When it begins to dry out in summer, colour circular pools of water in various colours are left behind, creating a polka-dot appearance. The Okanagan First Nations people, who know it as Klikuk, believe it is sacred. Legend says that each pool has its own unique healing properties. It’s been part of protected land since 2001, so you can’t get up close, but you can get a good look from the nearby highway.
9. Rainbow Mountains (Zhangye Danxia), China
With striking stripes of magenta, red, yellow and turquoise, the Rainbow Mountains of China look like a psychedelic painting. Its location in northwestern China makes it quite hard to reach, but it’s well worth the trek to see it in person. The most colourful section of the park covers 50 kilometres, but there are shuttle buses to help you navigate around and boardwalks so you can get up close and personal with the strange geological formations.
10. Kayakoy, Turkey
You’ll find this ghost town just a few kilometres west of the bustling tourist resort of Hisaronu, where the Mediterranean meets the Aegean. Until the early 1920s, the village was home to Greek Orthodox Christians and Anatolian Muslims. When the Greco-Turkish war ended in 1923 there was a population exchange, which left the hillside village empty. An earthquake in 1957 was the final straw. Although homes on the valley floor were repaired, those on the hillside were left to the elements. Today it has museum status, so you can hike up and explore the ruined homes, schools, cafes and shops.
11. Bodie, California
When it comes to abandoned places, this Wild West ghost town is one of the most iconic. Dusty red paths wind through the weathered buildings, which sit empty on the eastern cusp of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. During the gold rush this boom town was home to around 10,000 people, with 40 arriving each day by stagecoach to seek their fortune. After the mines closed, the population moved on. Today it’s part of Bodie State Historic Park, with 170 buildings preserved in a state of managed decay.
12. Aoshima “cat island”, Japan
Cats were originally brought to Japanese islands like Aoshima by fishermen to help cull the swathes of rats and mice. Over the years the population of the island fell, as young people left to pursue their fortune in the cities. The cats continued to breed, however, and now far outnumber people. In Aoshima there are only 15-20 human residents but more than 120 cats. The island can be accessed by ferry, taking around 30 minutes. Bear in mind the island is a place where people live, not a tourist destination, so be respectful.
13. Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Another of the world’s most famous abandoned places, Angkor Wat in Cambodia, is a huge tourist attraction famous for its overgrown temples and ancient sculptures. However, this holy city was lost to the world for hundreds of years, after the Khmer empire abandoned the temple complex in the 15th century. It was only rediscovered in 1860, by French naturalist Henri Mouhot. You need a special permit to visit the Angkor Archaeological Park, and although it’s possible to visit the main sights in one day it’s better to give yourself some extra time to really get to grips with the sheer scale of the complex.
14. Hirta, Scotland
The largest island in the St Kilda archipelego was home to 180 residents in the late 17th century, but today it’s virtually unpopulated. In 1930, it was abandoned when the last 36 residents were moved to Lochaline, on the mainland. Today the island is owned by the National Trust for Scotland, and day trips are possible throughout summer. Tourist facilities are limited, but include a camp site, toilets and a small museum set inside a 19th-century cottage.
15. Kolmanskop, Namibia
Another of the world’s most iconic abandoned places, the diamond-mining town of Kolmanskop was once a luxurious enclave in the Namib Desert. Fresh drinking water was imported by train, and opera groups travelled all the way from Europe to perform. Legend has it that some eccentric residents even kept ostriches as pets. When larger diamond fields were found by the coast, however, people left their homes behind for pastures new. Today sand blows through the rooms of the opulent homes, which are in danger of disappearing into the desert altogether. Guided tours are available from the nearby beach town of Luderitz.
16. Lake Reschen Bell Tower, Italy
Like many reservoir-building projects, a number of small villages were submerged when Lake Reschen was created in the mid 20th century. While the likes of Graun and parts of Reschen are hidden underneath the water, the steeple of a 14th-century church can be seen poking out of the surface. Daring explorers wander out on foot when the lake freezes over, however it’s far safer to check it out from a boat. Local legend says that during winter you can still hear the bells ring. Which is rather creepy, considering they were removed a week before the lake’s creation.
17. Humberstone, Chile
Humberstone is another ghost town that thrived during golden age of mining. Rather than gold, diamonds or copper, this was based around the extraction of potassium nitrate – or saltpetre. Once home to over 3,000 people, it was quickly abandoned after German scientists synthesised a cheaper substitute. Today the buildings and equipment are being gently preserved by the arid air of the Atacama Desert. As it’s a Chilean National Monument, and part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s possible to visit and see the old machinery, bandstand and buildings.
Feeling inspired? Get out and explore
International travel might not be easy right now, but there will always be eerie and abandoned places all over the world to discover – and some are close to home. Seeking them out is the perfect way to learn a little bit of human history while maintaining your social distance. Then, you’ll be even more prepared once borders open up more.
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Visiting abandoned places: FAQs
It depends on where you’re visiting. It’s likely that the property, although abandoned, is still owned by a person or a company. If this is the case, entering without permission is trespassing and could land you in trouble with the police. Before doing any urban exploration it’s worth finding out who the owners are and asking for their permission to visit, or joining an official guided tour.
Urban exploration (or urbex) is a hobby based around exploring abandoned places. There are lots of forums and groups dedicated to it. The best place to start is by finding fellow urban explorers in your area that you can go with. You can also use websites like Google Earth, Reddit and Tumblr to find and research potential locations to visit.
You should be very careful if you plan to go inside abandoned buildings or churches. If properties are no longer being used, it’s unlikely that anyone is maintaining them. Be especially careful in buildings with large, open spaces. As no fresh air or light is getting in, rot can quickly take over and beams can deteriorate after a few months. This can cause staircases and upper floors to become unstable and dangerous.
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