Maybe you, like me, are fascinated by the entropy of humanity’s impact on the earth: trees growing up through pavement, deserted mineshafts reclaimed by nesting birds, and ghost towns in the middle of the desert. Something about the sheer perseverence of nature is gorgeous to me.
As you can see from these pictures of abandoned places, I’m not the only one who thinks so. These photos are proof that a place doesn’t have to be full of bustling people to be the most stunning thing you’ve ever seen.
The Ukrainian town of Pripyat is just over 60 miles from Kiev and sits right next to the nuclear plant of Chernobyl. In 1986, the reactor infamously exploded and forced the evacuation of the of over 28,000 people. Pripyat has been a ghost town for decades, haunted by the memory of the Chernobyl disaster and still plagued by lingering radiation. Now, however, you’re actually able to visit as long as you’re part of a tour group taking appropriate safety precautions.
Tunnel of Love, Ukraine
This two-mile stretch of private railway hosts a train near Klevan, Ukraine, that brings wood to a nearby fibreboard factory three times a day. The rest of the time the lush tunnel is full of people out for a stroll. The foliage has grown around the train to form a surreal-looking tunnel of green arches, making for a rather romantic atmosphere. Supposedly, couples who visit the tunnel are granted a wish as long as their love is true.
Olympic Village, Berlin, Germany
Abandoned Olympic parks always have a certain mystique surrounding them, but the Olympic Village in Berlin has a heavier, more somber air than most. The 1936 Summer Olympics, commonly called the “Nazi Olympics,” was filmed by Hitler’s favorite documentarian, Leni Riefenstahl, to make her controversial film Olympia. After World War II, the village was occupied by the Soviet Army, who used it as a torture base. It has been abandoned since the fall of communism in Germany.
Houtouwan, Shengshan Island, China
This village on Shengshan Island, east of Shanghai, was once a thriving fishing community. Due to lack of access to education, food delivery, electricity and running water, the island has been abandoned since the early 1990s. Now it looks like it is being slowly but surely devoured by nature, its crumbling houses mostly covered by thick layers of ivy. You can hike to the top of one of the island’s many hills for a sweeping view of the abandoned community.
Maunsell Forts, Thames Estuary, England
From afar, these small fortified forts look like props from a Star Wars movie. They were actually erected in estuaries of the Thames to protect England against attack from Nazi Germany. After they were decommissioned, several were destroyed by ships running into them, and some were used as pirate radio stations in the 1960s. Paddy Roy Bates claimed Roughs Tower in 1964 and developed the Principality of Sealand, but the other towers remain unoccupied.
Power Plant IM, Belgium
This coal-operated plant in Charleroi, Belgium is said to have begun operations around the 1920s and ceased production in 2007 once it was found to be responsible for an excess amount of Belgium’s CO2 emissions. It’s currently set for demolition, but in the meantime it’s a popular target for metal thieves.
Buzludzha Monument, Bulgaria
This bizarre flying saucer-shaped monument was built in 1981 to commemorate secret socialist meetings that were the precursor to the Bulgarian Communist Party. It is no longer maintained by the government and has been abandoned since 1989. It now stands as a relic of the stark, gray architecture that defined the Communist aesthetic.
Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia, US
Full prisons are always a bit eerie, but apparently empty ones are even more so. Called “the world’s first penitentiary,” this prison was designed to force criminals closer to God through torture, months in solitary confinement, and enclosure in bitterly cold cellblocks. It ceased operations in 1971 but has been open for tours since 1994. The grounds of the prison contain over 30 different tunnels dug by inmates trying to escape. You can’t exactly blame them.
Muromtzevo Mansion, Muromtzevo, Russia
At first glance this mansion actually looks like a fairytale castle. Look a little closer, and the ravages of time become apparent. This elaborate 80-room mansion took five years to build, and was completed in 1889. After the Russian Revolution its owner donated it to the state to avoid it being looted. The mansion became Forest College before being completely abandoned in 1977. Like many other abandoned structures, nature has taken over, the surrounding foliage encroaching on the stones and old walking paths.
Cape Romano dome homes, Florida
If you’ve ever seen the movie Waterworld, these domes off the coast of Florida should strike a cinematic note. The Cape Romano Dome House is an abandoned house consisting of six separate domes on stilts, 300 feet off the coast of Cape Romano Island. It was built in 1979, abandoned in 1992, has no landing or docking facilities, and currently sits abandoned.
It’s hard to believe that Moynaq used to be a port town. Unfortunately, Soviet irrigation projects drained the Aral Sea’s tributaries and left it 93 miles from the nearest water source. The seabed was further polluted with runoff from the cotton industry, which killed many residents. Now the town is situated in a dry, arid landscape, and inhabited only by a few Karakalpak people.
Skellig Michael, Ireland
Fans of the new Star Wars movies will immediately recognize this monastery. A Unesco World Heritage Site, the remote island monastery has been abandoned since the 12th century when the monks relocated to the mainland of Ireland. Inhabited for 600 years, the island is still home to a number of beehive huts, two oratories, a church, stone terraces, stone steps, but no — no Luke Skywalker.
Chaiten was formerly the capital of the Palena Province, until the Chaiten Volcano in Northern Patagonia erupted in 2008 after being dormant for 9,000 years. A volcanic lahar caused a nearby river to divert its course, and the town at the volcano’s base was destroyed. In 2011, the president of Chile announced plans to rebuild on the original location. A rebuilding process is currently underway, but the capital of the province has been permanently moved.
Hashima Island (Battleship Island), Nagasaki, Japan
It’s not quite a battleship and it’s not quite an island, but from afar it looks like both. Hashima Island (or Battleship Island) sits just nine miles off the coast of Nagasaki, and is known for its abandoned concrete buildings and defensive sea wall. Now uninhabited, it had been a forced labor site for Korean and Chinese workers before and during World War II.
Kalavantin Durg, India
According to legend, this fort was built around the time of Buddha for a queen named Kalavantin, but this has never been confirmed. The steps leading up to the fort (which sits at an elevation of 2,000 feet) were cut into the rock of the hill. You can see Mumbai from the fort itself. It’s a popular hiking destination, as long as you’re prepared for a steep climb.
MS World Discoverer, Roderick Bay, Nggela Islands
This cruise ship was built in 1974 specifically for polar voyages, and had a double-hulled construction to protect it against collisions with ice. It apparently didn’t protect against the average rock, however, because in 2000 the ship hit an uncharted rock in the Solomon Islands and all passengers had to be evacuated. The captain then steered it into Roderick Bay, where it has remained grounded and abandoned ever since.
Buffalo Central Terminal, Buffalo, NY, US
This old train station is worth a visit, just don’t expect to catch a train here. The 17-story art deco building was Buffalo’s main railway terminal for 50 years before it finally closed in 1979. It was then extensively looted and vandalized, and some said the only thing blocking it from demolition was the cost. In 1997, the Central Terminal Restoration Corporation purchased the derelict building for $1 and is currently in the process of restoring it. It’s also served as a set for movies and music videos.
Spinalonga Island, Greece
From 1903 to 1957, Spinalonga functioned as a leper colony, and was one of the last leper colonies in Europe. The last inhabitant of the island was a priest committed upholding the tradition of the Greek Orthodox Church where buried people must be commemorated at 5-year intervals. He finally left in 1962, after which time it became completely uninhabited. Now the island is a popular tourist attraction, known for its pebble beaches and fortress.
This town in France looks exactly as it did during World War II. During the war, German soldiers mistakenly invaded this small French town, meaning to instead target nearby Oradour-sur-Vayres. 642 of the village’s residents were massacred in punishment for the French Resistance, and the village was completely destroyed. It has stood empty since then, its ruins have remained, and the place serves as a memorial to the dead.
Salton Sea Beach, California, US
Salton Sea Beach was flooded in 1973 by highly saline water from the nearby Salton Sea, an accidental inland ocean created when the Colorado River poured through salt flats in 1905. During the flood residents fled, leaving behind most of their belongings and moving elsewhere. You can still find alarm clocks, dolls, and other items embedded in the inches-thick crust of salt that covers every surface.
Talisay Mansion, Talisay City, Philippines
At first glance this enormous mansion in Talisay City, Philippines looks like a dream home, before you realize it has no roof and hardly any walls. It was built by a sugar baron in honor of his 11th wife in the early 1900s. In World War II, Filipino guerillas employed by the US Army set the building on fire. It burned for several days and sat empty for a long time, and has been preserved in its ruined state as a tourist attraction. It can also be rented for special events.
Pyramid of Tirana, Tirana, Albania
Not quite as impressive as the Great Pyramid of Giza, this bizarre pyramid in Albania’s capital is definitely more creepy. It was built as a monument to an Albanian leader who clung to a Stalinist ideology long after the Russian dictator had died. As national attitudes shifted, the space was transformed into a convention centre in 1991, then into a military staging centre, then a television station. It has since been looted for building materials and covered in graffiti, and the government is campaigning for its demolition.
South Fremantle Power Station, Fremantle, Australia
The South Fremantle Power Station opened in 1951 and employed 250 people at its peak of operations. After technological advances made it uneconomical, it closed in 1985 and has since become a relic of the past defined by constantly changing graffiti, broken glass, and old spray paint cans. Allegedly, a network of tunnels still exists under the ruins that lead all the way to the beach.
Whittingham Asylum, Lancashire, England
There are few places more naturally chilling than old asylums. While we partly have the movies to thank for that, we also have genuinely creepy places like the Whittingham Asylum, which was once the largest mental institution in the UK. Founded in 1869, it had its own farms, telephone exchange, post office, orchestra, and even a brewery. After being taken over by the military during World War II, the asylum slowly declined and finally closed in 1995 after allegations of abuse against patients.
In 1908, the port of Luderitz was inundated with people rushing into the Namib Desert to make a fortune on diamonds. The town of Kolmanskop enjoyed a boom until the drop in diamond sales after World War I, and the town was deserted in the 1950s. Since then, it has been reclaimed by the desert, with sand overtaking the buildings. Now it’s a popular tourist destination and photography site.
Slab City, California, US
Only a short drive from Salton Sea Beach, Slab City sits outside Niland in a remote area of the California desert. Once a World War II Marine barracks, the camp was abandoned, then razed, leaving only concrete slabs. It might look like a hipster’s version of a post-apocalyptic town, but it’s actually still used by snowbirds, drifters, and off-the-grid enthusiasts as a temporary city and gathering place.
Bannerman Castle, Pollepel Island, New York
It looks like a relic of ancient England, but it’s actually located on an island in New York. Bannerman’s Castle is an abandoned military surplus warehouse on Pollepel Island in the Hudson River. The castle initially served as a storage facility for extra military equipment after the Civil War, but after a fire destroyed the arsenal in 1968, it was abandoned, and the island placed off-limits to the public. Now partially-collapsed, the castle is a frequent victim of vandalism and trespassing.
Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, Oregon Coast, US
This lighthouse was officially lit in 1881 and quickly nicknamed Terrible Tilly due to the hazardous commute lighthouse keepers faced from the mainland. It was damaged extensively by storms and eventually decommissioned in the 1950s. Now, it’s privately owned and accessible only by helicopter. The lighthouse was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, andis part of the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge.
Italy has a way of making even its more derelict, abandoned towns seem beautiful, and Craco is no exception. The summit where Comune di Craco sits may have been inhabited as early as the 8th century. By the mid-1950s, seismic activity had put the town in danger and a series of landslides forced the entire population to relocate in 1963. The town has become a tourist attraction and even a filming location. It was even added to the watch list of the World Monuments Fund.
Seattle Underground, US
31 blocks of Seattle were destroyed in the Great Seattle Fire of 1889. The city was rebuilt one to two stories higher than the original street grade, leaving a subterranean network of ruined shops, streets, and pathways. If you think you know Seattle, a trip through the Seattle underground is a must to truly get acquainted with the city’s bones.
Six Flags New Orleans, Louisiana, US
Six Flags New Orleans is a popular attraction in the Big Easy, but not for the reasons you might think. When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coastin 2005, an estimated 80 percent of the city was underwater. That included the Six Flags theme park. Now it’s abandoned, overgrown with plants, and in dire disrepair. Guided tours of the property were recently banned, though the city often rents the site to production companies as a filming location.
Al Madam, Abu Dhabi
At Al Madam, it’s tough to tell where the sand ends and the buildings begin. Al Madam is a ghost village drowning in sand, consisting of just two rows of colorful houses. The town was first built in the 1970s by the local Al Kutbi tribe, and abandoned soon afterward. It’s unclear exactly why the place is abandoned, but the harsh elements, and encroaching desert, are thought to be the main culprits. Indeed, some buildings are now completely engulfed by the sand dunes.
Floating Forest of Homebush Bay, Sydney, Australia
Contrary to its name, the Floating Forest is not, in fact, an actual forest. It’s a decommissioned ship sitting in Homebush Bay, and it’s name refers to the foliage that has overtaken the hull. Fully-grown mangrove trees now adorn this rusted old boat, lending some color and life to an abandoned vessel. Originally called the SS Corrimal, the boat was built in 1911 in the UK as a steam collier, and was later used to bring supplies to US troops stationed in the Pacific during World War II. It was retired in 1972 and sent to Homebush Bay, where it has remained ever since.
San Juan Parangaricutiro, Mexico
The eruption of the Parícutin volcano in 1943 devastated the two villages that sat in its shadow. The lava melted everything except the San Juan Parangaricutiro church, and it now sits as the sole survivor of the eight-year-long eruption. The church, all that remains of the village, is still buried in solidified lava rock, and climbing over the volcanic rock to see the resilient church is a popular tourist experience.
Aniva Rock Lighthouse, Sakhalin Island, Russia
Built by the Japanese in 1939 on a rock off the coast of Sakhalin Island, Russia, the Aniva lighthouse (and Sakhalin Island)was annexed by the Russians during World War II. This caused nearly half a million Japanese to be evacuated from the island, and the lighthouse to be abandoned. It remains so today, leaving the seven-story lighthouse completely empty and in disrepair.
Teufelsberg, Berlin, Germany
This former Cold War listening station sits on a hill of rubble in Berlin. The hill’s rubble covers an unfinished Nazi military college, and aftrward, during the Cold War, the hill was capped by a US listening station. The former station is now in disuse, fenced off, and open for public tours. A 90-minute guided historical tour is currently offered, as well as a flashlight hike.
Train Cemetery, Uyuni, Bolivia
This is where trains go to die. Literally. Located just two miles away from the Uyuni train station, the train cemetery is filled with trains that have completely succumbed to rust. In the 1800s there was a plan to create a large network of trains out of Uyuni, but the idea was scrapped, leaving several trains and other equipment to rust and be forgotten. There are over 100 train cars in the graveyard, and most date back to the early 1900s. There are no restrictions here, so visitors are free to explore the trains themselves, and even climb on top of them.
Valley of Mills, Sorrento, Italy
If you’re coming to the Valley of Mills to check out some cool, functional flour mills, you’ll be disappointed. The valley is a grouping of stone flour mills built as early as the 13th century, but once the flour milling industry died out, the mills were closed and abandoned in the 1940s. Now the old buildings have been completely overtaken by foliage, making for a pretty spectacular sight when viewed from above the valley. In 2019 the city voted to restore the mills, a project that is still in progress.
Canfranc International Railway Station, Huesca, Spain
This is yet another train station where you shouldn’t expect to find any operational trains. Opened in 1928 as a major hub for iteratioal railway travel, services ceased in 1970 due to a train derailment and the station has been out of use and neglected ever since. In 2020 the station received funding to renovate the station, so this site might not stay abandoned for much longer.
Sarajevo Olympic Luge Track, Bosnia and Herzegovina
There’s something about a place once dedicated to adrenaline and excitement falling into disrepair that piques the imagination. That’s why abandoned Olympic sites hold such a special place on our travel itineraries. The Sarajevo Olympic Luge Track has been unused since the 1984 Winter Olympics. It was, however, damaged during the Siege of Sarajevo in the mid-1990s, and used as an artillery position by Bosnian Serb forces. The track is currently undergoing renovations with the aim of becoming usable once again.
Beelitz Sanatorium, Germany
This old sanatorium is even more chilling than you might think, since it was once a Nazi institution. Originally built in the 19th century, the 60-building treatment complex was built to rehabilitate tuberculosis patients in Berlin. It treated Adolf Hitler during World War I, and later became a Nazi hospital during World War II. It suffered heavy Allied bombing and was eventually occupied by Soviet forces. It remained a Soviet military hospital until East Germany fell, and was abandoned in 1995. Now the walls are covered with graffiti, and overrun with vines slowly consuming the complex.
Anping Tree House, Tainan City, Taiwan
This isn’t your typical tree house. It’s not located up in the boughs but right on ground level, and the structure has completely fallen victim to the encroachment of a banyan tree. Formerly a merchant warehouse complex in Tainan’s Anping District, the house was built in the 1800s. It has since been abandoned and now serves as the stomping grounds of the banyan tree, whose branches and roots have completely overtaken the building. A walkway has been added to the grounds so visitors can explore the rooms without getting entangled themselves.
New York State Pavilion, New York
A historic world’s fair pavilion in Flushing, Queens, the New York State Pavilion was designed for the 1964 New York World’s Fair. After the fair, no use could be found for the pavilion and it deteriorated and fell into disuse. It has functioned as a set for TV shows and movies, but otherwise has sat abandoned. A restoration of the pavilion is currently underway, including extensive repainting.
Bodie describes itself as a “town frozen in time.” Preserved by California State Parks, Bodie was an old mining town that eventually was taken over by the state when the mining industry dried up. By 1915 it was officially designated a “ghost town”, and became a State Historic Park in 1962. All the buildings are still maintained to look exactly as they did when they were built in the 1880s, making it a popular tourist attraction.
Varosha has certainly undergone a fall from grace. Once the vibrant tourist quarter of the city of Famagusta, the neighborhood has been abandoned ever since 1984 when the Turks invaded, and the city came under Turkish control. Varosha is defined by its decayed buildings, many of which have been looted over the years, and its streets overgrown with plants and vegetation. Although some parts of Varosha, including the beach, opened in 2020, the rest of the quarter remains off-limits to visitors.