As obsessed as humans are with progress, decline and deterioration seem to similarly fascinate us. The sight of trees growing through concrete, deserted mine shafts reclaimed by nesting birds, and ghost towns in the middle of the desert remind us about the strength and the perseverance of nature.
In a world obsessed with excess, the following beautiful abandoned places are made so by subtraction. It’s the absence, the regression, and the return to nature that make them appealing. Whether it’s a train cemetery in Bolivia, a German sanitarium in disrepair, or an abandoned village in Italy, it’s clear that a place doesn’t have to be inhabited to capture the attention. These 45 sites are the most eerily beautiful abandoned places in the world.
1. Pripyat, Ukraine
The Ukrainian town of Pripyat is over 90 miles from Kyiv and sits right next to the nuclear plant of Chernobyl. In 1986, one of the nuclear reactors infamously exploded and forced the evacuation of over 115,000 people. Roughly 49,000 inhabitants, primarily from Pripyat, were the first to be evacuated, and the site has been a ghost town for decades, haunted by the memory of the nuclear disaster and still plagued by lingering radiation. Today, however, curious travelers are able to visit as long as they are part of a tour group taking the appropriate safety precautions.
2. Tunnel of Love, Ukraine
This nearly two-mile stretch of private railway is used by a train near Klevan, Ukraine, which services a nearby fibreboard factory. The rest of the time the lush tunnel is full of people out for a stroll. The foliage has grown around and above the train tracks 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.
3. 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 and Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl to make her controversial film “Olympia.” After World War II, the village was occupied by the Soviet Army, which used it as a torture base. It has been abandoned since the fall of communism in Germany.
4. 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 swallowed up 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.
5. Maunsell Forts, Thames Estuary, England
From afar, these defensive platforms look like props from a Star Wars movie. They were actually erected during WWII in estuaries of the Thames and Mersey rivers to protect England against attack from Nazi Germany’s aircraft. After they were decommissioned, several were destroyed by ships running into them, and some were used as pirate radio stations in the 1960s and 1970s. Paddy Roy Bates claimed Roughs Tower, a Maunsell Fort with a different design, in 1967 and developed the Principality of Sealand, but the other towers remain unoccupied.
6. 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.
7. 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 angular, concrete architecture that defined the Soviet aesthetic.
8. Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia
Prisons full of criminals are always a bit scary, but apparently empty ones are even more so. Called “the world’s first true penitentiary,” this prison was designed to force criminals closer to God through torture, months in solitary confinement, and enclosure in bitterly cold cellblocks. (Al Capone served his very first prison sentence here after being charged with carrying an unlicensed revolver in 1929.) It ceased operations in 1971 but has been open for tours since 1994. Notably, the prison grounds contain tunnels dug by inmates trying to escape.
9. Muromtzevo Mansion, Muromtzevo, Russia
At first glance, this mansion 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 a college and later a hospital before being completely abandoned. Like many other abandoned structures, nature has taken over, the surrounding foliage encroaching on the stones and old walking paths.
10. 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 1981, abandoned in 1992, has no landing or docking facilities, and currently sits abandoned.
11. Moynaq, Uzbekistan
It’s hard to believe that Moynaq used to be a port town of 30,000 people. Unfortunately, Soviet irrigation projects drained the Aral Sea’s tributaries and left Moynak 93 miles from the nearest water source. The seabed was further polluted with runoff from the cotton industry.
12. Skellig Michael, Ireland
Fans of the Star Wars film Episode VII “The Force Awakens” and Episode VIII “The Last Jedi” will immediately recognize this site. A Unesco World Heritage site, the remote monastic settlement dating all the way back to the sixth century has been abandoned since the 13th century when the monks relocated to the mainland of Ireland. Inhabited for hundreds of years, the island is still home to a number of well-preserved beehive-shaped huts, two oratories, a church, stone terraces, stone steps, and more — but there’s no Luke Skywalker in sight.
13. Chaiten, Chile
Chaitén was formerly the capital of the Palena Province until the Chaiten Volcano in Northern Patagonia erupted in 2008 after being silent 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 to Futaleufú.
14. 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 over 10 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.
15. Kalavantin Durg, India
According to legend, this 530 BC 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-like cave (which sits at an elevation of 2,300 feet) were cut into the rock of the hill. You can see for miles from the top of the fort. It’s a popular hiking destination, as long as you’re prepared for a steep climb.
16. 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 every obstacle, however, because in 2000 the ship hit an uncharted reef in the Solomon Islands and all the passengers had to be evacuated. The captain then steered it into Roderick Bay, where it has remained grounded and abandoned ever since.
17. Buffalo Central Terminal, Buffalo, New York
This old train station is worth a visit, just don’t expect to catch a train here. The Buffalo Central Terminal is a 17-story art deco building that was Buffalo’s main railway terminal for 50 years before it finally closed in 1979. In 1997, after years of abuse, the Central Terminal Restoration Corporation purchased the derelict building and is currently in the process of restoring it.
18. Spinalonga Island, Greece
From 1904 to 1957, Spinalonga functioned as a leper colony and was one of the last such colonies in Europe. The last inhabitant of the island was a priest committed to upholding the tradition of the Greek Orthodox Church in which buried people must be commemorated at five-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.
19. Oradour-sur-Glane, France
This town in France looks exactly as it did after it was devastated in 1944. During the war, German soldiers mistakenly surrounded this small French town, meaning to instead target nearby Oradour-sur-Vayres, where Resistance fighters were located. 642 of the village’s residents were massacred in punishment for the French resistance members, and the village was destroyed. It has stood empty since then, its ruins have remained, and the place serves as a memorial to those who died that day.
20. Salton Sea Beach, California
The Salton Sea, in the middle of California’s Colorado Desert, was nothing more than a piece of a desert valley before it got flooded in 1905 by the freshwater Colorado River. The area, then known as Salton Sink, got a huge lake measuring nearly a thousand square miles known as the Salton Sea. In the 1950s, the area became a resort, with towns built along the lake’s shoreline. Fish were introduced to the lake, and the area was thriving with swimmers, fishing enthusiasts, and vacationers looking for a good time by the water. But in the 1970s, severe storms led the lake to flood and destroy the towns and businesses on its shore. For the next two decades, while some residents stuck around, the lake became very polluted and extremely salty due to agricultural runoff. Most of the fish died and the lake is drying up, creating a huge amount of hazardous dust.
21. 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. The story goes that the mansion was built by a sugar baron in honor of his dead 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 after that, and it’s been preserved in its ruined state as a tourist attraction.
22. Pyramid of Tirana, Tirana, Albania
Not quite as impressive as the Great Pyramid of Giza, this pyramid in Albania’s capital is definitely a little strange. It was built as a monument to Enver Hoxha, a Stalinist dictator who ruled Albania for 40 years and sealed off the country from the rest of the world until his death in 1985. Built in 1988, the structure closed down when communism collapsed in 1990. It was reopened later as a conference center, theater, nightclub, television station, and other unexpected purposes. Abandoned and closed to the public for many years, the Pyramid of Tirana was planned to be demolished in 2011 but was later saved after a public outcry. There are plans in the works to turn this unusual structure into an education center.
23. South Fremantle Power Station, Fremantle, Australia
The South Fremantle Power Station opened in 1951 and was, for 34 years, a state-of-the-art structure that supplied power to the city of Perth. After it was deemed not financially viable, the power station closed in 1985 and has since become a shell covered in graffiti on the coast. Allegedly, a network of tunnels still exists under the ruins that lead all the way to the beach.
24. Whittingham Asylum, Lancashire, England
There are few places more chilling than old asylums. While we partly have horror 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. Opened in 1973, the asylum was built to treat those with mental illness but also treated soldiers during WWI and WWII. The asylum finally closed in 1995 after allegations of abuse against patients. The site is currently closed, and many of the original buildings have been torn down.
25. Kolmanskop, Namibia
In 1908, a railway worker found a diamond while cleaning the train tracks in the port town of Lüderitz in Namibia. His find was the start of a diamond rush and the impetus for the construction of the town of Kolmanskop, which sprung from nothing a few miles away from Lüderitz and quickly filled with prospectors. National Geographic reports that by 1912, Kolmanskop produced “a million carats a year, or 11.7 percent of the world’s total diamond production.” After years of intensive mining, the well of precious stones dried up and the inhabitants all left, abandoning Kolmanskop entirely in 1956. Since then, it has been reclaimed by the desert, with sand taking over the buildings. Now it’s a popular tourist destination and photography site.
26. Slab City, California
Only a short 20-mile drive from Bombay Beach, Slab City sits outside Niland in a remote area of California’s Colorado Desert. Once a former US Marine Corps base, the camp was abandoned by the end of WWII, leaving concrete slabs on which they used to experiment behind. Squatters quickly claimed the area as their own and used slabs to build structures to live in. The site has no electricity, running water, or sewers, and there’s no law enforcement or taxation for those who live there. Today, Slab City remains the gathering place of squatters, snowbirds, drifters, and homeless people.
27. Bannerman Castle, Pollepel Island, New York
Bannerman Castle is a replica of a Scottish castle built by Scotsman Frank Bannerman in the early 20th century. Frank Bannerman, a businessman in the military surplus industry used the castle as a storage facility for his work and had a residence built nearby for his own usage. In 1969, long after his death, the castle was destroyed by fire. There are tours available for those who wish to visit the island and see the castle up close. Events are regularly organized, such as plays and movie nights. Today, the island and its structures are run by The Bannerman Castle Trust, Inc.
28. Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, Oregon Coast
Tillamook Rock Lighthouse was officially lit in 1881 and quickly nicknamed “Terrible Tilly” due to the extremely difficult conditions (for both physical and mental health) lightkeepers experienced during their shifts. It was eventually decommissioned in 1957. Now, it’s privately owned and, as a former licensed repository for the ashes of the dead, home to 30 urns. The lighthouse was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is part of the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge.
29. Craco, Italy
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 ninth or tenth century, but the town dates back to 1000 AD. However, due to severe landslides linked to seismic activity, the town was abandoned in its entirety in 1991. The town has become a tourist attraction and even a filming location. It was added to the watch list of the World Monuments Fund in 2010.
30. Seattle Underground, Seattle, Washington
Thirty-one blocks of Seattle were destroyed in the Great Seattle Fire of 1889. The city was rebuilt from stone and brick a few feet higher than the original street grade, leaving a subterranean network of ruined shops, streets, and pathways. A tour of the Seattle underground is a must to truly get acquainted with the city’s bones.
31. Six Flags New Orleans, New Orleans, Louisiana
Six Flags New Orleans is a popular theme park in the Big Easy, but not for the reasons one might think. When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, an estimated 80 percent of the city was underwater. That included the 162-acre Six Flags amusement park. Now it’s abandoned, overgrown with plants, covered in debris and graffiti, and in disrepair. It is currently illegal to visit the grounds of Six Flags New Orleans.
32. 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 houses and a mosque. The town, located just one hour’s drive from Dubai, was first built in the 1970s for the Bedouin population and abandoned soon afterward without any clear reason. Al Madam is now on the radar of travelers to the UAE who want the thrill of visiting an abandoned village.
33. Floating Forest of Homebush Bay, Sydney, Australia
Contrary to its name, the Floating Forest is not, in fact, a forest. It’s a decommissioned ship sitting in Homebush Bay, and its name refers to the greenery 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 Ayrfield, 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.
34. San Juan Parangaricutiro, Mexico
The eruption of the Parícutin volcano in 1943 devastated the two villages that sat in its shadow. The lava took over everything except the top part of the San Juan Parangaricutiro church, which now sits as the sole survivor of the nine-year-long eruption. The lava flows covered the first 30 feet of the church, but the rest of the building — including its impressive bell tower — remains.
35. 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 after World War II, in 1945, after being under Japanese rule for 40 years. The lighthouse was made autonomous (no need for keepers) in the 1990s and was totally abandoned in 2006.
36. Teufelsberg, Berlin, Germany
This former Cold War American listening station sits on a hill of rubble in Berlin. The hill’s rubble covers an unfinished Nazi university faculty for military technology, and in the 1950s, the hill was capped by a US listening station. The former station is now in disuse but open for public tours. A 90-minute guided historical tour is currently offered, as well as a flashlight hike.
37. Train Cemetery, Uyuni, Bolivia
Located on the outskirts of the town of Uyuni, the train cemetery is filled with old trains that have completely succumbed to rust. In the late 19th century/early 20th century, there was a plan to create a large railway network out of Uyuni, but the idea was scrapped, leaving over 100 trains to rust and be forgotten. There are no restrictions here, so visitors are free to explore the trains themselves and even climb on top of them.
38. 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, sawmill, and a washhouse, built as early as the 13th century built in a rock fissure. 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 spectacular sight when viewed from above the canyon.
39. Canfranc International Railway Station, Huesca, Spain
This is yet another beautiful train station where you shouldn’t expect to find any operational trains. Opened in 1928 as a major hub for international railway travel, the Canfranc train station played a significant role during WWII thanks to its strategic position on the border between Spain and France; however, services ceased in 1970, and the station has been out of use and neglected ever since. Recently, the station received funding to undergo renovations, so this site might not stay abandoned for much longer.
40. 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. The Sarajevo Olympic Bobsleigh Track on Mount Trebevic was once the pride of the 1984 Winter Olympics. It was, however, severely damaged during the Bosnian war in the 1990s. The track is currently undergoing renovations with the aim of becoming usable once again.
41. Beelitz Sanatorium, Germany
Originally built in the late 19th century, the 60-building treatment complex was meant to rehabilitate tuberculosis patients in Berlin. It treated Adolf Hitler during World War I and later became a Nazi hospital during World War II. The hospital was taken over by the Soviet Army in 1945. It remained a Soviet military hospital until the collapse of the Soviet Union and was abandoned in 1994. In 2015, a treetops pathway was created above the ground of the sanatorium for everyone to be able to see the site safely.
42. Anping Tree House, Tainan City, Taiwan
This isn’t your typical treehouse. 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 growing grounds of the banyan tree, whose branches and roots have completely overtaken the building. An elevated walkway has been added to the grounds so visitors can explore the rooms without getting entangled themselves. The site is a popular tourist attraction.
43. New York State Pavilion, New York City, New York
A historic world’s fair pavilion in Flushing, Queens, the New York State Pavilion was designed for the 1964-65 World’s Fair. After the fair, although it was meant to be a temporary installation, it was kept intact while the rest of the pavilions were demolished. However, with no use for it, it deteriorated. A restoration of the pavilion is currently underway.
44. Bodie, California
Bodie describes itself as a “town frozen in time.” Preserved by California State Parks, Bodie is a gold-mining ghost town that used to be home to 10,000 people. It 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.
45. Varosha, Cyprus
Varosha has certainly undergone a fall from grace. Once the vibrant quarter of the resort city of Famagusta, the neighborhood has been abandoned and fenced off to visitors ever since 1974 when the city came under Turkish control, along with the northern part of Cyprus. Varosha is defined by its decayed buildings, as well as streets filled with rubble and overtaken by vegetation. Although some parts of Varosha are open, including the beach, the rest of the quarter remains off-limits to visitors for now.
A version of this article about beautiful abandoned places was previously published on February 19, 2014, and was updated on February 2, 2021, with more information.