Photo by Duncan Struthers/Shutterstock
The town of Kolmanskop in Namibia was founded in the early 1900s after diamonds were found in the Namib Desert, but it was eventually abandoned and all but swallowed up by sand.
From a deserted Bolivian “train cemetery” to a defunct Soviet submarine base, these are some of the world’s most fascinating and unusual tourist attractions.
Note: Though COVID-19 has stalled a lot of travel plans, we hope our stories can offer inspiration for your future adventures—and a bit of hope.
Whether you consider abandoned buildings to be eerie or alluring (or both), they can provide one-of-a-kind windows into a destination’s past. These spots are particularly visually compelling, but they also serve as important reminders of history, from an out-of-use art nouveau subway station beneath New York City to a sand-covered ghost town on Namibia’s Atlantic Coast. Here are 15 abandoned places around the world that you can visit in real life.
During the 20th century, Sydney’s Homebush Bay served as an industrial port and was filled with ships that transported coal and oil. But when the area’s industrial operations declined toward the end of the century, the bay became a “ship-breaking ground” for decommissioned vessels. Today, you can still see some of the abandoned freighters across Homebush Bay, including the SS Ayrfield, a 1911 vessel that carried supplies to U.S. troops in the Pacific region during World War II. The boat was deregistered in 1972 and now floats in the bay, overgrown with mangrove trees.
Located high in the Andean plains of southwest Bolivia, the small city of Uyuni is known for its proximity to the world’s largest salt flat, Salar de Uyuni. But the area is also home to another unique attraction: a “train cemetery” (known as cementerio de trenes in Spanish) scattered with abandoned locomotives that date back to the 19th century. These massive steel trains were imported to the region as part of plans to develop a railway system that would transfer minerals from Uyuni to cities on the Pacific Coast. But after the area’s mining industry lost momentum, the project was cancelled, and more than 100 train cars were left to rust. The trains have now been largely corroded by salt and heavy winds, but visitors are free to explore what remains; the grounds are less than 10 minutes by taxi from downtown Uyuni, and most local tour companies stop at the site en route to the salt flats.
This colossal mine dates all the way back to the Middle Ages. Located in Transylvania, the hollowed underground space was the site of table salt production for hundreds of years until excavations eventually ended in the early 20th century. Since 1932, the cavern has been used for several purposes, including as a warehouse for cheese storage and a bomb shelter during World War II. In 1992, Salina Turda was repurposed again—this time as both a museum of salt mining and a subterranean amusement park that contains an amphitheater, a Ferris wheel, spa treatment rooms, a bowling alley, pool tables, and even an underground lake with rowboats. (Tickets cost approximately $9 for adults, $5 for children)
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The Rubjerg Knude Lighthouse sits on a towering sand dune nearly 200 feet above Denmark’s North Sea. When it was first lit in 1900, the lighthouse was hundreds of feet from the Atlantic coastline. But over time, wind and sea erosion changed the landscape and turned the area around the lighthouse into sand dunes. The Rubjerg Knude Lighthouse shut down in 1968 but served as a museum and coffee shop from 1980 until 2002, when rising sands ultimately forced it to be abandoned completely. In October 2019, the landmark was “rolled” on a set of iron plates and wheels to a new location over 200 feet from the coastline, as the structure was at risk of falling into the ocean due to erosion and shifting sands. Visitors can still walk along the beach and view the structure for free.
New York City’s first subway station—which opened below City Hall in 1904—was adorned with vaulted ceilings, intricate tilework, and elegant chandeliers. The grandiose platform served commuters until 1945 but was shuttered after the majority of New Yorkers eventually opted to use nearby rail stations with more efficient express tracks. Today, the New York Transit Museum leads exclusive guided tours of the defunct City Hall station for $50 per person. You have to become a museum member for the chance to explore the New York landmark, and even then, tickets for the 90-minute train station tour tend to sell out quickly.
Founded precariously on a steep hilltop in southern Italy during the 8th century, the medieval village of Craco has fallen victim to several disasters, including earthquakes, landslides, and devastating plagues. In 1991, a landslide forced all of Craco’s remaining residents to evacuate, leaving the site in a state of slow ruin. While the village is now entirely uninhabited, visitors can marvel at the Basilicata region ghost town on daily tours led by authorized guides for approximately $12—no reservations necessary.
Deception Island isn’t just a water-surrounded landmass in Antarctica’s South Shetland Islands; it’s actually an active volcano. In the early 20th century, the caldera served as a base for whaling operations, but it was abandoned many times—first in 1931 due to a slump in whale oil prices, and later in 1969 because of disruptive volcanic eruptions. Rusted tanks and boilers still scatter the Antarctic island alongside deteriorating research stations, beached boats, and a cemetery honoring workers who passed away there. Cruise lines such as Silversea and Oceanwide Expeditions offer voyages to Deception Island—if you’re lucky, you might even spot some chinstrap penguins as they breed.
Located in the barren Namib Desert, Kolmanskop boomed as a German diamond mining settlement during the early 1900s. After World War I, however, the area’s once-rich diamond field began to deplete and operations eventually came to a halt. By the end of the 1950s, German colonists had completely deserted the town, leaving the abandoned buildings of their settlement to be swallowed up by the southern Namibian sands. To explore what’s left of the sand-filled ghost town today, travelers must book a guided tour in the nearby tourist hub of Lüderitz, located on Namibia’s southern coast.
This top-secret Soviet submarine base once housed some of the Cold War’s most dangerous weapons. Amid escalating tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin issued orders to construct a hidden complex, called Object 825 GTS, under the city of Balaklava. The base, which was used to station submarines stocked with nuclear weaponry, survived beyond the fall of the USSR (the last submarine sailed out of the complex in 1996). In 2002, Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense turned the abandoned base into the Balaklava Naval Museum Complex. Museumgoers can take guided tours through a portion of the underground base on Wednesdays through Sundays, exploring a network of derelict tunnels as well as an empty nuclear storage arsenal. (From $4 for adults, $2 for students)
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Also known as Gunkanjima (meaning Battleship Island, for its resemblance to a Japanese battleship), this 16-acre-long island in Japan’s Nagasaki prefecture was once a densely populated place for undersea coal mining. Hashima Island functioned as a lucrative coal facility from 1887 until 1974 when the source ran out—after which Hashima’s population quickly left the island. The concrete “ghost island” was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2015, and today, groups of visitors can go on tours with local companies such as The Gunkanjima Concierge Company. (From $37 for adults, $31 for students)
In the late 1800s, Bodie was a booming gold mining town with a population of more than 10,000 people. Today, the ghost town—which is located approximately 75 miles southeast of California’s Lake Tahoe—has been preserved in a state of “arrested decay.” Over 50 buildings are still standing, some featuring preserved interiors that appear almost exactly as they were left. A handful of the abandoned buildings are open for the public to explore for an entrance fee of $8 for adults and $5 for children (cash only). During summer, the State Historic Park offers exclusive nighttime Ghost Mill Tours that feature legends and ghost stories about the town.
Germany’s capital is a city full of abandoned buildings with complicated histories, among them the sprawling Tempelhof Airport. Straddling the city’s Neukölln and Tempelhof neighborhoods, this pre–World War II airfield was once one of the largest structures in Europe. It sat abandoned after it was shuttered in 2008, but reopened in 2010 as the largest public park in Berlin. Today, former airplane runways are used for biking, jogging, and skating, while grassy areas hold public events and urban gardens. The eerie, Nazi-era terminal is also open to wander and observe.
About 50 miles north of New York City, Bannerman Castle sits on a patch of land known as Pollepel Island in the Hudson River. The dilapidated structure was erected at the start of the 20th century by Scottish immigrant Francis Bannerman, who worked as a military surplus goods collector and needed a warehouse in which to store his purchases. After Bannerman passed away in 1918, construction on the castle halted. Since then, a series of mysterious events have occured (including a shell powder explosion and a tragic boat accident). Still, the Bannerman Castle Trust works to preserve the site; a variety of hard-hat walking tours are offered from May through October, and the words “Bannerman’s Island Arsenal” remain displayed on the castle’s side, making it easily visible to passengers on the Metro-North Hudson train line.
This 20th-century copper mill town is listed on the U.S. federal government’s National Register of Historic Places. From 1911 to 1938, an estimated $200 million worth of copper was processed in Kennecott, a self-contained company village, which included its own hospital, general store, post office, and school. Of the historic buildings that make up the 2,800-acre ghost town, the main attractions include a 14-story concentration mill and a defunct power plant, both of which are only accessible by guided tour. Harsh winters in Alaska make Kennecott inaccessible, so the town’s visitor center is only open from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Originally built in 1926 with money donated by the U.S. Steel Corporation, this Indiana church is a nine-story Gothic marvel with towering stone pillars and stained glass windows. During its prime, the City Methodist Church ministered to almost 2,000 people, but as the state’s steel industry faltered and Gary’s population dwindled, the congregation shut down in 1975. For years, the abandoned structure has been frequented (without permission) by urban explorers and eager photographers, but in 2017, the Gary Redevelopment Commission began plans to redevelop the crumbling church as a “ruins garden,” complete with an amphitheater for public events.
This article originally appeared online in February 2019; it was updated on March 31, 2020, to include current information.
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