When planning a vacation, many people think about which museums, parks, monuments or restaurants they’d like to visit. But why not throw something else into the mix by visiting some eerie yet fascinating abandoned castles, hospitals, prisons or villages? These kinds of attractions can provide fascinating historic or cultural insight into your destination. Some — particularly those off the beaten track — can also be downright exciting.
With that in mind, here are 25 of the most intriguing abandoned places around the world to visit.
Beelitz-Heilstätten: Beelitz, Germany
Dating to the late 19th century, the Beelitz-Heilstätten was built as a sanatorium, for people with tuberculosis to be treated in a tranquil setting in the woods outside Berlin. It was then a military hospital during World Wars I and II and the Cold War until it closed and was abandoned in the 1990s. Now, a treetop walk allows visitors to see the crumbling ruins of these gorgeous alpine-style buildings from all angles. Although many buildings, such as the surgical center, are still standing, visitors cannot enter unless they’re on a specially-arranged tour. Know that you’ll need to pay a fee for the treetop walk and a tour. The sanatorium is located about 30 miles southwest of Berlin, and with regular trains (take the RE7) stopping right nearby, it makes for an easy day trip.
Bannerman Castle: Pollepel Island, New York
Tucked on an island in the Hudson River, Bannerman Castle is actually a former weapons storage facility — although it certainly looks more like a castle. A Scottish settler had it built in the 19th century, making it resemble castles from his homeland. It was used to store vast volumes of military surplus he purchased after the Civil War, but those were eventually cleared out and New York State acquired the island in the early 1960s. In 1969, a fire ravaged the castle, leaving only part of the structure behind. Travelers can visit the castle as part of paid tours leaving from Beacon and there are even movie screenings and dinners held on the island in the shadow of the castle. Beacon is 70 miles north of New York City, making it good for a daytrip, although there are inns and bed-and-breakfasts in many nearby towns.
City Methodist Church: Gary, Indiana
There’s no shortage of urban decay in this former steel boomtown, and the most notable abandoned building around is the City Methodist Church, once the largest of its kind in the Midwest. It was an active church for just 50 years, from 1925 to 1975, when a dwindling congregation forced it to close. It’s since been featured in several movies like “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (2010). The church’s gothic architecture makes for a particularly eerie atmosphere, but you’ll want to be careful: after nearly a half-century of disuse, it’s not the safest place to go exploring: the building is not maintained, so it pays to be attentive to your surroundings. (Though in recent years, the city received a grant to transform the building into a ruin garden.) Officially, visitors need to get a permit from the city’s film and TV office to visit legally. Gary isn’t exactly a major tourist destination, but it can be reached easily from Chicago by car (a 30 mile drive from downtown) or suburban train.
Eastern State Penitentiary: Philadelphia
The troubled history of this huge prison has led it to be dubbed one of the most haunted places in America. With stories about this spoke-shaped prison invoking murder, torture, psychosis and disease, it’s little wonder that some people have reported hearing voices or seeing shadowy figures within the cell blocks. You won’t have to worry about being stuck here alone with any ghosts, though: it’s open to the public with guided tours on offer starting at $17 for adults. Nighttime tours are also an option for those who can handle the extra fear factor. Supernatural activity aside, the building is safe to visit, but know that the floors can be uneven and stick to marked public areas. The Eastern State Penitentiary is located in the Fairmount neighborhood of Philly, just north of downtown, and less than a mile from the famed Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Hashima Island: Nagasaki, Japan
This island off the southern coast of Japan played host to a major coal mine and over 5,000 residents in the 19th and 20th centuries. More than just a mine, the island (also known as Gunkanjima, or Battleship Island) hosted a small city with residences, a school, hospital and religious shrines. By the mid-’70s, the Japanese mined all the coal and the island was swiftly abandoned and left to the elements. The relatively sudden evacuation of the island gives it a ghostly, frozen-in-time feeling, with items from residents’ everyday lives still visible to visitors, although you can’t enter many of the buildings, due to safety concerns. Hashima Island can only be visited as part of a paid group tour leaving from the city of Nagasaki. The boat ride to Hashima can be rough, which means tour companies may cancel trips due to sea conditions.
Festival Club: Ibiza, Spain
While this Mediterranean island is famous for its nightlife, this particular club isn’t on many visitors’ radars. It opened in the early ’70s and survived just two years. A sprawling venue, it included several dance floors, a restaurant and an amphitheater, all in a scenic location perched high on a hill. It was one of the original major clubs on the island, and it’s still partially intact, if a little overgrown, with plenty of graffiti (some of which is quite impressive). There are no barriers to accessing the abandoned club: visitors can either hike up from a nearby village, drive or take a cab. It’s free to access, but be sure to watch out for any dangerous or uneven structures.
Ross Island: Port Blair, India
There’s a distinct darkness beneath the tropical beauty of this small island in the Bay of Bengal: it was formerly a brutal penal colony for Indians who rebelled against British colonial rule. Victims were tortured and murdered by the British. The prison was closed shortly after World War II, and lush green jungle has partially taken over many of the structures, like a church and administrative buildings. There’s also a museum on the island exploring some of its history. Ross Island, now called Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Island after an Indian nationalist, is part of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which lie far off the east coast of India. You can fly to the city of Port Blair (the largest on the islands) and take a short ferry to Ross Island for 100 rupees ($1.30). With great seafood and beaches, there’s plenty else to see and do in various towns and islands in the area (many of which are accessible by boat).
Hara Submarine Base: Harju County, Estonia
In a quiet, forested area about 40 miles east of Estonia’s capital, Tallinn, you’ll find this former Soviet submarine base, jutting into the Gulf of Finland. It was abandoned in 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed. Now, most of what remains are pier-like structures stretching out into the sea, which can be walked along and explored. Some visitors also point out that it’s a fantastically calm and picturesque place to visit, due to its location in nature, although some have also complained that it’s not a particularly grandiose set of ruins to visit. You need to buy a 6 euro (about $6.50) ticket to access the base. It’s not exactly a structured tourist attraction, and the owners point out that you’re entering at your own risk.
Round Harbour: Newfoundland, Canada
Newfoundland in eastern Canada is positively loaded with abandoned fishing villages. A 1992 moratorium on cod fishing (to avoid depleting the seas), along with the help of an earlier government resettlement program has left dozens of abandoned villages around the long coast of this island. Round Harbour and neighboring Snooks Arm are two of the more accessible options: they have a direct road connection. They were only abandoned in 2016 and 2018 (respectively), after their residents voted to accept a resettlement package from the government. This means that they’re still relatively intact. With objects from everyday life scattered around the houses, there’s a distinct frozen-in-time feeling to Round Harbour. There are plenty more abandoned villages in Newfoundland that theoretically could be visited for free, although many require a boat.
Hohenschönhausen Prison: Berlin
Berlin had a turbulent 20th century, and this is an eye-opening place to learn about one element of it. Until the late ’80s, Hohenschönhausen was a prison for East Germany’s secret police, the Stasi, housing all sorts of political prisoners. Prisoners often lived in torturous settings, sometimes facing extreme isolation and often not even knowing where they were being held. With the prison more or less in the same state as when it was closed, a tour can be particularly sobering, although insightful — particularly since some of the tours are led by former inmates. An exhibition about the prison can be visited for free, but to see most of the complex, you need to reserve a tour for 6 euros (about $6.50): there are several in English each day.
Riverview Hospital (Place of the Great Blue Heron): Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada
This abandoned psychiatric hospital housed patients in British Columbia throughout the 20th century, and some patients stayed here for decades. The hospital was known for questionable practices like electroshock therapy and sterilization. Since its closure in 2012, it has been used for major film and TV productions, including “Deadpool 2” and “Watchmen.” The Riverview area was renamed Place of the Great Blue Heron in 2021 in recognition of the Kwikwetlem First Nation’s ancestral connection to the land. The old hospital is located in suburban Vancouver, so it’s easily accessible as a day trip. Although there may be security guards present, you can freely walk the grounds. However, the buildings are not open to the public, and any photography requires a permit.
Paronella Park: Mena Creek, Queensland, Australia
While many abandoned buildings are spooky places to visit, this one is a mystical affair. Set amongst lush rainforest in the tropical northern Queensland, Australia, this small castle was built in the early 1900s by Spanish pastry chef José Paronella, as a gift to his wife. The couple lived there for the remainder of their lives, opening it to the public with events like movie screenings and dances. With moss-covered walls and greenery growing in its structure, the castle can seem like a mirage of a lost world — and with a waterfall and more than 7,500 plants planted by Paronella, it feels like an oasis in the wilderness. Paronella Park is about 65 miles south of the city of Cairns. Tickets are a relatively high 50 Australian dollars (about $36.50), but they include a free tour and one overnight stay in the adjacent campground, so bring a tent or an RV; cabins are available too, for an extra charge.
Houtouwan: Shengshan Island, China
This fishing village on an island off the coast of Shanghai was abandoned in the 1990s, and nature has since taken over in a spectacular way. Its buildings are mostly blanketed in plants and moss, making it an other-worldly site to see. Paths through the hilly village mean you can spend plenty of time walking around and exploring. If you work up an appetite, the islands here are known for their seafood, which is readily available in other nonabandoned villages nearby. To visit Houtouwan, you’ll need to pay for a ferry to either Gouqi or Shengshan Islands, but Houtouwan is free to visit once you’re there. You can’t stay overnight at Houtouwan, but there is accommodation elsewhere on the island. You’ll need to pay a small fee to visit the island itself.
After a railway worker named Zacharias Lewala found diamonds in the early 1900s, this patch of sandy Namibian desert quickly morphed into a boomtown, producing nearly 12% of the world’s diamonds at the time. It didn’t last, and the town was totally abandoned by 1960. The desert has since reclaimed much of the town, but the dry climate means its Edwardian buildings are surprisingly well-preserved. Some of the town was dug out of the sand to allow for tourists to visit, and it’s now relatively popular considering its isolated location. Take note, you’ll want to wear good walking boots with all that sand. The town can be reached by car from the coastal town of Luderitz; Kolmanskop sits about 10 miles southeast. There are daily tours for 100 Namibian dollars (about $6.70) and a tavern serving food on-site.
Kennecott Mines National Historic Landmark: Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Alaska
In the shadow of snow-capped Alaskan mountains lies this former copper mining town, now part of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. The town had a rapid boom and bust, with mining starting in 1911 and closing in 1938. The National Park Service has restored the town’s bold red buildings, and the area is open to visitors. Now a National Historic Landmark, the town hosts several exhibits that serve as a great introduction to frontier mining life, in a formidable location surrounded by glaciers and wilderness. Although it’s a national park, there is no fee to enter. Kennecott isn’t the easiest place to access: it’s about 310 miles east of Anchorage, and the only road to McCarthy (the nearest town) is winding and remote, with no cell service. Plus, rental car companies may not permit you to drive in the area. You can fly in to McCarthy via a quick hop from the town of Chitina.
Salton Sea and Bombay Beach: Niland, California
In the mid-20th century, Bombay Beach was a major tourist destination: a resort town on the Salton Sea, it drew up to half a million people annually, including celebrities like the Beach Boys and Frank Sinatra. But the saltwater Salton Sea — California’s largest lake by volume — didn’t stay idyllic for long. In the ’70s, it started becoming progressively saltier and runoff from nearby farms added fertilizers and toxins to the lake. It became a toxic environment, killing fish by the thousands and putting a serious damper on the vacation vibe. Nowadays, Bombay Beach still has a tiny population, but relative to its heyday, it’s effectively a ghost town. Abandoned shacks, trailers and attractions like a drive-in theater litter the landscape, with some describing it as post-apocalyptic. The extreme triple-digit temperatures and intense smell only add to the “Mad Max” atmosphere. However, it is experiencing a small rebirth. Artists (including some Bombay Beach residents) have been creating art installations out of objects abandoned in the town, luring a few visitors back in. Bombay Beach is free to enter, and can be reached by car: it’s about 170 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles, and there are vacation rentals available in the town (although those seeking something fancier may want to retreat to nearby Palm Springs when they’re done).
Waverly Hills Sanatorium: Louisville, Kentucky
Built in the 1920s, this beautiful Tudor Gothic Revival building was a hospital for tuberculosis patients, in operation for about 40 years. (In the ’60s, it was renovated to be a nursing home before closing completely in the 1980s.) Located in a hilly area surrounded by woods, it gave tuberculosis patients a peaceful place to recover, while keeping them at a distance from the rest of the world. It was a self-subsistent community that produced its own food and treated its own water — in large part because once people moved to the sanatorium, they didn’t return to their former residences to avoid infecting others. This fact makes Waverly Hills a pretty spooky place, particularly considering the fact that the building had a specific tunnel for removing bodies without other patients seeing. To that end, the historical society that now looks after the building claims that it’s one of the most haunted places in the world. The Sanatorium is about 15 miles south of downtown Louisville, and you can take historical or paranormal tours of it for a fee. Bookings are required.
Wanli UFO Village: Wanli, Taiwan
Just away from a beach on Taiwan’s north coast lies this bizarre collection of unearthly houses. They weren’t built by aliens, though: the houses here are Futuro and Venturo style buildings, part of a futuristic ’60s trend. The pod-like homes were built here as part of a resort sometime around the ’70s (though the exact date is unknown). Additionally, there are strong doubts about whether these particular houses were actually created by the Finnish architect behind the style, or if they’re knock-offs. In any case, the resort was apparently not a success, and the pods have been left to the elements, creating the unusual spectacle of something that’s simultaneously so futuristic, and yet so dilapidated. The UFO Village is only about 20 miles outside Taipei, and can be reached by car or by a bus from Taipei to the nearby town of Wanli. It’s free to visit.
Craco: Matera, Italy
This hillside village in the arch of Italy’s boot was occupied for at least a millennium, but in the 1960s, nature started to get the better of it. Landslides followed by floods and an earthquake drove the population away, and it was abandoned in the ’90s. But while its location (perched on a cliff) may have helped to cause its demise, it also makes Craco a beautiful place to visit. It’s not your average ghost town, as travelers will find a town lined with cobblestone streets, and a castle and monastery amidst remnants of white stone buildings. Visitors can only enter Craco with a paid tour, although you can go right up to the edge of the town without paying. Given its countryside location, you’ll need a car to get there — the nearest cities are Bari ( 75 miles away) and Naples (150 miles).
Arico Leper Colony: Abades, Spain
Unlike other abandoned medical facilities on this list, the Arico Leper Colony in the Canary Islands stands out for the fact that no patients ever lived there. Boasting spectacular ocean views from nearby cliffs, it was built in the ’40s as a place to quarantine people stricken with leprosy, and was planned as a self-sufficient compound with residences, a church, school, hospital and more. However, a cure for leprosy was discovered before it was ever used (although it briefly hosted a military camp in a later decade). So, while it’s not exactly ghostly or haunting, there’s a distinctly strange air that comes from the fact that this huge colony was never used — and it’s made more foreboding by the blocky fascist architecture, as it was built during the Franco dictatorship. The colony is on Tenerife and can be easily accessed on foot from the village of Abades, right next door, but watch out for your own safety around the abandoned buildings. It’s free to access.
Fordlândia: Pará, Brazil
This ghost town comes with a fascinating history and a firm American connection. Businessman and car mogul Henry Ford wanted to harvest his own rubber in equatorial Brazil, so he set up shop here. But his goal was more than just a rubber farm: he envisaged Fordlândia as a sort of utopia, where he would not only pay local workers far above the average wage, but also to share his capitalist values and ethic with them. Beyond the industrial facilities, an entire village was built with housing, a hospital, dance halls and more. But it failed on multiple fronts: the environment wasn’t right for rubber, and workers grew to resent Ford’s attempts to impose his values, like the 9 to 5 work day (which wasn’t ideal given the hot climate). Now, Fordlândia sits abandoned, like a little slice of America dropped onto the green plains and forests of northern Brazil. While Fordlândia is quite remote, it can be visited on tours leaving from Alter do Chao, near the city of Santarém. Intrepid travelers can also try to do it solo, with a long boat trip leaving from Santarém, or a shorter trip from the smaller city of Itaituba.
Hotel Edén: La Falda, Argentina
In the scenic Punilla Valley, just outside the Argentinian city of Cordoba, you’ll find the town of La Falda, and this deserted hotel with quite the tumultuous history. Hotel Edén opened in 1898, playing host to famous international guests like Albert Einstein. It was a supremely glamorous tourist destination, with 100 rooms as well as conservatories, a library, its own slaughterhouse and a cellar with space for 10,000 wine bottles. But, a pair of German brothers who bought the hotel in 1912 later turned into major supporters of the Nazi party. They reportedly used the hotel to recruit Nazi supporters, and there are claims that Hitler stayed here. The political views of the brothers brought the hotel into disrepute, and when Argentina eventually entered World War II, the hotel was seized as enemy property. It never reclaimed its former glory, and closed in the ’60s. The hotel has been partly restored, and is now open for tours: entry is 300 pesos (about $2.75). Some claim it’s haunted, so to that end, spookier nighttime tours are also available.
Desierto de los Leones: Mexico City
If you’re visiting Mexico City and looking for some respite from the hustle and bustle, this national park and the abandoned convent inside of it are a fantastic option. The monastery was built in the 1600s by Carmelite monks as a place of respite outside the city. Despite the name, there’s no desert here — the monks used the term in a more spiritual sense, to convey the sheer silence and tranquility of this hideaway in the mountains. With a library, cloisters, chapels, stables and an orchard, it is an impressive compound, surrounded by serenely beautiful gardens. The convent isn’t in use but is open to the public for a small entrance fee of 35 pesos (about $1.70). While you’re in the park, you can also check out the hiking and cycling trails.
Al Jazirah Al Hamra: Ras Al Khaimah, United Arab Emirates
Although the UAE is now known for glimmering skyscrapers and other manmade wonders, there are still traces of its traditional history to be seen — and this abandoned village is a great example. A hub for fishing and pearls, it was abandoned in the ’60s as the country started to modernize. It’s home to a former fort, market, mosques and many residences, from humble fisherman’s huts up to pearl traders’ mansions. It’s like a snapshot of a past era: personal effects and furniture can still be seen in the village. These traces of life may also be why some locals consider the village to be haunted. Al Jazirah Al Hamra is located about 60 miles’ drive north of Dubai, and is best accessed by car.
Bannack State Park: Dillon, Montana
This abandoned gold rush town is one of the best places to get a real taste of what the Wild West was all about. Gold was discovered here in 1862, and within a year, this town had sprung up with 3,000 residents. Considered the best preserved ghost town in the state, all manner of buildings are still standing, including a hotel, schoolhouse and church. Unlike its rough-edged history, it’s a family-friendly place to visit, with guided tours and gold panning among the activity options if you visit in summer months. For something a little spookier, ghost walks take place from time to time (particularly in October), featuring performances based on Bannack’s history. Bannack is located in the southwestern corner of Montana, about 20 miles east of the Idaho border. It costs $8 to enter with a car, or $4 without (it’s free for Montana residents who pay the annual state parks fee). You’ll want a car to get there: it’s about 170 miles west of Yellowstone, and 155 from Helena. Camping in the area is an option.
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25 Hauntingly Abandoned Places You Can Still Visit originally appeared on usnews.com