Once full of life and thriving, the world’s eeriest ghost towns will intrigue, horrify, and haunt you!
There are few places in the world that are as captivating as ghost towns. Gold mining villages lost in the desert sand, abandoned offshore islands, or earthquake-ridden hillside villages; these places are time capsules of moments long gone by. We have compiled the world’s eeriest ghost towns in a spooky snapshot.
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Maybe the most famous ghost town in the world, forever connected with the nuclear disaster of Chernobyl, is Pripyat. Before that fateful day in 1986, the city was home to 50,000 residents who were all evacuated within two days after the nearby reactor failure. Because of the hasty departure of its citizens who left non-essential items like dolls, clothes, and furniture behind, Pripyat draws photographers and, increasingly, tourists. Radiation levels have dropped significantly which means you can now explore the ghost town with its abandoned schools, hospitals and residential buildings on a guided tour. Touching anything, however, is strictly forbidden.
And the Oscar for best ghost town goes to … Craco! Because of its unusual landscape and eerie look the small hillside town in southern Italy has not only starred in movies such as Passion of the Christ or Quantum of Solace but also in TV shows, music videos and even a Japanese Pepsi Commercial. Craco was abandoned due to a series of natural disasters including landslides, floods, and earthquakes with the last residents uprooting in 1991, finally defeated by Mother Nature. Despite the fact that Craco remains unstable and prone to the elements you can book a guided tour or join one of the festivals between May and October.
Commonly called Gunkanjima (Battleship Island), Hashima Island was once known for its undersea coal mines. Operations began in 1881 and the population hit a peak in 1959 with 5,259 mine workers and their families living on the island about nine miles offshore from Nagasaki. Once production ran dry in the mid-70s, most people went away and Hashima was left untouched until 2009. On a guided tour you can see the abandoned concrete buildings, stores, streets, and the surrounding seawall, and learn about Hashima’s dark past when prisoners of war were conscripted into forced labor prior to and during WWII.
Think diamonds are only a girl’s best friend? Miners like them for cash too! On the edge of the Namib Desert lies a decrepit settlement that was once built on the white gemstones. In the early 1900s, German miners came to Kolmanskop in Namibia as diamonds were found beneath the yellow sand and brought with them Deutsche architecture, a school, hospital, bowling alley, and bakery. Allegedly, opera singers were flown in for performances. At its height, Kolmanskop produced nearly 12 percent of the world’s total diamond production but the boom was over when a far bigger deposit was found nearby. Bring plenty of water when visiting!
This Turkish village was once populated by nearly 10,000 Orthodox Greeks who were exiled in 1923 in the aftermath of the conflict between the two neighboring countries. Muslims from Macedonia settled in their place but found the infertile and hostile territory unfit to live and soon left for other regions. In 1957 a huge earthquake further destroyed Kayaköy but around 350 homes, two churches, an old fountain from 1888, and a little chapel on the hill are still standing. Anyone wanting to see Lower Church and the vacant streets has to purchase a ticket though you may pass without it in the early and late hours of the day.
Oradour-sur-Glane is a gruesome reminder of the atrocities of war. In June 1944, the German Waffen-SS entered the village in Nazi-occupied France and massacred all 642 inhabitants, including 247 women and 205 children. After the war, under the order of President Charles de Gaulle, the village was maintained as a permanent memorial to the dead. Rusty cars, fire-twisted lamps, pans, scales and meat hooks at the butchers remain exactly where they were more than 70 years ago. You can visit the town and the nearby museum, both mute reminders of the destructive forces of humankind.
WHERE: The United States
Some claim that Rhyolite, about 120 miles northwest of Las Vegas, was once home to thousands of people, though not much remains of its glory days which lasted less than twenty years. Set up in 1905, the town was a mining hotspot, but after the richest ore was exhausted, workers left for new pastures and the population had dropped to close to zero by 1920. Industrialist Charles M. Schwab invested heavily in Rhyolite’s infrastructure which boasted a school, electric lights, water mains, newspapers, a hospital, and even an opera house, some of which can be seen today.
Arltunga in Australia’s Outback was born out of a gold rush in 1887. Fortune seekers had to travel from the Oodnadatta railhead over 370 miles, often on foot, which took more than a week at the time. Life in the isolated gold mining town was extremely harsh in the scorching heat however gold extraction lasted for three decades until the precious metal ran out. The dry climate has left the ruins of Arltunga well preserved. To visit you need to brave the hot weather and a stretch of gravel road (read the small print in your rental contract) though it might be well worth it when you find your own gold nuggets when panning at the Visitors Centre.
Grand hotel rooms, miles of yellow sand, shopping precincts and restaurants—Varocha attracted the rich and famous including movie stars like Elizabeth Taylor and Brigitte Bardot. That is until 1974 when the Turkish army invaded Cyprus following a coup and the island remains split between a Turkish and a Greek part. Varocha, a suburb of the city of Famagusta, was fenced off with barbed wire and few have had a chance to peek inside this time capsule since. Signs warn curious onlookers that taking pictures is strictly forbidden. Safer than taking bolt cutters and risk being shot, might be to look at satellite images on Google or drone footage on the internet.
A tiny speck on the map in the Indian Ocean, Ross Island was originally settled in the late 18th century but due to the harsh weather was soon again abandoned. Six decades later, the British established an administrative headquarter and penal settlement. Residents lived a comfortable life with a swimming pool, tennis courts, and grand ballrooms. The happy days lasted until an earthquake in 1941, followed by an invasion by the Japanese and in 1979 Ross Island was handed over to the Indian Navy. Explore the church and gardens or wander into the wild vegetation while peacocks scream and deer run past.
Jazirat Al Hamra
WHERE: The United Arab Emirates
Frozen in time with a haunted mosque, desert sand isn’t the only thing covering Jazirat Al Hamra in Ras Al Khaimah. Once a bustling pearling village, this abandoned place in the UAE is locally known as the Ghost Town, shrouded in mystery and believed to be frequented by evil spirits. Information on the history of Jazirat Al Hamra or why it was left is scarce but by 1968 everyone was gone and old buildings were used for movie sets. Since 2012, once a year, former residents come together to celebrate their heritage and the town that once was.
WHERE: The United Kingdom
In 1943, in the middle of WWII, the distraught residents of Imber Village were given only six weeks’ notice to pack up and find a new place to live. The British Ministry of Defense had decided to use the village as a training ground for American troops preparing for the invasion of Europe. After the war, locals were not allowed to return despite rallies and protests and Imber remains an exercise area for the military to this day. Several times a year, the village is open to the public and you can see 13th century St. Giles church, the Bell Pub, Imber Court manor house, and residential homes. Imber is still part of the census records for England though the number of residents has been shown as 0 since 1951.
WHERE: The United States
Terlingua in Texas is perfect for a self-guided walk through a Wild West ghost town. Workers from the Chisos Mining Company settled here in the mid-1800s but when the market for mercury crashed the population dropped, though the last census in 2010 still showed 58 souls living there. Admission is free and you can explore freely between a fully operational saloon and bar, decaying buildings, the Starlight Theatre, and mine shafts. If you need the restrooms, you’ll end up in the old jail!
In a precarious position between cliffs and the sea, Hallsands is only one example of the many lost or abandoned villages along the English coastline. The small fishing community counted 159 residents, 37 houses, and one pub in 1897, however only 10 years later, only one house was habitable. What had happened? To accommodate the expansion of a nearby naval dockyard, shingle was dredged close to Hallsands, resulting in the beach level falling immediately. With much of the sand gone, the village was exposed to the elements and subsequently abandoned. Its remnants are not accessible to the public but you can see it from viewing platform overlooking it.
WHERE: The United States
Centralia, Pennsylvania has been on fire for 56 years and it could burn for another 250 years. As a result of a coal mine fire in 1962, the once more than 1,000 residents all fled over time. Today, there are six people left who are allowed to live out their lives in the eerie place despite the constant danger of death by the noxious gases or being swallowed by the ground. Most homes were bulldozed or reclaimed by nature, smoke comes up from below and sinkholes appear out of nowhere. You can visit Centralia on your own but beware the graffiti artists and biker gangs that frequently roam the town.
Disintegrating and decaying, this forgotten settlement on the shores of Lake Onega, Russia, is a sad example for the beautiful wooden homes of the region. What happened to the village and its residents is as shrouded in mystery as Pegrema itself on a misty day. Believed to be built in the 1770s, the wooden Varlaam Khutynsky chapel stands almost completely intact though it was stripped of its religious icons probably after the Russian Revolution. The ruins of several large peasant houses all stand facing the lake.
When thinking about gold mines, the southeastern corner of Spain probably doesn’t spring to mind. But on and off for about one hundred years, Rodalquilar was one of the largest gold mines in Western Europe and a vibrant village. The mine eventually shut in the 1990s and what remains are old miners’ houses, tunnels and a museum dedicated to the gold extracting process. If you visit, bring your swimming gear for nearby El Playazo (literally “one great beach”), a yellow-sand shore surrounded by ocher volcanic rock, only a few minutes’ drive away.
WHERE: The United States
The most famous gold rush in history happened in California and plenty of gold mining towns speak to those heydays. Abandoned Bodie boomed from about 1878 to 1881 with around 10,000 residents, no less than 65 saloons, a small Chinatown, gambling parlors and opium dens. In 1932, a huge fire destroyed most of the town and by the late 1940s Bodie was deserted. The nearly 200 buildings cannot be entered, but there are tours of the old stamp mill where ore was once processed to extract the precious gold.
Ambitiously planned by Italian entrepreneur Mario Bagno in the 1960s as Italy’s answer to Las Vegas, Consonno’s claim to fame was short-lived. Only a few years after “The City of Toys” opened its doors close to Milan, a landslide wiped out the only road, leaving the shopping mall, restaurants, a minaret, and a luxury hotel all inaccessible by 1976. Bagno tried to relaunch the project several times, but the tourists never came back. Consonno is best visited by foot as traffic is barred and caution is advised due to the state of decay in Italy’s abandoned pleasure paradise.
Volcanic eruptions have destroyed human settlements for thousands of years, the best-known example being Pompeii in Italy, and this is what happened to the Chilean commune of Chaitén. In May 2008, a nearby volcano erupted for the first time in over 9,000 years throwing up ash and sulfurous steam in the process. Eventually, a lahar caused the Blanco River which ran through the town to dramatically overflow. Chaitén was evacuated and the government of Chile subsequently decided to abandon it and rehouse the residents elsewhere. Though plans exist to rebuild the town only half the houses remain habitable while the rest are sunken in the mud or even collapsed.