Chilling Abandoned Ghost Towns Around The World That You Can Visit
By Jack Ripley | October 19, 2023
Pyramiden, Svalbard, Norway
Get ready to embark on an extraordinary journey into the world of forgotten civilizations and eerie relics frozen in time. Abandoned ghost towns, scattered across the globe, beckon intrepid adventurers to unravel their mysterious histories. From the hauntingly enchanting Okpo Land in South Korea to the enigmatic Gunkanjima Island in Japan, and the submerged secrets of Villa Epecuén in Argentina, we've unearthed some of the most fascinating, strange, and off-the-beaten-path destinations for those with a penchant for both world travel and the thrill of abandoned places.
Prepare to be captivated by the allure of these forgotten realms as we unveil the stories, specters, and serenity that lie within. If you're as intrigued as we are by the allure of these abandoned gems, read on and discover the secrets they hold. Your passport to the peculiar awaits!
One of the more fascinating ghost towns on this list is located in Svalbard, a group of Arctic islands in Norway which were isolated enough to be officially recognized as 'no man's land' until 1920. Pyramiden was founded and named by Swedes before being taken over by a Russian coal mining company during the Soviet Union. At the height of production almost 2,000 workers lived in the harsh environment, surrounded by frozen water for more than half the year. The fall of the Soviet Union was the beginning of the end for Pyramiden. After years of free market struggles and terrible accidents, the town was eventually abandoned.
Kowloon Walled City, Hong Kong
The last ghost town on this list went from being the most densely populated city on earth to being totally abandoned. At the height of its population Kowloon had 50,000 inhabitants on a mere 6.5 acres of land. Kowloon was a twisting, multilayered, disorganized, homegrown settlement that arose from refugees seeking governmental protection after World War II. By staying in the bounds of the ancient Walled City, inhabitants felt more secure and had access to protection. In spite of efforts to tear it down, residents continued to return. Finally, in 1994, Hong Kong officials demolished the city.
Okpo Land, South Korea
Every ghost town has a backstory based on rumors and legends, and Okpo Land in South Korea is no exception. Stories vary and often contradict one another, but the consistent detail is that something went very wrong with this duck rollercoaster. According to some accounts, a car derailed and caused a fatal accident. According to others, there just wasn't enough interest and the park wasn't making enough money. Either way, I think we can all agree the creepy stare of these ducks seemed destined for ghost town status in the end.
If you are a ghost town enthusiast, California is your playground. Thanks to the boom and bust of the Gold Rush years, the state has countless abandoned communities to explore. The height of Bodie's activity lasted less than a decade, but during that time almost 10,000 residents were busy producing 38 million dollars in gold. It was well known for saloons and brothels, and vigilante justice was common. Bodie's fate was sealed when the Gold Rush years ended, but it has new life as a popular National Park destination.
Power Plant IM, Belgium
For those of you who prefer a more dystopian feel to your ghost towns, look no further than Power Plant IM in Belgium. While not technically a town, it is a stunning structure that commands a sizeable amount of land, so it seems appropriate to include it on this list. The cooling tower is a massive structure covered in moss. Tourists love it for photography, but metal scrappers were so fond of it that security guards had to be assigned to protect it. If eerie and overwhelming are what you are looking for, you've found it here.
Glenrio, New Mexico
Glenrio reminds us that no amount of success or popularity can guarantee a town won't end up a ghost town. Glenrio was once a popular spot on the iconic Route 66 highway, and even hosted the Hollywood movie production of 'The Grapes of Wrath'. Maybe filming a story about The Great Depression was an omen of bad luck for the little town. Route 66 might have brought a constant flow of tourists (and their money) to Glenrio, but the construction of Interstate Highway 40 changed everything. Glenrio was cut off, and now is nothing more than a cluster of abandoned buildings.
China has a fascination with building replica cities, and the country is scattered with famous international locations. Tianducheng is their copy of Paris, France, and an ambition one at that- it was designed for 10,000 people. Unlike Paris, no one (or almost no one) lives here. It turns out that building a city in the middle of nowhere without viable connections to major transport is a hard sell. Not even a view of a fake Eiffel Tower can make up for that kind of isolation.
Gunkanjima Island, Japan
Gunkanjima Island, also known as Hashima Island, has a sordid history. Japan built up the island for coal mining post World War II, and packed 5,000 people onto the tiny town. This meant a mere 5 feet of space per person, but somehow they made it work. While coal mining at sea seems innocent enough, unfortunately Korean and Chinese prisoners of war were forced to do hard labor constructing the buildings. Their suffering has gone largely unknown, so it was an insult to injury when UNESCO tried to declare the island, and the ghost town, a world heritage site.
Al’Ula, Saudi Arabia
Once a prophet of a major religion curses a place, it seems inevitable that it will become a ghost town. Al'Ula was deemed forbidden after a terrible earthquake devastated the area, and it is said to be bad for human health to visit. The Prophet Muhammad advised all believers to avoid it, unless they wanted to suffer as a result of visiting. The area is rich in tradition and cultural history, and rivals world heritage sites like Petra in Jordan. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is actively trying to revive interest in the area, but so far it seems that locals and believers are understandably reluctant to make a cursed location a vacation spot.
This ghost town has a shocking and violent past, and stands as a memorial of somber remembrance as a martyred village. On June 10th, 1944, over 600 citizens were killed. Nazi soldiers forced every man, woman and child into the town square, where they began a brutal campaign of murder. The men were killed via firing squad. The women and children were forced into the town church, which was then set ablaze. This ruthless devastation created a ghost town in an instant. The charred remains stand as an enduring and sober reminder of the annihilation suffered at the hands of Nazis.
Craco is an example of a town abandoning people, as opposed to people abandoning a town. Craco was a beautiful village perched on an idyllic hillside, first settled in sixth century AD by Greeks. Buildings climbed up the side of the hill, sitting almost one on top of the other. While picturesque, it was dangerous because of the location. Craco suffered constant earthquakes and landslides. The ground was sliding out from under the village more and more each year. The villagers finally took the message and left before they suffered any further devastation.
Copehill Down, Wiltshire, England
Copehill Down was never meant to be a town at all, so the fact that it became a ghost town isn't too tragic. It was originally built in 1988 as a mock German village for British soldiers to practice close combat in urban settings. This type of conflict is called FIBUA, or Fighting in Built Up Areas. Naturally it's safer to do this kind of training in a managed area that creates a realistic setting but also provides security and secrecy. Several of these military training areas are scattered throughout the countryside. They attract curious hikers and tourists although most are restricted access.
Mandu might be deserted, but it hasn't been left to be forgotten. It was a magnificent fortress city when it was originally founded in the sixth century. The fortress walls are 23 miles, and they enclose an interior space that held countless buildings, mosques, temples, and palaces. Mandu was an important military outpost until it was abandoned 400 years ago. The ruins are still in remarkable condition. The remaining structures make it easy to imagine what an awesome presence the fortress city must have been during its glory days.
A common thread of many of the ghost towns on this list is a connection to coal mining. Centralia is no exception. A fire in the local dump that started in 1962 spread underground until it eventually covered the entire valley by 1979. While many in the town of 1,500 likely feared losing loved ones underground in the mines, a fire underground spreading toxic waste and gas was totally unexpected. After 17 years of the hidden underground fire, sinkholes began to threaten people and houses. Poisonous emissions continued to rise as the population rapidly fell, and by 1990 only 63 people remained. In 2012 10 residents were still making a home in an environmental disaster.
Balestrino is divided into two parts. The lower town is still inhabited to this day, and the upper portion is the abandoned ghost town. The history of Balestrino's upper ghost town is still largely unknown, from information about when it was built, to why, to when it was eventually abandoned. Some buildings are accurately dated to the 11th century, but many others are much older and can't be confirmed. Landslides threaten the area regularly, which is the generally accepted reason that upper Balestrino was abandoned. Still, living beneath a ghost town gives an eerie atmosphere to the entire area.
The name Chernobyl is infamous worldwide as the site of the worst nuclear disaster in human history. The name of the closest neighboring city, Pripyat, is far less known. Pripyat evacuated almost 50,000 residents in the wake of the Chernobyl disaster. Shockingly they were able to execute this evacuation of tens of thousands of residents in only three hours. This was because a disaster scenario had luckily been practiced beforehand due to the location next to the power plant. In mere hours one of the most beautiful cities in the Soviet Union became an abandoned, poisoned landscape.
North Brother Island, New York
By now you should have noticed that islands are a common location for ghost towns. North Brother island was used from the mid 1880s to quarantine large groups of people with communicable diseases. As public health improved and diseases such as typhoid and polio decreased, the purpose of the hospital switched to drug treatment for young people, specifically heroin addicts. Many 'patients' described being held against their will as they detoxed. Once the drug treatment program was disbanded, the island was officially abandoned. Now it's home to seabirds and visiting is prohibited.
Ruby fell victim to a mining boom and bust cycle like so many other ghost towns now littering the US. Ruby was a hectic, lawless town thanks to it's dangerous location along the border with Mexico. Skirmishes on both sides were common, and local townspeople were known to keep guns in every room to constantly be ready for a shootout. The location was also not ideal for mining. There was little water and it was difficult to transport the ore. The town was all but abandoned in the 1920s before experiencing an unexpected mining revival in the 1930s. It wasn't to last, however, as the ore finally ran out in 1940 and the town was finally and permanently abandoned.
Montserrat is a British Overseas Territory. Its location in the Caribbean conjures images of lush tropical views, but Plymouth defies those expectations. The northern part of the island is beautiful and verdant, but the south is an eerie landscape covered in dust. It is sometimes called a modern day Pompeii, because two thirds of the island was tragically coated in volcanic dust in 1997. Churches and houses were abandoned, and the population plunged from 13,000 to around 1,000. Today the southern area sits frozen in time and buried in ash.
At its height in 1912, Kolmanskop was a power player on the international diamond market. This town alone was responsible for almost 12% of the worldwide supply of the precious stones. The incredible wealth of the production was controlled entirely by German colonizers, who managed the town as part of their territory in German South West Africa. The desire to maximize profit and production was coupled with brutal violence, including genocide of local people. The town was a bizarre place where eccentric rich families indulged in all manner of out of luxuries. Eventually even more diamonds were discovered in the south, and the town was abandoned to the dunes.
Wittenoom, Western Australia
Wittenoom is another casualty of environmental disasters from mining. The town was a major producer of asbestos. At the time, the dangers of asbestos were unknown and there was high demand for it in insulation and other building materials. Once the link between cancer and asbestos was discovered, the demand sharply dropped in the interest of public safety. Wittenoom mine was closed in 1966, but the damage was already done. The town was coated in asbestos dust thanks to mounds of mine waste. This mine waste was also put into roads, playgrounds, and gardens. As recently as 2022 Wittenoom was still inhabited by a few committed residents who took the risk to stay in their homes.
Kayaköy became a ghost town against the will of its 10,000 inhabitants at the time. It had been inhabited since the 14th century, and was a beacon of interdenominational harmony. Muslim farmers and Christian artisans peacefully lived and worked side by side. The idyllic situation was doomed by the the end of the Greco-Turkish war. In 1923, both Turkey and Greece demanded deportation from the area in a population exchange. This was meant to ensure that each country only had inhabitants of one major religion. Many residents appealed this choice, as they wanted to remain living together. Their efforts were dismissed, and the town was forcibly emptied.
Agdam became a ghost town as a result of war. It was relatively young for the region- only 300 years old- when it captured in 1993 by Armenia. 40,000 civilians were hastily evacuated during the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Agdam lies in a disputed region called Nagorno-Karabakh, and was held by Armenia for 25 years until Azerbaijani forces retook it in 2020. Hostilities still continue between the two countries, and skirmishes and sniper fire are not uncommon as the territory is still used as a buffer zone.
Villa Epecuén, Argentina
Villa Epecuén was established as a resort town along a salt lake. It was a bustling and popular spot for tourists seeking a break along the water. Unfortunately a bigger break along the water doomed the town. In 1985 an earthen dam gave way to heavy rainfall. The flood grew slowly, but inevitably, and the entire town was covered in 33 feet of water by 1993. The entire village lay underwater for 25 years, before the waters began to recede. The ghost town emerged from below the waters and has captured tourist imaginations once more.
It seems appropriate that a ghost town on this list gets visitors thanks to how close it is to Death Valley National Park. Rhyolite is another relic of the Gold Rush glory days. It was founded in 1905 and within only three years it was the third largest city in Nevada at the time. It's widely regarded as one of the best ghost towns in the US thanks to how many buildings remain standing. In fact, it holds the distinction of having one of the most photographed buildings in the West- The Cook Bank building.
Grytviken, South Georgia
Grytviken was founded in 1904 as it was an ideal spot to create a port for whaling. At the time there was a massive demand for whale oil. Norwegian Antarctic explorer Carl Anton Larsen established the settlement because as a sea captain he realized how perfect the location was. His judgment proved correct as the first year almost 200 whales were harvested. Soon overfishing took over and the population was massively decreased. This devastation of the whale supply coupled with the decrease in demand for whale oil spelled the end for Grytviken. In 1966 it was officially abandoned.
Isla De Las Muñecas, Mexico
Creepy dolls in a ghost town is a specific type of horror. The Island of the Dolls has a tragic backstory that begins with the death of a young girl. The caretaker of the small island, Don Julian Santana Barrera, came upon the body of a girl who had drowned. He had no idea how or why she drowned, but he was tormented that he was not able to save her. Shortly after he found her body, a doll appeared in the canal in the same location. Don Julian was terrified and began to collect dolls to appease the girl's spirit. The island was covered in dolls when Don Julian died- in the exact same spot the young girl had drowned.
Many ghost towns have a stunning fall from grace after enjoying economic success and importance. This is true of Cahawba. It was founded in 1819 as the capital of Alabama, and held that distinction until 1826. Thanks to the location on the river it became a bustling town, in spite of concerns about low elevation and flooding. It was all but abandoned after the Civil War but had a brief resurgence as a safe haven for newly emancipated enslaved people. This was short lived, however, and by 1900 it was finally and permanently abandoned.
Fordlandia was founded in 1928 by the Ford company in order to establish a rubber plantation in Brazil. Naturally it was in the best interest of a car company to create a steady supply of rubber for tires. The plantation had critics from the beginning who were skeptical of the secrecy under which it operated. Locals were hired to work at the plantation, and this contributed further problems. In spite of high wages, free food, and hospital access, turnover was high. The food was foreign and caused stomach distress, and the locals didn't enjoy spending their free time square dancing and poetry reading. By 1930 there were riots and rampant worker discontent, and the plantation was abandoned by 1934.
St. Elmo, Colorado
Founded in 1880, the ghost town of St. Elmo, Colorado, stands frozen in time, offering a poignant glimpse into the bygone era of gold and silver mining. At its zenith, this remote community swelled to accommodate around 2,000 residents, each drawn by the promise of riches concealed beneath the rugged mountains. However, the fortunes of St. Elmo were fleeting, as the mines gradually exhausted their treasures by the early 20th century. The town's decline was so abrupt that the townspeople, in a poignant exodus, rode the last train out and never returned. Today, St. Elmo is a captivating relic of the past, where nearly perfectly preserved homes and storefronts tell the story of dreams pursued and ultimately abandoned. A visit during the summer months transports visitors back in time, allowing them to wander through the silent streets and imagine the vibrant community that once thrived here, now forever enshrined in the echoes of its history.