You may think the well-known and popular tourist attractions are the obvious choices to put on your travel agenda, there’s something strikingly beautiful (and strange) about the abandoned sites. Not a lot of travelers are aware of these places, and I have reached out to my fellow travel bloggers to share their unique experiences about 10 abandoned sites around the world, from a sanatorium in Georgia, a theme park and hotel in Southeast Asia, a hospital in the US, to Olympic sites in Europe. Some of them are fairly easy to get to, and some of them are a bit trickier. Whether you are a urbexer or not, have a detour to visit these mesmerizing places – wonder what it used to be as you tumbled through the shambles.
To see more about the ghost towns around the world, check out 11 Eerie Ghost Towns Worldwide that excite Urbexers.
While the salt flat is a highlight and the draw that brings travelers to Uyuni, don’t forget to check out the Train Cemetery while you are in town. The antique train cemetery is about 3 kilometers outside Uyuni. Uyuni has a history of mining and minerals transportation where the train carried minerals to ports near the Pacific Ocean. However, the industry collapsed in the 1940s, and partly due to resource depletion, the train track was closed and trains were abandoned.
Today, what’s left are the trains unattended in an isolated part of town. Visitors are free to explore the area but stay safe climbing the trains. For more about the other things to see and do in Uyuni, check out Bolivia Excursion: 8 Amazing Things That You Have to Do in Uyuni.
Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Jori from The Tejana Abroad
While not many people know about it, you can actually visit the abandoned sniper tower in the heart of Mostar.
You can see the remnants of war conflicts everywhere you go in Mostar, from bullet holes in windows to malls with half the roof torn off by a bomb. The biggest symbol of the war though is the huge tower in the heart of the city that used to be a sniper tower. Originally, this building was a bank, that was taken over in the ‘90s when the war started. It isn’t advertised as a tourist attraction, but that doesn’t stop visitors and graffiti artists from entering.
The site is not open to the public and there are sometimes security officers on duty. Once inside, you’ll have to climb up several flights of would-be stairs, before reaching the 10th floor, where there is a ladder to reach the top. From the top, you get an impressive view of the whole city.
Seeing the abandoned tower alone is such an interesting bit of history, and not many people realize that events such as this are still happening, are still relevant, and people are still recovering from it.
Abandoned Olympic Ruins
Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Ellis from Backpack Adventures
Nowadays Sarajevo is mostly famous because of the Bosnian civil war in which the city was under siege for almost 4 years. A dark period in a place that is now once again a multicultural symbol of hope and reconciliation. Before the war, Sarajevo was a beloved city in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
In 1984 Sarajevo was chosen to be hosting the Winter Olympics. They were the first Olympic Games to be held in a socialist state. The mountains around Sarajevo were the perfect place for winter sports like skiing and skating. Bjeljasnica and Jahorina were already very popular ski resorts among local tourists and were now upgraded to welcome people from all over the world.
It was a huge event in Yugoslavia and in preparation, many structures were built specifically for the Winter Olympics. Unfortunately, the hills surrounding Sarajevo saw intense fighting during the war. Most Olympic buildings sustained damage and were left abandoned.
The easiest place to visit is the old bobsleigh tracks on Mount Trebevic. A new cable car brings you from the center of the city up the mountain. The old tracks are now full of graffiti and if you visit in the evening you can enjoy beautiful views over Sarajevo. Other abandoned structures are at Igman such as the brutalist hotel Igman and the ski jumps. For this, you would need your own transport though, but you will be rewarded with a truly abandoned place where few visitors still come.
Gunkanjima (meaning “Battleship Island” as the island resembles a warship), also known as Hashima, is a 60,000-square-meter cluster of concrete ruins in the sea of Nagasaki, Japan. In the 1950s it was the bustling home of 6,000 coal mine workers, and the island has been abandoned since 1974 when the coal mines shut down. Hashima was entirely closed off until 2009, travelers are allowed to visit now with a boat tour in Nagasaki.
The island has become a popular attraction as it was named the “freakiest place around the world” by CNN Travel in 2012. The draw is, that this is a secluded spot with a significant scale. It’s currently uninhabited and the 6.4-hectare ruin is floating off in the ocean with buildings and facilities unattended and maintained. Though it stirred up some controversies, Gunkanjima was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015, and it’s probably the only place like this that got listed.
The island was featured in a number of movies, including “Project Hashima” (2013), “The Battleship Island” (2017), and the James Bond Hollywood blockbuster “Skyfall” (2012), serving as the villain’s secret hideout and headquarters.
As the island is off the mainland the only way to visit the island is by an organized boat tour. That’s why the tour may lose part of the “thrill” as it is not as adventurous as urbexers may hope for. Visitors are guided to walk on paved trails. All in all, I still find it a unique experience, as I have never been to such freaky places in the past. To understand more about the tour and if it’s worth going, check out Battleship Island: the Freakiest Place in the World. Is it worth visiting?
Marco Ferrarese from Penang Insider
The Crag Hotel is an abandoned bungalow set on a less-visited part of the popular Penang Hill. Since it’s been empty since 1977 – when the Uplands School, which opened boarding quarters in the Crag’s building in 1955, moved from the top of the hill to sea level – the Crag Hotel is believed to be haunted.
A visit today brings you to the decrepit cluster of original buildings that once were a five-star hotel built here in 1895 by the Sarkies Brothers. They were a family of Iranian-Armenian architects famous for having built four of Southeast Asia’s most celebrated colonial hotels – the others are the Raffles in Singapore, the Strand in Yangon, the Eastern & Oriental, and the Crag on Penang island in Malaysia.
Given its amazing location atop a cliff with sweeping views over the Straits Sea and its old-world charm, the Crag Hotel was used as a film set for the British historical drama “Indian Summers” (2015), in which it dubs as a social club in colonial India. If you go now, you may still find parts of the furniture and costumes used for the scenes stashed inside of the main hotel’s lobby and large rooms. There have been talks to turn the place into a super-swanky five-star resort, but as of now, everything is still uncertain – but it’s definitely not because of the ghosts that allegedly haunt these grounds at night!
To get there, you must first get on top of Penang Hill either by using the popular funicular train (30RM two ways, 15 minutes each way) or hiking for the best part of three hours to the top of Penang Hill. If you like jungle hiking, the second option is really recommended.
Abergele, North Wales, United Kingdom
Helen from Helen on her Holidays
Gwrych Castle in North Wales was a grand, luxurious country house but is now a roofless ruin. It was built between 1810 and 1825 by Lloyd Hesketh Bamford-Hesketh in the style of a gothic, medieval castle, complete with towers and turrets modeled on the many other castles in Wales.
In the 20th century, the house changed hands a number of times. During the Second World War, the castle was used to house 200 Jewish children who’d been rescued by the Kindertransport program. In the 1950s it became a tourist attraction but closed in 1987 and the building started to fall into disrepair, falling victim to asset strippers and vandals. It was saved for the nation in 2018, but by that time it had lost its roof, windows, and internal fixtures; even the main house’s marble staircase had gone.
The castle became famous in 2020 when the TV show I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! used it as their location. For three weeks in November and December, celebrities lived in very un-luxurious conditions in the castle, competing to win food in various unpleasant activities.
Today, Gwrych Castle is owned by a trust which is aiming to restore it. It’ll be a long process, with the first objective to restore mains power and water to the site. The castle and the gardens are open to the public, although only a small indoor area is accessible. It’s extremely atmospheric, and it’s fascinating and poignant to see the castle as it is now, knowing that plans are in progress to bring it back to life.
Visiting Gwrych Castle is an easy day trip from holiday resorts in North Wales as well as from Liverpool and Manchester.
Tyneham Abandoned Village
Dorset, United Kingdom
Izzy from The Gap Decaders
In a sleepy valley deep in the Dorset countryside of England lies an abandoned village with a fascinating history, a must-see on any road trip in the south of England.
Time stopped in Tyneham in 1943 when the village was evacuated on the orders of Southern Command, part of the British Army. The evacuation order read “In order to give our troops the fullest opportunity to perfect their training in the use of modern weapons of war, the Army must have an area of land particularly suited to their special needs and in which they can use live shells”.
The area was considered perfect due to the huge rise of limestone cliffs along the coast with a valley behind, from where heavy armored machinery, including tanks, could test-fire weapons. You can still see the huge craters made by shells on the cliffs, from both sea and land. Indeed, the military firing range is still in operation today by used by Challenger II tanks – if you see the red flag flying, it’s not a great time to visit!
After the village was evacuated, it remained empty for the duration of the war. Once the war ended, locals expected to be allowed home but the Government decided to keep the live ranges, and therefore it was unsafe for the villagers to return.
Now known as the lost village, or ghost village of Dorset, Tyneham nestles peacefully in a green and lush valley. The church, schoolhouse, and some homes still stand today and you can visit some parts of the village – the schoolhouse offers a strong reminder of the pace of technology, with the slates and chalkboard used at the time of evacuation on display.
From Tyneham, climb to the South West Coastal Path and admire the far-reaching views along the coast to beautiful Warbarrow Bay and dramatic Tyneham Cap.
Cape Romano Dome House
Ten Thousand Islands, United States
Lori from Travlinmad
Located just beyond the southern tip of Marco Island in southwest Florida, the Cape Romano Dome House is truly one of the more unusual and weird southwest Florida sites to see.
The six interconnected concrete dome-shaped modules of the abandoned house were built in 1981 by Bob Lee, a retired oil producer, who built his dream home on concrete stilts on what was once Morgan Island. One of his most innovative designs of the home was a gutter system around the domes that collected rainwater and channeled it into a huge cistern under the main module, to be used later for showering, laundry, and cooking. The structures originally sat on dry land without a dock and were never meant to be accessible by boat. But building on sand is never a good idea. Storms, hurricanes, erosion, and rising sea levels have all taken a toll.
Today, the dome complex is approximately 300 feet offshore from Cape Romano Island, and the dome-shaped rooftops sit in open water just above the surface. The domes are long abandoned and exist now as a shady structure for marine life and as an unofficial bird sanctuary.
The best way to see these eerie domes is to book a guided boat tour from Marco Island. But go soon. With violent storms and rising sea levels, sadly they may only be around for another few years.
Ellis Island’s Abandoned Hospital Complex
New York, United States
Melissa from Navigation Junkie
When visiting NYC, many consider a Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island cruise a must-do item, but few consider or know about the unrenovated buildings sitting on the Southern side of the island. On the Hard Hat tour of Ellis Island, you can visit the abandoned hospital buildings and doctors’ homes, all left to decay after the closure of the hospital in 1930.
Ellis Island played a big part in American history as the site where immigrants would have to pass through before entering the country from 1902 to 1930. Those found to be ill would be sent to the various hospital buildings. The National Park Service has begun a restoration project with plans to restore the complex in the future.
On the tour, you will be taken through the ferry building where immigrants would have purchased their tickets to their final destination, the laundry room, contagious disease wards, the pharmacist’s home, the doctor’s home, the morgue, and the autopsy room. The walk-through will give you some eerie feeling as you walk through hallways full of peeling paint, broken glass windows, fallen bricks, and the occasional piece of medical equipment or furniture (although most of this has been removed).
Being able to experience the “forbidden” side of Ellis Island is truly a unique experience that will make you feel connected with the history of the place while also giving you some creepy vibes as you hear stories about the lives and losses associated with the place.
The best time to take the hard hat tour is in the summer or early fall when the weather is warm. Ellis Island is reached through a Statue Cruise that will first take you to Liberty Island and then continue to Ellis Island. Your tickets to the hard hat tour of Ellis Island will include access to the ferry, which can be taken from either NY or New Jersey. While you can purchase tickets on-site, it is recommended to purchase them online to guarantee your spot.
Hồ Thủy Tiên
Erin from Pina Travels
Hồ Thủy Tiên is an abandoned waterpark in Vietnam, located about 10 kilometers from the city of Hue. In 2004 the waterpark was opened to the public, despite not being fully completed. For reasons unknown, not long after opening the unfinished Hồ Thủy Tiên Waterpark flopped. It was closed to the public and left abandoned.
Today, Hồ Thủy Tiên has become a popular day trip for travelers visiting Hue. To reach it, you can hire a taxi driver, or rent a scooter (which costs about 5 USD) in Hue. To find the park, set your destination as “Thuy Tien Lake” in Google Maps. On our day trip to Hồ Thủy Tiên, we left early in the morning by scooter. After an easy 15 to 20 minutes of driving, we arrived at the crumbling gates of the waterpark, which clearly read, Hồ Thủy Tiên.
As we arrived, a local man approached us, asking us to pay a fee. We’d been warned that a local would charge an entrance fee of around 10,000 dongs (60 cents). We paid the man and drove into Hồ Thủy Tiên towards the park’s lake, gasping as the park came into view.
The lake is the focal point of the park, surrounded by attractions and rides, and in the center of the lake is a giant dragon that overlooks the park. Inside the dragon are aquariums that once held fish, which have now been smashed. The park’s rides are broken down, and the pathways and waterslides have been swallowed up by the jungle.
We parked our motorbike and spent hours wandering all around the lake, only once encountering another group of curious tourists. For an exciting day of exploring (with lots of opportunities for cool photos), head to Hồ Thủy Tiên!