Many travelers feel the lure of abandoned places — from ghost towns to deserted villages to medieval ruins. Such sites are seemingly frozen in time, allowing an eerie glimpse into the past, with astonishing stories about their former inhabitants and a sudden exodus. The following abandoned places may be empty, crumbling, and in disrepair — but they are open to visitors.
After diamonds were discovered in the Namib desert in 1908, Kolmanskop was established, with many flocking to the booming mining town to cash in on the opportunity. Suddenly, the remote African region was home to European amenities, such as freshwater, an ice cream parlor, a post office, a butcher, and a bakery. After two decades, the land was ravaged and the mines depleted. When a larger mine was discovered to the south, the townspeople evacuated en masse, leaving many of their belongings behind. Today, Kolmanskop is popular among tourists who make the pilgrimage to see the mining town awash in desert sand.
Located on Shengshan Island, Houtouwan was once a lively village, home to more than 3,000 fishermen and their families. But in the 1990s, multiple factors, including Shengshan’s remote location and the increasing demands of the fishing industry, prompted a mass exodus of island residents. In 2002, the village was declared depopulated and without any residents, Mother Nature began to take over. Today, the empty buildings are blanketed by climbing plants, transforming the abandoned village into something out of a fairy tale. After photos of the otherworldly village emerged in 2015, Houtouwan became a burgeoning hot spot for curious tourists and photographers.
Rummu Prison, Estonia
Not far from the capital of Tallinn lies Rummu Prison, an abandoned relic of the Soviet Union. Built as a prison camp in the 1940s, inmates were forced to work in the limestone quarry as part of their incarceration. When the Soviet Union collapsed and Estonia regained its independence in the early 1990s, the prison closed and the quarry filled up with groundwater, transforming it into a lake. Now, Rummu Prison is partially underwater, serving as an unusual reminder of days gone by. Today, the prison is a sought-after destination for paddlers, snorkelers, and scuba divers who want to get a first-hand look at the prison’s watery depths.
Kennecott Mines, Alaska
Within the confines of Wrangell - St. Elias National Park lies the abandoned mining town of Kennecott. When a rich copper deposit was discovered on the edge of Kennicott Glacier in 1900, an outpouring of investors and workers traveled to the remote Alaskan region to try and strike it rich. Within three years, the Kennecott Copper Company was operating five mines in the area, transforming the town into a bustling community with a recreation center, skating rink, and hospital. Decades later, the mines closed down and Kennecott became a ghost town. Today, visitors to the park can visit the National Historic Landmark for a chance to explore the turn-of-the-century mining town and to see the nearby Kennicott Glacier.
Lapalice Castle, Poland
The word “castle” may conjure up an image of a medieval stronghold, but Lapalice Castle is nothing of the sort. Construction on the sprawling estate began in the early 1980s when artist Piotr Kazimierczak commissioned the massive building as his private art studio. Unfortunately, the castle, which features 52 rooms, 12 towers, ramparts, a swimming pool, and a grand ballroom, was never finished. Work on the castle was put on pause in 1991 when officials realized Kazimierczak didn’t have the correct permits. When his rampant overspending drained his bank account, the project ceased for good. Located in Northern Poland, the empty castle remains open to anyone who makes the journey to see it.
Situated atop a cliff in Southern Italy, the village of Craco dates back to medieval times. Founded in the eighth century, much of the architecture — like the Norman tower constructed in 1040 — is ancient. Despite having survived disease, war, and volcanic eruptions throughout the centuries, the village of Craco could not withstand the test of time. After earthquakes, landslides, and floods degraded Craco’s infrastructure in the 1960s, the hilltop village was abandoned. It may be crumbling, but much of the town, including a church, castle, and university, remain. For adventurous visitors, you can book tours of the empty village’s safe areas.
North Brother Island, New York
Located between the Bronx and Riker’s Island, Riverside Hospital on North Brother Island has a fascinating history. Constructed in 1885, Riverside Hospital housed patients who were suffering from typhus, tuberculosis, yellow fever, and smallpox. Most famously, it was the quarantine site of the notorious “Typhoid Mary,” the first known asymptomatic carrier of the disease. In 1905, when a steamship caught on fire near the island, Riverside Hospital staff assisted in the rescue of the survivors. After the hospital served as a treatment facility for war veterans and heroin addicts, it closed in 1963 and became a bird sanctuary. As a result, visiting North Brother Island and its historic sites requires a visitor permit from the parks department.
Main photo by RobertoRicco/Shutterstock.