Fans of movies like I Am Legend and Chernobyl Diaries know that no matter how creepy the haunted house at the end of the street may be, an abandoned ghost town is even spookier. The relentless way in which Mother Nature reaches out to reclaim an entire city with her overgrown vegetation… it’s enough to make the hair on the back your neck stand up.
These bleak towns, once buzzing with human life, are now deserted, left empty to rot for eternity – empty but for the unsettled ghosts of former inhabitants, perhaps.
It is the historic, eerie remains that beckon globetrotters from around the world to explore these desolate ghost towns. Join us as we guide you through the 13 creepiest ghost towns on earth.
13. Prypiat, Ukraine
First on the list is the setting of the movie Chernobyl Diaries – although the reality might even be more disturbing than fiction. The Chernobyl nuclear meltdown is considered one of the worst man-made disasters of all time, responsible for producing more radiation than 100 Hiroshima bombs, and displacing over 350,000 people. Prypiat, the nearby abandoned city near, has been deserted for well over 20 years. It’s ruins now a monument to the Soviet Union’s abysmal lack of nuclear safety. Today, trees have invaded the city’s decaying buildings. Radiation levels are now said to be low enough that the area is generally safe to visit–there are even guided tours available.
12. Gukanjima, Japan
Japan’s Hashima – or “Ghost Island,” as it is known to the locals – was once one of the most densely populated places on the planet. Now it lies completely empty, its edifices steadily crumbling away. The coal mining facility was previously called “Battleship Island” because its buildings and seawall make it resemble a warship. As for the island’s fate, it was abandoned in the 1970s when petroleum fuels made coal obsolete. Nowadays, people who have visited say the decaying settlement contains so many items from the ‘70s that it almost looks as if people still live there. Day-trippers beware, though: exploring Hashima takes organization, and many of the buildings’ structures are dangerously unstable.
11. Oradour-sur-Glane, France
On Saturday June 10th, 1944, the village of Oradour-Sur-Glane, in the Limousin region of central France, was the site of one of WWII’s most notorious massacres. Six hundred and forty-two inhabitants were ordered to assemble in the village square before being executed using a combination of arson, machine gun fire and grenades – the men amassed in several barns, and the women and children locked in the village church. These days, the partially collapsed remains of the village still stand as chilling testament to Nazi brutality. Travellers to the region should also visit the museum in the rebuilt village, to the northwest of the original site, which contains artifacts and pictures of the victims.
10. Varosha, Cyprus
At first glance, Varosha might look like an ordinary Mediterranean seaside resort, but up close its streets are eerily lacking beach-goers. The 1974 Turkish incursion into the Cypriot city and fighting with Greek military forces prompted the entire population to flee in terror. Once a holiday destination for luminaries like Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, Varosha is now fenced off, closed to the public, and home only to squawking seagulls. With no human interference, it’s a perfect place to see nature reclaiming a former hub of civilization; indeed, sea turtles can apparently be seen nesting on the beaches where sunbathers once basked.
9. Beichuan, China
China’s all-too frequent earthquakes have inflicted horrific consequences, as seen in the Wenchuan earthquake of 2008, which claimed the lives of nearly 68,000, injured hundreds of thousands more, and left countless others homeless. The town of Beichuan was hit most severely, killing 9,000 residents in landslides and structural collapses that destroyed most of the buildings in the downtown area. The site has since become an unofficial tourist destination where visitors can walk through the rubble-strewn streets. The Chinese government plans to turn the area into an earthquake memorial with a museum, but looking at the shattered remains of what used to be a town is more than enough to remind visitors of the earth’s destructive power.
8. Múli, Faroe Islands
The Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic may be small and out of the way, but there are still places there that even the locals consider remote. The tiny village of Múli has gradually become emptier over the years and has been deemed abandoned since 2002 – although four residents continued to cling on, while some locals apparently use the area for summer housing. In the 18th century, the community was home to a mystic named Guttormur Múli, who was believed to be psychic and have the ability to move the giant boulders of the area using his powers – a gift he allegedly exploited to erect stone fences wherever it suited him. We wonder if his ghost haunts the vacated settlement today.
7. Deception Island, Antarctica
The derelict Norwegian whaling station on Deception Island is said to be replete with the ghosts of long-dead cetaceans and explorers. The Hektor whaling station was built to take advantage of the island’s safe natural harbor, and it later evolved into a site for both British and Chilean research centres. As if the deep-frozen, ruined remains of whaling buildings aren’t unsettling enough, the island also contains the largest cemetery in Antarctica. Spooky! Used as a British base during WWII, the area has now been designated an Antarctic Treaty Historic Site, though this won’t protect against the island’s occasional volcanic eruptions. Still, if you have an interest in the history of whaling and exploration – and a very high tolerance for cold – this could be the adventure destination for you.
6. Cassilis, Australia
Located in Gippsland, Victoria, Cassilis was once a focal point of the Australian Gold Rush. The settlement was established when quartz reefs containing gold were discovered in 1885, and within a few years it was home to a thriving community of more than 500 people. Reportedly, Cassilis had a public school with the highest level of scholarships in the state for a number of years. However, the community’s good fortune wouldn’t last forever. By WWI, most of the gold had been mined, and the population soon diminished. In 1933 only 34 inhabitants remained. Visitors today will find that agriculture and commercial ventures, like wine-making, are beginning to restore the town’s fortunes, although there’s still plenty to see for fans of Australian history – and creepy abandoned spaces.
5. Bodie, USA
A rough and ready “outlaw town,” Bodie, California, was established in 1876 after the discovery of a substantial amount of gold ore in the area. As with many other mining towns, the settlement was subsequently abandoned in the early years of the 20th century, when the original mine was closed down and settlers moved on to other places. The settlement was like a more southwestern Deadwood – notorious for its high levels of violence fueled by a mixture of alcohol, gold-derived wealth, and the rough characters of the get-rich-quick prospectors who established the town. Today, the site is one of the best-preserved examples of a mining outpost in the US, and with such rich history there are bound to be plenty of gunslinging ghosts of the old west walking the streets at night.
4. Gagra, Abkhazia
Gagra is a perfect example of paradise lost: a beautiful resort location on Abkhazia’s Black Sea Coast, with one of the warmest climates in the country, now reduced to an abandoned skeleton by the ravages of war. Its population of over 25,000 Georgians were exiled or massacred during the 1992-1993 ethnic cleansing carried out by Abkhaz separatists, leaving the area a forsaken ghost town. Now, it is a desolate expanse of empty buildings, abandoned cable cars and, quite possibly, the unsettled spirits of those murdered during the conflict. Still, if you’re interested in visiting, there are actually plenty of hotels still open.
3. Newnes, Australia
Newnes was the site of a major Australian oil shale mine in Wolgan Valley, New South Wales, but these days the small town has been overrun by weeds and the encroaching forest. The settlement was up and running from 1903 but the industrial works were closed down within the first half of the 20th century and the community was soon a thing of the past. Located 45 kilometres to the north of Lithgow, the area’s attractions today include some very popular walks, including Pipeline Pass and Wolgan River to Rocky Creek, as well as fun trail races in the surrounding woodland. Also worth seeing are its interesting overgrown mining equipment and old coke ovens, as well as the abandoned railway tunnel, which is now filled (rather sweetly, we think) with glow worms.
2. Kolmanskop, Namibia
Kolmanskop was once a rich South African mining town in Namibia. Despite a harsh and barren environment, settlers became wealthy due to the presence of a nearby diamond field, and the town mushroomed with buildings including an elaborate ballroom, a casino, and apparently the first x-ray station in the Southern Hemisphere. Yet when the mine was exhausted in 1954, the settlement was left to the tender mercies of the Namib desert, and today the site is being reclaimed by the shifting sands. It’s a popular tourist destination, and visitors can walk through houses half-filled by the dunes and peer into the crumbling interiors of places like the theater and former mine manager’s residence. A stirring reminder of how insignificant civilization can be against the relentless, all-consuming desert.
1. Oficina Chacabuco, Chile
Like so many other towns on this list, Chile’s Oficina Chacabuco was a casualty of industrial progress. It was once a facility for mining nitrates, but when fertilizers derived from petroleum were developed for farming in favor of nitrates, Chacabuco lost its reason for existence and slowly withered away. The former settlement also holds darker secrets, though. During General Pinochet’s reign of terror in the 1970s, it was used to house over 2,000 political prisoners, who were discouraged from leaving the complex by layers of barbed wire and land mines. Although it’s well off the beaten track, you won’t find a more sinister ghost town in all of Latin America.
That wraps up our 13 creepiest ghost towns of all time — are there any you think we’ve missed? Share them in the comments below!