35 Creepy Abandoned Cities and Ghost Towns Around the World
From submerged cities and quiet villages overtaken by nature to eerie haunted islands, these mysterious abandoned cities will give you the chills
What happened to these abandoned cities?
People are fascinated with abandoned cities. There’s just something deliciously creepy about a mysteriously empty area: mist gathering in doorways no one has passed through for years, vines overtaking old homes, sunbeams illuminating rusting playgrounds, abandoned castles slowly crumbling on a distant hillside. These abandoned places—especially abandoned mansions, abandoned churches and abandoned hospitals—are the stars of our favorite scary movies and the coolest photo shoots. They’re also the perfect destinations for fans of Halloween looking to get their spooky fix in the off-season.
So, what happened to these once-bustling areas? Places are abandoned for all sorts of reasons—economic collapse, regime change, sickness, war and natural disaster—and each set of ruins tells its own fascinating story. We rounded up the creepiest and most mysterious abandoned settlements across the globe that you won’t be able to stop thinking about.
Get Reader’s Digest‘s Read Up newsletter for more humor, cleaning, travel, tech and fun facts all week long.
In 1962, a mysterious fire ignited from an unknown cause within the coal deposits below Centralia, Pennsylvania. As long as burning coal is exposed to oxygen, it can continue to blaze (and emit harmful gases) for hundreds of years. Due to the sulfur and carbon monoxide seeping out of the mine, the town of 1,000 residents was evacuated in 1992, with only around a dozen people opting to stay in their homes. It’s a story spooky enough to be one of the scariest urban legends.
This Ukrainian town is located near the 1986 Chernobyl disaster site, which has also been a hot spot in the current Ukraine-Russia war. Soaked through with harmful nuclear radiation, Chernobyl was cut off from the rest of the world and left to rot for decades. The nearby town of Pripyat was similarly affected, and all residents had to be evacuated. Some street artists and adventurers now explore the area since the radiation level has dropped, but prolonged stays are still harmful to people’s health. These pictures of abandoned car dealerships are sure to give you the chills, too.
Isla De Las Muñecas, Mexico
Abandoned cities are creepy, but most of them have nothing on this abandoned island. “The Island of the Dolls” in Mexico is like something straight out of a horror movie. Located on Teshuilo Lake, it is home to hundreds of hanging, slowly decaying dolls, thanks to a man named Don Julian Santana. The story goes that Santana found the body of a girl who had drowned in the lake in the 1950s and started hanging the toys to appease her spirit. In 2001, Santana drowned in the lake himself. According to legend, the dolls are haunted by the spirits of the dead girl and perhaps even by Santana himself.
Okpo Land, South Korea
Once one of the continent’s most famous amusement parks, Okpo Land became a ghost town almost overnight when a cart on a duck-themed ride derailed and killed a girl in 1999. It actually wasn’t the first fatality to occur at Okpo Land—at least one other person died on the same ride in the ’90s, but the park remained open. However, after the second death, the owner vanished, and the theme park descended into disrepair. It was slated for demolition in 2011 and the land was earmarked for development, although apparently nothing has been built there yet, which is probably for the best. Here are more eerie abandoned amusement parks around the world.
The story of the abandoned city of Tewargha is a story of war and rebellion. Believed to have aided the Gaddafi regime, the residents of this Libyan town were driven out by resistance forces. Gaddafi was overthrown and killed in 2011, but the former residents were not allowed back to their original homes until recently. In 2021, only around 7,000 of the original 40,000 inhabitants returned, most living in partially repaired houses. Many abandoned houses can be restored, so there is hope for the town.
The epitome of an Old West town, Bodie is one of the oldest ghost towns in America. In its heyday, it housed dozens of saloons and a rough crowd (which is putting it nicely). Still, it was a thriving, albeit unruly, place until two fires burned down the mills. After that, business halted and forced people to abandon Bodie, leaving it to the dust and tumbleweeds. It became a state historic park in 1962 and still looks like a little slice of 19th-century American history. These small towns also look like they’re frozen in time, but people still live in them.
Cahawba was actually Alabama’s first state capital, but it was abandoned after just 46 years. Since it’s located on the confluence of the Cahawba and Alabama rivers, flooding regularly overtook the town, destroying buildings and slowly turning it back into wilderness. Economic trouble also took its toll, first as the state legislature was moved to Selma and later from the Civil War. Today, the abandoned city of Cahawba functions as a historical and archaeological site, and it’s one of the oldest historic towns.
All the way up in the Arctic Circle lies an abandoned Soviet town named Pyramiden. Once a mining town, it flourished during World War II, but it eventually collapsed along with the rest of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. More bad luck struck the town when a devastating plane crash occurred close by, killing some of the residents. Coupled with the area’s failing and unprofitable coal mines, the town shut down and residents left in 1998. A statue of Lenin still keeps watch over the town, which we bet makes for some really creepy photos.
What makes this Chinese ghost town one of the weirdest on this list? It’s an exact replica of France’s capital. The city, also known as “little Paris,” is built to maintain a population of 10,000, but few actually live there. It stands today as an essentially non-functioning oddity that attracts tourists looking for a photo op.
The remnants of this French village (barely) stand today as a reminder of the atrocities carried out by the Nazis during World War II. On June 10, 1944, the Germans invaded and killed virtually everyone in sight. Only ashy rubble and fragments of structures remain today, but the town is purposefully left alone by the French government as a monument to the crimes committed against civilians.
If this abandoned city sounds like a made-up place, that’s because it is. In 1928, Henry Ford bought and built the town of Fordlandia in Brazil, hoping to turn it into a workers’ paradise and an anchor for the business in South America. Ford carried out widespread deforestation in order to plant rubber trees, but they simply refused to take and suffered with blight. Meanwhile, workers rioted due to a lack of food, and with Henry Ford in ailing health after World War II, the land was sold back to Brazil and the town was left to rust in the humidity of the jungle.
Salisbury Plain, United Kingdom
The area of Salisbury Plain in Southwest England encompasses a couple of towns that were used as military defense training zones during World War II. The villagers who once lived there were told to evacuate the area for military use, and no one has been allowed back since. However, you can now visit the ghost towns of Imber and Copehill Down in Salisbury Plain as a tourist. While you’re in the area, check out nearby Stonehenge, one of the ancient mysteries researchers still can’t explain.
Most people have never heard of this town, but it’s the ancestral home of Adolf Hitler’s parents. In 1938, after Germany took control of Austria, Hitler ordered the townspeople to be forcibly evacuated and the village blown to bits. Why he did so remains a mystery, but some suspect that it was an effort to cover up part of his life story.
Six Flags New Orleans, Louisiana
When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, hundreds of thousands of people were displaced from their homes because of the widespread destruction and massive flooding. The protective measures that were in place to keep the low elevation city from being flooded had broken, and places like Six Flags New Orleans were completely submerged and left to their fate. Now it remains a creepy, abandoned amusement park that is touched only by decay (and alligators). Eerily, the sign by the entrance still reads “Closed for storm.”
When the Second Seminole War broke out in 1836, the wealthy owner of the Bulow sugar plantation abandoned his land and fled north, along with his enslaved labor force. The Seminole nation razed Bulowville as part of their resistance to being removed from their ancestral land and sent to reservations west of the Mississippi River. The ruins of the estate, the mill and the enslaved peoples’ quarters still remain. It is now a protected area called the Bulow Plantation Ruins Historic State Park.
The village of Craco was founded in 540 AD, though its oldest building dates back to the 11th century. Despite having its share of plagues and crime, the city survived for hundreds of years only to be done in by Mother Nature when a series of landslides and earthquakes in the 20th century made the buildings unsafe to inhabit and added this abandoned city to our list. However, Craco has had several Hollywood moments over the years. It has made for a popular filming location, including for the 2008 James Bond film Quantum of Solace.
Hashima Island, Japan
Like many ghost towns, the once-prosperous Hashima Island was abandoned because of the eventual collapse of its coal mines. Its distinctive shape has given it the nickname “Battleship Island.” In the late 19th century, it was one of the most densely populated places on the planet, but when the mines ran dry in 1974, the workers left. Now, it’s one of the world’s most intriguing ghost towns.
Bokor Hill Station, Cambodia
This Cambodian ghost town is the only place on this list that was abandoned not once but twice. Initially, Bokor Hill Station was created by French colonists—or rather, by the enslaved Cambodians they conscripted into forced labor, many of whom died in the process. The luxury resort, including a hotel and casino, hosted nearly 30 years of European parties before Cambodia gained independence from France in 1953. After being abandoned by the European elite, the Cambodian upper class claimed it as their own until the 1970s, when Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge took control of Bokor Hill. Again, the town was left to rot.
St. Mary’s College, Maryland
Affectionately called “Hell House” by local students and passing hikers, St. Mary’s College in Ilchester, Maryland, was abandoned when a fire engulfed the grounds. St. Mary’s moved its facilities to another location nearby, but the ruins of the old buildings still stand, serving as a propagator of urban legends and ghost stories. Some people think St. Mary’s is now one of the most haunted places in America.
Kowloon Walled City, Hong Kong
Once a haven for upward of 33,000 people and dubbed “the most crowded place on earth” in the second half of the 20th century, Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong is now completely deserted. The size of a city block, it consisted of 300 connected buildings, and when it was bustling, it was a center for crime, drugs and unlicensed businesses. It was also a bit of a no-man’s land, caught between the then-British Hong Kong and Chinese governments in its legal designation as a Chinese military fort. The two governments eventually decided to dismantle the city, and residents were evicted over a five-year period. By 1993, demolition began, but the ruins of this abandoned city still remain.
Agdam was at the center of a vicious tug-of-war at the border between Armenia and its neighbor Azerbaijan. The two nations battled each other fiercely for control over the territory, which eventually resulted in 40,000 residents fleeing their homes and the total destruction of the city at the hands of the Armenians in 1993. The ruins of the town, one of the biggest abandoned cities in the world, still remain uninhabited as part of the border buffer zone.
Villa Epecuén, Argentina
Once a beautiful place resplendent with spas and resorts, the popular tourist town of Villa Epecuén was famous for its saltwater lake, nestled in farmland to the southwest of Buenos Aires. The lake has 10 times as much salt as the ocean, allowing visitors to enjoy its buoyancy. However, the bustling town was ravaged by fearsome rainstorms and floods, and in 1985, it was submerged under nearly 33 feet of saltwater. The city became Argentina’s version of the lost city of Atlantis, sunken beneath the waters for 25 years before reemerging, dripping and corroded, when the water receded in 2011.
Many towns have turned into ghost towns because they ran out of coal to mine, but in Kolmanskop’s case, it was diamonds. By 1912, the town was producing nearly 12% of the world’s total diamond production. The shiny stones were mined there for 40 years before their resources became depleted, and once the wealth was gone, so were the people. Now the town is slowly being covered by the shifting sands of the desert.
When it comes to abandoned cities in America, a town that looks just like Bannack probably comes to mind. An Old West town ruled by gangs and vigilantes, Bannack was renowned for its exceptionally pure gold—99% pure, when most gold is only 95%. By 1863, it had around 3,000 citizens, but killings and robberies abounded, with the sheriff, Henry Plummer, accused of being the ringleader of the biggest gang in town. Eventually, the violence subsided, but by that time, gold was much harder to find, and in the 1940s, Bannack became a ghost town.
The island of Poveglia, situated in the lagoon near Venice, is famous for being one of the most haunted places in Italy. Tourists and locals alike are banned from the island, which was used for centuries as a place to exile the sick to prevent the spread of disease (starting with the bubonic plague) and contain the mentally ill in an asylum built in the late 1800s. The small island was used as a mass burial ground, and ashes from human remains allegedly make up as much as 50% of the island’s soil. The deaths of nearly 160,000 people on the island have given it its nickname, the Island of Ghosts. Be careful: It might be surrounded by one of the world’s most haunted bodies of water.
Valley of the Mills, Italy
Filled with various flour and saw mills dating back to medieval times, the Valle dei Mulini (or Valley of the Mills) lies in a valley in Sorrento, on Italy’s Amalfi coast. The deep valley was formed by a volcanic eruption and further carved out by rivers. In 1866, the Piazza Tasso was built, which cut off the valley from the sea, leading to incredibly high humidity and prompting many inhabitants to leave the unbearable conditions. New pasta mills were built nearby, and the older flour mills became obsolete and were abandoned in the 1940s. However, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, there were plans to redevelop the mill, though progress has since been halted.
Salton City, California
You may have heard of California’s famous (and famously polluted) Salton Sea, but Salton City is a much, much stranger case. In the 1960s, the town was developed as a resort community, since it boasts a uniquely juxtaposed inland lake and beautiful open desert. (Joshua Tree National Park is just an hour’s drive away.) But as the lake became more polluted, plans for a tourist destination never materialized, and what existed of the town was quickly abandoned. Salton City has undergone something of a renaissance in the past few years: It’s a census-designated place with around 5,600 residents today, and it has at least one motel (with a total of four rooms). Hopefully it doesn’t make the list of the most haunted hotels in America.
A boom town founded on the back of a gold mine, a center of gambling and other vices before the big bust, and subsequent ghost town status. … We’ve heard this story before, but Rhyolite is a little different. First, there’s the value of the gold—nearly half a million dollars per ton in today’s money, which helped the town’s population swell to 5,000 people in just six months at the turn of the 20th century. By 1907, the people of Rhyolite enjoyed electric lights, concrete sidewalks, several newspapers, a train station, an opera house, a public swimming pool and a hospital. But as the mines began to fail, so did the town. By 1920, the population was just 14, and now, it’s a full-on ghost town.
Sewell Mining Town, Chile
It’s not often that a place is abandoned and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but this century-old town is both. Established in 1905 above the world’s largest underground copper mine, Sewell sits more than 7,000 feet above sea level and is known as Ciudad de las Escaleras, the City of Stairs, because of its unique, brightly colored buildings arranged over the steep slopes of the Andes. In its heyday, Sewell had a population of 15,000 people, but it was mostly abandoned in the 1970s after the National Copper Corporation of Chile took over mining operations. Today, tourists can visit the empty plazas and peer through the windows—as long as they arrange a tour, that is.
Abandoned places remind us how transient human lives and structures really are, and Houtouwan village, on the island of Shengshan in the Shengsi Archipelago, is one of the most magical examples. Once a prosperous fishing village and home to 3,000 residents, it has been almost entirely taken over by miles of lush green vines after just two decades of abandonment. The fairy-tale-esque location is popular with tourists, but it’s a little hard to get to—a fact that led to people moving out in the 1990s. Visitors can hike around the town but are urged to stay away from the empty buildings, since they may be unsafe.
Al Madam, United Arab Emirates
Just an hour’s drive from the bustling modern metropolis of Dubai is an eerie sight: two rows of beautiful homes and a stately mosque, slowly being reclaimed by the desert sands. The village of Al Madam has many rumors surrounding its abandonment, helped by the fact that many of its inhabitants left their doors swinging open and personal possessions behind in a rush to leave, perhaps driven by dark forces.
Nearby villages tell scary stories about an evil djinn named Umm Duwais who has cat eyes and haunts the village with machetes in place of her hands. Others say the frequent and fierce sandstorms made the villagers leave their homes. But another explanation lies in the lack of electricity and water in the village, which may have been built as an attempt by the government to settle the UAE’s traditionally nomadic Bedouin population. In the end, the Bedouins simply may have returned to their ancestral way of life, leaving the doors open behind them.
Burj Al Babas, Turkey
The happiest place on earth, this isn’t. Burj Al Babas was originally intended to be a thriving town with 732 identical castles available as vacation homes for anyone who could pay the price (around $500,000). With construction starting in 2014 and planning in place for sports facilities, movie theaters and Turkish baths, the $200 million project fell apart with only 587 buildings completed. In 2018, Turkey’s currency and debt crisis began, and the Burj Al Babas development went bankrupt. The eerie, perfect castles of the abandoned city are still there though, with turrets, Juliet balconies and pristine white stones, just waiting for someone to come in on a white horse and save them from eventual ruin.
The Maunsell Forts, United Kingdom
Named after the civil engineer who designed them, Guy Maunsell, the Maunsell Forts actually have names of their own: Rough Sands, Knock John, Red Sands and Shivering Sands Forts. The armed naval forts were built in 1942 to defend Britain against enemy aircraft in World War II, but they were decommissioned in the 1950s and left to rust in the Thames and Mersey Estuaries, southeast of England. In the 1960s and ’70s, the Maunsell Forts were hijacked by pirates—pirate radio, that is. One disc jockey, Paddy Roy Bates, has lived in Rough Sands since 1964; all the other Maunsell Forts are abandoned, but they can be visited by boat.
Fort Mose, Florida
More than a century before the Civil War, the first underground railroad was operating in the southern United States. But instead of helping enslaved people flee to the north, this railroad of formerly enslaved people and their Native American allies funneled plantation escapees south from English Carolina into Spanish Florida, to St. Augustine, just south of Jacksonville. There, formerly enslaved people were granted the rights and status of free men—as long as they converted to Catholicism and swore to serve the Spanish king.
In 1738, the Spanish governor established a fortified town specifically for free Black Americans, named Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose, or Fort Mose (pronounced Moh-say). Fort Mose became the first legally sanctioned free Black town in what is now the United States, and a hugely important site of Black American history. In 1759, the village had a population of 67 free Black Americans. The village was excavated in the 1980s and is now a state historic park.
Eastern Settlement, Greenland
Sometime in 985 CE, several ships full of brave Norsemen sailed west from Iceland to the eastern shore of Greenland, where they established two thriving settlements with hundreds of farms that supported thousands of people. By 1450, none remained, and their homes and buildings were left to the snow and sea wind. The cause of the disappearance remains a mystery, with scholars theorizing that the inhabitants died of starvation or sailed to a warmer place due to the cooling climate in the Little Ice Age. Either way, the last written record is of a wedding in 1408, and the area is now dotted with stone ruins.
Additional reporting by Chloë Nannestad.