World's Eeriest Abandoned Places
Staten Island’s Tugboat Graveyard has long intrigued—even frightened—local residents, including NYC-based photographer Chris Barreto, who grew up just a few miles away. “It took me years to build up the nerve to go,” he admits. “The immense size of the shipyard is unfathomable—row after row of ships, just waiting their turn to sink into the murky waters. The stench of rotting wood and oil is almost unbearable. It’s not a welcoming place.”
Barreto is just one of the many artists, photographers, travelers, and writers inspired by the act of human abandonment. “When any man-made structure is deserted and void of people, it leaves behind an unsettling energy,” he says.
But it’s that very energy that has made these creepy places a sort of dark-side passport stamp, complete with bragging rights. So young creatives have made a hobby out of photographing derelict and discarded buildings and uploading the images to sites like Abandoned-places.com and Weburbanist.com, along with Flickr’s numerous user groups, like Abandoned Motels, Abandoned Sweden, and Best of Abandoned. The most popular group, simply called Abandoned, has 70,000-plus members and remains a go-to source for those looking to find new terrain.
“Some people find abandoned places creepy, others find them beautiful,” says Henk van Rensbergen, the 48-year-old Belgian webmaster of Abandoned-places.com (and an airline pilot). “I’m curious about the soul of the building and the stories the walls tell me when I sit down and listen to the silence.” He has photographed a deserted hospital in New Jersey, a vacant cinema house in Brazil, abandoned hotels on the beaches of Gabon, and tenantless office buildings in Beirut, Poland, and Sri Lanka. “I usually visit these places alone, unless there is a real danger, which there often is.”
Google “Visit Chernobyl” and you’ll get several tour results that guarantee a “radiation-free tour” of the infamously abandoned Reactor Number 4. The tour is so popular that Trip Advisor has a user-generated forum explaining the best way to visit it. Other abandoned places, like India’s cursed city of Bhangarh, Rajasthan, are sanctioned by their respective governments, but still pose danger. A sign erected by the Archaeological Survey of India at the entrance to Bhangarh reads: “Entering the borders of Bhangarh before sunrise and after sunset is strictly prohibited.” While the ancient curse clearly still has a hold over the current government, the sign is a sensible warning to anyone wanting to explore the city’s crumbling Hindu temples. Skellig Michael, Europe’s most inaccessible UNESCO World Heritage site, is just as dangerous: three tourists, including two Americans just this year, have fallen to their deaths while on the precipitous climb.
Whether you’re visiting sanctioned places or exploring more off-the-beaten-path terrain, it’s important to show respect. Van Rensbergen’s three rules of thumb are a good directive for anyone attempting to access an abandoned site: “Don’t break your way in. Don’t take anything, except photos. And don’t leave anything except footprints.”
Why It’s Eerie: In 1783, this dusty, rusty city in Rajasthan was abandoned overnight after a guru cursed all residents to death, without rebirth. Today it’s forbidden to visit after sunset; locals and tourists enter during daylight hours only. What remains are eerie ruins, which include two abandoned Hindu temples, several banyan trees, and a few troops of macaque and langur monkeys.
How to Experience It: Known for its luxed-out haveli, Amanbagh, just 10 miles away, offers guided twilight tours of Bhangarh (doubles from $770).
Tugboat Graveyard, New York
Why It’s Eerie: Tugboats have long been thought of as stout, powerful vessels of nautical hope. Not the ones in this neglected port of little engines that couldn’t. Located on New York City’s Staten Island, this creepy postindustrial landscape is chock-full of rusting hulks: forsaken tugboats, forlorn rescue vessels, defunct dredging barges, and old ferries, each scuttled in the early 20th century, when traffic bustled in New York Harbor.
How to Experience It: Recapture New York’s old-hat spirit at the anachronistic Bowery Hotel (doubles from $375), and take its free bikes onto the Staten Island Ferry (also free) for a 45-minute bike ride to the site.
Lier Sykehus, Norway
Why It’s Eerie: Few places are creepier than deserted psychiatric hospitals. At this medical complex in the town of Lier, 30 minutes south of Oslo, eight of the hospital’s buildings are still occupied by living mental health patients; the remaining four are vacant—and inhabited by nonliving former residents. The looming structure, which opened in 1926 and partially shuttered in 1986, was the site of frequent lobotomies and electroshock treatments.
How to Experience It: Before heading to Lier, spend the morning in Oslo acquainting yourself with the ghostlike paintings in the Edvard Munch Museum. The Scream will put you in the mood.
San Juan Parangaricutiro, Mexico
Why It’s Eerie: In 1943, a volcano in the remote mountain state of Michoacán began spewing lava, eventually burying the villages of San Juan Parangaricutiro and Paricutín under a coal-black layer of chunky lava. The crucifix-topped bell tower of the San Juan Parangaricutiro Church protrudes from the lava, while the vacated church’s altar, at the other end of the structure, appears entirely intact.
How to Experience It: Hire a local guide in the strange and sleepy Purépucha mountain village of Angahuan, 30 minutes away, and see the site by burro.
Flooded Towns of the Catskills, New York
Why It’s Eerie: From 1910 to 1928, two dozen farm villages were abandoned and flooded to create six new drinking reservoirs for New York City. The 8,300-acre Ashokan Reservoir alone submerged nine villages. Fortunately, the bodies from 32 cemeteries were relocated, but the churches, silos, barns, schools, and orchards are still visible during autumn’s low water levels.
How to Experience It: Since 9/11, direct access to the water is strictly limited, but you can glimpse sights from nearby bridges. Stay in one of Stony Creek Farm’s “plushrustic” farmhouse tents (from $550; sleeps six), complete with woodstoves for fall.
Skellig Michael, Ireland
Why It’s Eerie: Rising like a sunken Gothic cathedral off Ireland’s Iveragh peninsula, the island of Skellig Michael was home to Irish Christian monks for some 600 years until A.D. 1100, when it was abandoned out of fear of more Viking raids. Today it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site, and all that remains are the 600 carved stone steps to the summit, some stone clocháns (beehive-shaped huts), and the haunting cries of gannets and gulls.
How to Experience It: To heighten the otherworldliness of the Skelligs, go on an organized dive (from approximately $230) in the Gulf Stream–warmed waters around the islands to spot seals, minke whales, hard and soft coral, and steep seawalls coated with colorful anemones.
Abandoned Skunk Train, California
Why It’s Eerie: From Elk to Fort Bragg, Mendocino County’s Highway 1 is strewn with ghost barns and shuttered lumber plants, abandoned as redwood logging became illegal. In Fort Bragg, the rusty maintenance yard for the number 681 Skunk Train, which began operations in 1885, is the creepiest. Train employees who work late nights on the adjacent, newly restored and active Skunk Line claim that the ghost of C. R. Johnson, founder of the railroad, lurks in the old depot.
How to Experience It: Etta Wilder, who hosted many a Skunk Line train passenger at her rambling seaside farmstead, still haunts Little River’s Glendeven Inn (doubles from $160). Ask for one of the inn’s cemetery maps, and pay your respects at her gravesite.
Takakanonuma Greenland, Japan
Why It’s Eerie: Some 150 miles north of Tokyo, the city of Hobara holds on to a derelict amusement park that’s eerily similar to the one in the anime flick Spirited Away. Closed in 1999 when Japan’s economic bubble burst, the ghostly 1973 park has a rusting roller coaster, frozen Ferris wheel, and strewn-about toys that are now slowly being taken over by the fog-choked Aizu forest.
How to Experience It: To access the park from Fukushima, take Highway 4 north for about an hour, then take a left before the train station in Hobara.
Hundseck Hotel, Black Forest, Germany
Why It’s Creepy: Deep in the heart of Deutschland near Bühlertal, this rambling once-popular ski resort in the thickly forested mountains is an eerie reminder of the region’s good old days. The grand old fin de siècle hotel operated until 1957, when it was converted to a camp for miners; it became a youth hostel in 1982, then finally shuttered in 2001. Nobody’s checked in or out of the rickety turreted structure in nine years.
How to Experience It: Access the hotel by taking a drive on Germany’s infamously dangerous mountain road called the Schwarzwaldhochstrasse (a.k.a. the Black Forest High Street), which runs from Baden-Baden to Freudenstadt along the Bunderstrasse 500.
Lehigh Acres, Florida
Why It’s Eerie: There’s something bluntly creepy about the abandoned exurbs of Florida. Forsaken construction sites, like the ones in the middle-class development of Lehigh Acres in Florida’s southwest, are filled with half-built McMansions, unkempt yards overtaken by alligators and snakes, and derelict cul de sacs that lead to nothing. Florida’s population is diminishing for the first time ever, and nowhere is the exodus felt stronger than here.
How to Experience It: Witness the epicenter of the subprime mortgage crisis (and maybe even scout a few good house deals) by hopping aboard real estate agent Marc Joseph’s free foreclosure boat tour in Lee County’s Cape Coral, Fort Myers, and Lehigh areas.