Roy's Cafe, USA
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Down the famed highway Route 66, in the middle of California’s Mojave Desert, stands the abandoned village of Amboy, now devoid of residents. The beacon at the centre of the deserted town is Roy’s – a former gas station that’s captured the imagination of many passersby. Preservationist Albert Okura now privately owns the entire town, which once had an airport, church, café and school.
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Deserted for 20 years, this Soviet outpost near the North Pole in Norway’s Svalbard region looks a little out of place within the unforgiving landscape. The town features clear references to the former USSR, with a bust of Lenin standing in the town’s main square. If you’re curious, you can take a boat trip between mid-May and October to the archipelago, when the ice doesn’t prevent you from doing so.
Maunsell Sea Forts, England
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Stationed 11 kilometres off the coast of Suffolk, these rusting anti-aircraft towers were constructed to defend Britain’s shores from airborne enemies during the Second World War. They spent a short time in use – decommissioned in the 1950s after starting up in just 1942 – but their ominous presence is still felt. Boat tours take visitors to view the futuristic towers from afar but venturing inside has fallen out of favour considering the extensive rust and decay that’s befallen them.
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The former township of hundreds of German families who sought their fortune in diamond mining a century ago, the sand-swallowed village of Kolmanskop now stands devoid of its former flurry of activity. Just 10 kilometres inland from the port town of Luderitz in the Namib Desert, this once-thriving town boasted a hospital, power station, casino, bowling alley and even Africa’s first tram. The liveliness came to a halt when spoils of the rush shifted to the far southern corner of the country and Kolmanskop’s inhabitants followed the prosperity, leaving their homes to be engulfed by the surrounding desert. Make sure you apply for the special permit that’s required for a visit.
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Deemed a protected UNESCO site in 1988, this collapsing city has always received its fair share of interest thanks to its location up the hill from the popular sandy stretches of resort town Olu Deniz. But it got a boost in international interest thanks to Russell Crowe’s film, The Water Diviner, filming a section of its scenes there. A fusion of Greek and Turkish influences, 350 homes now stand empty as a result of increased violence in the early 20th century.
Hashima Island, Japan
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It’s difficult to imagine but this eerily deserted island off the south coast of Japan once reigned supreme as one of the most densely populated places in the world. Since Hashima’s abandonment by its 5000 inhabitants following a coal mine closure that forced their relocation in 1974, it has remained virtually untouched by humans – save for a few explorers and the cast of the Bond movie, Skyfall, of course. Tours run from nearby Nagasaki and take approximately 30 minutes by boat. Once on the island, exploration happens via a series of elevated walkways, steering clear of crumbling and dangerous structures.
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Less than 90 kilometres from the global metropolis of Shanghai is Houtouwan, a former fishing village now blanketed in thick shrubbery, that has been all but abandoned – save for five dedicated residents. Before the mass exodus in 1990 for more populous and easily accessible living arrangements, 3000 fisherman and their families lived in the remote village. Now, the island swells with activity only during the day when tourists flock to photograph the ivy-obscured buildings.
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Perched on an almost 400-metre-high cliff top, it’s unsurprising Craco lasted as long as it did in the naturally volatile region of Basilicata in southern Italy. A landslide in the 1960s rendered the town too unsafe for its residents, leaving it devoid of any inhabitants. Apart from the six religious festivals it hosts between May and October, the town stays largely empty for the rest of the year – aside from its starring role in Hollywood feature films such as The Passion of the Christ and another Bond classic, Quantum of Solace.
Old City Hall Subway Station, USA
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Although the 6 line still trundles down its track, New York’s Old City Hall Station doesn’t welcome any stopping trains. Built in 1904, the abandoned station still retains all of its early 19th-century elegance and glory, complete with intricate patterns of emerald subway tiles and chandeliers. It closed in 1945 when logistical setbacks couldn’t be overcome. Visitors can book tours of Old City Hall station through the New York Transit Museum but are, naturally, very popular so booking months in advance is advised. You’ll also need security clearance to get yourself on the tour so make sure you’re organised.
Power Plant IM, Belgium
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Built in 1921, this towering cooling plant was once the town of Charleroi’s main source of energy. But since 2007, when its carbon dioxide emissions drew enough attention from environmentalists to force a shutdown, it’s remained dormant and unused. While it’s only around a 10-minute drive from Charleroi’s centre, gaining access to the site isn’t always guaranteed – while some visitors have reported the door being unlocked, some haven’t been so lucky.
Buzludzha Monument, Bulgaria
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Looming over the Shipka Pass like a menacing UFO, the Buzludzha Monument – a little over 200 kilometres east of the capital, Sofia – was once a socialist assembly hall and fell into disrepair after the fall of the Communist empire. Now, despite being draped in graffiti and its many windows long broken, the distinctively Brutalist building remains a symbol of the country’s political past. While the site itself is accessible, any visitor interested in entering does so at their own risk, with the main entrance locked due to the potential dangers of venturing inside such a dilapidated structure. Photo by Stanislav Traykov (CC by 3.0)
Shi Cheng, China
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Crafted during the Eastern Han Dynasty, the ancient city of Shi Cheng – also known as Lion City – dates back as far as the second century. Buried 40 metres underwater by a man-made lake created in 1959, the perfectly preserved underwater city was left to a watery grave until 2001, when a local tourism official decided to resurface its mysteries. Still standing are four town entrance gates, former boulevards and 265 archways with wonderfully intricate stonework depicting lions, dragons and other significant symbolism. Regular dives are lead to the city during warmer months between April and November. Photo by Nihaopaul (CC BY-SA 3.0).
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Dubbed the “Las Vegas” of ancient Rome, this half-sunken city hosted many an evening of Epicurean pleasure in its heyday 2000 years ago. After succumbing to several devastating seismic and hydrothermal disasters, the site now partially sits underwater, with six metres of liquid covering temple pillars and some intricate mosaics. Photo by Carole-Raddato (CC BY SA 2.0)
Scott’s Hut, Antarctica
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Now buried under a veil of snow, this former residence is the closest thing you’ll get to a time capsule. Originally built to house explorers as part of the Terra Nova expedition to the South Pole in 1912, the group’s leader, Captain Robert Falcon Scott, and three of his team were pipped to the post by Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen. Now, the site is frozen – some parts literally – in time, with items such as a slab of 100-year-old butter and a bottle of Heinz ketchup still remaining at the site, which is visited by about 300 tourists a year.
Cleopatra’s Palace, Egypt
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Even novices can get a glimpse of the underwater world of Cleopatra’s Palace in Alexandria, which lays five metres below the surface. The quiet sphinxes, stately red granite columns and former palace pavements have been carbon dated back as far as 90BC.
Grytviken, South Georgia
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South Georgia isn’t an easy place to reach so it’s little wonder the wind-whipped island in the South Atlantic is also home to a forgotten whaling station. Opened in 1904, it closed down operations in 1966. Now, the rusted station stands disused.
Michigan Central Station, USA
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A growing number of Detroit’s once beautiful buildings continue to fall into disrepair, earning the entire Midwest city the nickname of “ghost town”. Shuttered since 1988, the site has attracted many visitors despite being closed to the public. Now, following the purchase of the building by Ford Motor Company, the building will be restored to its former glory with a new occupation as the headquarters of their self-driving and electric car division. Photo by Thomas Hawk (CC BY-NC 2.0).