Explore the Places of the Past

There is something intrinsically fascinating about places which were once alive with the flurry of human activity but have now been abandoned to the elements. The contrast with past and present is incredibly stark, and the history of any given place takes on an actual tangibility.

In this article we’ve dug out some of our favourite abandoned places throughout the world. Not all can be (legally) visited, but the abundance of photographic evidence online suggests many people are happy to risk being rapped on the knuckles for trespassing in return for the thrill which accompanies urban exploration.

1. Battersea Power Station, UK

Battersea Power Station ceased operating three decades ago, but the resulting urban decay only served to intensify its status as one of London’s most iconic buildings. Redevelopment plans are underway, though most Londoners seemed content with the gloomy relic of industry past.

Battersea Power Station

Can I legally visit?

No, not until redevelopment plans have been completed.

2. Oradour-sur-Glane, France

The tiny French village of Oradur-sur-Glane was the scene of one of the most appalling Nazi atrocities of WWII. In 1944 a German Waffen-SS unit massacred the entire population, which included 247 women and 205 children. The village has been left in its exact condition as a memorial.

Oradour-sur-Glane, France

Can I legally visit?


3. Eastern State Penitentiary, USA

This seriously spooky former prison is located in the US state of Pennsylvania and once housed the notorious gangster Al Capone. It was built in 1829 and was in operation for 142 years before closing in 1971. It’s now open for tours.

Eastern State Penitentiary, USA

Can I legally visit?

Yes. The prison now functions as a museum.

4. Hotel del Salto, Colombia

Clinging precariously to the edge of a cliff, the macabre Hotel del Salto in Colombia closed its doors for the final time in the early 1990s amid rumours it was severely haunted (the cliff was a suicide hotspot). Others, however, claim the increasingly polluted nearby river forced the hotel to close, which admittedly is a more plausible – albeit disappointing – explanation.

Hotel del Salto

Can I legally visit?

Not in its current state, but there are plans to renovate it into a museum.

5. Hellingly Mental Asylum, UK

Located in the heart of the East Sussex countryside, Hellingly Mental Asylum opened at the turn of the 20th Century and received patients for 90 years before shutting down in the mid-90s. It has since fallen into serious neglect, which combined with its eerie history makes for a fascinating example of urban decay.

Hellingly Mental Asylum

Can I legally visit?

No, but many risk the trespassing rap regardless. Your call.

6. Graun, Italy

The village of Graun in northern Italy was submerged in 1950 following the creation of an artificial lake. Were it not for the bell tower of a 14th Century church poking through the lake’s surface, the settlement would have vanished entirely, but as it is, the tower now forms an incredibly evocative landmark.

Graun, Italy

Can I legally visit?

Yes, but bring your swimming gear and a snorkel and mask. Alternatively, the tower can be reached on foot when the lake freezes each winter.

7. Nara Dreamland, Japan

Most abandoned places have a ghoulish atmosphere about them, but none more so than former amusement parks, and Nara Dreamland in Japan is no exception. The park opened in 1961 and was modelled on Disneyland in California, but falling profits forced it to close permanently in 2006.

Nara Dreamland, Japan

Can I legally visit?

No, and it’s probably not worth trying: the whole park is surrounded with razor wire fences, patrolled by security and the fines for trespass are heavy – about £1,000.

8. Miranda Castle, Belgium

This extraordinary building, which is reminiscent of ‘Hogwarts’ from the Harry Potter films, has been abandoned for over two decades. It was built in the mid-1800s and served as an orphanage from 1945 to 1980. The family who own it have refused to renovate it or hand it over to the state.

Miranda Castle, Belgium

Can I legally visit?

No, but many are happy to risk being caught.

9. Varosha, Cyprus

Following the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974 the island was divided: Turkey claimed one half and Greece retained the other. The division is literally marked in the form of Varosha, which was once a thriving tourist resort but is now controlled by the Turkish military, who have refused entry since the year of the invasion. The former inhabitants fled in terror when the Turkish arrived and the settlement remains exactly as it did in 1974, a time warp where clothes still hang in wardrobes and car showrooms are filled with vintage 1974 models.

Varosha, Cyprus

Can I legally visit?

No, and you'd be mad to try!

10. Kolmanskop, Namibia

This town sprung from the Namib Desert when it emerged the area was rich with diamonds. Once the last precious stone had been plucked from the sand, however, people had no reason to stay, and the settlement was eventually abandoned. There are thousands of ghost mining towns across the world, but Kolmanskop is particularly interesting due to the encroaching dunes which are gradually swallowing everything back into the desert.

Kolmanskop, Namibia

Can I legally visit?