Long-Forgotten Ghost Towns You Can Visit Today
There’s something eerie about visiting a once-thriving town that's been left behind. Nearly every continent has examples of such places, from forgotten medieval villages to deserted Old West mining towns to more recent examples like Chernobyl, abandoned after a man-made disaster.
We’ve rounded up the most spooky, unnerving and utterly mesmerizing ghost towns to add to your travel itinerary. And, yes, many of these ghost towns are also home to actual ghosts.
Hashima Island, Japan
After underground coal was discovered beneath this small island off the south coast of Japan in the 1800s, forced laborers were imported from the mainland to mine it. The island was surrounded by a seawall and was more akin to a labor camp than a settlement, with workers crammed into ramshackle high-rise apartments.
A peak population of 5,200 was reached in the 1950s, but after the coal was depleted in the 1970s, the island — also known as Gunkanjima — was abandoned, leaving behind eerie empty tower blocks.
After the James Bond film “Skyfall” featured the island as the residence of the villain, and UNESCO dedicated it as a World Heritage Site, the ghost town became a tourist attraction. Today, you can visit as part of a guided tour from nearby Nagasaki, though note that solo trips are not allowed for safety reasons.
Oh, and be prepared for possible ghost sightings — Hashima has been called “the most haunted island on Earth,” with apparitions seen peering through apartment windows and wandering the empty streets.
In 1908, in the heart of the vast and desolate Namib Desert, a railway employee found what turned out to be high-grade diamonds in the sands he was trying to sweep off the tracks. His incredible find set off a diamond boom, as settlers descended upon what became known as Kolmanscop.
Newfound wealth supported the development of a glittering town, replete with grand houses in the German style flanked by lush gardens, nurtured with imported water from the coast, as well as shops, a pub and a bowling alley. In 1912, the area was responsible for a staggering 11.7 percent of the world’s diamond production.
But soon, the diamonds were depleted, another boom started farther south and, after the last inhabitants left in the 1950s, the town was left deserted, taken over by the shifting sands.
Today you can learn about the town via organized tours from Luderitz on the coast, taking in the battered buildings tucked away amid sand dunes. There’s even a museum focused on the town’s diamond boom of yore.
Virginia City, Montana
In 1863, gold was discovered in them thar hills of Montana, launching a gold rush in the region that would make many people rich. The capital of this boom became Virginia City, where it's estimated $100 million was generated in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The community thrived, opening an opera house, a theater, a settlement of log cabins and the state's first public school. For a time, Calamity Jane lived here, as did a couple governors and the co-founder of the Pony Express. This being the lawless Wild West, crime also ran rampant.
When the gold ran out, the town was left behind — but it hasn't been forgotten. Today, Virginia City is an open-air museum where guests are welcome to explore what once was.
And yes, you may encounter a spirit or two; there have been enough sightings for the town to launch ghost walks.
There is something truly macabre about visiting this town, which was decimated after a nuclear power plant in nearby Chernobyl exploded in 1986. The catastrophe blasted the area with 400 times the radiation of the Hiroshima atomic bomb.
Prypyat and other villages nearby, which mostly housed nuclear plant workers, were evacuated the day after the explosion, and none of the 50,000 residents ever returned. Today, toys still lie where they were dropped by children in a hurry to leave, the Ferris wheel on the fairground, now rusting, still stands, and beds in the hospital are stripped bare. Meanwhile, the broken nuclear reactor is sleeping under a gigantic concrete dome, hopefully not leaking.
Not surprisingly, there have been reports that the town is haunted. In 1997, a visiting nuclear physicist said she heard someone screaming to be rescued from inside a power station. And that’s not all: “Later that evening,” she reported, “as we were eating dinner outside the building by the river next to the plant, a flood light turned on in the room of the installation. There was no way anyone could be inside. As we ate, we figured there was a power surge or something. Then just as my colleague said that, the light turned off.”
The town today attracts visitors in the tens of thousands coming on day trips from Kiev, some 62 miles south.
Birkat al Mouz, Oman
Just off the main road connecting Muscat to Nizwa, a small sign points right toward Birkat al Mouz. An impressive old gate seems ready to welcome guests. But step through it to meander along the dust pass, and you’ll find mud buildings on the hillside that were abandoned long ago.
A few decades back, this village (whose name roughly translates to “pool of bananas”) housed a tribe that looked after a banana plantation. But then, the inhabitants mysteriously left. Was it due to their nomadic instinct, or did the bottom fall out of the banana market?
Nobody is quite sure. But what inhabitants left behind, including a 17th-century fort, is really quite beautiful.
You can drive here from Muscat and explore on your own. But be careful, as the houses are slowly falling apart.
Founded back in 540 AD, Craco, once called Montedoro (“Golden Mountain”), is a medieval village perched atop a mountain, with a sturdy fortified tower at its highest point. Views of the countryside are spectacular from the tower, but it was designed with a more ominous purpose — to serve as a stark warning to incoming marauders.
It wasn’t warring factions, though, that spelled the end of Craco. Instead, it fell victim to over-expansion and deforestation, which in turn caused devastating mudslides. The population of 1,800 had to leave, and the village has been abandoned since the 1980s.
The local tourist office offers guided tours to learn more about the site’s fascinating history.
As with Kolmanscop, a mineral boom fueled the swift development of Calico.
Back in 1881, large deposits of silver, and later colemanite, were found in San Bernardino County, California. Thousands of people rushed in and built a proper little town. Then, when silver prices fell in the late 1800s, they rushed straight back out again.
Calico has since been bought up and carefully restored. Now a California Historical Landmark status, it is today a genuine gold (or should we say, silver) mine for tourism. There are several abandoned mining towns in the area, but this one has been turned into a veritable theme park, with fun activities for kids, a museum and other attractions.
This ghost town is also well-known for its numerous ghosts — including, most famously, Lucy, who used to own the general store and can still be seen roaming its abandoned aisles. Teachers and students also haunt the local schoolhouse, and “Tumbleweed Harris,” Calico’s last marshal, continues to patrol the town long after his death.
El Mirador, Guatemala
Between the 6th century BC and 150 AD, this was a city of some 80,000 people. Massive and carefully planned, the stone development of 10 square miles was built by the Mayans when most of the rest of the world still lived in huts.
Together with other villages and towns in the area on the southern Yucatan Peninsula, El Mirador thrived — until it didn’t.
It is believed that the threat of a war with other peoples and/or soil erosion due to heavy deforestation may have caused all the towns in the area to be left deserted.
To explore this gem of a ghost town today, you have to be either really dedicated and go on a five- to 10-day hike through the jungle, or be rich, flying by helicopter from the town of Flores.
Kennecott, Alaska, U.S.
Copper brought people up to Alaska to build this mining town on a hill overlooking the sea. For 27 years, the copper mine and its town flourished — alcohol and prostitution were forbidden, helping to boost productivity — and the local mining company, which spent $100 million to keep operations afloat, earned a staggering $300 million.
But as so often happens, before long the mine was exhausted, the railway was abandoned and the town was left in shambles. Nearby, the town of McCarthy, which once illegally provided workers with alcohol and prostitutes, is today a settlement of a few dozen souls, and offers places where you can stay overnight.
This is, yet again, a ghost town where spooky stories abound. Visitors have seen tombstones disappear and reappear, and heard the voices of miners and children echoing through the mountains. And the ghosts here are not only abundant, but feisty. Legend has it that when a housing development was planned nearby, ghosts scrawled out a message for the interlopers: “Sometimes an abandoned mine should stay that way.”
The story of this village in Central France is a tragic one. On June 10, 1944, near the end of WWII, German troops entered the village and slaughtered every single resident — 642 children, women and men. The men were shot dead, and the women and children were locked in the church, which was then set ablaze along with the rest of the village.
It is thought that the atrocity was an act of revenge by the Germans for the village’s resistance activities. President Charles de Gaulle declared that the village should remain as it was, to serve as a memorial to those massacred.
Today the buildings remain half-broken and burnt, with rusty burnt-out cars on the roads. You can visit the village, the Memorial Center and a small museum.
In the mountains north of Shiraz in today’s Iran, King Darius the Great started to build the City of the Persians in 518 BC. The ambitious project entailed meticulously carving the terraced city, and took some 150 years to complete.
Despite its three city walls and fortified towers, Persepolis was overthrown by Alexander the Great in 330 BC. He looted the city’s riches and set fire to the palace and its surroundings. Scorch marks from the burning can still be seen today.
Drive an hour north from Shiraz with a guide, or take a day trip tour to explore this fascinating site.
Until 1920, Kayakoy, then known as Levissi, was a thriving town of some 10,000 people, mostly farmers and artisans. Christians in the town and Muslims in the surrounding country lived peacefully next to each other, taking part in each other’s festivals and daily life.
After the Greco-Turkish war between 1919 and 1923, however, Turkey’s Christians and Greece’s Muslims were exiled, to ensure each country had mostly one religion. The town of Levissi was emptied and renamed Kayakoy.
Alas, the town never recovered from the mass exodus and stands crumbling and abandoned on a hillside overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. You can hike there from the beach resort town of Hisaronu.
Villa Epecuén, Argentina
More than 30 years ago, Villa Epecuén was a popular spa resort on the shores of a salty lake, whose water was said to have healing powers. Tourists flocked to the town about 340 miles from Buenos Aires, and the spa flourished.
Until, that is, 1985, when it started to rain. Heavily. So heavily that the entire town began to flood, causing lake water to slowly consume the town. By 1993, there was nothing left.
Twenty-five years later, the waters started to recede, revealing petrified trees, abandoned swing sets and muddy streets.
Today, a long-distance bus from Buenos Aires stops here. Make sure to enjoy the site’s informative museum as well.
If "abandoned city of toys" sounds spooky, well...it is.
In the 1960s, developer Mario Bagno snapped up the quiet, medieval village of Consonno, about an hour from Milan, and got to work trying to turn it into a Vegas-like entertainment complex. He razed the town and announced plans for malls, hotels, a zoo, basketball courts, mini-golf, casinos, arcades — even Chinese pagodas and a fake medieval castle. But what Bagno called his "City of Toys" was not meant to be, with a landslide halting its development.
The town, partly built, was abandoned, and its buildings are today covered in graffiti. Consonno is officially a trespass-free zone following a destructive 2007 rave held on its grounds, but visitors have been known to still make their way through its creepy remains.
Like many places on this list, Terlingua was once a thriving mining town, producing quicksilver at the turn of the century and, years later, cinnabar ore. Demand for the products reached its peak during World War I, making Terlingua rich.
But after production declined in the ‘30s, the city was forced to file for bankruptcy. Residents fled, leaving behind what’s become one of the most popular ghost towns in the U.S.
In modern times, Terlingua has become best-known for its annual, wildly popular chili cook-off.
You can imagine what this forgotten town once looked like, more than a century ago: a community of people living in charming wooden homes along the banks of Lake Onega in Russia. But then, in 1917, the Russian Revolution swept through the area, and the once-idyllic town was abandoned.
Today, Pegrema's wooden structures, including an 18th-century chapel, remarkably still remain intact, though in a state of ghostly disrepair.
In the 1870s, after gold was discovered in the Sierra foothills, prospectors descended upon the area. Soon, the town of Bodie went from housing a couple dozen residents to welcoming nearly 10,000 people looking to strike it rich.
As happens, it didn't take long for the gold to run out, and for the boom to go bust. The town was left to fall into disrepair but, fortunately, has since been turned into a California state park, with some 200 structures preserved in a state of "arrested decay."
Legend has it that its treasures are also being watched over by town ghosts, who curse those who take artifacts from the site. You've been warned!
Petra is perhaps best known to modern audiences as a prominent filming site in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” But it touts far more than a connection to a certain lasso-wielding hero.
Originally known as Raqmu, Petra was first occupied as early as 9000 BC. Some 2,000 years ago, it was the capital of the powerful Nabataean Kingdom, sheltering 30,000 inhabitants during its heyday. Then the Romans came and added impressive structures, including a theater, many of which were destroyed during an earthquake in 336 AD.
When and why exactly the city was eventually abandoned is unclear. In any case, it was rediscovered in 1818 by a Swiss explorer, and to this day it amazes archaeologists and visitors alike.
After reaching the city at the end of a mile-long Siq passageway, you will be awed by the pink beauty of this historic ghost town that today welcomes nearly 1 million annual visitors.
Along the Mediterranean coast of Libya — a country unsurprisingly not on the everyday tourist trail, but immensely rewarding for the few who enter — lie two great cities. Sabratha was one a Phoenician trading post, before being taken over by the Romans and Romanized in the 2nd century AD, while Leptis Magna was once the most beautiful city of the Carthaginian Empire.
Day trips to both cities can be booked with travel agents in Tripoli.
Machu Picchu, Peru
Likely built in the mid-1400s for Incan emperor Pachacuti, this relatively small city of 500 to 700 people was only inhabited for around 100 years before it was abandoned during the Spanish Conquest.
The Spanish, however, never seem to have known about the lost city, and it lay forgotten and abandoned until an American explorer and historian discovered it covered by the jungle in 1911.
Today, nearly a century later, Machu Picchu is one of the modern wonders of the world, visited by a strictly controlled 5,940 travelers a day who come to marvel at its hillside ruins.
Want to feel spooked? On the Inca Trail leading to the site, guides have reported feeling pulled out of their tents by spirits. Many ward away the ghosts by sleeping with shiny metal objects or mirrors beneath them.