Reader Recs: World’s Best Ghost Towns
A zombie craze is sweeping the globe — with more films and television shows centered around the undead popping up in popular culture than ever before. Eerily abandoned cityscapes and bereft countrysides devoid of life are a common feature of zombie-ridden, post-apocalyptic worlds, but there are plenty of real-life ghost towns to go around, many of which are actually worth visiting.
We published our list of the Top 10 Ghost Towns in the World, then asked our readers to fill us in on what we missed the first go around.
This is what they had to say:
Many people were shocked to see that Pripyat, the Ukrainian city contaminated by the 1986 Chernobyl Power Plant meltdown, didn’t make our list, but as one reader, Catherine, pointed out, “The place is highly poisonous, and will be till the end of our time…It’s a place to know about, but is isn’t a place for a [National Geographic] travel blog to be recommending people to go.” Though the jury is still out on whether the town is safe to visit, it’s probably best to avoid it.
Phyllis R. recommended watching a video called “Wolves in Chernobyl Dead Zone.” “It’s amazing [to see] the wildlife that thrives in [its] own ‘city,'” she says. It also offers an intimate glimpse into what the abandoned city looks like decades after the worst nuclear disaster in history.
Facebook reader Mike L. remarked: “I read your list and if you have Chaco Canyon [in New Mexico], then Mesa Verde National Park should be on it, too.” We couldn’t agree more, Mike. One of Colorado’s four national parks, Mesa Verde — Spanish for “Green Table” — offers another fascinating look into the Ancestral Pueblo people who settled in the American Southwest.
The park, created by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906, protects nearly 5,000 known archaeological sites, many of which are remarkably well-preserved, including some 600 cliff dwellings, designed so inhabitants could protect their homes and families during enemy raids by lifting entry ladders. There’s no consensus around why the Pueblo abandoned the settlement, there’s evidence that they flew the coop, so to speak, before the 15th century, having occupied the area for some 700 years.
Twitter reader @Txesca thought we should add Siurana, a tiny village in Catalonia a little over two hours southwest of Barcelona.
In addition to offering a view into what life was like during medieval times in a community deep in the heart of the Prades Mountains, this ghost town has another claim to fame: its cachet in the mountain-climbing world.
Two readers wrote in to suggest adding Syria’s “Forgotten Cities” to the mix. Laura says: “I would have thought Serjilla in Syria would be in the list. It’s an absolutely beautiful and amazing place to wander about (though definitely not the easiest to get to).”
Serjilla is one of about 700 abandoned settlements — known as the “Dead Cities” or “Forgotten Cities” — in the Al-Bara region in northwestern Syria located between the cities of Aleppo and Idlib.
Many readers referenced ghost towns in Alberta, Canada. Dorothy suggested Rowley, a remote farming community with a will to remain relevant. In the 1970s, when the agricultural community was circling the drain, a handful of hardscrabble residents banded together to restore dilapidated homes and businesses to reflect the town’s pioneer glory days. Their efforts paid off, but only briefly. The last train rolled through Rowley in 1999, cutting it off from tourists eager to see the quirky attraction. But with any luck, this ghost town will rise again.
A reader named James tipped us off to two abandoned coal mining towns near Banff National Park: Bankhead (it’s “fascinating to walk around,” he said) and Nordegg, a town with an eerie connection to Halloween. In 1941, a large-scale underground explosion killed 31 miners — on October 31.
Twitter reader @TripNikTips suggested including Tianducheng in Hangzhou, China.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Most ghost towns were once flourishing communities that were abandoned when hard times befell their residents. The exact opposite is true in Tianducheng, a city that was constructed in the hopes that people would move there.
Luxury real estate developers built a replica of Paris — complete with a 300-foot Eiffel Tower look-alike — in the middle of the countryside two hours west of China’s largest city, Shanghai, but only a handful of people can be seen walking the rues and boulevards today. But let’s look at the bright side: If they ever move The Walking Dead to Paris, they’ll have a great place to shoot on location.
We had Bodie, California, and St. Elmo, Colorado on our original list, but several readers wrote in about other former mining towns in the U.S. that have been forgotten by time. First up: Virginia City, Nevada, a vital gold mining settlement between Denver and San Francisco that treats visitors to Old West saloons, board sidewalks, stage coach rides, and other vestiges from its boom-town prime.
Calico, California, pumped out millions of dollars worth of silver ore in the late 1800s until the metal lost value, sending miners packing. Walter Knott (of Knott’s Berry Farm fame) picked up the claim in the 1950s and restored many of the historical buildings around town before deeding the property to San Bernardino County. It was designated a California historical landmark in the 1970s.
And last but not least, there’s Jerome, a quirky old copper mining town that provides the perfect home base for exploring northern Arizona.