These deserted spaces around the world each offer a glimpse into the past and a story of their own.
Abandoned spaces always tell a story. Whether it’s the futuristic sporting stadium left unfinished thanks to an escalating war in Lebanon or a theme park swallowed by the Indonesian jungle, each of these places—intended for people to congregate and take pleasure—are now haunting relics of the past. These ambitious projects and their subsequent failure speak to the hubris of humankind and remind us that life is, indeed, uncertain.
We have a particular fascination with ruins, perhaps out of curiosity about what the world will look like after we’re gone when nature has reclaimed what was originally hers. Look no further than the glut of post-apocalyptic films and books released each year for evidence. Standing alone within the empty walls and chambers of the sites on this list, we can let our imagination run wild. That future might look something like this.
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WHERE: Bali, Indonesia
Located on Bali’s east coast near Padang Galak beach, Taman Festival was home to the world’s first fully-inverted rollercoaster. There was also a fake volcano and a crocodile pit—par for the course for a $100 million-dollar theme park.
While the details are hazy, after opening in 1997, it seems a combination of flagging tourism due to fears of potential terrorism, the Asian Financial Crisis, and an ill-fated lightning strike shuttered the park within three years. The jungle has since reclaimed its territory, with vines climbing the crumbling structures and glass littering the ground.
A park “gatekeeper” now charges 25,000 Indonesian rupiah (roughly $1.75) entry fee for curious tourists. As you wander the eight-hectare site, admire the surreal presence of street art amid the wild environs. Watch out for bats, mosquitoes, spiders, and the rumored crocodiles, freed from their former captivity.
INSIDER TIPLook out for small shrines, called canning sari, around the park—offerings to please the gods and appease the dead whose spirits are said to roam here.
Winter Olympics Site
WHERE: Sarajevo, Bosnia, and Herzegovina
In 1984, athletes flocked to Sarajevo, ahead of the opening ceremony at the impressive new stadium, part of the huge amount of infrastructure built to accommodate the games. The former Yugoslavia, after all, was the first socialist state to host the Winter Olympics. A decade later, the country broke apart during the Bosnian War, and Sarajevo was the site of the longest siege in the history of modern warfare. Fighters on both sides took refuge in the mountains, using the Olympic structures as ramparts during the fighting.
Now the Mt. Trebevic bobsleigh track’s concrete walls are covered in graffiti and the dilapidated ski jumps show evidence of gunfire. Not all is in ruins. The Zetra Olympic Hall, where Torvill and Dean performed, is back in use, as is Mount Jahorina, where the women’s Alpine ski event took place. Many of the sites can be visited independently or as part of a historical tour. The views are also spectacular.
INSIDER TIPAs of 2018, there’s a cable car to Mt. Trebević bobsleigh track.
Michelangelo da Vinci Restaurant
WHERE: Villamarzana, Italy
Two dusty old airplanes face one another, nose to nose, grounded for the rest of time. Beneath their wings is an overgrown garden and a swimming pool, now stagnated and green. Nearby, a helicopter waits on a landing pad, destined to never take off. Gigi Stecca, a nursing home manager, was struck by how many elderly residents longed to board a plane in their lifetime. With his air travel-themed restaurant, he hoped to give every person that opportunity.
He decorated Michelangelo Da Vinci with works by that visionary of flight Leonardo Da Vinci and his contemporary Michelangelo. He served pizza and beer (Stecca was also a brewer), enjoyed by guests in the shade beneath the giant wings or on the aircraft. Sadly, Michelangelo Da Vinci closed in 2014 after a series of legal battles and has been empty ever since.
INSIDER TIPAccording to a blogger in 2019, a gate has been left open, and it’s still possible to wander inside the dusty aircraft.
Hồ Thuỷ Tiên Water Park
Five miles outside the Vietnamese city of Hue, this elaborate water park opened in 2004, but shuttered just a few years later without warning and the whimsical playground has since fallen into disrepair. At its heart, a three-story high dragon still stands guard of the lake, its body winding around what was an aquarium, the tanks now smashed and empty of the sharks, rays, fish, and crocodiles that previously called them home. Passageways snake through its belly up to a viewing platform in its mouth, offering an aerial view of this sprawling former paragon of leisure. Looking out, it’s unsettlingly reminiscent of The Lost World: Jurassic Park. The web of waterslides drop into murky green pools and the giant amphitheater is host only to the occasional grazing cow. Luckily, the escapee crocodiles here have since been rehoused by PETA.
INSIDER TIPThe park is most easily visited by renting a motorbike and making the drive yourself. Locals might be stationed at the gate and ask for a fee.
WHERE: Pakuba, Uganda
Deep inside the wildlife-rich Murchison Falls National Park in northwest Uganda, Pakuba Lodge was built in a prime location on a hilltop overlooking the White Nile, with views into the neighboring DRC. After initially operating as a hotel chain in the early 1970s, it was taken over as the personal lodge for Idi Amin. The brutal dictator killed approximately 300,000 people during his rule––and also hunted many wildlife species to near extinction.
Amin was overthrown in 1979, and the lodge was abandoned in the fighting that followed. Now just the building’s skeleton remains, hidden by vegetation, but the view is still spectacular. The ruins have become a haven for prowling lions, packs of hyenas, wandering families of warthogs, and more, with wildlife numbers somewhat recovering in recent years. The locals like to say nature took her revenge.
El Miro Ruins
WHERE: Jaco, Costa Rica
There isn’t a definitive story behind the ruins of El Miro. They say the owner died before he completed construction. What remains has become an offbeat destination for those seeking an alternative to lazy beach days on the long sandy stretch of Playa Jaco below. The hike is half the appeal, with the path visited by monkeys, toucans, and the occasional sloth. Admire the reliefs carved into the walls by local artists en route, and take a breather at the viewing platform halfway up.
After a steep bend in the trail, you’ll reach the old mansion with its grand white arches and three floors of interweaving stairways and fountains, now covered in graffiti. It appears designed around the panoramic views available from each of the balconies, looking over the Jaco coastline and to the Pacific Ocean beyond.
Vilnius Palace of Concerts and Sports
WHERE: Vilnius, Lithuania
An imposing concrete wave rises from the pavement, a bleak monument to Soviet-era Lithuania. When the Palace of Concerts and Sports was constructed in 1971—controversially on the site of a 15th-century Jewish cemetery—it was considered a masterpiece of Soviet Brutalist architecture, part of a postwar movement across the USSR to build entertainment and recreation venues to offer respite from the war and foster a sense of national unity. The area, a short walk from Vilnius’ Old Town, was designated a center for sports, with a swimming pool, skate rink, and stadium also built nearby. Now, only the abandoned Palace remains, though evidence can be found in the names of the road signs—“Sport Street” and “Olympians Street.” The building has been granted heritage status, even though funds haven’t materialized for its restoration, and a memorial has been installed to honor the destroyed cemetery.
WHERE: Dhaka, Bangladesh
In 1677, the Mughal prince Mohammad Azam set out to build a mighty fort at the heart of Dhaka. He passed the task on to his successor, Shaista Khan, but soon after, Khan’s daughter, Pari Bibi, unexpectedly died while living here; an omen of such ill fate, work was halted and the fort remains unfinished to this day.
The tomb of Pari Bibi is one of the few completed monuments, as well as the three-domed Quilla Mosque, and the Diwan, or Hall of Audience, which is the only building the public can enter, home to a small but informative museum of Mughal artwork and artifacts. But the Fort is worth visiting for the well-kept gardens alone, an escape from the bustle of Old Dhaka, with its fountains, pond and walkways, and view of the impressive 17th-century architecture.
WHERE: Berlin, Germany
There could be an entire sub-category of abandoned places focused solely on pools like this. A public pool is a place of noise, splashing water, and laughter; when drained and derelict it conjures an eeriness all of its own. Hubertusbad—also known as the Stadtbad Lichtenberg—is no different, almost cathedral-like in the hush of its disrepair.
Built in 1928 with some degree of architectural flair, it once boasted two swimming pools, a sundeck, bathtubs, and saunas––the most modern facilities in Berlin. It remained a slowly aging hub of leisure in some form up until 1991, when a simple patch job could not remedy the building’s many defects.
WHERE: La Falda, Argentina
Dig into the history of the Hotel Eden and you’ll find Albert Einstein, Hitler, and a whole lot of ghosts. In its 1920s heyday, it was the resort of choice for Argentina’s elite, including famous actors, Argentine presidents, and Einstein himself. The German-owned luxury spa in Argentina’s mountainous Cordoba region had an 18-hole golf course, a fleet of Model T Fords, and an oak ballroom, host to lavish parties. It all sounds charming, until you discover the owners were personal friends of Hitler and the hotel a haven for Nazi sympathizers. When Argentina declared war on Germany, shortly before the fall of the Third Reich, the hotel was seized by the government.
For years, it was abandoned to looting and neglect, but now declared a Historical Monument, it’s open again for historical tours and nighttime ghost walks, telling the stories of the spirits rumored to linger here.
National Art Schools
WHERE: Havana, Cuba
Another monument to the demise of a utopian dream, the National Art Schools were intended by Che Guevara and Fidel Castro to deliver cultural literacy to the nation. Built on the grounds of a former country club, they were symbolic from the outset, transforming a symbol of capitalism into a tuition-free educational institute for all Cubans. The design was radical and innovative—but the fervor for the vision didn’t last long enough for the work to be completed.
With only the Schools of Modern Dance and Plastic Arts in use, the rest of the 160-acre site was abandoned for decades, resembling an overgrown palace, with its serpentine passageways and terracotta-domed rooftops. Recent years have brought renewed attention to its architectural significance and funding for its conservation. As a functioning campus, visits must be prearranged—or sign up for a class.
INSIDER TIPThe documentary film “Unfinished Spaces” tells the National Art Schools’ story in full.
Oscar Niemeyer Fairground
WHERE: Tripoli, Lebanon
In 1963, the Lebanese government commissioned Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer to build an International Fair complex to crown the then-thriving city of Tripoli. Shortly before construction was finished, the civil war broke out, which lasted 15 years and ravaged the country. The site and its vision, like so much else, were abandoned.
The 10,000-hectare concrete expanse is still dotted with Niemeyer’s signature modernist structures, their space-age design fueling the feeling of walking in a dystopian future time. The Experimental Theatre, an enormous concrete dome, may be in ruin but its remarkable acoustics are intact. The open-air theatre is accessed through a soaring arc, as emblematic of Tripoli as its dusty souks and ancient mosques. The rows of empty white seats were a later addition for the concerts briefly hosted here.