No matter where you visit, it pays to avoid the tourist traps. Not only will they overcharge you and test your patience, but those hot spots will also prevent you from seeing a city’s real gems. A little bit of exploration will take you a long way.
For the best traveling experience possible, getting off the beaten path will bring you to weird and wonderful locations you’ll never forget. As soon as you set foot in any of these hidden wonders, you’ll be glad you skipped the long lines and gift shops!
1. Teotihuacan, Mexico: Just northeast of Mexico City lies a complex of colossal temples and pyramids. These are the ruins of Teotihuacan, once the greatest city in the Americas before its mysterious collapse in the sixth or seventh century.
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Archaeologists still have much to learn about this lost culture, but they have discovered a fascinating truth about the city’s layout: three key structures — the Pyramid of the Sun, Temple of the Moon, and Temple of Quetzalcoatl — follow a peculiar pattern.
Specifically, they line up with the stars in Orion’s belt! We have yet to figure how the Teotihuacans achieved this feat with rudimentary technology. However, historians guess that their purpose was to create a “City of the Gods” by making their home reflect the design of the heavens.
2. Kraków, Poland: Sure, maybe visiting a mine isn’t your typical idea of fun. But when you go over 300 yards down into the Wieliczka Salt Mine, you’ll realize it’s well worth the trip. The workers down there had an interesting way of passing the time underground…
They carved incredibly intricate designs and figures out of the rock salt! Given that Kraków began mining there in the 1200s, the workers had a ton of time to hone their craft and create a truly otherworldly sight.
If you can believe it, Wieliczka actually produced table salt up until 2007. Now, it remains purely as a historical site, commemorating the incredible effort and artwork of the miners. Some top contemporary sculptors have also visited to contribute their talents.
3. Paris, France: Without a doubt, the Eiffel Tower is one of the world’s most famous sights. Once visitors reach its top, however, they spend too much time enjoying the view to notice a secret hidden just a few feet away — just as the architect intended.
Ignoring the critics who hated his design, Gustave Eiffel knew the tower would be a national treasure. He felt so confident, in fact, that he wanted his own space to take in the vista and entertain like-minded intellectuals. So he built a small apartment!
Wikimedia Commons / Aimé Morot
The apartment is out of use today, but guests can still peek in through the window. It contains much of its original furnishings, complete with mannequins of Eiffel and his good friend Thomas Edison.
Flickr / Serge Melki
4. Pohnpei, Micronesia: Over 30,000 people of all sorts of nationalities live on the isle of Pohnpei. However, none of them can claim to be part of the Saudeleur Dynasty that once ruled there. Their culture fell hundreds of years ago, though relics of their past still stand strong.
Flickr / April Moulton
The best record of Saudeleur glory is the ruined city of Nan Madol. With its stone walls sunken into canals, Nan Madol once gained a reputation as the Venice of the Pacific. These days, more people compare it to Atlantis.
Legend has it that a pair of wizards and a flying dragon created the city, and it’s a fitting story. For centuries the ruins have captivated visitors, including supernatural author H.P. Lovecraft, who set some of his works in Nan Madol.
5. New York City, New York: Most tourists don’t realize it, but the Big Apple’s real treasures are nowhere near the commercial bustle of Times Square. Roosevelt Island — a strip of land just to the east of Manhattan — holds one of the city’s eeriest buildings.
During the late 1800s, Renwick Hospital treated New Yorkers who fell victim to the smallpox outbreak. Its doctors abandoned it for a more modern facility years later. Though it crumbled and decayed, some interesting tenants moved right in.
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Enough felines moved into the hospital grounds that Renwick is now a wild cat sanctuary! They roam within the ramshackle hospital walls, while humans are seldom allowed to enter — bad news for anyone looking for an affordable New York City apartment.
6. Naours, France: Located just off the Somme river, the charming hamlet gives off every appearance of a quiet country town. But thanks to its role in World War I, Naours has some astonishing secrets lying just below its surface.
To protect themselves and civilians from enemy attacks, Allied forces dug out an entire underground city! Winding rock tunnels connect over 300 rooms, where the town waited out bombing raids and firefights.
If you visit Naours today, you can still see where Allied soldiers etched their names and other graffiti into the stone walls. They had little else to do while huddled together, but their efforts produced an astonishing historical monument.
Yahoo News / Francois Nascimbeni
7. Urfa, Turkey: In 1963, archaeologists came across a buried structure in the Anatolia region. Its towering pillars were impressive, but what really shocked the scientists was the site’s age. It appeared that this building dated back to the tenth millennium B.C.
By 1996, a German archaeologist named Klaus Schmidt began excavating the site, known as the Göbekli Tepe, in earnest. As he studied the layout and artifacts within, he came to believe that it was not a settlement, but a temple.
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His research suggested this may even be the oldest place of worship on Earth! With Schmidt’s passing in 2014, however, we may never know exactly who constructed the Göbekli Tepe or how they moved these massive stones.
8. Chattanooga, Tennessee: If you look closely at some of the buildings in downtown Chattanooga, you’ll notice some odd inconsistencies. For instance, is that the top of a window just inches above the sidewalk?
Atlas Obscura / Daniel Jackson
Surprisingly enough, there’s an entire underground city beneath Chattanooga! It follows the same grid of buildings and streets, and nobody is quite sure why it’s there. The documentation was likely lost years ago. Still, historians have a compelling theory.
Tennessee suffered a devastating flood in 1867. Chattanoogans, hoping to prevent further disasters, may have raised the street level by 15 feet. As a result, they abandoned entire rooms and buildings. Brave explorers can still go down and see the filled-in windows and tattered wallpaper.
9. Slab City, California: What happens when you cross a hippie commune with Mad Max? You get the surreal and gritty Slab City. Home to all kinds of drifters, artists, and wanderers, it’s closer to a mishmash of tents and RVs than an actual town. But that doesn’t stop many from calling it “the last free place in America.”
The Independent / Ruth Iorio
With no permanent utilities or local government, Slab City is about as close to off-the-grid as you can get. It also attracts braver tourists with sites like Salvation Mountain, a small hill covered in psychedelic paint and Bible verses.
The Independent / Ruth Iorio
10. Centralia, Pennsylvania: If you’re looking to spray paint your name across a highway, take a trip out to Centralia. You can easily do it because nobody drives on that road. Nobody does much of anything there. Just watch out for the pavement — it might be a little bit hot…
YouTube / Ground Pilot Images
An underground coal fire broke out in 1962 and continues in parts of the town today. Almost the entire population abandoned their homes, though a handful stayed behind. The government razed most buildings in Centralia to keep squatters from moving in, and the post office revoked this ghost town’s zip code.
11. Monowi, Nebraska: What beats an abandoned town? A town with exactly one resident! That’s the case for Monowi. Though it reached a booming population of 150 in the mid-1930s, nearly all its inhabitants moved away or died off over the years. But who exactly would stick around such a place?
Meet Elsie Eiler, the mayor, bartender, and librarian of Monowi. She’s in her eighties, but Elsie manages to keep herself and the town in good shape. Elsie’s “neighbors” — from 40 miles away — visit her every week, so she doesn’t get too lonely.
12. Whittier, Alaska: This town boasts a population of 214 people, which isn’t bad for a small Alaskan town. The only difference is that nearly all of them live in a single building. In fact, residents hardly ever need to leave their collective home, known as the Begich Towers.
Their building contains almost everything you’d need, whether it’s a police station, supermarket, church, or video rental store. In a pen outside the Begich Towers, some people even keep pet reindeer, which handle the frigid conditions way better than their human pals.
Reddit / HyruleanHero1988
13. Colma, California: Close to 2 million of Colma’s inhabitants have no idea they live there. How is that possible, you ask? Well, the town is home to 17 sprawling cemeteries, and the dead there far outnumber the 1,500 living citizens. So why are so many people buried there?
Colma first became a graveyard destination around the turn of the century, when nearby cities like San Francisco started running out of space. They shipped their recently deceased over to Colma, which now serves as the resting place for famous individuals including Wyatt Earp and William Randolph Hearst.
True West / History
14. Hand in the Desert: This titanic limb shoots out of nowhere in the salt flats of Chile’s Atacama Desert. Ever since Mario Irarrázabal sculpted it in the early 1980s, many adventurers have trekked out to glimpse the otherworldly monument for themselves.
15. Cat Island: There’s nothing inherently special about this isle off the east coast of Japan, but its inhabitants are another matter. Hundreds of stray cats overtook the small community years ago, and they now outnumber the human population 6 to 1!
16. Socotra Island: You’re not looking at some alien planet. Socotra, just off the coast of Yemen, hosts all kinds of plant species found nowhere else on Earth. Dragon blood trees, seen below, might just take the cake as the weirdest flora on the island.
Flickr / Vytautas Leonavicius
17. Sagrada Familia: This Antoni Gaudí cathedral in Barcelona might be the strangest place of worship anywhere. Its outside is a mishmash of architectural styles, while the interior resembles a heavenly kaleidoscope. Plus, it’s still under construction, so it’ll only get even more out there!
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18. Nazca Lines: Historians are baffled about how exactly these Peruvian carvings came about. Spreading hundreds of yards across the ground, these ancient lines depict various creatures — including a monkey and spider — but they are only fully visible from the sky.
19. Lake Hillier: Looks like someone spilled a ton of Pepto-Bismol! But in reality, this pink lake is completely natural. Its distinct color comes from its high salt content and the presence of particular strains of algae and bacteria.
20. Spotted Lake: During the summer, much of this lake in British Columbia, Canada, evaporates. A multitude of mineral pools emerges, leaving a captivating pattern on the surface. However, you can’t get too close: native tribes own the land around the lake.
21. Tianzi Mountains: Avatar fans will recognize these dagger-like mountains. James Cameron took inspiration from these natural wonders in China’s Hunan Province. The highest peaks surpass 4,000 feet, and an eerie curtain of fog almost always covers the region.
22. Pamukkale: These swimmers look like they’re taking a polar plunge, but they’re actually quite warm! Pamukkale — Turkish for “Cotton Palace” — has gained fame for its hot springs and terraced white rocks, made of the mineral travertine.
23. Bermuda Triangle: Stretching from Florida to Puerto Rico to Bermuda, this region has become infamous for a number of ship and plane disappearances. Wild conspiracy theories blame a strong magnetic field or even alien abduction, but there’s no proof.
24. Fly Geyser: Should you visit the Black Rock Desert in Nevada, it would be difficult to miss this tie-dye landmark. The buildup of algae and minerals are responsible for the neon layer.
25. Glass Beach: You can find smoothed-over glass fragments on many shores, but none of them have as much as California’s Glass Beach. While the coast used to be filled with litter in the mid-1900s, the ocean transformed it into colorful pebbles.
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26. Grand Prismatic Spring: Yellowstone National park has a lot more to offer than just Old Faithful. It also has this largest hot spring in the United States. Under certain conditions, its rim divides light into a rainbow prism.
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27. Giant’s Causeway: According to legend, an ancient giant built this coastal stretch to escape a larger foe. Human-sized folks enjoy it, too, however, as the thousands of hexagonal pillars — likely from a volcanic eruption — make for an unusual vista.
28. Buzludzha: Anyone who enters this dome would be forgiven for thinking they wandered into an alien abduction. However, Buzludzha is just a dilapidated Communist monument in Bulgaria. In its prime, the government decorated it with banners featuring Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin.
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29. Zhangye Danxia Landform: Did Candyland come to life? Millions of years of unique mineral deposits across these Chinese mountains created the hard-to-believe stripe effect. In fact, it topped a poll about the most beautiful location in China.
Flickr / Sergio Lub
30. Red Beach: Speaking of China, it’s also home to these distinctly colored waters. Each fall, a type of seaweed called Sueda turns dark red and covers the water all around the Red Beach. You can’t go swimming in it, but there is an extended platform to admire the vibrant coast.
31. Thor’s Well: You don’t want to get too close to this sinkhole on the Oregon coast. After it fills up with a large amount of seawater, it spews it straight up into the air. When that happens, it’s as loud as the God of Thunder himself!
32. Goblin Alley State Park: Don’t worry, this site is much safer than it sounds. The park features thousands of rock spires – called goblins or hoodoos — that resemble monsters ready to pounce on any hikers below.
33. Badab-e-Surt: Think of this wonder as Iran’s answer to Turkey’s Cotton Palace. Badab-e-Surt also offers many tiers of natural hot springs, except it’s dyed red. You can thank the high presence of iron oxide, the chemical that causes rust, for that.
Flickr / Ari Mehrpour