Offbeat Places to Visit Around the World
Who doesn’t enjoy the offbeat and unusual when experiencing a new city or country? The typical tourist attractions are fine but sometimes the most memorable moments of a trip can be something unexpected like a haunted castle or an exotic farmers' market or some bizarre architectural relic from the past. Atlas of Improbable Places: A Journey to the World’s Most Unusual Corners by Travis Elborough and Alan Horsfield is just the ticket for those curious travelers who like off-the-grid touring.
The atlas is divided up into intriguing categories like “Floating Worlds” and “Subterranean Realms” and some of the locations are appropriately remote like Mount Roraima in Canaima National Park in Venezuela, a misty, mountaintop terrain where you can find one-of-a-kind breeds of black frogs, dragonflies and tarantulas. Of course, not all of the locations are that difficult to reach. In fact, some are right here in the U.S.A. Find out more about offbeat, underexplored places and the book's authors here. For more insights into odd locations, check out our favorite picks from Elborough and Horsfield's Atlas of Improbable Places here:
Atlas of Improbable Places kicks off with “Dream Creations” and one of the most impressive is Auroville, a utopian city created in 1968 in Pondicherry, Southern India. Partly powered by solar energy and committed to organic farming and recycling, the city is noted for the giant gold geodesic domed temple at its center which was designed for public meditation. Much more fanciful is Portmeirion, the pastel-colored Italianate village created by architect Clough Williams-Ellis in Wales. Inspired by the fishing village of Portofino, this charming location on the estuary of the River Dwyryd has a slightly surreal quality and that may be why it was chosen as the main setting for the cult British TV series, The Prisoner (Oh yes, there is a Prisoner fan shop selling collectibles in the village).
If you are traveling to either San Francisco or Los Angeles, you might want to make the effort to visit Hearst Castle in San Simeon, which is located on the Pacific coast about midway between those two cities. Quite frankly, there is nothing quite like this spectacular estate which was the former retreat of newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst. The sprawling grounds (127 acres of gardens, pools, walkways and terraces), Hearst’s legendary art collection and the Mediterranean Revival style mansion (165 rooms) make it one of the most visually stunning museums in the world. You could spend an entire day here and not see everything.
Abandoned cities and ghost towns can also be a fun and offbeat travel experience. A good example is Concrete City, a housing development for employees of the local mine in Nanticoke, Pennsylvania that was considered technologically advanced for 1911. But the town had too many problems (heating and sewer problems) and was abandoned in 1924. Thanks to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, you can still see what remains. Even more fascinating is the Lost City of San Juan Parangaricutiro in Mexico. An erupting volcano in 1943 forced the residents to flee while covering most of the town with volcanic ash. Somehow the local church was spared and today the surviving cathedral has become a site of pilgrimage.
Among the architectural oddities you can still visit are Quaker visionary Samuel Hill’s homage to Stonehenge in Klickitat, Washington known as Maryhill Stonehenge and Fields of the Woods, an outdoor biblical theme park in Murphy, North Carolina that features the world’s largest display of the Ten Commandments. Most famous of all, however, is the original 1831 London Bridge (shown above) which was sold, transferred in pieces across the Atlantic and reassembled in Lake Havasu City, Arizona in 1971.
The section on “Floating Worlds” in the atlas includes Hirta, an island in the St. Kilda archipelago that was once the most remote outpost in the British Isles and today is preserved by the National Trust for Scotland for researchers who come to study the giant rock formations and dramatic landscapes. In contrast to this is The Palm, an artificial island paradise (shown above) that covers a forty mile area of Dubai’s coastline and is marketed as the “Eighth Wonder of the World.”
Those who like to be spooked will be intrigued by such otherworldly spaces as The Demon Forest in Aokigahara, Japan (the setting for such recents films as The Forest and The Sea of Trees). In the U.S., we have Colma, California, also known as the City of the Dead (map displayed above) because the deceased outnumber the living here; there are 17 cemeteries with such famous buried luminaries as Yankees baseball legend Joe DiMaggio and western lawman Wyatt Earp.
Last but not least are some fascinating alternatives for underground touring. The Telephone Tapping Centre in Berlin, Germany was originally part of a secret project called Operation Stopwatch or Operation Gold and consisted of a 1,476 foot lang tunnel which was used by British agents for an East Germany eavesdropping operation during the Cold War. You can still visit a section of the tunnel at the Allied Museum in Berlin. An even older site is Rail Mail, an underground railroad in London, which opened in 1927 and was used to transport mail around the London boroughs as a more effective way of distribution instead of traveling the clogged and busy streets. The operation was eventually suspended in 2003 but coming soon in 2017, visitors will be able to experience Rail Mail (shown above) when the Postal Museum in London opens their new exhibition space.