Dark Tourism Is a Thing: 10 Creepy Places to Visit This October
Why are we drawn to the sites of natural and manmade disasters, like Chernobyl? Often it's to pay our respects — and learn much more than books can teach us.
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Chernobyl Nuclear Plant Disaster
Since HBO's award-winning miniseries, Chernobyl, tourism to Ukraine's Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant has reportedly soared by 30-40 percent. Visitors come to see the site of the world's worst nuclear disaster and the abandoned town of Pripyat.
This kind of dark tourism has value, says Steph Millington, Intrepid Travel’s Europe product manager. "Travel can be an incredible force for good, educating you beyond any textbook." While dark tourism can generate strong emotions, she adds, guides can help you prepare for your visit and show respect. Shown here: rusting bumper cars in Pripyat's deserted amusement park.
Hirsoshima A-Bomb Dome
People still pay their respects at Hiroshima's Genbaku Dome, the only building near ground zero that survived a World War II atomic bomb. Japan preserved the ruins to remind visitors of the devastating power of nuclear weapons and symbolize hope for world peace. You can see the dome, a UNESCO World Heritage site, in Peace Memorial Park, along with a museum of artifacts from the era.
Eastern State Penitentiary
Built 180 years ago, Pennsylvania’s Eastern State Penitentiary was once famous for its impressive architecture, and some of the country’s most notorious criminals did time in its sky-lit cells. Now the abandoned prison offers interactive experiences (you can learn how to pick a lock) and guided tours (look for tunnels dug by escaping convicts). Peer into gangster Al Capone’s cell, furnished with fine furniture and paintings. Terror Behind the Walls, the country's biggest haunted house, opens here on select nights from September through November. More things to do in Philadelphia.
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Who wants to see a big hole in the ground? Lots of us when it's the 320-foot deep Sedan Crater at the Nevada National Security Site, 65 miles north of Las Vegas. The crater, a quarter-mile in diameter, developed in 1962 during testing for a thermonuclear device. The radioactive fallout has decayed enough to allow guided tours of the site, but they're popular and limited, so book ahead. Make a side trip to the National Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas. But don't go to Area 51 to look for aliens without our guide.
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Iceland may have more volcanic activity than anywhere else in the world, and when Eyjafjallajökull blew its top in 2010, the glacier-covered volcano made history — not for the size of the eruption, but for an ash cloud that caused the second-largest airspace shutdown since World War II. Businesses lost billions of dollars and millions were stranded, but savvy strategists turned the disaster around by promoting what to see and do in Iceland while it was in the news. Take a snowmobile tour to see the crater, two hours from Reykjavik, and the aftermath of the explosion in Thorsmork Glacier Valley.
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Titanic, Britain's "unsinkable” luxury liner, hit an iceberg and sank on its maiden voyage in 1912, and we've been fascinated by the tragedy ever since. Some 1500 souls perished in the icy Atlantic, and the remains of the ship will disappear in another 14 years, experts say, eaten away by underwater bacteria. Remember the lost at Northern Ireland’s Titanic Belfast, where you can walk the decks of interactive galleries, take an electronic "dark ride" and see recovered china, letters and other artifacts from the wreck.
Thousands died when Mount Vesuvius erupted over the Roman city of Pompeii in AD 79. In 1784, Pompeii was rediscovered by archeologists who found gold coins, sculptures, bodies and even loaves of bread preserved in the debris. Walk the old city streets to experience a day in Roman life, frozen in time, and consider how the world can change in a heartbeat. Shown here: The Temple of Jupiter ruins, with Mount Vesuvius in the background.
Hindenburg Crash Site
The 1937 footage of the Hindenburg going down in flames is still shocking. Step back in time to investigate the disaster (rumors of sabotage still circulate) and see the memorial, an outline of the Hindenburg made with chains, along with a life-size replica of the ship’s control car and a few remaining artifacts. The memorial and crash site are in Lake Hurst, New Jersey, on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. This is an active US Air Force base, so you'll have to book one of the limited tours through the Navy Lakehurst Historical Society to see them. Shown here: The Hindenburg Imprint, as seen on Channel's Monumental Mysteries.
Donghekou Earthquake Ruins
Some 90,000 people were reported dead or missing when the Great Wenchuan earthquake hit south-central China in 2008. The magnitude 8 quake triggered landslides that destroyed entire towns and villages; the Dongheku ruins are shown here. It also exposed the shoddy construction of many schools, leading to calls for improvements. Visitors to the part-cemetery, part-museum Wenchuan Earthquake Epicenter Memorial Hall in Yingxiu can pay their respects and experience a simulated earthquake. Warning: Some visitors are so disturbed, they walk out.
Detroit's Ruin Porn
"Ruin porn” refers to images made by photographers and artists who see beauty in urban decay. For years, Detroit was the country's ruin porn capital, although many of the blighted buildings are now being restored and revitalized. If you want to see the urban ruins, go soon. Tours are available, but the Michigan Central Station, shown here, is just one of many structures being redeveloped. Ford Motor Company expects to reopen it in 2022 as a huge innovation campus.
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