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By definition, a ghost town is an abandoned town or city. Some cities become ghost towns because the economic activity that supported them has failed; others are abandoned after natural or human-caused disasters such as earthquakes, floods, or war.
Ghost towns can be found all over the world, but some of them have become very famous. This is due either to being very well preserved or to the reasons which lead to their abandonment. In Europe, some of the famous ghost towns are Pompeii and Propyat (Cernobyl). But ghost towns in Europe can be found in almost every country.
Here is a list of some of the most famous and interesting, sites which are definitely worth your visit:
Pompeii is located in Campania, not far from Naples. It’s probably the most famous ghost town in Europe. The Roman city with the same name was engulfed by Mt. Vesuvius in 79AD which erupted, killing 20,000 people. The volcanic ash preserved the city as it was in at fateful day, and today, the excavation site along with the outdoor museum is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Tickets are €11 per adult, but if you want to visit Herculaneum as well, you can consider the €20 for the five sites pass. During the summer the site is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Pompeii is a walking site only, so ake sure to wear comfortable shoes and bring lots of water.
The neighboring Herculaneum suffered the same fate. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and many say that this is a more interesting place to visit than Pompeii as the buildings are better preserved and you can better see the magnitude of the natural disaster. The easiest way to get to Pompeii (and/or Herculaneum) is from Naples or Sorrento. There are trains available (30 to 40 min) and tickets cost between €1.80 and €3.20. Pompeii is about 50 m from the train station. There are also buses from Naples.
Chernobyl , Ukraine
On April 26, 1986 reactor number 4 exploded releasing about nine tons of radioactive material into the environment, contaminating parts of Ukraine, Poland, Russia and Belarus. Nearly 50 people died that day but countless others have been affected by the radiation. Just 3 km from the reactor, there’s Pripyat, a town which was entirely evacuated after the incident.
A power plant isn’t exactly everyone’s dream vacation destination, but every year curious tourists make their way here to see what’s left after the world’s worst nuclear disaster. There are several Kiev-based tour agencies that offer all-inclusive day trips to Chernobyl. It’s incredible how close tourists can get to the reactor, considering that it still contains radioactive material. The ghost town of Pripyat can also be toured and you are assured a …ghostly experience. Aside from the reactor and the city, you can also see the abandoned villages located around the exclusion zone.
The easiest way to get to Chernobyl is by way of Kiev (the city is located 70 km from the capital). Day trips cost between $100 and $300 and there’s no independent traveling in the area. Kiev is served by two main international airlines and there are daily flights from all over Europe. There’s a direct flight from the United States, as well.
Balestrino is a very curious case of ghost town particularly because it’s hard to find information about the city. Records date back to the 11th century when the city was owned by the Benedictine abbey of San Pietro dei Monti. In late 19th century the area was struck by a series of earthquakes, although it’s not sure how they affected the city. Records show repairs being done in the city at about the same time. Finally, in 1953 the town was abandoned. About 400 inhabitants left moved to a safer area (to the west) where the city still exists.
The easiest way to get here is from Genoa. Balestrino is located 70 km away and currently has a population of 575 people. It’s best to rent a car to explore the area.
Tyneham, Dorset, England
Tyneham became a ghost town because the land has been expropriated by the government. During World War II, this town was acquired by the government to build an artillery range.
The city is located near Lulworth on the Isle of Purbeck, about 15 km from Dorchester and is only accessible when the Lulworth Military Range is open to the public. Access to the site is by foot either via the South West Coast Path or from Lulworth Castle and Tyneham car parks. When visiting the place, keep to the official footpath and mind the local notices. Unexploded shells, tanks and armored vehicles are used here.
The easiest way to get here is via Dorchester, England. You can get here, from London, either by train or by bus.
Oradour-sur-Glane was a large town near Limoges that was destroyed on June 10, 1944 by a German Waffen-SS company. All men were taken to a barn where they were shot in the legs so that they wouldn’t be able to move. Then, the barn was set on fire. The women and children, locked up in the church, were also incinerated. In total 190 men, 247 women and 205 children died in the carnage.
After the war a new village was built nearby and the old one was kept as a memorial. There’s also a museum which includes items recovered from the burned-out buildings.
The easiest way to get here is by way of Limoges, which is served by low-cost carriers such as Ryanair. Once in the city, rent a car to get to Oradour-sur-Glane.
Imber, Wiltshire, UK
During the Second World War many people had to give up their homes, usually to the enemies. But in this case, the British Army took over the city. They didn’t destroy anything, as the army needed this town to practice fighting in built-up areas prior to the D-Day Landings. After the war ended, the army decided not to leave the city so the first city settled by the ancient Britons became a ghost town.
At the time the army took over Imber, there were 150 inhabitants in the city. At its peak, the city had 450 inhabitants (in 1851). At first it seemed that the army would give back the city, with all the damage done repaired. But they changed their mind and it wasn’t until 1961 that the army won the trial.
Imber is open for the public 50 days a year: during the Easter and Christmas periods and throughout the month of August. Aside from the church, everything else has been destroyed but the city is a museum you can walk through.
Nearby Salisbury Plain is also famous for Stonehenge, so you can plan to visit both places during your vacation. You can start your journey in either Salisbury or Amesbury and then explore the area. Just fly into London – accessible from all over the world – and then continue either with the public transport or by rental car.
Pyramiden, Svalbard, Norway
Pyramiden is an abandoned Russian settlement and coal mining community on the archipelago of Svaldbard, Norway. The city was founded by Sweden but later sold to Russia. In 1998 it was abandoned by the Russians. Russia wants to reopen the city, but this time for tourism purposes only so the buildings are currently being upgraded.
There are no restrictions in visiting the city, which is accessible by boat or snowmobile. There are guided tours available (including in English). The easiest way to get here is by way of Longyearbyen, Svalbard’s capital located about 50 km away. It is served by flights to/from Tromso year round and Olso during the summer. To get to Tromso, located north of the Artic Circle, you need to come by way of Oslo (or Stockholm, during the summer).
Craco is a medieval village located in the Region of Basilicata and the Province of Matera in Italy. It is the typical hilly town , built that way for defense reasons. Due to poor agricultural conditions, inhabitants started to leave the town. Then, between 1892 and 1922 it was struck by a series of earthquakes and landslides. In 1963, the remaining inhabitants were transferred to Craco Peschiera and now Craco is uninhabited.
The city can be visited but everything is crumbling and continuing to decay. Still, it is an interesting medieval town to see. The nearest airports are Bari (120 km) and Naples (250 km). You can get to Craco either by rental car or by train (the nearby Metaponto is connected to the rest of Italy).
Read more about lesser known places in Europe:
- 8 of the World’s Most Beautiful Coastal Towns
- 10 Lesser Known Places to Visit in Italy
- 10 Best Beaches in Europe You’ve Probably Never Heard Of
- 5 Secret Greek Islands