Tired of the humdrum routine of suburban life? Sick of neat rows of townhouses that all look alike? Feeling the urge to explore someplace unorthodox?
Let’s take a look at 7 of the weirdest towns in the world, and what makes them so extraordinary — for better or worse.
1. Fire Down Below
This is a place you definitely don’t want to visit, but it’s fascinating nonetheless.
The Pennsylvania town of Centralia was once a fairly normal coal mining hub of some 1,400 people. That all changed in 1962, when a fire was accidentally set underground. The subterranean inferno continues to rage to this day, incinerating buried layers of coal. Today, the blaze covers perhaps 400 hectares beneath Centralia.
Due to unstable ground, fire hazards, and noxious gases like carbon monoxide, the state was forced to condemn the town. Most of the buildings have been demolished, leaving behind only an eerie web of paved boulevards that seem to lead nowhere and serve no one.
However, there were still 7 people living in Centralia as of 2013. Pennsylvania agreed to let these foolhardy residents stay under the condition that their property would revert to the state upon their deaths.
2. The Chinese Alps
In the Guangdong province of China, a mining company decided to build a housing tract based on the Austrian town of Hallstatt, complete with parish church.
Building elaborate replicas of foreign landmarks is something of a trend in China. For example, an exact copy of the Eiffel Tower stands in the middle of the housing estate of Tianducheng. But this is the first time the Chinese have ever replicated an entire town.
Often, these models tend to be part of high-end residential projects; fittingly, property values in the Chinese Hallstatt are actually higher than in the Austrian original!
3. Caving In
400 miles inland of Adelaide, in South Australia, lies the curiously-named town of Coober Pedy. It’s a mining community of 1,700 or so people, known for producing most of the world’s supply of opals. But that’s not all it’s known for.
Almost everyone in Coober Pedy lives underground — a legacy of the town’s founders, who decided the best way to escape the sun, heat, and fauna of the outback was to make their homes in the earth they excavated.
There are underground churches, bars, restaurants, and even hotel rooms with opals stuck in the walls and special ceiling nets to catch dirt as it falls down the ventilation shafts supplying fresh air from the surface.
Given the Hobbit hole thing, Coober Pedy is becoming nearly as famous for its tourism as it is for its opals.
4. Accidental Accent
The town of Tangier, Virginia, on the small island of the same name in Chesapeake Bay, may seem pretty normal when you look at it. But it’s what you’ll hear in this little enclave of the east coast that makes it truly unusual.
Everyone in Tangier speaks in a totally unique accent. To outsiders, the islanders’ way of speaking sounds halfway between a British accent and an American one. This is a result of the Cornish settlers who first set up shop here in the 17th century, combined with pretty severe isolation from the mainland. It’s a place where not much has changed since colonial times. Indeed, many residents retain the surname ‘Crockett’, the name of an early pioneer in the area.
Tangier has also given its name to a rare genetic disorder (Tangier disease) which causes deficiencies in the body’s production of so-called “good” cholesterol. The disease is exceptionally rare, but not unique to the island.
If you want to see (and hear) Tangier Island, however, you should do so quickly. Its surface area has shrunk by two thirds since 1850 due to rising sea levels, and there may be nothing left in a few decades. It seems all but certain that Tangier will have to be evacuated in the coming decades, its residents dispersed into a diaspora.
5. Feeling Blue
Chefchaouen, Morocco is blue. There’s no other way to put it. And that’s a design choice that really makes it stand out in stark relief against the backdrop of the nearby Rif mountains. It’s a 15th century town of 40,000 or so inhabitants located just inland from Tangier. (The Moroccan Tangier, not the one with the wicked accents.)
Why the medina (old town) of Chefchaouen is blue remains something of a mystery. Some have theorized that the tradition was started by Jews who once resided here, since blue is a holy color for the Jewish people. If that is so, they left little trace. Whatever the reason, Chefchaouen’s azure walls and squares have attracted many a visitor. You’ll find plenty to do, see, and eat, and welcoming accommodations.
All told, it’s the perfect little hideaway to relieve you from the stress of more urban destinations.
Want to learn more? Check out Why Chefchaouen, Morocco Should Top Your Bucket List.
6. Ready to Rock?
Setenil de las Bodegas in Cádiz, Spain, is popular with tourists because the town is built into the sides of the surrounding Andalusian mountains, its pristine white walls retreating into impressive cliff faces.
The site has been inhabited since Roman times, but was truly built up in the 12th century by the Moors, who were attracted to the natural protection provided by… you know, living in a freaking mountain! Today, those impressive overhangs provide protection as well — from the hot Spanish sun!
7. Home of the Homeless
The California “town” known as Slab City is sometimes referred to as the last free place in America. Located in the Sonoran Desert, about 150 miles northeast of San Diego, it serves as a winter retreat for transients, squatters, RV enthusiasts, and other free spirits looking to live off the grid.
There are no rents or mortgages, no site fees, no property taxes, no police, no city council. Of course, there are also no zip codes, municipal utilities, electrical grids, or any of the other amenities we take for granted in the outside world. Such are the wages of absolute freedom.
Thankfully, visitors are never too far from civilization since the town of Nilas is only four miles away.
Many of the thousands who flock to Slab City each winter are retirees — whether they be impoverished or merely adventurous. There is a strong spiritual component to the place, with many religious art installations and other curiosities.
The land is owned by the state of California.
Although the majority of Slabians (Slabanese?) live here only seasonally, there is a small cohort of permanent residents committed to surviving all by themselves in the scorching summers of the Sonoran.
We hope this list inspired you to think about visiting somewhere weird, wonderful, and new. Safe travels!