By Joshua Foer
By Ella Morton
By Dylan Thuras
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“A wanderlust-whetting cabinet of curiosities on paper.”— New York Times
Inspiring equal parts wonder and wanderlust, Atlas Obscura is a phenomenon of a travel book that shot to the top of bestseller lists when it was first published and changed the way we think about the world, expanding our sense of how strange and marvelous it really is.
This second edition takes readers to even more curious and unusual destinations, with more than 100 new places, dozens and dozens of new photographs, and two very special features: twelve city guides, covering Berlin, Budapest, Buenos Aires, Cairo, London, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Moscow, New York City, Paris, Shanghai, and Tokyo. Plus a foldout map with a dream itinerary for the ultimate around-the-world road trip. More a cabinet of curiosities than traditional guidebook, Atlas Obscura revels in the unexpected, the overlooked, the bizarre, and the mysterious. Here are natural wonders, like the dazzling glowworm caves in New Zealand, or a baobob tree in South Africa so large it has a pub inside where 15 people can sit and drink comfortably. Architectural marvels, including the M. C. Escher–like stepwells in India. Mind-boggling events, like the Baby-Jumping Festival in Spain—and no, it’s not the babies doing the jumping, but masked men dressed as devils who vault over rows of squirming infants.
Every page gets to the very core of why humans want to travel in the first place: to be delighted and disoriented, uprooted from the familiar and amazed by the new. With its compelling descriptions, hundreds of photographs, surprising charts, maps for every region of the world, and new city guides, it is a book you can open anywhere and be transported. But proceed with caution: It’s almost impossible not to turn to the next entry, and the next, and the next.
When we launched Atlas Obscura in 2009, our goal was to create a catalog of all the places, people, and things that inspire our sense of wonder. One of us had recently spent two months driving all over the United States searching out tiny museums and eccentric outsider art projects. The other was about to set off for a year of travels in Eastern Europe. We wanted a way of finding the curious, out-of-the-way places that don’t often make it into traditional guidebooks—the kinds of destinations that expand our sense of what is possible, but which we would never be able to find without a tip from someone in the know. Over the years, thousands of people from all over the world have joined us in this collaborative project by contributing entries to the Atlas. This book represents just a tiny fraction of what our community has unearthed. Every one of you out there who added a place to the Atlas, made an edit, or sent in a photo: You are all our coauthors. Thank you.
This revised second edition has been updated to include over 100 incredible new places that members of our community have shared with us since the first edition of this book was published in 2016. We’ve also added a foldout map depicting our idea of the world’s most amazing (and longest) road trip. Though Atlas Obscura may have the trappings of a travel guide, it is in truth something else. The site, and this book, are a kind of wunderkammer of places, a cabinet of curiosities that is meant to inspire wonderlust as much as wanderlust. In fact, many of the places in this book are in no way “tourist sites” and should not be treated as such. Others are so out of the way, so treacherously situated, or (in at least one case) so deep beneath the surface, that few readers will ever be able to visit them. But here they are, sharing this marvelously strange planet with us.
This book would never exist without the incomparable and indefatigable Ella Morton, or our ace project manager, Marc Haeringer, who guided this book from beginning to end. Though we have tried to check the accuracy of every fact in these pages, please don’t book any plane tickets without first doing your own independent research. Or do! Just be ready for an adventure.
We often ask ourselves just how large a truly comprehensive compendium of the world’s wonders and curiosities could ultimately be. The economics of printing and the dimensions of the page set limits on what could be included in this book. But even our website, which faces no such constraints, can never be complete. There is an Atlas Obscura yet to be written that is as comprehensive as the world itself, for wonder can be found wherever we are open to searching for it.
Joshua Foer and Dylan Thuras
cofounders of Atlas Obscura
Great Britain and Ireland
England • Ireland • Northern Ireland • Scotland
Austria • Belgium • France • Germany • Greece • Cyprus • Italy • Netherlands • Portugal • Spain • Switzerland
Bulgaria • Croatia • Czech Republic • Estonia • Hungary • Latvia • Lithuania • Macedonia • Poland • Romania • Russia • Serbia • Slovakia • Ukraine
Denmark • Finland • Iceland • Norway • Sweden
The Silver Swan
This uncannily lifelike musical automaton mimics a full-size swan floating on a pond of spun-glass rods. Created in the 1770s, it uses three clockwork mechanisms to perform a 40-second routine set to calming bell-like music. When wound, the swan moves its neck from side to side to preen its feathers before dipping its beak into the pond and snatching up a tiny fish.
First displayed in British jeweler James Cox’s Mechanical Museum, the swan was purchased by collector John Bowes in 1872 and is now housed in the Bowes Museum—a French chateau in the north of England.
Bowes Museum, Newgate. A museum curator demonstrates the swan at 2 p.m. daily. The Bowes Museum is 17 miles (27.4 km) from Darlington railway station, which is a 2.5-hour train trip from London. Buses run from the station to the museum. N 54.542142 W 1.915462
Walking, Eating, Moving Machines
Automatons—mechanical figures that move in an eerily lifelike manner—have existed for centuries, but their heyday was during the 18th and 19th centuries.
The Turk had a human microcontroller.
The Turk, built in 1770, was one of the most impressive: It consisted of a mechanical man in a turban who played chess against anyone willing to take him on. The machine toured the world, battling opponents like Napoleon Bonaparte and Benjamin Franklin. During the early 19th century, the Turk’s apparent intelligence and skill dazzled audiences and frustrated skeptics, who suspected a trick.
In the end, eagle-eyed observers, including Edgar Allan Poe, who encountered the Turk in Virginia in 1835, discovered the secret: a hidden human. The cabinet beneath the chess board held a squashed chess master who made every move by candlelight, pulling levers to operate the Turk’s arm and keeping track of the moves on his or her own board. The Turk was nothing but an elaborate hoax.
While the Turk was frustrating its opponents, genuine automatons delighted onlookers with their realistic movements. The Digesting Duck, the 1739 creation of Jacques de Vaucanson, flapped its wings, moved its head, ate grains, and shortly afterward defecated. The digestion process was not authentic—the duck’s backside housed a reservoir of droppings that would fall in response to the amount of grains being “eaten”—but it was the first step toward what de Vaucanson hoped would eventually be a genuine eating machine.
Pierre Jaquet-Droz and his two sons spent six years starting in 1768 crafting The Musician, The Draftsman, and The Writer, a trio of dolls now housed in Switzerland’s Museum of Art and History. The female musician plays an organ, her chest rising and falling to mimic breathing and her body moving in the manner of an impassioned pianist. The draftsman and writer are dressed identically in lacy shirts, gold satin breeches, and red velvet robes, and each sits at a desk. While the draftsman draws one of four programmed images, including portraits of Louis XV and a dog, the writer dips a goose feather in ink and can write custom text of up to 40 characters.
Steam Men were all the rage in the late 1800s, beginning with 22-year-old New Jersey resident Zadoc Dederick’s 1868 model: a 7-foot-9-inch (236 cm) man in a top hat who pulled a carriage. His bulky torso housed a boiler that generated enough power to propel him forward, one footstep at a time.
Canadian George Moore’s 1893 version, unattached to a carriage, measured 6 feet (2 m) tall and resembled a medieval knight. An exhaust pipe emerged from his nostril, making him appear to have steamy breath whenever he walked. His movement was limited by one crucial factor: Since he was attached to a horizontal stabilizing arm, he could only walk in circles.
Tipu’s Tiger, a tidy representation of the enmity between the residents of India and their 18th-century British colonizers, is an Indian-made, crank-operated toy located in the Victoria & Albert Museum. It depicts a tiger mauling a helpless British officer. Turning the handle makes the man’s left hand rise weakly in an attempt to shield his face from the attack. As the hand moves up and down, air rushes through two pairs of bellows. The resulting sounds—beastly growls and the cries of a man in his death throes—leave no ambiguity as to who wins the tussle.
Tipu’s Tiger, immortalized mid-meal.
The Poison Garden
To enter the poison garden of Alnwick, you must first fetch a guide to unlock the black iron gates, which are decorated with a white skull and crossbones and a worrying message: “These plants can kill.”
Inspired by the poison gardens in 16th-century Padua where the Medicis plotted the frothing ends of their royal enemies, the Duchess of Northumberland created this garden in 2005, dedicating it entirely to poisonous or narcotic flora.
The duchess, Jane Percy, is an unlikely patron. In 1995, her husband unexpectedly became the twelfth Duke of Northumberland following his brother’s death, and Alnwick Castle fell into their family’s care. Roaming the elaborate gardens, the newly minted duchess decided to transform an overgrown, neglected section into something that was at once both traditional and dangerous. The poison garden now sits nestled among 14 acres of greenery dotted with water sculptures, a cherry orchard, a bamboo labyrinth, and an enormous tree house.
This carefully curated garden contains about 100 plants that have the power to stimulate, intoxicate, sicken, or kill. Guides detail their dangerous properties while enforcing the strict “No touching; no smelling” rules. Poppies, cannabis, hallucinogenic mushrooms, and deadly strychnine are among the innocent-looking greenery. Because of the danger posed by the flora (some can kill or sicken just through touch), some plants are caged, and the garden is secured under a 24-hour security watch.
Denwick Lane, Alnwick. The garden is open from March to October. N 55.414098 W 1.700515
The Chained Books of Hereford Cathedral
This cathedral contains two medieval marvels: a chained library of rare books and one of the earliest maps of the world.
In the Middle Ages, before the availability of the printing press, volumes on law and religion were quite rare and valuable. To protect against theft, the books at Hereford Cathedral were chained to desks, pulpits, and study tables.
The chained library was created in 1611 when a collection of hand-transcribed, hand-bound books was moved into the Lady Chapel. Most of the volumes in the collection are acquisitions dating back to the 1100s, although the oldest book in the collection, the Hereford Gospels, dates to about the year 800.
The medieval world map stored at Hereford Cathedral depicts three continents: Europe, Asia, and Africa. On the as-yet-unexplored periphery of these lands roam fire-breathing dragons, dog-faced men, people who survive on only the scent of apples, and the Monocoli, a race of mythical beings who take shade under their giant feet when the sun becomes too bright.
The 5 × 4.5-foot map (1.5 × 1.4 m), created around 1300, is part geography, part history, and part religious teaching aid. A lack of confirmed information on Asian and African geography presented no obstacle for the mapmaker, who used hearsay, mythology, and imagination to fill in the gaps—which explains the four-eyed Ethiopians.
5 College Cloisters, Cathedral Close, Hereford. The cathedral is a 3.5-hour train trip from London and a 15-minute walk from Hereford railway station. N 52.053613 W 2.714945
Also in Northern England
Hartlepool · This derelict chemical plant on the North Sea is a photogenic industrial ruin.
Beverley Sanctuary Stones
Beverley · A haven for criminals of all stripes, these stones mark a sacred area where the medieval church provided asylum to thieves and brigands.
Mechanical Clock at Salisbury Cathedral
The mechanical clock at Salisbury Cathedral is old, but just how old is the subject of ongoing debate. The exact date is a matter of importance, for if it was built in 1386, as many horologists believe, it is the oldest working clock in the world.
The faceless clock introduced Salisbury to the new concept of standardized hours, which would replace the season-based increments of the sundial era. It chimed hourly, reminding townspeople to attend church services, and provided a reliable structure for each day.
In 1928, following its rediscovery in the cathedral tower, the clock was disassembled and restored. Although it no longer chimes, today the clock functions in much the same way as it did more than 600 years ago, striking away the hours in the north aisle of the nave.
Salisbury Cathedral, 33 The Close, Salisbury. Trains from London (Waterloo) take 90 minutes. The cathedral is a 10-minute walk from Salisbury station. N 51.064933 W 1.797677
The Tempest Prognosticator
Surgeon George Merryweather had a passion for leeches. According to Merryweather, the creepy worms possessed humanlike instincts, experienced the hollow ache of loneliness, and were capable of forecasting weather. All this gave him an idea for a machine that he believed could transform meteorology.
In 1851, Merryweather unveiled his “tempest prognosticator” at the Great Exhibition in London. Having witnessed the agitation of freshwater leeches during the lead-up to a heavy storm, the doctor concluded he could build a leech-powered weather forecasting device. The contraption resembled a miniature merry-go-round, but in place of the usual ponies were a dozen glass bottles, each containing a single leech. Should a storm approach, the creatures would make their way to the top of the glass, triggering a wire connected to a central bell.
Though certainly novel, Merryweather’s invention did not catch on. His vision of the British government deploying tempest prognosticators nationwide remained mere fantasy, but his invention lives on in the form of a reconstructed version prominently displayed in the Barometer World Exhibition museum in Devon. (Another can be found in the Whitby Museum in North Yorkshire.)
Quicksilver Barn, Merton, Okehampton. The museum is open by appointment. N 50.891854 W 4.095316
Also in Southwest England
The World’s Largest Greenhouse
St Austell · Huge inflated domes at the Eden Project contain artificial biomes with over one million types of plants.
Lost Gardens of Heligan
St Austell · A 400-year-old garden with fantastical sculptures that has been restored to beauty after years of neglect.
The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic
Boscastle · The world’s largest collection of occult- and witchcraft-related artifacts includes dried cats.
The House That Moved
Exeter · A 21-ton Tudor home built in the 1500s and moved 230 feet (70 m) down the street on thick iron rails in 1961 to make way for a new road.
The Cheddar Man and Cannibals Museum
Cheddar · A museum about life, death, and cannibalism in prehistoric Britain.
Witley Underwater Ballroom
The 9,000-acre Victorian estate of James Whitaker Wright was extravagant in every way. With the fortune he made from years of financial fraud, Wright built a 32-room mansion set on lavishly landscaped grounds that included three artificial lakes. Hidden underneath one of the lakes is his most spectacular creation of all: the underwater ballroom.
Built just below the surface of the water, this glorious submerged room has a domed, glass-paneled aquarium roof crowned with an epic statue that rises above the lake as if it’s floating on the water. Called a “ballroom” due to its round shape and overall grandeur, the room was actually a smoking room where Wright would entertain his lucky guests. It was splendid, and like everything else on Wright’s estate, it was ultimately doomed.
Wright built his palatial home with the money he made from swindling investors out of millions of dollars. In 1904, he was caught, convicted of fraud, and sentenced to seven years in prison. But Wright would never serve time. In a court anteroom, he took his own life by swallowing a cyanide pill immediately after the sentencing. After his death, the estate was purchased by Irish shipbuilder William Pirrie (of SS Titanic fame). The mansion was destroyed in a fire in 1952, but the now ancient-looking ballroom is still there, algae-covered and rusting away beneath the lake.
Witley Park is a private property, and while permission is occasionally granted to view the ballroom, it isn’t open to the public. N 51.147834 W 0.683197
No Man’s Land Luxury Sea Fort
On maps, it registers as a tiny, nameless speck in the Solent strait between mainland England and the Isle of Wight, but No Man’s Land Fort has a dramatic history that belies its cartographic insignificance.
Built in the late 1800s to protect the English coast against a French invasion that never happened, No Man’s Land could accommodate 80 soldiers and 49 cannons.
The 200-foot-wide (61 m) fort sat idle for decades, and the Ministry of Defense decommissioned No Man’s Land in the 1950s. When the government tried to sell it in 1963, no buyers came forward. In the 1990s, the abandoned fort was transformed into a luxury hotel, complete with two helipads, 21 bedrooms, a roof garden, and restaurants. The submerged center was glassed in as an atrium for the heated pool. Despite its creature comforts and promise of privacy, the hotel never took off.
In 2004, developer Harmesh Pooni bought No Man’s Land for £6 million (about $9 million at the time) with the intention of renting it out for special occasions. Unfortunately, contaminated water in the hotel pool caused an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease. Faced with financial ruin and the possibility of losing the island, Pooni took an extreme approach: He covered the helipads with upturned tables, grabbed his keys, and barricaded himself inside the fortress. After a protracted standoff, he was finally evicted in early 2009.
No Man’s Land sold for the bargain price of £910,000 (around $1.36 million) in March 2009 to Gibraltar-based Swanmore Estates Ltd. The fort has since been transformed into a venue for weddings and corporate retreats. Standout features include a sauna, a cabaret club, and a laser tag arena located in the former gunpowder storage area.
The Solent is 1.4 miles (2.3 km) north of the Isle of Wight. N 50.739546 W 1.094995
Greatstone Sound Mirrors
As part of its national defense strategy after World War I, Britain built three massive concrete acoustic mirrors on the southeast coast of England to detect the sound of distant airplane engines in the sky. Working much like giant ears, the trio of reflectors could provide a 15-minute warning of an air invasion by magnifying the sound waves over the English Channel and directing them at microphones. An operator sitting in a nearby booth listened to the transmitted signal through headphones that resembled a stethoscope.
The Greatstone site features three different reflectors, including a 200-foot-long (61 m) curved wall, a 30-foot-tall (9 m) parabolic dish, and a 20-foot-tall (6 m) shallow dish.
Dungeness National Nature Reserve, off Dungeness Road, Romney Marsh. N 50.956111 E 0.953889
Also in Southeast England
The Little Chapel
Guernsey · One of the smallest chapels in the world, intricately decorated with stones, pebbles, broken china, and glass.
The Margate Shell Grotto
Margate · Discovered in 1835, this mysterious subterranean passageway of unknown age is covered with mystical designs made entirely from seashells.
Maunsell Army Sea Forts
Thames Estuary, off the east coast of England
Rising from the water like robotic sentinels on stilts, the Maunsell Army Sea Forts in the Thames Estuary east of London are rusting reminders of World War II’s darkest days. Part of the Thames Estuary defense network, the anti-aircraft tower-forts were constructed in 1942 to deter German air raids. Each of the three original forts consisted of a cluster of seven buildings on stilts surrounding a central command tower. Two remain: the Red Sands Fort and the Shivering Sands Fort.
After their wartime career the forts were decommissioned. In the 1960s, pirate-radio broadcasters moved in and established unauthorized stations in the remaining forts. In 1966, Reginald Calvert, manager of the Radio City pirate station, died in a fight with rival Radio Caroline station owner Oliver Smedley. The next year, the British government passed legislation making offshore broadcasting illegal, driving out the pirates and leaving the forts abandoned.
Attempting to enter the decaying forts is not advised. They can be seen by boat or, on a clear day, from Shoeburyness East Beach. N 51.361047 E 1.024256
If you miss hearing Longplayer on your next trip to London, you’ll get the chance to catch it again—the musical composition will be playing in the old lighthouse at Trinity Buoy Wharf for the next 1,000 years. Longplayer consists of six short recorded pieces written for Tibetan singing bowls that are transposed and combined in such a way that the variations will never repeat during the song’s millennium-long run. It began playing on December 31, 1999, and is scheduled to end in the dying seconds of 2999.
Custodians of the project have established the Longplayer Trust to devise ways of keeping the music alive in the face of the inevitable technological and social changes that will occur over the next ten centuries.
64 Orchard Place, London. Open on weekends. The nearest Tube stop is Canning Town. You can also listen to a livestream of the composition on longplayer.org. N 51.508514 E 0.008079
Also in London
Clapham North Deep-Level Air Raid Shelter
London · An abandoned World War II bomb shelter, it is the only one of eight deep-level air raid shelters that sits unused.
The Lost River Fleet
London · The largest of London’s subterranean rivers now flows through its sewers. The Fleet can be heard flowing through a grate in front of the Coach and Horse pub on Ray Street, Clerkenwell.
The Churchill War Rooms
“The Second Edition of Atlas Obscura is a hefty book but one that the world traveler in your life will love. There are hidden gems with over 100 more places added from the original. Travel through Budapest, Moscow, Tokyo, and more with the turn of the page and showcase all the curiosities this world holds.” — The Daily Beast
“Beholding hundreds of off-the-beaten-path gems, this book is a treasure chest of wanderlust where readers are transported to places they’re certain to have never encountered.” — Marie Claire
“The second edition of “Atlas Obscura” is a gift so enthralling that it may draw the recipient into a kind of extended trance. Crammed fore-to-aft with “the world’s hidden wonders,” this collaboration by Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras and Ella Morton features mesmerizing photos, maps, drawings, info and addresses. On one page there’s a Thai monk standing in saffron serenity in a village temple built of brown and green beer bottles; on another a bust of Vladimir Lenin, erected in 1958 by Soviet scientists who made it to Antarctica’s “Southern Pole of Inaccessibility.” If you can get there (the authors have advice about that), you may find, depending on the weather, only the top of the tyrant’s head poking from the snow.” — Wall Street Journal
"Satisfy your wanderlust and plan your next travel adventure with the help of this brilliantly illustrated guide." —Car and Driver Magazine
- On Sale
- Oct 15, 2019
- Page Count
- 480 pages
- Workman Publishing Company