5 unique ghost towns in Europe

Pleasant terraces, shops and nice museums to visit: that’s probably the image you have of a visit to any town. But it’s possible to do things differently! Throughout Europe you’ll find abandoned ghost towns where the inhabitants fled after an earthquake, during a war, or because they came under pressure from other towns. You can even camp near these towns – if you dare, that is … 

Oradour-sur-Glane, France

Ghost town - Oradour-sur-Glane, France

This French town was heavily bombarded by the German occupiers in 1944 during the Second World War. A mass execution, almost certainly for the purposes of revenge, massacred the entire village. Only six people survived. After this happened, a decision was made not to rebuild the village but to leave everything exactly as it was after the devastation, including the doctor’s car that stands in the middle of the village square. A visit to the museum and a walk through the ruined town is very powerful.

Craco, Italy

Ghost town - Craco, Italy

Craco is right in the boot of Italy, and was founded in the 8th Century. The village is on a hill. Thanks to repeated earthquakes, the inhabitants had to move to a village situated lower down. The result: a beautiful, idyllic ghost town that is often used as a film location – for example in James Bond – Quantum of Solace. Craco is also on UNESCO’s World Heritage List and the village is used as a scientific park. The movement of the ground and decay of the village is investigated and mapped out by scientists.

Belchite, Spain

Ghost town - Belchite, Spain

Just as in Oradour-sur-Glane, there was also a lot of fighting in Belchite. Two important field battles from Spanish history were fought here. One, in 1809, in the war of independence against Napoleon, and one in the battle of Belchite in the Spanish Civil War from 1936 to 1939. During the civil war, Belchite was flattened by heavy bombardment. Franco then decided to build a new village next to the devastated Belchite, and to leave the old village as it was as a commemoration of the war. A walk through the village will take you alongside facades of old churches and houses, where you can really feel the history of the village.

Doel, Belgium

Ghost town - Doel, Belgium

It’s not always the case that a town is abandoned because of a war or natural disaster. Sometimes, the surrounding towns are so bursting at the seams, that the small neighbouring villages are overwhelmed, and the inhabitants leave the village. That’s also the case in Doel, in Belgium. This village is near Antwerp, and, over the years, has ended up surrounded by the harbour of Antwerp and the nuclear plant. The expansion of the harbour made the village uninhabitable for the villagers, and they left, with the exception of 25 residents. If you take a walk through the village now, you can admire the graffiti art on the walls of the houses. Take note of the grim atmosphere that hovers over the place. You can’t go inside the houses, as they are still private property.

Balestrino, Italy

Ghost town - Balestrino, Italy

Balestrino is possibly the most mysterious ghost town in Italy. It’s likely that the inhabitants were troubled by severe earthquakes around 1890, just as in Craco, and so a proportion of them left then. In 1953, the last inhabitants left. The village was no longer a safe place to live after all the earthquakes. Since then, the village has been abandoned, and it really seems as if time has stood still here. The overgrown narrow streets and the weather-beaten facades all add to the mysterious atmosphere.

Camping close to ghost towns

If you want to camp less than 100 kilometres from a ghost town, you can at these campsites!

Do you know any other unique ghost towns in Europe? Then let us know by leaving a comment here. We can’t wait to hear from you!

Esther Schaap
  • Auteur: Esther Schaap
  • Esther houdt van reizen, of het nu gaat om een stedentrip of kampeervakantie. Er is maar één eis: er moeten genoeg musea en oude architectuur in de buurt zijn, om de nodige dosis cultuur op peil te houden. Het liefst gaat ze naar Frankrijk, Spanje of Italië.

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