For those seeking to explore something different and off the beaten path, there are a few unusual towns scattered throughout the world that offer a unique and unforgettable travel experience. These towns are anything but ordinary, with features ranging from blue cities to underground settlements. Visiting these places is like stepping into another world, where time and traditions seem to have stood still. Here’s a list of the most unusual towns on earth.
Coober Pedy, Australia
Deep in the Australian Outback lies the small town of Coober Pedy. It is internationally known as “the opal capital of the world.” The majority of the world’s opals are produced in this small hamlet of roughly 2500 people.
One striking feature about Coober Pedy is that it is the only town in Australia that is completely underground, built entirely into the sandstone caves. The climate is so hellishly hot and dry that residents live underground to stay cool.
Most of the town’s homes, shops, and restaurants are underground as well. The intricate network of tunnels that make up the town’s subterranean landscape is a sight to behold, with some areas so vast they resemble underground cathedrals.
From Disneyland to Las Vegas, China is a master at replicating the things that it enjoys from around the world. Hallstatt, a historic village in Austria, was meticulously recreated in the Chinese province of Guangdong down to the last detail in 2012 at a cost of $940 million. While the real estate is more expensive in Hallstatt, China, it is an exact replica of the town in Austria, drawing in visitors from all around the world.
The village of Nagoro is known today as the “village of the dolls”. It is also home to about 350 life-size dolls. Nagoro had roughly 300 residents, but as a result of increasing urbanization and Japan’s declining population, there were fewer than 30 residents left in the village, rendering it a ghost town.
Local artist Tsukimi Ayano replaced the residents of Nagoro who departed or passed away with life-sized replicas made of straw to combat loneliness. The realistically posed dolls are everywhere across the village. The documentary “The Valley of Dolls” explores Tsukimi’s world, delves into her motivations behind creating the dolls, and also showcases the time and skill required to create the dolls.
Located in the south of Tunisia, Matmata is one of the most unique destinations in the country. What makes Matmata so special is its unusual underground cave dwellings, known as troglodytes, which have been inhabited by the Berber people for centuries. The Berbers dug these homes into the ground as a way to escape the scorching desert heat, and the result is a surreal landscape of earth-hewn pits and caves.
Today, Matmata is a popular tourist destination, and its underground troglodyte cave dwellings have contributed to its unique appeal. If you’re a Star Wars fan, Matama should be added to your list of places to visit. Hotel Sidi Driss was featured in the film as Luke Skywalker’s home on the planet Tatooine.
The town of Whittier, 60 miles southeast of Anchorage, has eighty percent of the population living under the same roof in a 14-story structure that was once a military barracks. The U.S. military constructed the barracks during the Cold War.
The Alaska Railroad took over once the military departed and now controls practically all of the livable land. As a result, locals are unable to buy property in Whitter. The structure known as Begich Towers houses a hospital, a police station, and a convenience store. There is only one tunnel to enter or exit the town. One can only imagine the “traffic jam” in the building’s elevators.
This picturesque city located in the Rif Mountains is painted in various shades of blue, making it a photographer’s dream come true. There are a number of theories as to why Chefchaouen is blue. Some believe it was painted blue by Jews who fled Hitler’s Germany; some say it was done to keep mosquitos away; and others say it simply depicts the color of the sea. It’s unclear which narrative is correct, but it appears to have worked out well for Chefchaouen, as the town has a charming appeal with its cool blue hue.
This small town in southern Spain was once your typical Andalusian village. That is, until 2011, when Sony Pictures painted the entire town blue to promote the release of the Smurfs movie. The concept of painting the town blue was initially not well received by the residents, but by the time the terms of the contract and the financial arrangements were settled, the village council unanimously approved the project.
Sony pledged to repaint the buildings after the promotion was over. However, such plans were abandoned when the residents voted to preserve the blue color. The decision was influenced in part by the increase in the number of tourists who visited the town after its walls were painted blue.
Now known as the “Blue Village,” Juzcar is a must-see for anyone visiting Andalusia. Even if you’re not a fan of the Smurfs, the blue buildings are incredibly photogenic.
Setenil de las Bodegas, Spain
Nestled within a rugged landscape of rolling hills and steep cliffs in the province of Cadiz, in southern Spain, lies the town of Setenil de las Bodegas. What makes this town truly unique is that it is built into the cliffs themselves, with homes, shops, and restaurants carved out of the rocky terrain.
The town seamlessly blends in with the surrounding landscape, with the cliffs providing natural shade and shelter from the sun. Narrow streets wind through the town, twisting and turning as they follow the contours of the cliffs, creating an enchanting, almost mystical atmosphere.
Situated north of mainland Europe, midway between Norway and the North Pole, Svalbard is the world’s northernmost settlement, with a population of just over 2,000 people. Polar bears, known as the “Kings of the Arctic,” outnumber the human population on Svalbard. Since polar bear sightings are very common, packing heat is required. Longyearbyen is the only settlement on the island. It is required by law to carry a gun or be escorted by someone with a gun when leaving the settlement.
But perhaps one of the most intriguing aspects of this unusual town is that locals are not permitted to die on the island. The incredibly frigid year-round Arctic climate prevents dead bodies from decomposing, and as a result, the one cemetery on the island stop accepting burials more than 70 years ago. The town’s residents are obligated by law to not die on the island. If one does die on the island, the body must be flown or shipped to the mainland.
Lastly, the circle of life doesn’t exist this far north. Just as residents aren’t allowed to die on the island, one can’t be born on Longyearbyen as there are very few doctors or midwives on the island. As a result, pregnant women are sent to mainland Norway at least two weeks in advance of their due date.
In a nutshell, visiting unusual towns around the world can be a unique and rewarding experience. These towns offer an insight into different cultures, histories, and ways of life that are sometimes neglected by conventional tourism. Exploring these off-the-beaten path destinations can provide a refreshing break from the usual tourist hotspots. Which of these unusual towns will you visit?
“Take memories only, leave footprints behind.”