Atlas of Abandoned Places – Oliver Smith

To step into an abandoned place is to cross a kind of threshold into the past – to time travel from the present day to the instant that people departed.

I love abandoned places photography. I enjoy poring over the photos for evidence of the lives of the people who used to inhabit the spaces. There always seems to be a haunted beauty attached to these places, as they gradually erode and nature reclaims them.

I’ve come to expect books about abandoned places to showcase a photographer’s favourite sites. This is the first abandoned places book I’ve read that’s been written by a travel writer. The images are stock photos, which meant I didn’t get get to feel like I was tagging along with someone who may have had to climb fences and find ways to get into buildings undetected. However, it also meant that, rather than the purple prose I’m used to reading in abandoned places books, the information that’s presented here captured my attention just as much as the photography.

Separated into parts by geography – Europe, the Americas and the Caribbean, the Middle East and the Caucasus, Asia, Oceania and Africa – this book explores fifty abandoned places, from trains, palaces and a theme park to entire towns. Each four page entry contains photos and a map, along with information about the history, current state and any future plans for the site.

I most want to explore:

  • The Paris Catacombs, not the 1.6km (1 mile) tourist attraction but the network an area of about 320km (200 miles) that haven’t been entirely mapped yet. I want to see the places that remain undiscovered and unmarked by graffiti.
  • City Hall Station, New York.

Two hundred policemen were called to hold back the curious crowds, and the Mayor of New York took the controls of the inaugural train. He had so much fun he refused to hand them back to the driver.

  • Ciudad Perdida (meaning ‘Lost City’), Colombia. You’ll need to hike for four days to get there but the journey sounds as amazing as the destination.

Organized tours see participants traversing rushing rivers on rope bridges, passing waterfalls where hummingbirds dart through the humid air, and sleeping in hammocks listening to the night-time symphony of the forest.

  • Aniva Lighthouse, at the tip of Sakhalin, Russia. It’s desolate and remote, the perfect place to get lost in a book.

There’s a lot of very interesting information in this book. I’m always on the lookout for fun facts and all things strange and unusual. I found those here too.

For £99, you can buy your very own knighthood. It’s for Sealand, a country that no others recognise, but it’s probably your only chance to be knighted.

Bodie in California is a typo. It’s named after W.S. Bodey, a prospector from New York. If you visit, fair warning: don’t souvenir any trinkets you come across.

‘The Curse of Bodie’ goes that objects stolen from the ghost town have brought tragedy and even death to their new homes. Items are still regularly returned to Bodie in the post, with notes of repentance from sorry thieves.

The grand opening of the Orpheum Theatre in New Bedford, Massachusetts happened the day the Titanic sank.

New York’s “City Hall Station provided the inspiration for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ lair.”

For places that seem lifeless, their lesson is that – in some form or other – life goes on.

Thank you so much to Hachette Australia for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Explore the wonders that the world forgot with award-winning travel writer Oliver Smith – from breathtaking buildings with a dark past to decaying reminders of more troubled times.

The globe is littered with forgotten monuments, their beauty matched only by the secrets of their past.

A glorious palace lies abandoned by a fallen dictator. A grand monument to communism sits forgotten atop a mountain. Two never-launched space shuttles slowly crumble, left to rot in the middle of the desert. Explore these and many more of the world’s lost wonders in this atlas like no other.

With remarkable stories, bespoke maps and stunning photography of fifty forsaken sites, Atlas of Abandoned Places travels the world beneath the surface; the sites with stories to tell, the ones you won’t find in any guidebook.

Award-winning travel writer Oliver Smith is your guide on a long-lost path, shining a light on the places that the world forgot.

Atlas of Forgotten Places – Travis Elborough

Maps – Martin Brown

I love books that explore abandoned places. There’s something hauntingly beautiful about seeing nature reclaiming these areas. I always feel a tinge of sadness as well, being witness to once majestic places falling into disrepair.

This book’s abandoned places are divided into five sections: vacant properties, unsettled situations, dilapidated destinations, journeys ended and obsolete institutions. The locations, covering most continents (a notable exception is Australia), are varied. They include an orphanage, a nuclear power plant, a lighthouse, palaces, hotels, castles, a theme park, a train graveyard and a submarine base.

The history of the locations are accompanied by maps and photographs. Because I love abandoned places so much, I wanted more photos, particularly those that showed the interiors.

I knew about a number of these places already but some were new to me. The one I’m most likely to remember years from now is Akampene Island, Uganda. Women in traditional Bakiga society who became pregnant out of wedlock were exiled there as punishment. The island only had “two trees that bore no edible fruit and offered nothing in the way of shelter”. Most girls had not been taught to swim and to be marooned there meant almost certain death, unless they somehow managed to escape or were rescued. 


My favourite photos were of Camelot Theme Park’s Knightmare rollercoaster in Chorley, Lancashire,


the City Hall Subway Station in New York


and the Gary City Methodist Church in Indiana.


Here then is a compendium of the misplaced and the neglected. Ruins, ancient and modern, beautiful, ugly and appalling, and in varying states of appreciation and restoration, or lack thereof. The ungotten and the forgotten no one remembers. Abandonment is not a cause to give up all hope but the opposite, if anything, encouraging us all to think longer and harder about the world to come and what might be worth salvaging from the wreckage. 

Thank you so much to NetGalley and White Lion Publishing, an imprint of Quarto Publishing Group, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Explore the places that time forgot. Abandoned, mysterious, sleeping monuments around the world have been relegated to the margins of history, pushed off the map and out of sight.

From ancient ruins and crumbling castles to more recent relics – an art deco New York subway station, a Soviet ghost town in the Arctic Circle, a flooded Thai mall teeming with aquatic life – Travis Elborough takes you on a journey into these strange, overlooked and disappearing worlds and immortalises their fates.

Original maps and stunning colour photography accompany Travis Elborough’s moving historic and geographic accounts of each site. The featured locations are a stark reminder of what was, and the accounts in this investigative book help to bring their stories back to life, telling us what happened, when and why, and to whom.

The book features 40 sites, including:

Santa Claus, Arizona, USA: A festive tourist resort turned ghost town deep in the desert where once you could meet Santa Claus any day of the year;

Crystal Palace Subway, London, UK: One of the city’s best-kept secrets is an underground, cathedral-like relic from where many Victorian commuters bustled through;

Montserrat, West Indies: The small Caribbean island with a population of 5,000 that was evacuated when its volcano erupted in 1995. The volcano is still active and nearly half the island remains a designated exclusion zone;

Balaklava Submarine Base, Crimea: The former top-secret Soviet submarine base that was kept off all official maps and known as Object 825 GTS;

Volterra Psychiatric Hospital, Tuscany, Italy: Once dubbed ‘the place of no return’, this long-closed lunatic asylum once housed 6,000 patients who were never allowed to leave.

After the Final Curtain: America’s Abandoned Theaters – Matt Lambros

I’ve loved abandoned places photography since I first learned of its existence. Although I’ve enjoyed poring over photographs of many abandoned places, including castles, hospitals and amusement parks, this is the first book I’ve read that focuses exclusively on theatres.

Featuring the history and photographs of twenty abandoned theatres, Matt Lambros took me on a journey through America. The theatres included in this book are located in California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

My favourite photograph is from the interior of Loew’s Majestic Theatre in Bridgeport, Connecticut. There’s a haunting quality to this image, with its blend of light and shadow, and it makes me want to ascend those stairs to find out what’s beyond them.

One thing I absolutely adored in this particular book is a feature I haven’t come across in other abandoned places photography books I’ve loved – images that highlight what a building looked like in its prime contrasted with ones that show its decay over time. Somehow being able to view the before and after side by side is both fascinating and even sadder than seeing the after in isolation.

The passage of time has caused RKO Proctor’s Theatre in Newark, New Jersey to be almost unrecognisable when compared to its heyday.

Then there’s Detroit, Michigan’s United Artists Theatre, whose Spanish Gothic interior had a creepiness to it even before time stripped away some of its shine. This is the theatre I most want to see in person.

Thank you so much to NetGalley, Jonglez Publishing and Xpresso Book Tours for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In the early 20th century the streets of small towns and cities across America were filled with the lights and sounds of movie theaters. The most opulent – known as “movie palaces” – were designed to make their patrons feel like royalty; people would dress up to visit. But as time went on it became harder and harder to fill the 2,000+ seat theaters and many were forced to close.

Today, these palaces are illuminated only by the flicker of dying lights. The sound of water dripping from holes in the ceiling echoes through the auditoriums. In After the Final Curtain (Volume 2) internationally-renowned photographer Matt Lambros continues his travels across the United States, documenting these once elegant buildings.

From the supposedly haunted Pacific Warner Theatre in Los Angeles to the Orpheum Theatre in New Bedford, MA, which opened the same day the Titanic sank, Lambros pulls back the curtain to reveal what is left, giving these palaces a chance to shine again.

Abandoned Palaces – Michael Kerrigan

I love abandoned places photography! I adore the atmosphere, the haunting quality of the images and imagining the history of the buildings and those who have lived in or visited them.

Most of the collections of abandoned places I’ve seen have focused on the buildings’ interiors. This book includes some interior photos as well as some bird’s-eye view shots that show an interesting blend of interior and exterior. However, a greater proportion show the overall exterior of the building, with sections of facades crumbling on some and nature overrunning others, and I really enjoyed those photos. I particularly liked those that highlight the contrast between neglected architecture and flourishing greenery surrounding it (and oftentimes growing over it).

The descriptions that accompany each image are succinct; you learn enough to provide context but not so much that the information overwhelms the picture. Each section includes a short introduction to the overall location: The Americas and Caribbean, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East, and Asia and the Pacific.

Each time I look through this book (three times so far) different photos catch my eye and details I’ve previously missed stand out. I do have a few favourites that I expect will remain, no matter how many times I return. The one that stands out the most and that I most desperately need to visit is Pidhirsti Palace in Lviv, Ukraine.

The original photo by LALS STOCK can be found on Shutterstock here. Editing of the image in this book (or it may be because I’m reading an ARC) has given it a creepier feel than the original, but that has added to my love for this particular photo.

Although the colour feels off (again, this could be due to my viewing an ARC on an iPad) my favourite photo that showed some interior was of Ladendorf Castle in Mistelbach, Austria.

I loved that this open door felt like an invitation and, although it’s actually a courtyard you’re getting a glimpse of, I immediately imagined that a path out of view behind this building would lead intrepid explorers to another world. (That is one of the reasons why I love photography so much; it awakens my imagination.) This photo of Ladendorf Castle is by Viennaslide and can be found on Alamy here.

I was quite disappointed to learn that the photos were all sourced from stock image sites: 123RF, Alamy, Dreamstime, FLPA, Getty Images,, iStock and Shutterstock. In the past I’ve enjoyed collections of abandoned places photos by a single artist; I find this provides more of a cohesive feel to the project and gives me a sense of their ‘eye’ by the end of the book. I also enjoy the anecdotes a photographer can provide based on their experiences shooting at specific locations.

These details are missing here; this isn’t necessarily a bad thing but is certainly something I would have liked to have known before I started reading/looking. Also missing are the interior photos that show details of abandoned items that I love to pore over; they provide a small but important connection for me to the history of the buildings and the people who spent time there.

To be taken with a grain of salt as this relates to the ARC: There were some photos that appeared underexposed and others that appeared to have been edited so the colour was unnaturally saturated in places. These may be artistic choices by the individual photographers or the book’s editor or could be due to the fact that I viewed an advanced copy on an iPad. These comments may be entirely irrelevant once this book has been published.

Thank you to NetGalley and Amber Books for the opportunity to view this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

From imperial residences and aristocratic estates to hotels and urban mansions, Abandoned Palaces tells the stories behind dilapidated structures all around the world.

Built to impress, built with style and grandeur, built, above all, to last: it’s all the more remarkable when buildings such as these fall into disrepair and become ruins. From ancient Roman villas to the French colonial hill station in Cambodia that was one of the final refuges of the Khmer Rouge, Abandoned Palaces charts the decline of what were once the homes and holiday resorts of the super wealthy.

Ranging from crumbling hotels in the Catskills or in Mozambique, to grand mansions in Taiwan, to an unfinished Elizabethan summerhouse, to a modern megalomaniac’s partially completed estate, they were deserted for reasons including politics, bankruptcy, personal tragedies, natural and man-made disasters, and changing tastes and fashions. Filled with stunning, nostalgic images, this volume is a brilliant and moving examination of worlds left behind.

Haikyo: The Modern Ruins of Japan – Shane Thoms

One thing you should probably know about me is that I absolutely adore abandoned photography so this review was never going to be unbiased. Most of the photos I’ve seen until now have been of abandoned America so I was really excited to see how amazing abandoned Japan looked. This is the coffee table book of my dreams!

From the snowy mountains of Hokkaido down to the southern tropics of Okinawa, these modern ruins or, ‘haikyo’, provide a paused and romantically silent contrast to a country known for the brightness, sound and movement that swells in so many of its thriving metropolises.

Shane Thoms took me on a journey through hospitals that looked like they belong in a horror movie,

resorts, hotels and restaurants whose still intact chandeliers tell a luxurious tale of days past, mines and industry that once employed thousands, theme parks and leisure with rides that still look like fun despite the rust, and schools where what looked like a gigantic stuffed walrus remains in perpetual time out, facing the wall in shame.

Besides enjoying the overall haunting beauty of this type of photography I also like to look closely, searching for telltale signs of the people who have lived within the walls; their stories whispering through the faded portraits gathering dust on the floor or calendars on the wall frozen in time during a specific month many years ago. While most of the photos have muted colours there are pockets of green where plants are growing through the floors or finding their way through broken windows.

I always wonder about the story behind each abandonment, how a building that has housed or entertained so many can be seemingly forgotten and left behind for nature to reclaim.

There’s an inherent sadness wandering through the shadowy halls; even the sunlight appears subdued as it fights its way through grime and mould.

I was surprised by the lack of graffiti in these photos but particularly liked the pink UFO captured mid flight. I loved the abandoned bathhouse with the cute sculpture of a person made from water containers that’s standing in the middle of the room.

I wanted to visit Nara Dreamland, an entire abandoned theme park, with its rusted rollercoasters

and demonic looking witch with fangs who overlooked the entrance to the haunted house.

Sadly this particular haikyo was purchased and its dismantling began in 2016.

I really need to buy this book so someone else has the opportunity to appreciate this library book instead of borrowing it time and time again.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Stepping away from the lights and into the shadows, one adventurous photographer embarks on an underground voyeuristic journey, documenting a curious collection of images that provide a rare and intimate glimpse into a secret, mysterious and sometimes bizarre world. Miniature jungles sprout and thrive in the rooms of a discarded beachside resort. Filled with curiosities and eccentric furniture, a long forgotten love hotel crumbles away on the outskirts of a small country town. Inside a large snow covered building, a giant taxidermy walrus sits wedged in the corner of a darkened, dust filled room.

After years of abandonment, vines and foliage take over from past crowds to engulf roller coasters, carousels and water slides in a swampy amusement park. Rows of stools await more customers as the years pass by in a dilapidated strip club filled with retro treasures. Each with its own unique story to tell, the end result is the presentation of a fascinating realm where one can contemplate Japan’s hidden journey from permanence to disposability, composition to decomposition and construction to deconstruction.

Abandoned: The Most Beautiful Forgotten Places from Around the World – Mathew Growcoot (editor)

I love abandoned places photography so much! This book was no exception. The photography itself was brilliant but the subject matter was everything for me. There’s just something about abandoned places. They have a strange combination of the overwhelming sadness of something cast aside, nostalgia of what once was and a haunting beauty of what the elements have transformed the structure into, and I can’t get enough of them. Like losing myself in a fire’s flames, I get mesmerised by these places.

When I saw my first abandoned house photo I had a lightbulb moment. Weird as it may sound these are my fantasy buildings. I would love to buy an abandoned house like one of the ones in this book, ensure it’s structurally sound and then leave the outside as close to the state that I found it in as possible. I’d restore the interior, bringing back to life the character it once had, but the outside would remain as is. It would be my “don’t judge a book by its cover” dream brought to life.

I don’t expect this would make sense to most people but I love the idea of people walking up to a building that looks as though a gust of wind could bring it down and then stepping inside to the enchanted world of my imagination, with the requisite hidden rooms and the library of my dreams. Hmm … one day …

So, back to this book. It was gorgeous and my biggest decision now is whether to keep reserving it over and over at the library or buy my own copy because I have to look through it again and again. As you page through, you’ll be taken on a journey around the world through abandoned homes, recreation, rooms, journeys, society and industry.

I could easily say they were all my favourites but there were particular photos that stood out to me. The children’s playroom in Pennhurst Asylum, Pennsylvania, USA, with sections of a painted merry-go-round on the cracked wall and a wooden chair sitting in the middle of the room. The operating chair in an unnamed mental asylum in Italy, creepy in and of itself. Who knows how many peoples’ lives and minds were irrevocably changed in that room laying on and most likely strapped to that chair. Okay, so I may have a teensy morbid interest in old asylums.

There’s also an abandoned two storey mansion somewhere in the USA with eery clouds overhead, trees in the background and a curtain on the second floor that’s not quite closed, so it’s very likely a ghost is peering out at you. There’s a merry-go-round at the funfair somewhere in Italy and a lonely ferris wheel at Chernobyl, Ukraine. There’s also churches, shopping malls, planes, cars, motels and rooms overtaken by sand. The whole book is just amazing. I will never get tired of looking through it.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

From the empty magical theatres of Detroit to the lost playgrounds of Chernobyl, there are places across the globe that were once a hub of activity, but are now abandoned and in decay. With nature creeping in and reclaiming these spots, we are left with eerie crumbling ruins and breath-taking views of deserted places, that offer us a window into past and capture our imagination. Abandoned showcases the very best photographs from around the world documenting this phenomenon.

More immersive than a museum and more human that a lecture, abandoned photography has given the world an exciting way to look at our history and the places we have long neglected.