Travel

The 9 Weirdest Small Towns on Earth

Published On 05/11/2015 Published On 05/11/2015

Anyone who's found themselves in Punxsutawney, PA on Groundhog Day knows that small towns can be pret-ty weird. But if you think a place that venerates a prognosticating woodchuck is as out-there as it gets, prepare to have your illusions shattered: from an underground town in Australia to an "Austrian" town in China, these little localities give new meaning to the term "Weirdoville." Or at least they would, if that was an actual term people used.

Vimeo/Fritz Schumann

Nagoro

Japan
Population: 35 humans, 350 human-sized dolls
Why it's weird: See above
Upon returning to her hometown and discovering that the population of hundreds had dwindled to a meager 37, 64-year-old artist Ayano Tsukimi had the brilliant/depressing idea of creating life-sized doll replacements for each of the people who once lived there. The dolls are propped up and arranged throughout the town, doing whatever their living counterparts used to do, which presumably was creeping out everyone who passed through town. Tsukimi's up to about 350 dolls these days, and continues to make a new one each time someone dies or leaves town. It's just a matter of time before there's nobody left here but lifeless, freaky dolls. Doesn't it just warm your heart?


Tangier, VA  USA
Population: 720
Why it's weird: Everyone speaks in a unique, semi-English accent
This island town's main claim to weird fame is the fascinating brogue its approx. 700 residents speak. Between extreme isolation and the fact that its founding by Cornish settlers in the 1600s, Tangier's a petri dish for the development of a dialect that sounds more like an English accent than an American accent, but not quite like either one. On top of the funky accent, though, Tangier's isolation has also resulted in many of its residents having a unique genetic disorder known as Tangier disease -- which has nothing to do with fallout from Malcolm Forbes' 70th birthday party.

Flickr/DuReMi

Coober Pedy

Australia
Population: Approx. 3,500
Why it's weird: Pretty much everyone lives underground
This tiny Aussie town is the world's primary source of high-quality opal gemstones, earning it the nickname "The Opal Capital of the World." Sounds tame enough. But decades ago, when miners first started pulling shimmering gems out of the ground here, they decided to beat the oppressive Outback by building their living quarters underground. These days, the methods for extracting opal may have improved, but the majority of Coober Pedy's roughly 1,600 residents still live like mole people, since the insulation provided by the rock walls save on AC bills in the summer and heating bills in the winter. Is this the next wave of design in New York City? Only time will tell.

Flickr/billrock54

Lily Dale, NY

USA
Population: Approx. 200
Why it's weird: It's like Woodstock for spiritualists
Established as an upstate haven for mediums, shamans, psychics, and spirit guides, Lily Dale was a big deal during the heyday of the Spiritualist movement in the late 1800s/early 1900s. These days, the permanent population hovers at around 200, but the town sees about 20,000 visitors each year when pilgrims congregate to attend demonstrations and lectures from luminaries like Deepak Chopra and other people who hawk enlightenment at your local bookstore and cable access channels.

Wikimedia Commons/Hanno Bock

Hallstatt

China
Population: Unknown
Why it's weird: It's an Austrian town, but in China
If you're unfamiliar with the Chinese practice of making knockoffs of established products, well, China's notorious for making knockoffs of established products. It's not limited to products, though, as evidenced by the existence of this near-exact replica of the Austrian town of Hallstatt. Construction began back in 2012 by a mining company called China Minmetals, and with completion still a year or two off, the town's barely had any occupants move into its faux-Alpine buildings. Perhaps they're waiting for the Ricola guy to summon them.

Flickr/matty hick

Centralia, PA

USA
Population: 7 (as of 2013)
Why it's weird: It's a ghost town that's not quite dead yet
This former mining town saw its population plummet after it suffered a catastrophic coal mine fire back in 1962. The fires are still burning underground, and it's thought they'll continue for another 250 years. But don't let that fool you into thinking this place is a ghost town; despite the US government revoking the town's zip code and condemning all of its buildings, as of 2013, there were still seven holdouts who refused to pick up stakes and abandon the settlement. The government agreed to let them stay, on the condition that once they die, their property will be given up under eminent domain. Fun times.

Migel / Shutterstock.com

Setenil de las Bodegas

Spain
Population: 3,000
Why it's weird: It's built right into the side of a mountain
Located northwest of the Spanish city of Ronda, this town of 3,000 is (BAD PUN ALERT) solid as a rock... because many of the town's buildings are literally built into the side of the Cadiz mountains. These whitewashed houses and cafes are tucked under cliffs and inside caves, with the bare rock face forming their back walls and ceilings. Don't let the quaint appearance fool you, though: Setenil's famous for the quality of its meat products, and its bars and restaurants are not to be underestimated.

Wikimedia Commons

PhinDeli Town Buford, WY

USA
Population: 2
Why it's weird: It's basically deserted, and named after a brand of Vietnamese coffee
The American dream's well and alive -- if you consider buying a town and naming it after a coffee brand the American Dream. Back when its name was simply "Buford," this Wyoming town had only five buildings and a grand total of three residents: Don Sammons (the town's owner and mayor), his wife, and their son. Once his wife died, and his son moved away, Sammons decided to pack up and abandon his plot by auctioning it off to the highest bidder(s) -- a pair of Vietnamese men who paid $900,000, and changed the name of the town to reflect an imported brand of Vietnamese coffee that they then began selling there. 

Flickr/Damanhur Spiritual EcoCommunity

The Federation of Damanhur

Italy
Population: 600
Why it's weird: It's a "laboratory for the future of humankind," apparently
Less a town than a large intentional community, the Federation of Damanhur was founded by Oberto Airaudi and some of his hippy dippy friends back in 1975, and its population has expanded into the hundreds since. In addition to building a number of "Temples of Humankind" buried 100ft underground, the founders of Damanhur also established their own constitution of sorts, which features four different levels of "participation" for Damanhur's citizens, and is about as indecipherable as a Scientology handbook. Oh, and they also created their own currency: the Credito. Sounds a bit cultish, but hey! The temples are cool to look at.


Gianni Jaccoma is an editorial assistant for Thrillist Travel. Oddly enough, he’s building an exact replica of Beijing in his apartment. Follow his progress on Twitter @gjaccoma

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