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8 of the Most Mysterious Places in the World

Vintage filtered picture of sunset at mysterious forest
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While there may only be one of the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World standing today, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of other captivating places left to explore. The world is full of places that are downright mysterious, grabbing onto our imaginations and refusing to let go until we’ve seen them for ourselves.

Of course, what makes a place “mysterious” depends largely on your point of view. “Mysterious” might mean “unexplained”—that is, we’re not sure how something came to be the way it is, or why it may have been made as such. It might mean “legendary”—and, therefore, possibly more myth than truth. It may also simply mean “curious”—something explainable, but unusual, on either a large scale or a small one.

What they all have in common, though, is the level of fascination they inspire—whether they’re across the globe or in the next town over.

The Crooked Forest: Gryfino, Poland

The forest in Gryfino, Poland, called Kryzwy Las—in English, the Crooked Forest—lives up to its name: The trees there grow in a strange shape, resembling nothing so much as the letter J. What’s more, they all bend in the same direction, adding to the mystery. But the strangest thing of all is not one single person knows why the forest grows the way it does.

People have made guesses, though. Because the growth pattern is so smooth and regular, the most likely possibility comes down to environmental factors, including human intervention. The trees, which are estimated to have been planted around 1930, could have been bent and shaped by the people living in Gryfino with the intent of building furniture or ships out of the wood; however, according to this hypothesis, the plan never came to fruition due to the arrival of the Second World War, which decimated Gryfino—and made sure that the secrets of the Crooked Forest remained hidden forever.

Oak Island: Nova Scotia, Canada

Oak Island in the Fog - Nova Scotia - Canada
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In 1795, a boy named Daniel McGinnis found a depression in the ground beneath a large tree on Oak Island in Nova Scotia, Canada. An old tackle block hung above the depression from one of the tree’s branches—so, his immediate reaction was to start digging where the depression was to see what he could find. He and his friends didn’t uncover much at the time—just a layer of flagstones—but they became convinced that they had discovered a man-made shaft. And, although McGinnis and company eventually gave up, others took their place, continuing to dig in that very same spot.

As time went on, the island gained a fantastical reputation—there was a mystery on Oak Island, people said. And, the pit first begun by Daniel McGinnis? It was a money pit, folks insisted. From time to time, items and artifacts emerge from the pit—bits of metal, scraps of parchment, a few links from a gold chain, and, oddly, coconut fiber—feeding the belief that there was treasure to be found there, if only one dug deep enough.

Nothing conclusive has ever been determined regarding the supposed treasure, though; indeed, that part of Oak Island has been so heavily excavated we’re not even sure where the original site of the dig was.

Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s nothing there, though. Maybe we just have to keep looking.

Nagoro: Japan

Something is curious about the residents of the village of Nagoro, Japan: The vast majority of them are dolls. These dolls represent the actual people who used to live in Nagoro, but have since either died or moved away, serving as a memorial to the village’s former inhabitants.

The dolls weren’t originally intended to be an art project; doll maker Tsukimi Ayano made the first one as a scarecrow to protect her garden. She did, however, design it to look like someone she once knew–her father. As time went on though, and the people living in the village passed on or moved away to different locations, she began making more—one for each departed villager. These dolls sit on benches, in classrooms, and by the side of the road. Viewed from afar, they make the village look more populated than it is.

Because that’s the story of Nagoro: The story of a declining population as the older generations die and the younger ones move away for better job opportunities. Ayano herself had moved away from the village when she was very small; she only recently returned in 2002, after having lived most of her life in Osaka. As of 2019, only 27 people lived in Nagoro, the youngest of whom is older than 50.

The village does welcome visitors, though. Ayano even teaches scarecrow-making workshops from time to time.

Magnetic Hill: Ladakh, India

Not quite 30 kilometers west of Leh, India, in the union territory of Ladakh, there’s a stretch of highway where you can experience something magical: the effects of Ladakh’s famed Magnetic Hill. To get there, drive along Srinagar-Ladakh Road until you reach a billboard announcing the spot. It’s hard to miss, as it looks like a hill slanting upwards. Put your car in neutral right at the place marked by the billboard and wait. Voila! Your car will, against all odds, climb up the hill at a speed of about 20 kilometers per hour, seemingly pulled by some magnetic force.

Of course, it’s not really magic, nor is there any sort of magnetism involved. The Ladakh Magnetic Hill is an example of a gravity hill—an optical illusion that tricks your eye into perceiving the car as driving up a hill on its own. In reality, gravity hills don’t slope upward; they slope downward—that is, cars just roll down them due to the laws of plain old gravity.

Even if you know how they work, though, gravity hills are still wild to experience—and this one is well worth a visit.

The Coral Castle: Homestead, Florida

 Coral Castle Museum in Homestead, Florida
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In 1918 at the age of 31, Edward Leedskalnin moved from his home country of Latvia to sunny Florida in the United States. The move was prompted by a breakup; he had been set to marry Agnes Scuffs who was 10 years his junior, but she called the wedding off a day before it was scheduled to occur. A little less than 20 years after his arrival in Florida, he bought a plot of land in Homestead in Miami-Dade County, and for the next 28 years afterwards, he spent a huge amount of his time constructing a massive monument out of oolitic limestone, or fossilized coral.

The monument came to be known as the Coral Castle. Filled with astrological shapes, a sundial, a giant heart-shaped table, and more, all is made of coral blocks weighing somewhere between 15 to 30 tons apiece and are as tall as 25 feet—it’s one of Miami-Dade County’s most notable tourist sights.

However, it’s not just the “castle” itself that draws in crowds. The mystery of exactly how Leedskalnin built the thing continues to fascinate. To this day, no one knows quite how he did it; he worked on the structure alone, and only at night, with no outside help or large tools. It’s true that his methods were probably less woo-woo than he ever officially stated, but no matter which way you slice it, it’s a pretty remarkable achievement. Not for nothing do folks often refer to it as the Stonehenge of Florida.

Overtoun Bridge: Dumbarton, Scotland

A bridge exists in Dumbarton, Scotland, where you should never ever walk your dog, because for some reason, dogs cannot resist the urge to leap off the thing. Called the Overtoun Bridge, it was constructed in 1895 to connect the Overtoun House Estate with the nearby Garshake Estate, which the titular Lord Overtoun purchased in 1892. And, since the 1950s, countless—some say hundreds—of dogs have inexplicably jumped right off the bridge and into the 50-foot gorge below.

Numerous attempts have been made to explain the strange phenomenon. Some blame dogs’ poor eyesight (they might not realize what’s on the other side of the bridge’s edge), or the tempting smells of small animals (the line of doggy-thought being, “What is that scent? I MUST KNOW!”). Others, however, chalk it up to more supernatural means; perhaps the bridge is a folkloric “thin place,” meaning the veil between this world and others—fairyland, for example, or the land of the dead—is particularly easy to cross.

Still, though, if you’re looking to take your pooch for a walk … you might want to go somewhere else.

The Mapimí Zone of Silence: Durango, Mexico

It’s said that if you go to a certain location near the Bolsón de Mapimí and the Mapimí Biosphere Reserve in Durango, Mexico, radio waves fail to transmit properly. Some say it’s difficult to carry out a regular conversation there, too; the sound waves don’t seem to carry the way they should. Strange orbs of light may flying around the area. Compasses don’t point north, or anywhere at all, really—they just spin wildly. And sometimes, strange beings appear, speaking perfect Spanish and asking only for water before they vanish again, just as mysteriously as they arrived.

It’s called la Zona del Silencio, or the Zone of Silence.

Much of the reputation pegged to the Zone of Silence is legend more than fact; however, one piece of the legend is true: In 1970, a missile—an Athena test rocket—carrying the radioactive element cobalt 57 was launched from Utah’s Green River Launch Complex but lost control before it reached its destination of the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. It crash-landed in Durango … and not too long afterward, the strange stories about the Zone of Silence began making the rounds.

In addition, there’s also this: The Zone of Silence is, somewhat curiously, located between the same parallels as the Bermuda Triangle.  Do with that what you will.

The Winchester Mystery House: San Jose, California

Winchester Mystery House Museum
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Space doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to inside the Winchester Mystery House.

Stairways lead nowhere. Doors open on brick walls. Windows are only waist-high or otherwise oddly positioned. A door labeled “The Door To Nowhere” is on the second floor that literally opens up outside the house into midair. The place is a labyrinth—easy to get lost in and difficult to find your way out of.

The history behind the house is well-known by this point: Sarah Winchester, who married into the family responsible for creating the Winchester repeating rifle, lost her husband and her child when she was still relatively young. After her husband’s death, she inherited a great deal of money. Deep in grief, she visited a medium who told her that if she hoped to find peace, she would need to move out west from her home in New Haven, Connecticut, then build a house … and never stop building that house. She settled in San Jose, California, and began construction on a farmhouse she purchased in 1884. And, as she had been instructed, she continued construction until the day she died in 1922.

She feared that if she ceased construction at any point, the spirits of all those who died from the rifles made by the Winchester Repeating Arms Company would claim her soul.

The story of the Winchester Mystery House is, in reality, less a ghost story and more the story of a grieving woman coping with loss, anxiety, and fear. But the house Sarah Winchester made continues to transfix us, with its labyrinthine corridors and M.C. Escher-like design just waiting to be explored.

Lucia Peters Lucia Peters
Lucia Peters is a writer and editor based in Washington, D.C. Her work has appeared at Bustle, The Toast, Crushable, The Gloss, and others. She also writes and manages The Ghost In My Machine, where she haunts readers several times weekly with spooky stories of the strange and unusual. Her first book, Dangerous Games To Play In The Dark, was published by Chronicle Books in September of 2019. Read Full Bio »