We tend to think of borders between countries as being firm, distinct lines—and most of the time, they are. Sometimes, though, they’re a little more… let’s say, fluid than that. Sometimes, it’s actually possible for a single place to exist in two countries at once. Heck, in some cases, these places can exist in more than two regions at once.
The idea of what makes something a “place,” too, is a bit fluid. Some of these “places” are structures or buildings—such as hotels or libraries—that straddle borders. Some are specific points on the Earth where several countries join up together. And some almost seem to occupy the same space in a weird sort of way.
The point is, geography is weird and wonderful, and often a lot less clear-cut than it may seem. The next time you’re on the road, why not make a stop at one of these eight destinations? You might be able to cross two countries off your travel bucket list in one go.
L’Hotel Arbézie Franco-Suisse: France and Switzerland
The building that now houses the Hotel Arbez, as it’s known in English, grew out of a lengthy dispute over where the exact border between France and Switzerland was. When the border was redrawn in 1862, the new division split straight down the middle of the village of La Cure—even cutting through some existing buildings. To account for these structures, stipulations were made stating that any buildings already standing at the time the new border was implemented were to be left alone.
After finding out about this peculiar decision, a local landowner, M. Ponthus, had what he considered to be a flash of brilliance: Before the new border went into effect, he purposefully erected a building that straddled the line between countries and opened a grocery store in the Swiss part of it and a pub in the French part. He hoped, as Ken Jennings wrote for CN Traveler in 2016, “to make a killing on a quasi-legal cross-border trade in alcohol, tobacco, and chocolate.” Unfortunately, his descendants had a hard time maintaining the property, so in 1921 they sold it to Jules-Jean Arbeze, who transformed it into a hotel.
These days, a stay at the Hotel Arbez means you’ll pass over the Franco-Swiss border regularly: It passes through the kitchen, the dining room, the main hall and staircase, and several other rooms. You can, for example, begin climbing the stairs in France and finish climbing them in Switzerland, or stay in a room located in Switzerland with its bathroom in France. The bed in the honeymoon suite is also—somewhat ominously—sliced down the middle by the border.
Mount Everest: China and Nepal
Mount Everest isn’t just the tallest mountain above sea level on Earth, although that’s certainly its most well-known claim to fame; the summit of Everest also spans the border between China and Nepal. Accordingly, it’s known in Tibet as Chomolungma or Qomolangma and in Nepal as Sagarmatha.
You can approach Mount Everest from either side—and you’ll get a dramatically different experience depending on which side you choose. On the Tibet side in China, there’s now a paved road that runs all the way to Everest Base Camp North; recently completed, it is, as National Geographic pointed out in 2016, a “feat of engineering.” It allows those climbing the mount to “drive right to their tent spots,” which Nat Geo called “a stark contrast to the South Side Base Camp in Nepal, which demands a ten-day trek up the Khumbu Valley.”
This isn’t to say that one side is “better” than the other; they’re just different, so if you’re an experienced enough mountain climber to take on Everest, you can pick a path based on your preferences. According to the tourism website China Highlights, the Nepal side might lack the road that the Tibet side has, but the scenery is much more colorful, showcasing “temperate hillside forests, ravines, the red earth of terraced farms, and small villages surrounded by huge mountains.”
Dreiländereck: France, Switzerland, and Germany
In Basel, a distinctive monument sits on the banks of the Rhine River. It looks a little bit like a spaceship, and on its elaborate fins, it bears the flags of three countries: France, Switzerland, and Germany. This is because the monument, known as the Dreiländereck (or Border Triangle), marks the point at which all three of these countries meet. This kind of point is called—perhaps unsurprisingly—a tripoint.
The number of international tripoints—that is, tripoints belonging to several countries (rather than, say, several states or territories within a single country)—that exist in the world is debatable; some reports put the figure at 157, while others put it at 176 or even 207. What’s more, only about half of the known international tripoints are on land; the rest are in the middle of bodies of water. What makes the tripoint in Basel even more notable is the fact that it’s the only tripoint located in a major city.
It’s not uncommon for the tripoints located on land to be marked with some kind of sculpture or monument, but the Basel one is flashier than most. The result of an architectural competition held between French, Swiss, and German architects in 1990, it features a bar, an event room, and a terrace; during the warmer months, there’s also a beachy “sand oasis” with palm trees and cocktails on the ground floor.
Rajalla På Gränsen Shopping Centre: Finland and Sweden
Sure, you’ve been to a typical shopping mall before—but have you ever been to one that allows you to cross international borders while you shop? Well, Rajalla På Gränsen Shopping Centre will let you do just that.
Rajalla På Gränsen’s official address is in Tornio, Finland, but technically, it’s located at the border of Tornio and the Swedish city of Haparanda. In fact, Tornio and Haparanda are what are known as twin cities—kind of like Minneapolis and St. Paul—except that in this case, the twins are each located in a different country. Rajalla På Gränsen opened as one of the area’s premier shopping destinations in 2008, following on the heels of an IKEA that had opened nearby in 2006. (The IKEA’s official address is in Haparanda.) Just so you know, you can typically use both euros and Swedish kroner in Tornio and Haparanda according to the Tornio Haparanda Official Visitor Guide; however, you just might receive change in a different currency than the one you paid in.
But wait! There’s more! Finland and Sweden are also in different time zones; Sweden is an hour behind Finland. That means that not only can you travel internationally while you shop at Rajalla På Gränsen, but you can also time-travel. How’s that for a unique shopping experience?
Haskell Free Library and Opera House: Canada and the United States
The Haskell Free Library and Opera House is already pretty notable for, well, being both a library and an opera house. After all, there aren’t that many of those in the world. However, it’s even more notable for existing in both the Canadian province of Quebec and the American state of Vermont at the same time.
Like the Hotel Arbez, the Haskell Free Library and Opera House was purposefully built to straddle the boundary between Canada and the United States. A gift from Martha Stewart Haskell and her son in honor of her late husband, the building was meant to “provide the border communities with a centre for learning and cultural enrichment” per the library’s history page. Its first stone was laid in 1901, with the building itself reaching full completion in 1904. A line running beneath the seats of the opera house and diagonally through the reading room of the library mark where the border between the two countries actually is.
The library stocks books in both French and English. Additionally, the building has two addresses—one for each country in which it technically resides. Its Canadian address is in Stanstead and its American one is in Derby. Note, though, that the library is not a border crossing; the main entrance is the one in the United States. Canadian visitors don’t need a passport to enter, but they must park on the Canadian side and then approach on foot.
Baarle-Hertog-Nassau: Belgium and the Netherlands
The town of Baarle-Hertog-Nassau is actually two towns: Baarle-Hertog in Belgium and Baarle-Nassau in the Netherlands. However, the two villages are inextricably interconnected—so much so that, in this case, “inextricably interconnected” means that Baarle-Hertog is made up of close to 30 small parcels of land that are all nestled within Baarle-Nassau, none of which are contiguous with any other part of Belgium. You might think of Baarle-Nassau as a piece of Swiss cheese with Baarle-Hertog making up the holes, or of the whole situation as being the closest to a real-life instance of whatever the heck is going on in China Miéville’s novel The City and the City.
The patchy border between Baarle-Hertog and Baarle-Nassau is the result of centuries of messiness. According to the BBC, it all started in the Middle Ages when some parts of the area belonged to the Dukes of Brabant while other parts belonged to the Lords of Breda. Things got complicated in 1831 when Belgium declared independence from the Netherlands, and from there on out, it took more than a century and a half for the land to be officially divvied up between the two nations. The Baarle-Hertog-Nassau border is widely considered to be one of the most—if not the most—complex borders in the world.
The adoption of Schengen rules in the 1990s made the situation a little easier to navigate; even today, though, you’ll find white crosses, metal studs, and the letters “NL” (for Netherlands) and “B” (for Belgium) scattered across the interlocking towns, denoting which areas belong to which village. In the case of homes that straddle the border, the home’s official address and location is determined by where its front door is. At least it’s probably never boring living in Baarle-Hertog or Baarle-Nassau!
Tumba Peak: Bulgaria, Greece, and North Macedonia
The Belasica or Belasita mountains in the Balkans host another tripoint, marked with a stone monument at the point at which Bulgaria, Greece, and North Macedonia all meet. Incidentally, this point also happens to be on a specific peak—Tumba Peak, to be precise.
Tumba Peak is dome-shaped with steep slopes on the southern and northern sides. It’s about 6,168 feet high, making it one of the tallest peaks in the Belasicas. (The tallest is Radomir Peak, which measures in at 6,657 feet.) In addition to being the tripoint between Bulgaria, Greece, and Macedonia, Tumba Peak is also one of the southwesternmost points of Bulgaria and one of the southeasternmost points of North Macedonia.
The peak is also the destination for an international climb organized every year since 2001 called Balkans Without Borders, an event which is meant to symbolize the friendship between the three countries that join at the tripoint. Per Active Belasita, the best places to start the ascent are in the villages of Kluch, Skrut, Gabrene (on the Bulgarian side), and Smolari (on the Macedonian side).
Niagara Falls: Canada and the United States
The name “Niagara Falls” can be used to refer to more than one place. It may be used to identify: a city in the state of New York in the United States, a city in the province of Ontario in Canada, or a spectacularly scenic group of waterfalls at the southern end of Niagara Gorge. The two cities are separate destinations, although they’re literally right next door to each other, separated only by the Niagara River. However, the three waterfalls collectively known as Niagara Falls straddle the border between the two countries: One waterfall is located primarily in Canada but touches down on one in the United States, while the other two are located entirely within the United States.
The biggest waterfall—the one that spans the border, which most people think of when they hear about Niagara Falls—is Horseshoe Falls, also sometimes known as Canadian Falls. In 1819, it was determined that the northeastern end of this particular waterfall is in New York, while the rest is in Canada. Meanwhile, the two smaller falls—American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls—are both officially located in New York.
The two cities known as Niagara Falls are currently connected via the Niagara Falls International Rainbow Bridge—although that hasn’t always been the case. A surprising number of bridges have been built across Niagara River over the centuries; the Rainbow Bridge, which opened in 1941, is the most recent. Before that, there was the Honeymoon Bridge, which collapsed in 1938, and before that, there was the Niagara Clifton Bridge, which fell to a storm in 1889. So far the Rainbow Bridge seems to be holding up better than its predecessors (thank goodness!).
Although some locations that exist in two spots at once can be visited without needing to take out a passport at the border, it’s always better to err on the side of caution; as such, make sure you’ve got your documentation in order before you go. It never hurts to be prepared, even if you’re just taking a step to your right.