Within just the last hundred years or so, your parents, grandparents and great grandparents had experiences you’ll never have. We’re not talking about being alive for the Kennedy assassination or turning on one of the very first televisions. There are places that they could go and things they could see that you will never experience in your lifetime, because they simply don’t exist anymore.
Thanks to careless tourists, global warming and just plain old world politics, many of the world’s wonders are either completely inaccessible or have disappeared altogether. In some cases, it has been for the best. In others, the irreversible damage done has left the world just a bit less exciting. It can be tough to wrap your head around, but these sights and vacation spots have just completely faded from existence. Presenting: places only your grandparents could have enjoyed in their lifetime.
Lady Liberty’s Torch
The Statue of Liberty is a must-see in New York City, and attracts thousands of tourists each year. While access to the monument has been limited in recent years, a reservation pass can still get you into the crown. But if you want to go just a bit higher, into Lady Liberty’s Torch, you’re plain out of luck. Damaged in an act of sabotage dating all the way back to 1916, the arm and torch have been unsafe for visitors for 100 years. Though finally repaired in 1984, Lady Liberty’s torch has never been re-opened to the public.
The Sutro Baths in San Francisco were opened in 1896, and for decades comprised the world’s largest indoor swimming pool. Built by wealthy entrepreneur Adolph Sutro, the baths were incredibly popular, but struggled due to the massive costs associated with maintenance and operations. The baths contained saltwater pools which drew water from the nearby ocean, and one freshwater pool. The structure burned down in 1966, though it’s ruins remain, a reminder of the past.
New York Hippodrome
The Hippodrome Theater was a pretty hopping spot in New York City. Called the world’s largest theater, it could seat over 5,000 (a lot back then, trust us) and hosted films, circuses and magicians like Harry Houdini. It’s height came in the 20s, and afterwards, the place sharply declined until finally closing in 1939. It’s now an office building.
The Chacaltaya Glacier in Bolivia used to be one of the world’s best skiing spots. The glacier was over 18,000 years old, and all it took was a few decades and El Niño to make the thing disappear altogether in 2009. Skiing there was good in the 60s and 70s, but after a major meltdown in 1980, the place deteriorated rapidly. Now it’s home to a research observatory. You can get a pretty good idea of what went down by looking at the ski lodge, pictured.
Disney’s River Country
Disney’s River Country was the very first water park at Walt Disney world, though in recent decades it has earned an unfortunate distinction as a standing, albeit derelict and deteriorating, permanently closed attraction. It opened in 1976, but declined in the 90s before being shut down for routine maintenance in 2001. In 2005, Disney said they’d never open the place again, and it is now overgrown with foliage and in really crappy condition. If you think it’s weird that Disney wouldn’t just outright demolish the place, you wouldn’t be alone. But believe it or not, it’s not the only theme park the Magic Kingdom has left to rot …
Disney’s Discovery Island
Discovery Island is another Disney theme park that fell into disrepair and has never been opened. Its first year of operation was 1974, and it remained open until 1999. It was Animal Kingdom-esque, offering guests access to numerous animals and birds. The animals were moved to the Animal Kingdom and the attraction is now completely abandoned.
Royal Opera House of Valletta
The Royal Opera House in Valletta, Malta, is the Bad Luck Brian of opera houses. Six years after its opening in 1866, it was destroyed in a fire. It was restored and re-opened a few years later, but was pretty much done for after taking a direct hit from an aerial bomb in 1942. It is remembered as one of the most iconic structures in Valletta, and various attempts to restore it to its former glory have fallen through over the years. It was sort of re-opened as the Pjazza Teatru Rjal in 2013, but it’s just not the same.
You might know the story of Jonah from Jewish/Christian/Muslim traditions. The guy is most famous for being swallowed by a giant fish. His purported tomb was a real place in Iraq before it was swallowed by a group of giant jerks called ISIS who blew it up for fun and headlines. Iraq hasn’t been the friendliest place to American tourists for several decades now, so if you ever had any hope of seeing this one, you’re just out of luck.
The Guaira Falls used to exist on the border between Paraguay and Brazil. They were a group of huge waterfalls on the Parana River, and haven’t existed since 1982 when the Itaipu Dam reservoir basically erased them from earth. They were some of the most powerful waterfalls on earth, flowing at about 470,000 cubic feet per second. Now they’re tapped dry, so you’ll just have to settle for someplace else to get your waterfall fix.
The Pink and White Terraces of New Zealand
The famous Pink and White Terraces of New Zealand were considered one of the greatest natural wonders of the world. The largest silica sinter deposits on earth, they were formed by geothermal springs containing minerals that gave the rock a pink and white hue. They were destroyed in the 1886 eruption of Mount Tarawera, which is another story worth talking about.
The Waimangu Geyser was another wonder of the world, created by the very same eruption of Mount Tarawera that destroyed the Pink and White Terraces. It was known as the most powerful geyser in the world, and spawned an entire tourism industry in the Waimangu Valley, bringing hundreds of visitors a day. The geyser sputtered out and stopped spouting altogether in 1904.
One of the first public parks in the world, Vidampark in Hungary opened in the late 19th century and hosted a bath house, castle tours, a zoo, a circus, and eventually a roller coaster in 1922. It was a huge party spot in 1896 for turn of the century celebrations, and is all around remembered as “the thing you do in Budapest.” The amusement park had been in decline for several years before officially closing in 2013.
Heritage USA is an interesting piece of Americana. It was a Christian-themed and water park located in Fort Mill, South Carolina. Founded by televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker under the PTL Club banner (which stands for, we kid you now, “Praise The Lord”), the park closed in 1989 because, in case you know nothing about the Bakkers, Jim had a highly-publicized affair and lost all of his tax-free millions.
The Original Penn Station
We’re not talking about the new, fancy Penn Station in New York City. We mean the original, historic site considered a masterpiece and modern wonder by architecture nerds the world over. Built in 1910, the original Penn Station flourished as a hub of activity until the decline of the rail industry in the 1950s. Ultimately, the place was torn down in 1963. Since 1969, Madison Square Garden has stood on its ruins.
The glacier at Mount Humboldt, located in the Northern Andes, used to be another awesome spot to go skiing. Thanks to climate change, the ice has all but melted, and hasn’t been able to support the skiing industry for decades. Scientists say that even by the most positive projections, the mountain cap will be bare in just a decade or so.
Remember back in the intro when we said that the disappearance of some historic spots wasn’t such a bad thing? We don’t know whose idea of a vacation East Berlin would have been during the 1960s and 70s, but it’s still a thing tourists went to visit that just doesn’t exist anymore. Separating democratic Germans from communists for decades after WWII, the wall finally came down in the early 90s.
Lascaux Cave Paintings
The Lascaux Cave Paintings are pretty famous for a couple of reasons. One, they were discovered in France by a group of teenagers in 1940. Two, they comprise hundreds of paintings and thousands of engravings by people who lived over 17,000 years ago. They held up pretty well over the last 17,000 years, until tourists were allowed in around 1948. By 1963, officials decided the attraction was too dangerous to remain open. Because, you know, tourists. They have been closed to the public ever since.
Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef in northeastern Australia is still around and brings in over a million tourists a year. It’s the cornerstone of Australia’s tourist industry, but those same tourists are destroying it (albeit with a little help from the environment). The coral is disappearing due to climate change, and the entire reef is only about 50 percent of its former glory. Stable since 2010, you can still see it, but you’ll never see it at its peak.
The firefalls of Yosemite National Park used to pull quite a crowd. A nightly tradition, large fires built at the Glacier Point Hotel would be dumped over the cliff by staff, creating a firefall (like a waterfall, but, you know, fire). It was hardly a natural phenomenon, but it was still an event that drew way too many tourists for the park to handle. They stopped doing it in 1968.
Though you probably think of Cuba as the “bad guy below Florida,” the small country and the U.S. were best pals in the early 20th century, at least when it came to travel and tourism. Traveling to Cuba was about as difficult as going to the fridge for a sandwich, and the culture and nightlife were huge attractions for American citizens up until the late 1950s. The relationship deteriorated after the Cuban Revolution, and a travel ban on U.S. citizens was imposed. Unless you were Jay-Z or Beyoncé, you weren’t getting in.
Let’s end with a ray of hope; you might be able to visit Cuba in your lifetime. Things have relaxed since 2015, and there are hopes that the tourism between our countries will resume in the next couple of decades.
Though most of these tourist attractions and vacation highlights are gone forever, there are still a few famous spots that are hanging in there, though they’ll be gone soon, too. If you’ve ever wanted to see The Dead Sea, The Maldives, Seychelles, Venice or even Alaska, now might be a good time to book a vacation. Then in 50 years we’ll write this article again for your grandkids.