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Atlas Obscura

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Your Complete Guide to the World's Wonders

The scrubby little kochia plants, otherwise known as summer cypress, are not much to look at for most of the year, but at the end of the wet season they take on an extraordinary brilliant red color, lending them the name “Burning bush.” In Japan at the Hitachi Seaside Park, a vast stretch of rolling hills is jam-packed with the vivid crimson bushes that sway with the breeze, with whimsical Oz-like roads winding throughout. 📸: Photo regrammed from intrepid explorer @twheat.

Fifty thousand bodies are buried in the 37 acres of the Glasgow Necropolis which sits on a hill adjacent to the Glasgow Cathedral. Monuments of every architectural style are here, designed by major architects and sculptors of the time. A bridge, known as the “Bridge of Sighs,” stands at the main entrance, and got its name for being part of the funeral processions route (also an allusion to the “Bridge of Sighs” in Venice).

Meteora is a monastery complex in Kalabaka, Greece, perched on rock pillars, once accessible only by frayed ropes. The name Meteora means “suspended in the air” or “suspended rocks” and it is appropriate. Wind, water, and the harsh temperatures have carved out the series of gigantic sandstone pillars on which these buildings were constructed, some of them hundreds of meters high. To gain access to the monasteries one originally had to climb a series of ladders tied together or be dragged up via a large net. According to the monks the ropes up to Meteora were only replaced “when the Lord let them break.” Today steps have been carved into the rock and a bridge built from a nearby plateau. 📸: Photo by Vaggelis Vlahos.

From its geothermal natural spas to its museums of witchcraft, Iceland is a fascinating country, and is home to some of the most stunning vistas in the world. This gorgeous photo was captured by intrepid explorer @othellonine.

A Sunday spent with hot apple cider and the book that lets you explore the strangest, most beautiful corners of the world without ever leaving your chair. 📸: Photo captured by @bookbaristas, who knows the right way to spend a rainy weekend.

Thrust into the middle of urban Philadephia is what looks like a great castle, a massive and haunting building. Opened in 1829, Eastern State was designed as a new type of prison where order reigned, the world’s first penitentiary. Inmates were served three hearty meals a day, and each cell had a skylight. But despite its material comforts, the penitentiary drove men mad. Known as the “separate system,” part of what made Eastern State unique is that prisoners weren’t allowed to interact with other prisoners or guards in any way. Utter silence, utter solitude. It was meant to inspire penance; instead, it inspired insanity. The prison remained in use until it was abandoned in 1971, and housed such criminal luminaries as Willie Sutton and Al Capone. It’s now left in a state of magnificent decay. 📸: Photo regrammed from intrepid explorer @taireene

Paris’ beautiful opera house, the Palais Garnier, was built in 1861 and seats almost 2,000 people.

Hotel Belvédère is an abandoned hotel in the Furka Pass of the Swiss Alps. Once the perfect spot for travelers looking to explore the stunning Rhone Glacier, its traffic slowly trickled to a halt as the glacier melted, forcing the hotel to close. The hotel sits with its doors and windows boarded up, a beautiful testament to the passage of time. 📸: Photo regrammed from intrepid explorer @hirozzzz

"Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving." -Terry Pratchett

The Palace of Mafra is a stunning, massive Baroque and Neoclassical palace-monastery built in 1717 in Portugal. The library, pictured here, holds around 36,000 books. 📸: Photo regrammed from @alreadyplanned using #atlasobscura 🙌

This Texas cave network is home to some of the world's most spectacular-looking and bizarrely named mineral formations. The caverns of Sonora were discovered by accident in 1905 on ranch land. But it took a few more decades for professional spelunkers to fully explore the depths of the discovered cave and see the entire range of stunning speleothems. The caves have many different sections with different characteristics, but one of the most stunning is the Crystal Palace, 155 feet underground. 📸: Photo by Leah Jones.

It wasn’t until 1982 that China created its first national park: Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. They couldn’t have chosen a better site - Zhangjiajie is famous for its 3,000 vertical pillars, each hundreds of feet tall and covered in dense green foliage. One of these pillars was named the “Southern Sky Column, ”and it stretched 3,544 feet into the air, the length of 78 school buses. In a strange turn of art imitating life imitating art, in 2010 the name was changed to “Avatar Hallelujah Mountain” after the highest-grossing film of all time, Avatar, used photographs of the pinnacle as inspiration for the floating Hallelujah Mountains of Pandora. 📸: Photo by Chensi Yuan

It took over seven years and 10,000 craftsman to construct the Hassan II Mosque, but the result is a modern and massive tribute to the former King of Morocco that beautifully blends traditional Moorish architecture with 20th century innovation and equipment. 📸: Photo regrammed from intrepid explorer @jennyjhart

The Ha’iku Stairs, aptly nicknamed the Stairway to Heaven, are a steep climb on the island of Oahu that seems to disappear into the sky itself. See more stunning staircases built into nature in our Instagram story! This particular trail got its start as a simple wooden ladder attached to the cliff. In the 1950s, the wooden stairs were replaced by metal steps and ramps—3,922 steps in all. The trail was officially closed in 1987, but many hikers continue to ignore the “No Trespassing” signs and make the climb for the awe-inspiring view at the top. 📸: Photo by Kelsie DiPerna

An ancient stone fortress used by a king of Sri Lanka as a place to build his palace and hide from his brother’s attacks, Sigiriya (The Lion Mountain) is often considered the eighth wonder of the world. Situated in the central Matale District of Sri Lanka, the fortress is surrounded on all sides by the remains of an extensive network of reservoirs and gardens. 📸: Regrammed from the intrepid explorers of @tripblogpost- thanks for using #atlasobscura!

Scotland’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is free to enter, and has 22 themed galleries holding more than 8,000 exhibits. 📸: Photo regrammed from intrepid explorer and photographer @kirstenalana.

Craigievar Castle looks like something from a fairytale. Located in Alford, Scotland, the castle has a Great Hall which is connected to the high tower via a secret staircase. Supposedly, it served as partial inspiration for the Walt Disney castle motif seen at the beginning of every Disney film. 📸: Photo regrammed from intrepid explorer @_madickey_. Thanks for tagging #atlasobscura!

The ruins of Belchite are a haunting place. The old Spanish town found itself on the front lines during the Spanish Civil War, and was completely ravaged. Today Belchite looks largely as it did in 1939; piles of rubble strewn about, the clock tower barely standing, the cathedral pockmarked with bullet holes and gouged by mortar shells, a testament to the brutality of fascism. 📸: This photo was taken by adventurer and videographer @kickthegrind, who uses the atlas to find some of his locations!

While the monument bears a striking resemblance to the Millennium Falcon, this impressive architectural feat is actually a memorial to an uprising in Croatia. Atop a hill in the small town of Podgarić, the monument towers over an artificial lake below. The abstract monuments were meant to symbolize power and triumph, but were poorly maintained after Yugoslavia fragmented. The Podgarić Monument was left to decay, and now attracts only a few visitors, who wander through the ancient walled town. 📸: Photo by Tomislav Medak.

Nestled in the thick jungles of Chile’s Huilo Natural Reserve (home to Pudu, the world’s smallest deer species, and the longest zip line system in South America), the Montaña Mágica Lodge is a fantastical waterfall/hotel/volcano that looks like it was built by ambitious hobbits. Inside, each of the cozy suites is named after a local species of bird. 📸: Photo by Ben Bowes.