6 of the strangest places in Europe

Europe is a spectacular, fascinating and diverse place.

 

You can find architectural, historical or cultural treasures here that you won’t find anywhere else, but you may also find a few things you weren’t expecting.

In the latest saga of my undying love for Europe, I bring you a list of the most bizarre places in Europe I have had the good fortune to see first-hand.


1. Izmailovsky Kremlin, Moscow
(a.k.a. Russian Disneyland)


Strange places in Europe: Izamilovsky Kremlin

Izmailovsky is basically a fake Kremlin constructed between 1998 and 2007. Depressingly known as the ‘Russian Disneyland’, Izmailovsky is a garish, tacky ‘homage’ to traditional Russian architecture and heritage. It attracts bus-loads of tourists wielding cameras like weapons, but the only thing to really do there is mooch around the market. I really have no idea why it exists.

Izmailovksy Kremlin: weird and wonderful Europe

You can see photos of every inch of it here.


2. Baarle-Nassau and Baarle-Hertog, The Netherlands and Belgium
(a.k.a. two towns in one)


Baarle Hertog, Baarle Nassau

Surely one of the most bizarre places in the world is the town of Baarle-Hertog/Baarle-Nassau. Why? The place is two towns in one. Or, if you prefer: a town within a town.

Read more here.


3. Portmeirion, Wales


Portmeirion, Wales - bizarre places

Portmeirion is probably most well-known for appearing in lists like this one. Designed and built by a wealthy (and I’m sure we can assume fairly eccentric) architect, the village is modelled on an archetypal Italian village on the Mediterranean.  The only minor difference being that instead of the shores of the Med, the village is located in heart of North Wales. Finished in 1975, the ‘town’ has no residents, but is run like a hotel by a trust who charge a small fee for a day’s entry.

Portmeirion is also home to Festival No. 6 every September – a boutique festival of arts, culture and music that should definitely be on your bucket list.

Photo source: Visit Britain

4. Pripyat, Ukraine
(a.k.a. the Chernobyl ghost town)


Abandoned buildings in Pripyat

Definitely couldn’t do a list on Europe’s oddest places without including this place. A city abandoned after just eight years due to the worst nuclear catastrophe in history.

Read more here.


5. Hill of Crosses, Lithuania


 

Hill of Crosses - Lithuania

Definitely one of the strangest places I’ve been to, the Hill of Crosses seems a bit like something out of The Wicker Man. The site is a place of great national and religious importance: crosses were placed here as a form of demonstration against the Soviet regime after numerous attempts to bulldoze the site, and the Pope even visited in 1993, making the hill an important place of pilgrimage for Lithuanian Catholics. Despite this, the hill is still mightily creepy. The sheer number of crosses is staggering and coach loads of visiting show up daily to leave more.

Strange places in Europe - Hill of Crosses, Lithuania

You can see more of my photos here.


6. Elista, Russia


Elista is, without a doubt, the weirdest city I’ve ever been to.

Five hours drive from the nearest city, or train station, Elista is the capital of Kalmykia, or the Kalmyk Republic, in Southern-European Russia. Ethnic Kalmyks, who make up around 57% of the population, can trace their ancestry back to Mongolia – something that is reflected in their language and their religion.

Buddhism in Elista, Russia

In fact, Kalmykia is the only officially Buddhist region in Europe. There is a huge new Buddhist temple on the outskirts of the city, aptly named The Golden Temple, and a beautiful pagoda in the town square, dwarfing the compulsory Lenin. There are other Buddhist motifs throughout the city, which makes you feel like you’ve suddenly taken a wrong turn and ended up in Asia.

Strange Europe: Golden Temple, Elista

But it gets stranger still.

The city’s other claim to fame is chess. Yes, chess. The Kalmyk Republic’s president, Ilyumzhinov, is the head of the World Chess Federation. And handily, he’s also multi-millionaire. He brought the Chess Olympiad to Elista in 1998, making it an important centre for chess. There’s also a huge chess set in the main town square, which seemed pretty popular when we were there.

Chess in Elista

But wait – there’s more.

To host the 1998 competition, Ilyumzhinov ordered a huge compound to be built on the outskirts of the city to house visiting competitors and a state-of-the-art chess school. This area still has an immaculate suburban feel and is known as ‘Chess City’, or ‘New Vasyuki’.

Chess City, Elista

And if that wasn’t enough… not far from the city is a statue of Ostap Bender and 12 chairs. This is a reference to the classic 1928 Soviet novel The Twelve Chairs, in which a con-man Ostap Bender finds himself in a city obsessed with chess and vows to build the population a state-of-the-art city solely for chess called New Vasyuki.

Twelve chairs monument, Elista

So, to sum up: Elista is the only Buddhist city in Europe in a Republic within Russia populated by Mongol descendants ruled by an eccentric chess-loving billionaire, who built a city devoted to chess echoing the actions of a fictional con-man. Cool.

What strange places in Europe would you add to the list?

21 thoughts on “6 of the strangest places in Europe

  1. I’ve been to Brighton Pavilion and it certainly is eccentric. That faux Kremlin looks hysterical. The more I read your posts about Russia the ore I think I need to go.
    It’s not a place, but I find the recent fad of love locks strange. I remember being in Paris in 2007 and crossing the Pont des Arts every morning. It was bare. Now it is absolutely covered in padlocks! How did that happen, and more importantly, why?

    1. It’s an Italian tradition I’ve heard made famous by an Italian film, but you find the same everywhere in Eastern Europe, particularly Russia. It definitely is odd! I think they’ve started sawing them off famous bridges.

  2. We live in Europe (London) and love travelling around, but haven’t seen any of this. It’s a great list. I think I’d like to see the Hill of Crosses most – that sounds like quite an experience. I’ve shared this on our Facebook page too!

    1. Thanks Sarah! The Hill of Crosses is a brilliant place for photography I think, there’s a lot going on in a very small space. I can definitely recommend the rest of Lithuania, too!

  3. Hey! Nice list. I have not heard of Elista and it surely is bizarre!

    I would add the Crooked House in Sopot, Poland – Krzywy Dome in Polish.

    I have heard of the Belgian-Dutch town and about Pripyat. The Russian Disneyland does not look so bad. 🙂

    1. Oh wow, that crooked house definitely deserves a place on this list! Thanks for your comment 🙂

  4. The Russian Disneyland looks actually looks fascinating. I havent seen that kind of architecture here in the US that why I find it interesting. 😀

  5. What a great list! I’m sure like many travelers the Kremlin is a draw card hard to resist – the colour, the architecture – just amazing! I’d love to visit Chenobyl – I don’t what it is about it, but the desecration and desolation intrigues me. And the Hill of Crosses – Bizzare!! Thank you sharing and adding a few more destinations to my ever growing list!
    Happy Travels 🙂

    -Vicki
    http://www.maketimetoseetheworld.com

    1. No problem Vicky. The abandonment of Chernobyl is down to the worst nuclear accident in human history, so a visit there is fascinating but tragic. Highly recommended though!

  6. wow some pretty coockie places on this list. Must admit i read this eagerly i love off beat destinations and you certainly have some here

  7. Great list! I like the uniqueness of Vyborg, a relatively tiny Russian city with Swedish-Finnish roots located near the Finnish border. Tons of proud and fanciful Northern art nouveau, mostly empty streets, some amazing finds aside from tourist-beaten paths, ruins and almost abandoned locations in the very heart of the city that make you think of a postapocalypse world. Vyborg in fact is a blend of Russia and Europe but in a less imperial manner than SPb 🙂

    1. I went to Vyborg back when I was living in Russia, but I must say I found it a little bit disappointing – just not sure I got that Finnish vibe from the place. It certainly was a nice place for a day trip though – and to date is the closest I’ve actually got to Finland!

  8. I think Skopje’s statues are one of the more bizarre things – the Macedonian president decided to ‘borrow’ styles from all over Europe and spent vast money on tearing down the existing architecture around the city and instead building statues of people like Alexandr the great ( and other not Macedonian things). He claimed it was to boost national identity and also to bring tourists (If the tourists like the Arc du Triomph in France, they will like one if we build it here).

    In a true ‘build it and they will come’ moment…

    It’s a bizarrely kitsch appearance

    1. Hi Laura, thanks for your comment. I haven’t been to Skopje yet but I’ve heard about the Skopje 2014 project and find it pretty intriguing. Will have to get there before long!

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