Now, there are certain things that have just become popular culture icons. Super Mario, Pac-Man, Homer Simpson, emojis, social media, Justin Bieber, the price of food at the movie theater being far too dang high… all of these things have become generally accepted as part of modern life as we know it.
So, too, has the fast food institution that is McDonald’s. Of course, everyone feels some kind of way about them, and the chain has its detractors. Whether you’re a daily visitor, an occasional fan or a full-blown hater, though (hating is another of those pop culture mainstays nowadays), there’s one thing nobody can deny: McDonald’s isn't going anywhere.
This all-powerful force of the fast food world will not and cannot be stopped. Ever. They’re just everywhere. Rumour has it that, if you stand still for too long anywhere in the world, canny McDonald’s workers will appear and quickly and silently build a new outlet around you. They’ll be telling you that the ice cream machine doesn’t work before you even know what in heckola’s happened.
They’re just a global powerhouse, there’s no denying. Thanks to their chameleon-like ability to subtly alter their menu to appeal to differing tastes, they can succeed almost anywhere.
No two McDonald’s restaurants are the same, though. Some are completely befuddling, as we’re about to see. Strap yourselves in and prepare for twenty of the most unusual and surprising McDonald’s outlets across the globe.
20 Roswell, New Mexico: Would You Like A Probing With That?
We’re kicking this party off the right way, with one of the most extra (yet utterly on point) themed McDonald’s restaurants you’ll ever see. With the ubiquity of the brand, it’s absolutely zero surprise to anyone that there’s a McDonald’s in Roswell, New Mexico.
This provided a brilliant opportunity. What’s Roswell famous for? That’s right, friends, supposed extra-terrestrial activity. Ever since the Roswell UFO incident of 1947, conspiracy theories have been flying around (among many other odd things, according to believers).
With all of this in mind, there was only one thing for McDonald’s to do: build a spaceship-shaped location right there.
19 Bray, Ireland: When McDonald’s Goes Classy
As a general rule, McDonald’s restaurants are not known for their super-fancy food, Michelin star pomposity and the like. Quite clearly, this isn’t what fast food is all about. If you’ve got a hankering for caviar and foie gras, Ronald McDonald is not the man you come to.
Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean that the chain doesn’t have some darn nice locations to its name. Over in Ireland, The New York Post reports, the magnificent 19th Century Bray Town Hall hosts a McDonald’s within its impeccably-decorated and classical halls.
I’ll bet Ronald has to take his huge clown shoes off before they let him inside this one.
18 Versailles, France: A Big Mac Fit For A King
So, yes. As we saw in the last entry, McDonald’s isn’t averse to hopping right inside a classy building and siphoning off some of that sweet, sweet culture. That’s one way of doing things, but you can also just build right next to some of the world’s most acclaimed historical landmarks.
Over in Versailles, France, according to Business Insider, the chain opened a restaurant right next to the train station that serves the breath-taking palace. It’s a bit of an anachronism, right there next to one of the most extra displays of royal "Hey, Ma, look how much money I’ve got" ever constructed, but there you go.
17 Taupo, New Zealand: Is It A Bird? Is It A Plane? Is It… Well, Yes, It’s A Plane
As I say, you don’t grow to become a global fast food chain powerhouse without being super resourceful. As with any successful business, you’ve got to be bold. You’ve got to nab opportunities wherever and whenever they arise. You’ve got to… serve McNuggets from inside a decommissioned airplane.
Oh, yes indeed. In Taupo, New Zealand, you can find one of the most unusual McDonald’s outlets anywhere. A DC-3 airliner, decommissioned and bought by the city’s mayor, became a McDonald’s store. It’s proudly emblazoned with the logo, and according to Business Insider, you’re welcome to take a tour of the cockpit when you’ve eaten.
16 Madrid, Spain: It’s McDonald’s, Jim, But Not As We Know It
For me, when talk turns to some of the world’s most culturally-significant and beautiful cities, it’s Europe that springs to mind. Paris, Rome, Barcelona, Madrid, Florence… it's just a treasure trove right there.
Our next stop is Madrid, the Spanish capital. A busy and beautiful city indeed, and a haven of culture and the arts. Right there among the marvellous and classical buildings, of course, nestles a very special McDonald’s restaurant. As is often the case, the chain has blended perfectly with the surrounding architecture, and it’s quite a sight to behold. Chandeliers, marble and high-end fare? At McDonald’s? Colour me impressed.
15 Kristiansand, Norway: Waste Not, Want Not
Here’s another example of Ronald McDonald’s remarkable ability to hide himself and blend in just about anywhere (wait, that’s a little disturbing, scratch that image).
Our next stop is Kristiansand, Norway, where a former bank has been repurposed into an unusual and classical-looking outlet. The eccentric, glass-dominated façade hasn’t been ruined by a huge and garish logo. They’ve been a little more discreet than that. The New York Times explains that you can’t enter through the original doors of the bank, entering through the side instead, which again help to reduce the profile of the new restaurant. All in all, one of the world’s more unusual and impressive outlets.
14 Dallas, Texas: No Expense (Or Garish Neon Lights) Spared
Ah, yes. From a classy, understated and kind of artsy McDonald’s outlet in Norway, to… well, the absolute polar opposite of that.
I suppose this is all part of the whole thing. There are two approaches, really: you can try and go a little up-market and classy, or you can absolutely embrace your bright, primary-coloured roots to the full. Can you guess which way this Texas McDonald’s has decided to go? I’ll give you a clue: HOLY BRIGHT FREAKING LIGHTS, BATMAN.
This is probably about as extra as it’s possible for Ronald to go. The building itself is designed to look like a Happy Meal box, there are huge sculptures of fries, coke and Ronald himself outside… it’s just incredible to look at.
13 Negev Desert, Israel: Where The Tourists Go, Big Macs Follow
Needless to say, fast food always tends to be a hit with tourists visiting a new country. Maybe you simply want a quick, cheap and ‘safe’ option. Maybe you’re not very confident with the local food. For all these reasons, if you’re in a spot popular with tourists, you’re unlikely to be far from our old buddy Ronald.
One of the more unusual examples of this phenomenon would be one particular outlet in Israel, which has made a home right there in the Negev Desert. It’s like a beautiful, golden beacon to visitors passing through on their way to the resorts.
12 Windsor Castle, England: Food Fit For A Queen
Now, there are certain things that we all know about Her Majesty. Her outfits are always on fleek, for one, and she can match them to her umbrellas like nobody else on this planet. Then there are her corgis.
Her love of fast food? That’s… not a thing, but still. There is a McDonald’s outside Windsor Castle. Not only that, reports Business Insider, but it’s part of the Queen's estate. It was purchased in 2008, as part of a deal to acquire a retail park. Only the super-fancy Signature Collection will do for her Majesty, obviously. “Brioche buns or OFF WITH THEIR HEADS,” as Elizabeth once said. Except she didn’t.
11 Ulsan, South Korea: Are You Sure it’s Bright Enough?
Well, dang. What would you get if you crossed the unusual architecture of the Norwegian ex-bank McDonald’s with the bright and bold Texas location? You’d get this one, that’s what.
Our next McDonald’s outlet is situated in Ulsan, South Korea, and it also dials the bright, neon vibe up to eleven. It’s an unusual design indeed, characterised by tall columns and those ‘wings.’
Another factor setting this particular outlet apart is the fact that it’s also a gas station. That’s not really something people tend to look for in their McDonald’s experience, but heck. That sure sounds convenient to me.
10 British Colombia, Canada: The Seemed-Like-A-Good-Idea-At-The-Time McBarge
So, yes. I’ve made a big hoopla about McDonald’s success and dominance so far, but they’ve made their missteps too. What about the ill-fated ‘McBarge,’ the floating outlet that… well, seemed like a good idea in 1986.
As Roadtrippers reports, it was built for the World Expo of that year, which was held in Vancouver, British Colombia. It was supposed to continue operation after the show, but it never did. It’s been anchored, derelict and forgotten, in Burrard Inlet since the early Nineties.
It’s a little unnerving to visit, as these abandoned building always are, but there is hope: they have been talks that it may be turned into a floating homeless shelter.
9 Tbilisi, Georgia: Fast Food, The Final Frontier
Oftentimes, when it comes to big chains, they can tend to lack individuality a bit. One location can be almost indistinguishable from the next. I suppose that’s the price you pay for staying super-standard and recognisable around the world.
It doesn’t always have to be that way, though. We’ve already seen the kinds of super-funky things McDonald’s can do with their restaurants. Just look at this beauty in Tbilisi, Georgia. You’d be forgiven for thinking there were scientists inside tracking the movements of intergalactic bodies, but instead, there are people inside waiting to tell you that the ice cream machine’s broken.
I know, I’ve made that joke already, but the ice cream machine is always broken.
8 New Hyde Park, New York: The Georgian Approach
Continuing that theme of McDonald’s restaurants breaking the mould and just doing whatever they dang well please, we’re going to cross back over to the United States next. New York is home to one of the most unusual and historic locations in the chain’s repertoire.
This is Denton House, in North Hempstead. It was originally built in 1795 as a farmhouse. During the mid-to-late 1800s, it was converted to a vast Georgian-style mansion, before finally being purchased by McDonald’s in 1985.
The chain’s hope was to demolish the house and use the land, but the house became protected. Which led to the glorious compromise you see here.
7 Orlando, Florida: When ‘Understated’ Just Isn’t In Your Vocabulary
Over the course of this rundown, then, we’ve seen the various different approaches McDonald’s take with their locations. Sometimes, a standard, instantly-recognisable outlet will be built. Other times, they’ll seamlessly incorporate their iconic Golden Arches into an existing building. Sometimes, they’ll be a little more classy and artsy. Other times, they’ll… well, do this.
This McDonald’s restaurant, in Orlando, Florida, isn’t shy about drawing attention to itself. This is a restaurant that says, “Hey, you! You over there! You’ve got a hankering for burgers and fries, haven’t you? I’ve got burgers and fries. That’s why there’s a huge mural of them all over my face.”
6 Independence, Ohio: Well, Fancy That!
Despite the barnstorming success of McDonald’s all around the world, there’s certainly no doubt that it’s still controversial. Fast food in general has been the target of all sorts of health campaigns over the years, and all sorts of chains have made efforts to clean themselves up and perform damage control on their reputations.
At the heart of it, though, McDonald’s is still McDonald’s. This outlet in Independence, Ohio is famous for its classy colonial façade. Despite outward appearances, though, as Cleveland 19 News reports, visitors see a slim-to-bupkus difference in the food. Chandeliers and self-playing pianos have got to count for something though, right?
5 Milan, Italy: Get Your Happy Meals With A Side Of Culture
As I say, if you’re looking for some of the world’s most lavish cultural hotspots, you can’t go wrong with a tour of Europe. Another highlight is Italy’s fabulous, fashionable Milan.
One of your first stops, should you visit the city, could be the Galleria Vittoria Emanuele II. The country’s oldest functional shopping mall, it’s an elegantly-decorated and stylish place for some retail therapy. Of course, you’re going to need somewhere suitably stylish to stop off to eat while you’re there. So how about this McDonald’s, which looks as effortlessly sophisticated as anything else in the lavish mall? I don’t know how they do it.
As Fashion Avec Passion reports, though, the chain’s presence has been controversial over the years, battling Prada for its spot in the Mall in 2012.
4 Victoria, Australia: When McDonald’s Goes Full Artsy
Do you remember that episode of The Simpsons, where Moe becomes disheartened with his grimy, dank bar? He has it all remodelled in a peculiar, post-modern art style, with psychedelic eyeballs staring down at patrons and such.
This McDonald’s outlet, in Clifton Hill, Victoria, gives me that same kind of vibe. The art deco stylings of this Australian restaurant dial things all the way up to eleven, and then beyond. It’s certainly eye-catching and quirky, there’s no denying that, but at the same time… it seems a little too much for me. Sometimes, you can get over-excited and forget what you’re really all about.
3 Hangzhou, China: Rice, Rice, Baby
We’ve already touched on one of the cornerstones of McDonald’s success: adapting to the audience. After all, tastes change wildly around the world, and a menu that suits one country just fine will fail miserably in another. It’s all about knowing your clientele.
This next outlet has no problems in that regard. This large restaurant in Hangzhou, China incorporates the fine local architecture, making for an eye-catching and unique restaurant. It also, crucially, caters to local tastes, offering rice-based meals and, according to The Richest, a broader variety of pies. One of which features taro, a root vegetable from southeast Asia.
2 Porto, Portugal: Imperial Indeed
Ah, yes. Now this is where it’s really at. Perhaps one of the most impressive McDonald’s restaurants you’ll find anywhere, this Portuguese location was built on the site of the old Imperial Café.
The former building was in desperate need of some TLC, which a thriving McDonald’s restaurant will certainly deliver. It retains several of the features of the old café, with the resplendent eagle still outside. Inside, you’ll find a lavish building, with all the high ceilings, chandeliers and fine furnishings you could ever hope for. Again, this isn’t something you’d come to the chain for, per se, but it’s hardly going to hurt. Very impressive.
1 London, England: Olympic-Standard Food Service
So, yes. Over the course of this rundown, we’ve taken a look at some of the world’s most unusual McDonald’s restaurants. Unusual décor, unusual items on the menu, unusual locations… we’ve seen it all. I’ve saved something special to close this one out, though: the (former) largest McDonald’s restaurant on the planet.
In 2012, London hosted the Olympics. To cater to this monument event, an enormous McDonald’s outlet was built. It was to be open only for the event’s run, and most of the building was later recycled or repurposed.
As the Daily Mail reports, this supersized outlet was right in the middle of the Olympic Park; a 3,000 sq ft building which was the busiest McDonald’s in the world for its brief span. 1,200 customers per hour!
Resources: New York Post, Business Insider, The Richest, Fodors, Twisted Sifter, Roadtrippers, Cleveland 19 News.