There’s been a spike in alternative tourism lately—a travel ethic where only the bravest adventurers seek out the macabre, the sinister, and the normally unappetising corners of the world. There are places where travellers lace up their boots and strap on their paranormal electromagnetic field detectors, hoping the stories they’ve read are just meant for shock value. Dark tourism leads you to cemeteries, forgotten factories, empty mansions, and, of course, forgotton asylums.
In the previous century, the last place you’d want to end up is in an institution. With squalid conditions, malevolent doctors, and forced isolation, it’s no wonder why so many patients lost all remaining sanity.
The remains of these facilities can most commonly be found in the US and England, though a few prominent asylums can be found in Europe and Asia. You'll notice a pattern in the American architecture that is the default for the hospital buildings. The Kirkbride layout was designed to be more inviting, but in their current decrepit state evoke feelings of medical malpractice than a home for those with mental illness.
Still, curiosity gets the better of us, and decades after they’ve closed their doors, we still find a way in. Many of those that haven’t been converted or demolished offer unique tours and experiences, so if you find yourself bored and disillusioned with normal attractions on your next holiday, try walking the halls of these buildings.
25 Poole Park Asylum- We're staying far away
We'll start with an easy one, known today more for its picturesque 19th century architecture than the echoing yells of patients. Once a country estate for a wealthy family, if you didn’t know this was later converted into an asylum, you might assume it was a simple abandoned manor house.
Poole Park is located near Ruthin, Wales, in the north of the country, and once inside, you’ll see the skeletal remains of a once beautiful country house, including a parlour and a (mostly) intact grand staircase. The property has recently been put up for sale, but we don’t yet know if developers have plans.
24 Lier Sykehus- This Institution's History Is Shiver-Inducing
Unique to Norway, this institution rests just outside the town of Drammen and could house about 600 patients. It famously practised experimental therapies and electroconvulsive treatments after WWII, but knowledge of its patients and doctors is otherwise scarce.
It’s for this reason that urban legends and ghost stories are told about Lier Sykehus, including the generic story of a nurse pacing the halls or visitors hearing patients screaming. The buildings are still largely the way they were left, though there is much structural damage internally. A mental hospital still operates on part of the grounds, if there’s any need to add to the what was already a little too much for us.
23 Denbigh Asylum- The First Of Many Welsh Mental Institutions
Denbigh in Wales faces an uncertain fate, passed from owner to owner since its closure. It’s a beautiful, yet shadowy complex surrounded by serene Welsh countryside. Originally meant to house 200 patients, it grew to hold up to 1,500.
Real horrors took place within the walls of Denbigh, where rumours of patients being locked in cages and forced into lobotomies are still hotly discussed, and those who’ve gotten into the building have seen the rusted and mangled cages. It’s also been reported that if you venture far enough within the building, you might hear angry sounds coming from the walls.
22 Norwich State Hospital- Ghost Hunters Are Fascinated By This Asylum
While it was in operation, Connecticut’s Norwich State Hospital was the site of countless sad events, consequently making it the perfect stomping ground for ghosts. Opened in 1904, patients, nurses, and other employees started passing away under strange circumstances soon after, with some patients passing away shortly after release.
It wasn’t long for the hospital to be known for violence against patients, including a type of “treatment” that involved submerging a person in ice. Today, it’s the source of interest for many ghost hunters, including being the subject of the show Ghost Hunters.
21 Ospedale Psichiatrico di Volterra- Where The Best Graffiti Is The Work Of A Patient
Nestled in the hills of sun-kissed Tuscany sits the remains of Ospedale Psichiatrico di Volterra. The hospital opened its doors in 1888 and soon resembled a prison more than a medical facility. In the midst of patient mistreatment, isolation, and electroshock treatment, one patient stands out.
On some of the walls of the asylum, you might see detailed drawings that follow a unique pattern, suggesting they were made by the same artist. Fernando Oreste Nannetti expertly carved 180 metres of wall over years of incarceration, and his designs were posthumously recognised by the City of Volterra with a Civic Merit.
20 Willard Asylum - Where troubled Patients Went In Search Of Peace
Other asylums might have backstories and infamous ghosts, Willard Asylum for the Chronic Insane has a slightly more comforting history. It was a place of quiet and refuge for troubled patients who suffered mistreatment at the hands of their carers. At Willard, they were able to walk about freely and participate in activities they enjoyed.
Willard harbours an interesting attic collection. Many patients who arrived didn’t leave, and were buried in the asylum cemetery. But hospital staff kept their possessions, and stockpiled suitcases in an unused room, where they remained long after Willard’s decommissioning.
19 Beelitz Heilstätten- Everything About This WWII Hospital Is Horrifying
It may look cool, but the German hospital, Beelitz Heilstätten, is anything but.
Opened in 1898 as a tubercularium, it was used as a hospital for soldiers during WWI, and nursed one very infamous patient back to health: Adolf. Later, during WWII, he used the facilities for the same purpose, and then in 1995, it was occupied by the Soviets.
The psychiatric ward was only one wing of the hospital, but you can imagine what horrors took place in a military hospital’s psych ward. Now, pathways connect buildings for interested visitors, but it hasn’t lost its spook value.
18 Rolling Hills Asylum- Not For The Faint-Hearted
Of all of New York’s abandoned asylums, Rolling Hills takes the cake for paranormal activity. In the 19th century, it wasn’t just a madhouse, it became a dumping site of society’s outcasts—anyone who couldn’t care for themselves was dropped at the door of Rolling Hills and hoped for the best. The poor and the sick shared bedrooms with orphans and mentally disabled.
There were nearly 2,000 lives lost at Rolling Hills in its 150-year lifetime, all of which were buried in unmarked graves. Visitors and ghost hunters report a high level of electromagnetic activity, and the amateur hunter can opt to take a paranormal tour of the facility.
17 Harlem Valley Psychiatric Center- Will This Long-Forgotten Asylum Become An Upscale Private College?
The property on which Harlem Valley Psychiatric Centre stands was originally meant for a prison, but instead grew to a 900-acre hospital that could house up to 5,000 patients. During its operation, it was one of the largest in New England, and later became known for performing lobotomies in the 1950s.
It closed in the 1990s, as did many mental hospitals, and has remained in almost the exact state it was left in. The interior has fallen into ruin, but the exterior and sprawling grounds are a testament to its popularity. The property has been purchased by an evangelical college, and soon it could see students filtering in as patients once did.
16 Hart Island Asylum- This Island Is Eerily Close To The Bronx
New York’s Hart Island is plagued by an unsettling past and present—it's a place where only unpleasant things happen. It’s been used as a Civil War prison camp, mental institution, tubercularium, potter’s field, and a youth detention centre for boys. As you’ve probably guessed, you won’t feel the best vibes coming off this tiny island.
The crumbling building that presides over the mass grave is the former Hart Island Asylum, used exclusively to house women. Visiting is incredibly difficult, as you must get permission from the correctional facility and you’re not allowed to wander the island.
15 Gonjiam Psychiatric Hospital- Spooked By Years Of Health Code Violations
Considering South Korea’s Gonjiam Psychiatric Hospital was the setting of a full-length horror movie, you’d think it has some merit with ghost stories to back it up. It’s infamous around the world for being spooky, but past the caving walls and debris littering the floor, it’s not as spooky as it’s hyped up to be.
Gonjiam was closed because of loss of funding and sanitation issues, not from the disappearance of patients and doctors. Still, if you’re able to find your way to the wooded asylum, the state it’s in will show you why it’s the inspiration for so many horror stories.
14 Riverview Hospital- Movie Buffs Will Recognise This Iconic Building
British Columbia’s Riverview Hospital had been in operation until 2010, leaving the remaining buildings of the complex somewhat more intact than those of other decommissioned facilities. The oldest part of the hospital, West Lawn Pavilion, was opened in 1913 to treat some of Canada’s most unhinged male patients and though it closed in 1983, remains one of the most famous buildings for curious visitors.
If you’re a fan of movies and television, you might recognise the grounds of Riverview as the setting for major productions such as Supernatural, The X Files, Saw, Elf, and Deadpool 2, among a handful of others.
13 Tioronda Mansion- The High-Class Facility That Treated The Most Famous Patients
Tioronda Mansion, also called Craig House, looks like something out of a Halloween movie, and has a story to match. Once the premier treatment centre for America’s wealthiest patients, the house took a stance on curing disabilities far different than any other—patients were treated with luxury, in hopes that finery would improve the health of patients.
Some of Craig House’s famous patients included Rosemary Kennedy, sister to president John F. Kennedy, and Zelda Fitzgerald, whose stay was well documented by letters between herself and her husband, F. Scott Fitzgerald.
12 Danvers State Hospital- A Must-See For The Alternative Traveller
Danvers State Hospital is a magnificent example of the Kirkbride asylum design, and was horrifying enough for H.P. Lovecraft, who used the hospital as inspiration in his writing. Opened in 1878, it had a rather quiet history until the 1930s when overcrowding in the hospital began and worsened in the following decades. Mistreatment raged through the halls and staff used any means of quieting patients.
What's worse is that after it closed, the building was protected under a historic status, and yet it was sold to developers who demolished almost all of the original structure, though one section of the Kirkbride complex still stands.
11 Waverly Hills Sanatorium- Is This The Most Spooky Place In America?
If even the look of this building doesn’t make you jump, you’re off to a good start. Waverly Hills Sanatorium in Louisville, Kentucky is notorious for its paranormal activity, although it’s not known for losing as many patients as other facilities.
At one time, it was a tuberculosis sanitarium. Waverly Hills now offers tours during the summer season, and the bravest can even opt to spend a night in the dilapidated building. Could you explore the aptly named “body chute” after sunset?
10 Forest Haven Asylum- This Deadly Facility Was Once One Of America's Finest
Opened to provide care to Washington, D.C. area residents, Forest Haven Asylum initially tended to children and adults with the best care, and from its opening in 1925 was a state-of-the-art facility.
In the following years, however, treatment declined. The buildings were grossly overcrowded, staff was constantly short, and those who did tend to patients were medically incompetent.
Hundreds of patients endured a miserable existence at Forest Haven, with many passing away from aspiration pneumonia. Those who did were buried in a mass grave in a nearby field. Urban explorers who have visited can still see discarded medical equipment and records.
9 Trans-Allegheny Asylum- Could You Spend A Night In A Forgotten Asylum?
The Trans-Allegheny Asylum holds the title for the second largest hand cut sandstone building, surpassed only by the Moscow Kremlin, and is a spectacle in itself. It opened in 1864 to house 250 residents, but nearly always took in more than capacity, with up to 2,600 in the 1950s.
The hospital was bought in 2007 and its owners began to open the property for tours. They have many packages suitable for any type of urban explorer, ranging from budget friendly to fully-immersive ghost hunting packages and overnight stays. They even have a gift shop on the premises!
8 Athens Asylum- If It's Part Of A Modern University
Athens Asylum can be found unsuspectingly on the grounds of Ohio University. The uninformed passerby would have no idea what stories the buildings harbour, including being one of the most notable in the period of lobotomies.
Most of the former hospital has been renovated and is now fully incorporated into student dorms and academic buildings at the university, which is great news for these historic buildings. The two most famous unrenovated buildings onsite are called Cottages B and M, but their futures are uncertain due to break-ins and vandalism.
7 Letchworth Village- Home For The Mentally Ill Or Dodgy Testing Facility?
If your average asylum complex isn’t enough for you, try a visit to New York’s Letchworth Village. As its name suggests, it was a huge campus of 130 buildings, but what remains is dilapidated and succumbing to nature.
It was the first polio vaccine test site, administered to child patients in the 1950s, and we still use the same vaccine today. Although it was opened in 1911, the first reports of mistreatment surfaced in the 1920s, namely overcrowding and medical testing on unwilling patients.
The village is now entirely abandoned and left to decompose, and visitors have easy access as it’s in an urban area.
6 Beechworth Asylum- They Say Those Who Went In Didn't Come Out
This Australian institution basks in a hot, beachy climate, and though it may look like a beachside resort, you wouldn’t want to spend your holidays in this old madhouse. Beechworth had an incredibly lax new patient policy, and all it took to be admitted was a request from a family member or friend and the recommendation of a doctor.
Once admitted, it was difficult to leave. You can still see the Ha-Ha Walls, which surrounded the grounds and made it appear from the outside that patients weren’t imprisoned, but a deep trench was dug inside the wall to ensure there was no escaping.
5 Rockhaven Sanitarium- California Community Tries To Save This Heritage Asylum
Rockhaven Sanitarium in California seems like a residential apartment community in urgent need of renovating. It was America’s first mental hospital founded by a woman, Agnes Richards, who worked in the deplorable conditions of other hospitals and wanted to change the standard of care for mentally ill people. It operated for 81 years, finally being shuttered in 2006.
The campus was saved from demolition by the local community, citing historic significance as reasoning for protection, but the buildings aren’t safe yet. There is debate as to what should be done with the property, but for now, you can walk right up to this haven.
4 Narrenturm- Austria's Spooky "House Of Fools" Turned Macabre Museum
The Narrenturm is a circular hospital and Europe’s oldest asylum, surviving from the 18th century. The Narrenturm was fairly progressive for its age—instead of locking patients in cages, doctors observed their behaviour and let them roam in the courtyard at the centre of the building.
Located on the campus of the University of Vienna, the tower is now home to the National Pathological-Anatomical Museum, which is exactly as pleasant as it sounds. Exhibits are pretty confronting specimens of deformities and diseases preserved in jars and wax reconstructions, but if you’re already exploring abandoned asylums, you’ll feel right at home.
3 St John's Asylum- Specialising In Forced Electric Shock Therapy
With its peeling paint and rotting floorboards, St John’s Asylum in Lincolnshire, England is the perfect example of an asylum that’s lost its life. It's had almost 30 years to lay in silence, and it might not have much time left.
Like many psychiatric hospitals in its day, doctors would utilise electroshock treatments and lobotomies to cure patients, and were default procedures at the slightest sign of schizophrenia. Stories are told of patients who ended it all in their rooms after being unable to cope with the stress of the treatments.
2 Fairfield Hills State Hospital- Because The Best Place To Build A Mental Hospital Is In The Centre Of Town
Walking through the quaint New England town of Newtown, Connecticut, you’ll find the imposing buildings that once made up Fairfield Hills State Hospital. In its short span of operation (it was open from the 1930s to 1995),it treated thousands of patients under conditions that were questionable at best.
What’s most unwelcome, however, are the tunnels that snaked underneath the hospital and led to underground operation rooms and the morgue. Unfortunately, these were filled in and are now nonexistent. The buildings are also closed off to the public, but you can walk about the exterior of the campus.
1 Whittingham Hospital- A Psychiatric Unit Still Operates On These Grounds
While not one of the world’s best-known or most spooky asylums, Whittingham Hospital in northwest England has a story all its own.
Dating back to 1873, Whittingham became England’s largest mental hospital, and was a pioneer in the use of electroencephalograms, helping advance the fields of psychology and psychiatry. At its peak, it housed over 3,500 patients, but concerns about the conditions patients lived in grew. It closed in 1995, putting an end to the Victorian ideal of mental health care.
There are a few protected buildings left, and a modern psychiatric unit has been opened on the same property.