It can be terrifyingly easy to fall into a routine and to seek out both the commonplace and the comfortable without a second thought. But if you’re looking to shake things up, you’ll probably want to check out Atlas Obscura: a website dedicated to helping you explore the lesser-taken paths and hidden gems of the world.
With its roots as an online magazine and travel company, it’s no real surprise that Atlas Obscura knows where all of the best off-the-beaten-path destinations are—even ones in your city you might never have otherwise discovered. The website labels itself as “The definitive guide to the world’s hidden wonders” and holds all kinds of adventures within it, from gastronomical wonders to historical stories about the coolest unusual attractions across the globe. It’s a rabbit hole well worth falling into.
Note: While most people can’t travel right now due to COVID-19, but Atlas Obscura is an excellent way to scratch that itch locally or to gather ideas for when it’s safe to start traveling again.
In addition to having tons of fun things to look at online, Atlas Obscura is the perfect app for exploring your own hometown and for planning an exotic trip, especially if you aren’t the biggest fan of museums and other common tourist traps. It’s also a great resource for seeing places you might not ever get to visit, documented by other people who love traveling and exploring just as much as you do. And hell, if you’re the wanderlust type, always looking for neat nooks and crannies everywhere you go, the site even lets you submit new places that can be shared with other readers.
In an interview with NPR, Atlas Obscura co-founder Dylan Thuras stated, “The world is still this huge, bizarre, vast place filled with astounding stuff. And if you sort of tilt your view a little bit and start looking for it, you start finding it everywhere.” Dylan and his co-founder Josh Foer both embarked on transformative travels as young adults, focusing on deep exploration and examinations of global places and cultures.
Currently, Atlas Obscura has over 20,600 catalog entries worldwide, ranging from the unusual—like the End of the World Cinema in Egypt or the Fantasy World medieval theme park ruins in the Philippines—to the beautifully curious—like the Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Wilderness Study in New Mexico or the Zhangye National Geopark in China.
Atlas Obscura’s Experiences are worth taking a look at, as they offer unique interactive experiences that connect you with a location or idea in ways that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to experience on your own. They’re also a great way to fill up your travel itinerary or learn more about your own city. Experiences vary daily but include things like weird home tours, taxidermy, culinary anthropology, and Victorian hair arts. It’s wild but fun.
If you’re ready to go explore the world but aren’t sure where to start, you can sign up for an Atlas Obscura Trip along with other users. The site states that “Atlas Obscura Trips are designed to have a positive impact on you, the places you visit, and the people who live there.” These trips ensure that you’ll uncover hidden wonders, meet local experts and insiders, and responsibly travel and explore, doing some good along the way.
While searching for a trip, you’ll be able to see the maximum group size, activity level, travel style, and base price. Accommodations, transportation, and food are usually included, and you’ll be able to see additional details by clicking on a specific trip. It really takes the pressure off, especially if you’ll be traveling abroad.
Exploring a city (or planning a trip or experience) on Atlas Obscura is simple. Just type the name of the place you want to view, then voila! A curated list appears for said city, complete with attractions, experiences, food and drink options, and historical stories. If you’re signed in, you can save any locations or experiences you’re interested in to your Lists. You can also compete with other Atlas Obscura users on the site’s Leaderboards for each city, fighting for dominance in the three categories: Places Added, Places Edited, and Places Visited. You can even see recent check-in activity for specific places, which gamifies traveling and exploring.
Searching for a city will also break down what types of things are in that city. This can include all types of destination categories like “Architectural Oddities,” “Commercial Curiosities,” and “Unique Restaurants and Bars.” There are even regional forums, where users can talk about specific cities or recommendations, ask for traveling advice, and discuss a specific attraction. The website is so robust, you can easily find plenty of activities, sights, and meal options to fill your entire travel itinerary.
You can create an account for free, or upgrade to an account with a paid membership that helps support the site and keep it up and running. Membership options range from $5-$50 per month and gives you a discount on your next Atlas Obscura trip, access to members-only experiences and new travel tools, and reduces the number of ads seen on the site.
So whether you’re looking for some cool stuff to see and experience on your next vacation or simply want to see the world from the comfort of your couch, Atlas Obscura won’t disappoint.