Hidden Edinburgh: The Atlas Obscura Guide - Atlas Obscura

The Atlas Obscura Guide to
Hidden Edinburgh

Crowds clog Edinburgh's Royal Mile, the main artery between Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace. The road is dotted with stores selling Nessie trinkets and lined with bagpipers and street performers pulling off dazzling tricks. But look beyond the tartan tourist traps, and you’ll discover tucked-away gardens, remnants of the city’s medieval past, and much more.

Celtic legends influenced the fountain’s design. Mihaela Bodlovic
Macabre Memorial

1. The Witches’ Well

You’ll start your day at the Edinburgh Castle Esplanade, the large, flat area in front of the fortress’s gatehouse. It now teems with tourists, but once served a more sinister purpose. Witch hunts plagued Europe from the 15th through 18th centuries, when thousands of alleged witches—mostly women—were burned at the stake or hanged. In the 16th century, more women were murdered at this site than anywhere else in Scotland. 

A memorial to the people killed at this spot sits on the cobbled street at the top of the Royal Mile, but it's easy to miss. Look toward the wall of the attraction called the Tartan Weaving Mill and Experience, and you’ll notice a cast iron fountain and plaque. Sir Patrick Geddes, a philanthropist known for his innovative thinking in urban planning and sociology, commissioned artist John Duncan to create the fountain in 1894. Examine the fountain’s details, and you’ll see the image of a snake ensnaring the witches’ heads, as well as foxglove, a plant used for both medicinal purposes and poison. A hole beneath the snake’s head once spouted water, but the fountain is now dry.

555 Castlehill, Edinburgh, Scotland EH1 2ND

The cabinet is just one of many storied artifacts that fill the old building. Mihaela Bodlovic
Curious Cabinet

2. Deacon Brodie’s Wardrobe

Duck into the alley called Lady Stair’s Close, and you’ll find a small museum in a 17th-century building dedicated to three legendary writers: Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson. Take the stairs down to the Stevenson room, where you’ll notice a handsome mahogany cabinet standing against the wall. At first, the piece of furniture seems out of place among Stevenson’s more obviously intriguing effects, which include a ring gifted to him by a Samoan chief. But the wardrobe, which once stood in the writer’s childhood bedroom, was made by none other than Deacon Brodie, the legendary craftsman believed to have inspired the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. This piece of furniture is a surprising entry point into a wacky historical anecdote about the famous figure. 

Brodie, whose name graces various pubs, was an esteemed 18th-century socialite. A locksmith and master cabinetmaker by trade, he was named Deacon of the Incorporation of Wrights, earning him power within the woodworking guild and a spot on the city council. But unknown to his admirers, the esteemed tradesman had a shadier side: He’d make copies of keys to his wealthy clients’ houses so he could later sneak into their homes and rob them. After a failed robbery attempt in 1788, Brodie’s darker tendencies were revealed, soiling his reputation as a morally respectable man.

Lady Stair's Close, Edinburgh, Scotland EH1 2PA

These dreamy details have been carefully restored after spending centuries hidden from view. Mihaela Bodlovic
Regal Residence

3. Riddle's Court

Constructed in the 1590s, Riddle’s Court is one of the oldest buildings on the Royal Mile. It’s lived many lives and seen several renovations during its four centuries of existence, serving stints as a merchant’s mansion, the setting of a royal banquet, and even a student dormitory. For more information about the building's history, pop into the Patrick Geddes Centre near the lobby. If you ask nicely, reception may let you peek into the nearby bathroom, where you’ll find a 21st-century toilet plunked right next to a gaping 16th-century fireplace and bread oven, relics of the old kitchen.

To explore the rest of the building—including walls, staircase fragments, and other architectural ghosts lingering among modern construction—you’ll have to take a guided tour. These are typically offered on Fridays and can be booked via Eventbrite.

To rest like a royal, you can reserve a night or two in the King’s Chamber, the room where King James VI of Scotland and his wife, Anne of Denmark, once held a dinner party for the Duke of Holstein. You’ll sleep beneath a ceiling decorated with paintings created for the 1598 feast, including emblems of a thistle and double-headed eagle representing the Crown of Scotland and the Holy Roman Empire.

322 Lawnmarket, Edinburgh, Scotland EH1 2PG

Several of the city’s Protestant martyrs were dressed for their burials here. Mihaela Bodlovic
Wondrous Window

4. Magdalen Chapel's Stained Glass

Detour down Victoria Street—and as you do, be sure to snap a photo of the colorful facades hugging the edge of the curved road. Instead of turning right onto the Grassmarket, head left down the Cowgate. There, nestled among the hostels and night clubs, is Magdalen Chapel. Built in 1541 for the Incorporation of Hammermen, the chapel is now the headquarters for the Scottish Reformation Society. Enter the unassuming church, and you’ll find a bright, airy interior hiding behind its grungy outer walls. Inside, capped by a light-blue ceiling and illuminated by the stray beam of Scottish sunlight, is an unexpected window into the past. 

Magdalen Chapel houses the only significant stained glass that survived the Scottish Reformation in its original location. During the Reformation, religious art was destroyed by iconoclastic groups in favor of less-extravagant decor. But it’s believed these four stained-glass roundels were spared because they don’t depict religious imagery. Instead of Biblical scenes or saints, the glass shows heraldic designs representing the Royal Arms of Scotland, Mary of Guise (the mother of Mary Queen of Scots), and the husband and wife Michael MacQuhane and Janet Rynd, who commissioned the chapel. These rare relics, though dulled by age, draw the eye to the chapel’s center window, just as they have for nearly five centuries.

41 Cowgate, Edinburgh, Scotland EH1 1JR

You’re more likely to find a car atop this grave than a bouquet of flowers. Mihaela Bodlovic
Peculiar Parking Lot

5. Overlooked Sights in Parliament Square

Parliament Square is dominated by Saint Giles’ Cathedral. Head to the southeastern part of the structure, where you’ll step into a small chapel adorned with spectacular woodwork. The Thistle Chapel is a 20th-century addition to the 12th-century cathedral. It’s home to the chivalric Order of the Thistle, and knights’ coats of arms line the walls, surrounded by other intricate carvings. Hiding among these sigils and images of the natural world are three angels playing bagpipes—a detail charming enough to inspire the name of the restaurant across the street, Angels and Bagpipes. Eagle-eyed visitors to the chapel will spot two wooden angels—one above the top-right corner of the door, the other wedged in the corner across from the entrance—and a stone one overlooking one of the windows. 

Once you’ve left the cathedral, pop into its back parking lot and go to space number 23. If a car isn’t parked there, you’ll see the rather unceremonial burial place of John Knox, one of the country’s most prolific and influential religious figures. Knox was a 16th-century preacher and key proponent of the Protestant Reformation. It’s said Knox wanted to be buried within 20 feet of Saint Giles, and he was interred in what was once a proper graveyard. After the site was tarmacked over, a plaque was installed to mark the approximate location of his now-lost grave.

Next, turn your attention upward, and you’ll see an equestrian statue towering atop a plinth in the square, with the cathedral in the background. This life-sized effigy of Charles II riding a trusty steed was erected in 1685, the year of the king’s death. It’s the oldest statue in Edinburgh, and is believed to be the U.K.'s oldest equestrian statue made out of lead.

Parliament Square, Edinburgh, Scotland

Legend has it that body snatchers once stored corpses in these passages. Courtesy of Mercat Tours
Subterranean Secrets

6. Underground Vaults

Continue around Saint Giles’ until you’ve made your way back to the Royal Mile. You’ll arrive at the Mercat Cross, a Victorian-era replica of the medieval market cross, which denoted the location of a market where important announcements were made. But you’re not here to listen to any government proclamations. These days, the Mercat Cross is the meeting point for the Blair Street Underground Vaults tours, which descend into a forgotten world that once thrived beneath the South Bridge (make sure you’ve booked your Historic Underground ticket in advance).

When the bridge was completed in 1788, the businesses that originally lined the overpass put its 19 vaults to good use. Cobblers and smelters transformed the caverns into workshops, merchants used them as storage spaces, and pubs even packed patrons into the dark quarters. But less than a  decade after the vaults opened, the businesses began to abandon them because the bridge’s faulty seal caused leaks. Brothels, gambling pubs, and unlicensed distilleries soon flourished in the secluded spaces. Edinburgh’s poorest residents also crammed into the tight chambers, wedging entire families into a single windowless room.  

In a mid-19th century effort to evict the unsanctioned residents, the city filled the vaults with rubble and sealed them shut. They remained forgotten until the 1980s, when they were accidentally rediscovered when Scottish rugby player Norrie Rowan found a tunnel that led to them. Today, you can carefully traipse through the vaults’ uneven, sloping terrain, as your tour guide’s torch lights the way. Once you’re back above ground, you’ll pass through a small exhibition space containing a smattering of objects found within the vaults, including a broken chamber pot and a child’s glass pistol toy.

High St, Edinburgh, Scotland EH1 1RF

You may want to sit for a bit after chowing down on this meal. Mihaela Bodlovic
Traditional Treats

7. Snack Like a Scot

The Clamshell, a takeaway joint, offers a fast-food spin on haggis, Scotland’s national dish. Boiled sheep stomach stuffed with seasoned oats and offal is so beloved, it once inspired the country’s renowned poet Robert Burns to pen a poem. At the Clamshell, though, haggis gets the deep-fried treatment. The crispy orbs of sheep innards come drizzled with brown sauce and plopped atop a bed of chunky chips. Be sure to wash down your salty meal with a cup of Irn-Bru, the citrusy soda that’s more popular in Scotland than Coca-Cola. The fizzy drink tastes like a concoction of cream soda and artificial orange flavor—and some sippers even claim to detect a hint of rust. The Clamshell doesn’t offer sit-down dining, so you’ll have to tuck in on the go.

148 High St, Edinburgh, Scotland EH1 1QS

Each step is a different color, creating a rainbow of stones. Mihaela Bodlovic
Art Underfoot

8. The Scotsman Steps

Wind down Cockburn Street, a postcard-worthy road that connects the Royal Mile to Waverly Station, and turn right down Market Street. You’ll come across a stairwell that links Market Street back up to the North Bridge. Today, these stairs are an often-unnoticed work of public art, constructed from marble from the world’s major quarries. But this wasn’t always the case.

The original stone and concrete steps, 104 in total, were constructed in 1899 alongside the Scotsman building—a newspaper’s former home that now serves as a hotel. By the early 21st century, the passage had fallen into disrepair. People took to using it as a public toilet, their urine mixing with the trash that littered the space. In 2011, artist Martin Creed cooked up a new art project to revive the stairwell and give it a marble makeover. Creed used different stone to create each step, and the result is a cascading medley of pigments, with reddish purples, deep greens, and blush hues from places as far away as Turkey, Slovenia, Bosnia, and Bolivia.

Scotsman Steps, Edinburgh, Scotland EH1 1QG

Some of these centuries-old instruments are still fit to play. Mihaela Bodlovic
Musical Wonders

9. St Cecelia's Hall

Turn left down Niddry Street and enter St Cecilia’s Hall, the country’s first building of its kind. The Edinburgh Musical Society built the hall in 1762, but sold it at the beginning of the 19th century after concert-goers began opting to visit the New Town instead—the area that went up in the 18th century, when wealthy people got sick of living in cramped, destitute quarters in the Royal Mile. The University of Edinburgh bought the building in 1959 and restored the concert hall to its original rounded shape, painting its walls pleasant shades of pink.

There’s plenty more to see beyond  the rosy room. The upper level, which is where you’ll find the concert hall, also houses the Raymond Russell Collection of Early Keyboard Instruments. These centuries-old keyboards are adorned with scenic paintings, and span two rooms. You’ll find harpsichords, clavichords, spinets, virginals, and a pianoforte that date from the 16th through 18th centuries. Some of the instruments bear scars from their past lives, with the paint on their fronts rubbed away by the dresses of the ladies who once stood before them.

50 Niddry St, Edinburgh, Scotland EH1 1LG

Edinburgh once had a small fleet of sedan chairs available for hire. Mihaela Bodlovic
Architectural Oddity

10. Tweeddale Court Sedan Chair House

Step into Tweeddale Court, and you’ll notice a shed-like structure jutting out from the western wall. This tiny building is believed to be a Georgian-era sedan chair house, a storage space for the human-powered carts that ferried Edinburgh’s wealthy residents around the Old Town. This mode of transit dates back to the days when the Royal Mile wasn’t the picturesque tourist thoroughfare it is today. People crammed into the closely built tenement buildings, chucking waste from their chamber pots onto the narrow streets below with a hearty cry of “gardyloo!” Rather than slosh through the sludge of sewage pooling on the cobblestones, wealthier people would climb into a tiny wooden compartment held aloft by two long poles. A pair or two of chairmen, usually from the Highlands, would then cart riders to their destinations. By the middle of the 19th century, the city’s sanitation had improved, and sedan chairs had fallen out of fashion. You won’t see any sedan chairs here today, but head a bit farther down the Royal Mile, and you’ll come across one in the Museum of Edinburgh.

Tweeddale Court, Edinburgh, Scotland

See the sprawling city in miniature. Mihaela Bodlovic
Historic Perspective

11. Museum of Edinburgh Old Town Models

The canary-yellow Museum of Edinburgh is a trove of treasures that reveal the city’s past. Among the culinary artifacts, pottery exhibits, and centuries-old human bones are a few models of the Old Town that provide a historic bird's-eye view of the road you’ve just walked. 

Models constructed in the 1950s show the Old Town and the Canongate, which was once a separate burgh, as they looked at the end of the 16th century. Gaze down at the glass case, and you’ll spot familiar structures like Saint Giles’ poking up among the clusters of buildings crowding the High Street, many of which no longer exist. The model of the Canongate is much less dense, with large pockets of space surrounding the buildings toward the foot of the Royal Mile. 

For a more rustic interpretation of the past, look at the museum’s second model of Edinburgh as it was 500 years ago. This wooden, Victorian-era depiction of the city was displayed at the 1886 International Exhibition of Industry, Science, and Art. You’ll see the Flodden Wall, built in 1513, wrapping around the city. To the north of the Old Town lies a streak of blue representing the Nor’ Loch, an artificial lake that was drained in 1821 during the construction of the Princes Street Gardens.

142-146, Canongate, Edinburgh, Scotland EH8 8DD

The intricate tree is made out of paper. Mihaela Bodlovic
Anonymous Art

12. Book Sculptures at the Scottish Poetry Library

Step into the Scottish Poetry Library and head toward the main desk. There, protected within a glass case, stand four paper sculptures. One shows a gnarled tree sprouting from the cover of a book, its delicate paper branches draping downward. The artwork, titled “Poetree,” was the first of the original 10 Edinburgh book sculptures to mysteriously appear across the city in 2011. Over the next few months, similar sculptures materialized at various cultural institutions, garnering international attention. “Poetree” arrived at the Scottish Poetry Library in 2011, gifted as a response to the cutbacks and closures plaguing libraries. Its creator remains anonymous, though her work continues to pop up throughout Edinburgh.

5 Crichton's Cl, Edinburgh, Scotland EH8 8DT

An idyllic oasis, perfect for hunkering down with a book or a cup of tea. Mihaela Bodlovic
Garden Escape

13. Dunbar’s Close

Cross the street and duck into Dunbar’s Close, and you’ll soon feel as though you’ve left the city entirely. There, along the western wall of the Canongate Kirk, is a meticulously manicured oasis. Though the garden was built in the 1970s, it was designed with a 17th-century aesthetic in mind. You’ll first step into a section where the path meanders between the shrubbery, shaded by trees. Keep going, and you’ll see six yew plots lining the path to your right, with a lollipop-shaped holly standing in the center of each. To your left, conical shrubs tower over beds of flowers. Fig and rosemary crawl across the western wall, and honeysuckle and jasmine climb the trellises. The air is hushed here, and the city’s din dimmed. Benches against the walls provide ample opportunities to marinate in the serenity before stepping out to brave the crowds again.

137 Canongate, Edinburgh, Scotland EH8 8BW

Crossing this boundary prevented debtors from being hauled off to the Tollbooth Jail. Mihaela Bodlovic
Safety Zone

14. Sanctuary Stones

Holyrood Palace stands at the foot of the Royal Mile. Look at the pavement near the entrance, and you’ll notice a row of three brass letter “S”s. These shiny symbols were placed on the cobblestones to mark the boundary of a five-mile area once known as Abbey Sanctuary. Those attempting to evade their debt creditors could seek refuge within its confines. Food and housing were on offer, too—though with a heftier price tag than you’d find in the Old Town. People could stay in the sanctuary indefinitely, and could even leave on Sundays without fearing retaliation from their collectors.

After the law changed in 1880, debtors could no longer be chucked behind bars, rendering the sanctuary obsolete. Queen Victoria had many of the area's old buildings demolished, though one still stands and now serves as a gift shop. Peruse the store in search of a Scottish souvenir or treat, or turn right toward Holyrood Park, where you can hike up the crags or its extinct volcano for breathtaking vistas of the Old Town.

Abbey Strand, Edinburgh, Scotland EH8 8DU

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Visit any honky tonk around the state and you’ll immediately know: Texans love their music. This is a state rich with musical history and musical culture, from the roots of country music to libraries dedicated to the preservation of historic gospel records. Below are some of the most interesting ways to experience music and sound in the state, whether you’re a country music lover or simply a traveler with curious ears.


8 Ways to Discover Texas’ Rich History

As the largest state in the contiguous U.S., Texas also holds a vast amount of the country’s history. While we all remember the Alamo, there’s also a trove of geological, cultural, and even gastronomic history among Texas’ wide skies and vast deserts. Here are some of the most exciting spots to learn about the state’s past, while enjoying its present.

The changing colors of Uluru at sunset. The famous gigantic monolith rock in the Australian desert.

The Explorer’s Guide to the Northern Territory, Australia

The Northern Territory is home to rich Aboriginal culture that spans back around 60,000 years. The history, culture, and stories of the dozens of Aboriginal nations that make up the area are an intrinsic part of every experience you will have here.Located in the central north of Australia, the Northern Territory is three times the size of California, but has a population of only 250,000. It’s a land with a deep and sacred connection to its history, colorful deserts, and lush tropical rainforests. Visit the Northern Territory to experience the ancient wisdom of Aboriginal astronomers, sample unique bush tucker, and see creatures found nowhere else in the world.

With Bill Cosby long gone, Kamala Harris is now in residence at Ben's Chili Bowl, Washington, DC USA

The Explorer's Guide to U Street Corridor

The U Street Corridor is an epicenter of art and African American heritage in Washington, DC. Once known as “Black Broadway,” U Street was the center of Black culture in America. (It’s where Duke Ellington was born!) Though the neighborhood struggled in the years following the 1968 riots, it’s as vibrant as ever today. Start your day on U Street at a mural honoring Black Americans from Harriet Tubman to Dave Chapelle, and end at a beloved Ethiopian restaurant where you might be lucky enough to catch some live music and dancing. Along the way you’ll grab a drink, uncover forgotten history, and stand inside theaters where everyone from Ella Fitzgerald to Nirvana have performed.


Gastro Obscura Guide to Southern Eats

The American South is a mecca of delectable, comforting, and enduring cuisines from an array of cultures. Ranging from Creole to soul, and from Appalachian to Zimbabwean, our multi-state guide offers a unique tasting adventure that you won’t find anywhere else in the world. This itinerary blends some of the most iconic, lesser-known food stops across Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and North Carolina into one unforgettably tasty road trip.

One of the grandest spaces in the Nemours Estate, The Reception Hall is where the duPonts would celebrate Christmas.

Only In Delaware

Delaware may not be the largest state in the country (in fact, it’s the second-smallest, and could squeeze into the next biggest state, Connecticut, two times comfortably). It’s not the most metropolitan, either (in fact, its capital city, Dover, is one of the least populated capital cities in the country). Delaware is, however, the oldest state in the country. The rich history therein, along with the natural beauty of the Blue Hen State and the unique characters who have called it home, make it a true hidden gem. From opulent family gardens to cannonball-riddled homes to fascinating defense structures, this itinerary will guide you through some of the state’s most extraordinary attractions. Beside outdoor activities like kayaking, horseback-riding, and fishing, there’s also historic homes, museums, and art installations of unthinkable scale. Sometimes, it’s true what they say—the best things do come in small packages. Welcome to Delaware.


The Secret History & Hidden Wonders of Charlotte, North Carolina

At the heart of the south, Charlotte is a booming city full of new life. Cranes have dotted the skyline for more than a decade as it has become the most populous city in North Carolina. There is so much to see in Charlotte, from a rose garden hidden just outside the city center to a retro video rental store with over 30,000 titles. What many newcomers don’t know is Charlotte’s deep-rooted history that dates back to before the colonies became the United States. This list of 10 destinations will only scratch the surface of the many special places to visit in the Queen City.


Exploring Colorado's Historic Hot Springs Loop

Nestled in the imposing Rocky Mountains of Colorado and the gorgeous high-alpine valleys, the Historic Hot Springs Loop is a treasure trove of geothermal hot spring resorts and destinations, offering visitors a chance to unwind and recharge in pristine natural mineral waters. The loop, which stretches from Glenwood Springs to Ouray, is home to an array of distinctive hot spring resorts, each with their own unique history, atmosphere, and therapeutic properties. From the luxurious spa-like feel of Glenwood Hot Springs with the world’s largest geothermal pool, to the rustic charm of Ouray Hot Springs with soothing vapor caves, there's something for every type of hot spring enthusiast.

Big Balanced Rock stuns along the Heart of Rocks Loop near Wilcox, AZ.

A Guide to Arizona’s Most Striking Natural Wonders

Arizona has some of the most beautiful and surprising landscapes the American West has to offer. The geography of this northeastern stretch of the Sonoran desert can be incredibly dramatic. And while we’ve all heard of—or seen—the majesty of the Grand Canyon, there are a number of lesser-known natural wonders that will take you off the beaten path in this gorgeous state.

All the ghosts are friendly in these towns.

These 8 Arizona Ghost Towns Will Transport You to the Wild West

In the desert of Arizona, a string of ghost towns have been preserved and refurbished to give visitors a glimpse into the history of miners and the businesses who served them during the boom times of the turn of the century. Whether you want to pan for gold, discover junk art, or stay a night in a mining engineer’s cabin, these ghost towns will transport you into Arizona’s Wild West past.


The Explorer's Guide to Hudson Valley, New York

Just a short trip north of New York City, the Hudson Valley is great for both day trips and road trips. Atlas Obscura co-founder Dylan Thuras is a local resident, and loves the natural wonders, as well as the incredible culture and history found in the region. This itinerary combines his favorite spots into one stunning road trip. Start your adventure at a living antique aviation museum near the historic town of Red Hook, and end with dinner at a Victorian resort. Along the way, you’ll make pit stops at towering waterfalls, a giant kaleidoscope, and incredible views of the beautiful Hudson Valley.


Discover the Endless Beauty of the Pine Tree State

When people think of Maine, it’s often the rugged beauty of the coast that comes to mind: sunsets over craggy shorelines, lighthouses surrounded by towering pines, and lobster boats dotting the bay. But whether you’re angling for a hike, paddle, or simply a long drive through the backcountry, there’s no shortage of spectacular natural features throughout all of Maine’s 16 counties. This itinerary will take you from secluded coves along Maine’s coastline to the highest peaks in the state, alongside thundering waterfalls, mystifying geology, and myriad wildlife. Welcome to Maine—act natural.


Travel to New Heights Around the Pine Tree State

There’s already plenty to see and do in Maine with your feet firmly planted on the ground. But what if you could change your vantage point and get above it all? This itinerary will send you into the clouds, atop the state’s highest peaks, and through endless skies on planes, chairlifts, and hot air balloons where you’ll be able to take in Maine’s grandeur with nothing but crisp, clean, mountain air in the way.


8 Historical Must-Sees in Granbury, Texas

Granbury, Texas is 70 miles southwest of Dallas but a world away from the Big D’s big-city vibe. Founded in 1860, Granbury started as a town square with a log cabin courthouse. Today, this charming town of around 10,000 is the seat of Hood County and home to the first town square in Texas to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A poster child for restoration projects all over America, Granbury boasts a lively arts and dining scene; plenty of green space; and a lake with a sandy beach used for splashing, sunning, and kayaking along the shore. Then there’s the lore and legend that the locals swear by, Texas tales which may be tall or true. The town’s history is one of its great advantages, and peering through that lens is the best way to truly see Granbury.


7 Creative Ways to Take in San Antonio’s Culture

If you’re planning a trip to San Antonio, all signs will point you to the Riverwalk, the most-visited tourist destination in the whole state. And while the area offers countless bars, restaurants, and shops, the city is host to a wide array of cultural gems, waiting in plain sight. Whether it’s visiting gorgeous missions, touring sculpture gardens, or immersing yourself in African-American history, San Antonio contains fascinating excursions that will brighten up any trip.

The winding parkway offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains.

Eat Across the Blue Ridge Parkway

In 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt so enjoyed a ride through Virginia’s Skyline Drive that he wanted to make it go on longer—nearly 500 miles longer, to be exact. In the coming months, his administration kicked off a massive roadway project to connect Skyline with Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and the Blue Ridge Parkway was born. Today, the Parkway remains one of the most beautiful drives in the country, connecting the Great Smoky Mountains to Shenandoah National Park. While its scenic overlooks get all the attention, the region’s restaurants offer a more intimate way to experience the landscape: through the very flavors of the berry bushes that line its trails, the trout that swim in its rivers, and the vegetation that gives its green mountains their striking hue. From elk burgers at a Native-owned diner to a foraged feast at an Afro-Appalachian restaurant, here’s a guide to the most incredible places to taste the flora and fauna of the Blue Ridge mountains.


6 Ways to Absorb Addison, Texas’ Arts and Culture

Addison, Texas found acclaim in 1975 when residents pushed for alcohol to be served in public areas, when many nearby towns were dry. With an almost immediate surge in visitors, about five years later the Town launched an aggressive beautification program. Fast forward to present day, and every corner of this small town has a unique theme or landscape, and the city is teeming with public artworks. Conveniently, visitors can download the Otocast app, which offers guided audio and a full map of all the public artwork found throughout the town. The guided tours come complete with photos, descriptions, and audio of the artists discussing their work. Below is a list of places from which to start your journey.


6 Ways to Take in the History of Mesquite, Texas

Located just outside the skyscrapers and congestion of downtown Dallas, Mesquite has managed to hold onto its roots as an agrarian community while still keeping up with the times. Known as the Official Rodeo Capital of Texas, the city attracts hundreds of thousands of rodeo fans annually. But the rich town history is also a major draw for visitors wanting to get off the big city track, as exemplified by these six spots.


6 Ways to Soak Up Plano’s Art and Culture

Plano, Texas may get its name from the flat local terrain—plano is the Spanish term for "flat"—but this Dallas suburb is anything but boring. The town makes up part of the Dallas–Fort Worth metroplex, so it’s an easy day or overnight trip if you’re visiting the big city. Located in the Northeast region of the Lone Star State, Plano is a mid-sized city with big personality, offering plenty of history and culture, with dozens of restaurants, bars, and shops. It also has an impressive collection of sculptures and public art pieces, which make for an excellent way to see the city.


9 Dallas Spots for Unique Art and Culture

In a city as big and vibrant as Dallas, it’s possible to miss a few things—like a giant eyeball statue or an enormous, happy robot, for example. This Texas city has a wonderfully quirky side; here are the best ways to take in its wide-ranging and often surprising arts and culture scene.


7 Sites of Small-Town History in Waxahachie, Texas

Waxahachie is a small Texas town that’s rich with history. Over thirty motion pictures have been filmed here, including the revolutionary Bonnie and Clyde and the Oscar-winning films Tender Mercies and Places in the Heart. It’s also been designated as the Crape Myrtle Capital of Texas, a place where you can witness the flower’s glorious blooming—especially during the Crape Myrtle Festival and Driving Trail every July. Despite its size (population: 36,735), Waxahachie boasts a wide array of historical places to visit.


6 Natural Wonders to Discover in Austin, Texas

There is more to Austin than really, really, really good tacos and barbecue. The city is also home to a smorgasbord of natural wonders, many of which are free to enjoy. So burn off your breakfast tacos or brisket by swimming and strolling among Austin’s diverse wildlife and plants.


A Road Trip Into Colorado’s Prehistoric Past

Beneath Colorado’s majestic peaks, beside its roaring rivers, and nestled in the curves of its dramatic canyons, remnants of the prehistoric world have quietly waited for eons. Only over the past several centuries have people discovered these fossils, unlocking answers to the lives of ancient flora, the behavior of long-gone plants and animals, and the ever-changing landscape of this geologically dynamic state. Pieces of the prehistoric past that you can personally witness in Colorado include the continent’s longest dinosaur trackway, the remains of an ancient rainforest, the stumps of petrified redwood trees, and much more. A lot can happen over several hundred million years—but here in Colorado, none of it’s hiding.


Discover the Secrets of Colorado’s Mountains and Valleys

Between all the world-class kayaking, hiking, and biking available in Colorado, you’re bound to find adventure-lovers around every corner this summer. But sometimes, what you really want is wide-open spaces, quiet vistas, and your footprints as your only company. In short, you want adventure on the secluded side. Luckily, in Colorado, there’s no shortage of hidden wonder. This itinerary will take you to a pristine mountain-top lake, under a triple waterfall, through majestic peaks on a historic railway, and over an iconic mountain pass on the state’s oldest aerial tram. There’s solitude to be found on this trip, but there’s also the thrill of finding some of Colorado’s best kept secrets. If you’re headed into the backcountry, follow these tips to stay safe and Do Colorado Right.


A Feminist Road Trip Across the U.S.

Atlas Obscura has a tradition of exploring the stories of women who changed the world, from wildlife biologists and mountain climbers to Civil War spies and tattoo artists. To celebrate these daring women who struck out on their own, we’ve put together a cross-country road trip. Over 12 stops and more than 3,000 miles, this route will give you a front-row seat to women’s history in America.


All Points South

Whatever hand the U.S. had in shaping world music, it had its feet planted firmly in the South. From New Orleans, where a confluence of West Africans laid the groundwork for the musical improvisation we call jazz; to Mississippi, where work-songs birthed the blues before the blues birthed rock ‘n’ roll; to Tennessee, where rock intersected with Appalachian folk songs to create country rock, this distinct artistic heritage was forged uphill, from the humblest of origins. Nonetheless, the musical legacy of unsung field hands, farmers, and blue collar workers coming up from the South would go on to change the world, and in no quiet way.


9 Watery Wonders on Florida’s Gulf Coast

With all its tidal pools, mangrove islands, and estuaries, Florida’s Gulf Coast shoreline is one of the most dynamic in the country. Throw into the mix almost a thousand natural springs, and Florida truly is a place with as much to explore both above water as below. This ten-stop itinerary is by no means exhaustive. The mermaid shows, cave-diving, underwater museums, mangrove-kayaking, and wildlife-watching opportunities presented here still only scratch the surface – and the depths - of the myriad activities possible along this wondrous coastline.


Asheville: Off the Beaten Path

With bustling food, music, and brewery scenes, Asheville has plenty of attractions—but stick to the downtown area alone, and you’re missing half the fun, at least. Surrounded by national forests, hideaway mountain towns, quirky arts centers, and more, some of Asheville's best spots lie beyond the downtown area. This itinerary will help you navigate America’s weirdest little mountain town like a local as you scale mountaintops, watch artisans at work, ride century-old trolley cars, and get fake-married at a real-live punk bar. Welcome to Asheville.

St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans

Restless Spirits of Louisiana

If ghost stories help us confront a harrowing past, it’s no surprise that Louisiana is filled to the brim. From the swamplands to the pine forests, the state reverberates with tales of fortunes won and lost, untimely demises, and some of the darkest chapters of early American history. Whether you believe in the paranormal or not, the stories below reveal the hidden histories behind this mystifying state—place by place, spirit by restless spirit.


Eat Across Route 66

Created in 1926, Route 66 was once the primary way drivers headed West, and a network of local economies sprouted up along its path. But after the Interstate Highway System replaced many portions of the “Mother Road,” most of its associated attractions faded away. Intrepid travelers, however, can still seek out the remnants of this artery through America and even find a few new gems along the way. Along with the towering Muffler Men and the sprawling, changing landscapes that speed past your car windows, the restaurants and bars along Route 66 offer an enchanting glimpse into American history and culture. From an Illinois watering hole once frequented by Al Capone to an Albuquerque restaurant specializing in pre-Columbian cuisine to a steakhouse born of Tulsa’s once-booming Lebanese community, these spots showcase the delicious diversity of America’s most iconic road.

The courses may be miniature, but the spectacle is gigantic.

18 Mini Golf Courses You Should Go Out of Your Way to Play

Adventures filled with oversized characters, obstacles, and castles await—all you need to join is a putter and a ball. Yes, we're talking about miniature golf, the Lilliputian game with a big imagination. Since 2012, we—Tom Loftus and Robin Schwartzman—have been documenting the world of mini golf on our website A Couple of Putts. After putting our way through more than 300 courses, we’ve stumbled into becoming experts who design, build, and consult on all things miniature golf. With our keen eye for elements that make courses distinctive and magical destinations, we’ve created this world tour to showcase some of our personal favorites, as well as a few courses on our “must play” list. In keeping with the theme, here are 18 unique courses that span the globe. This wild assortment of putting places offer unique ways to interact with the past and present. Putt when ready!

The Sunshine State is full of wonders below the surface.

4 Underwater Wonders of Florida

You probably know that Florida is famous for its shorelines, from the shell-stacked beaches of Sanibel Island to the music-soaked swaths of Miami. But many of the Sunshine State’s coolest attractions rarely see the light of day—they’re fully underwater. Here are some of the state’s strangest and most spectacular sites, beyond the beach, and below the surface.

The Enchanted Garden at Winterthur is full of magical spots—like an elf house.

6 Spots Where the World Comes to Delaware

Students of American history will know that Delaware is noteworthy for being the first state to ratify the Constitution of the United States, earning it the nickname “The First State.” But look beyond Delaware’s American roots, and you’ll find other cultural influences, tucked away where only the most enterprising of explorers will find them. From a Versailles-inspired palace to an English poet casually lounging in a garden, here are six places to help you travel the world without ever leaving the state.


Study Guide: Road Trip from Knoxville to Nashville

East Tennessee boasts some of the state’s most beautiful highways and byways. Rather than rushing from one destination to the next, this is the perfect road trip to meander and stop along the way. Follow this suggested itinerary between Knoxville and Nashville, and you’ll discover lesser-known historical gems, stunning natural landscapes, and some memorable treats, all bookended by two of Tennessee’s truly great cities.


Rogue Routes: The Road to Pikes Peak

It wouldn’t be quite accurate to say this route from Salt Lake City to Colorado Springs is paved by rogue trailblazers. Indeed, much of it remains unpaved, not so much out of disregard as in homage to the rugged landscape that has inspired so many to strike out against the banal, to write their own script. From pioneering artists to obsessive curators and bold builders, this route follows in the footsteps of a bold few—watch your step.

At Defiance Roadhouse, it's bottoms up.

6 Wondrous Places to Get Tipsy in Missouri

Celebration or desperation aside, these six spots in Missouri are proof that imbibing is only half the fun of bar culture. From a mountaintop drive-through golf-cart bar to the state's oldest waterhole hole—nestled more than 50 feet underground in a limestone cellar—the “Show-Me State” has no shortage of boozy fun to show you (as long as you're 21+, of course).


Rogue Routes: The Road to Carhenge

Artistic visionaries and the spirit of rogue ingenuity define this route that starts in Denver, winds through the plains of southeastern Wyoming, and finishes in Alliance, Nebraska. It takes you off the beaten path to discover quirky art installations, historic monuments, local flavors, and natural wonders. This route of 11 inspiring spots is certain to spark the autonomous flame for all who take it on.

There's nothing corny about the Duke.

4 Pop-Culture Marvels in Iowa

Iowa is the pantry of America, giving over the vast majority of its land to agriculture and producing more corn and pork than any other state. But the state has also proven fertile ground for pop culture, as well. The landscape has inspired movies, films, songs, paintings, and novels while spawning movie royalty in the form of a certain Duke. Bask in the wonderful corniness of these four pop-culture touchstones in the Hawkeye State.


7 Stone Spectacles in Georgia

At the heart of every peach rests its stone center, or pit. So perhaps it’s fitting that Georgia, the Peach State, holds a wealth of stone-based treasures of a different sort. In Walker County, a labyrinth of limestone passages leads to the deepest cave drop in the continental United States. In Calhoun, a rock garden of spectacular sculptures hides behind a church. And in Savannah, two gravestones appear on an airport runway. Whether carved by hand or nature, these stone wonders truly rock.

The Black Cliffs near Boise are great for climbers.

6 Stone-Cold Stunners in Idaho

It turns out that no one really knows how Idaho got its name. It's been thought that the name came from Shoshone, but in truth it may have just been made up by a somewhat shady politician. Regardless of what you call it, the Gem State is sparsely populated and unapologetically wild, and full of wonders—especially geological ones.


8 Historic Spots to Stop Along Mississippi's Most Famous River

The Magnolia State is also famous, of course, for being one of the locales ribboned by the squiggly Mississippi River, which stretches more than 2,300 miles from Minnesota to Louisiana. Combined with the Missouri River, one of its tributaries, the Mississippi is the fourth-longest river in the world, trailing the Nile, Amazon, and Yangtze. The river is well worth a visit—and if you’re roaming the state that shares its name and want to hug fairly close to the shore, here are eight places to pop in along the way.

Some Indiana trees have even been to the moon.

5 Incredible Trees You Can Find Only in Indiana

Once upon a time, the forests of Indiana were endless. Or that was how it seemed in the 19th century, when the state produced more lumber than anywhere else in the nation. The valuable trees went first, such as black walnut and white oak. The scrubby leftovers were often burned to create farmland. At the start of European settlement, 90 percent of what is now Indiana was forest. That number plummeted to a measly 6 percent by 1922. While the forests have significantly recovered, there are still only about 2,000 acres of old-growth forest left in the state. Yet trees hold a hallowed place here. One town has graciously allowed a tree to grow on its courthouse roof for more than a hundred years. In many graveyards, markers are fashioned to look like stumps and branches. Read on for five woody wonders of Indiana, all rooted deeply in their communities.

Colonel Harland Sanders's Grave in Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky.

5 Famous and Delightfully Obscure Folks Buried in Kentucky

When the Grim Reaper visits, it doesn't discriminate. The cemeteries of the Bluegrass State are home to a cast of characters that includes famous folks, as well as others whose faces you know, but whose names you might not recognize. Visitors can pay their respects to a fast-food icon, a world-famous athlete, comedic actor, and a local magician, as well as a folk hero who may or may not be buried there at all.

Abandoned for years, Smith Mansion's fate is still being decided.

4 Wacky Wooden Buildings in Wyoming

Picture Wyoming during its Wild West days. Once your mind wanders across the epic landscapes and into town, the mythic scene you might imagine—the saloon, the general store, the bank—will likely consist of wooden structures, ones thrown hastily up as settlers headed west in search of mining wealth, land, and work on the expanding railways. As it became the stuff of legend, accounts of the Wild West turned into tall tales, often conveniently overlooking the scale of the violent displacement of Native Americans. But as the period’s impact on the West is very real, it’s no surprise that the most unusual structures in Wyoming are wooden buildings that date from the frontier era or hearken back to it.


7 Spots to Explore New Jersey’s Horrors, Hauntings, and Hoaxes

In New Jersey, it can be difficult to separate fact from fiction. In 1909, newspapers published accounts of a monster known as the “Jersey Devil” said to be prowling the Pine Barrens. In 1938, a radio broadcast declared that aliens were invading the small community of Grover’s Mill. And today, streets and signs suggest ominous origins with names like Ghost Lake and Shades of Death Road. If you know where to look, the Garden State offers stories far stranger than any Springsteen song or scene from The Sopranos. Here are seven sites to explore the hauntings, horrors, and supernatural phenomena of New Jersey.

This ball of stamps has been hulking since 1953.

4 Out-There Exhibits Found Only in Nebraska

Nebraska is affectionately known as the Cornhusker State or the Wheat State, but this particular swath of Big Sky Country could also be called “The Land of Very Cool Collections.” From monuments to powdered beverages to love letters to roller skates, here are four exhibits worth a visit.


6 Sweet and Savory Snacks Concocted in Utah

More than half of Utah’s population is Mormon, which translates to more than 1.5 million citizens who eschew coffee, alcohol, and cigarettes. Sugar, however, is not restricted. This may explain why the state’s candy-eating rate is twice the national average: Everyone needs a vice. Or perhaps it’s that Mormons’ proclivity for large families skews the demographics in favor of sweets and starches—more kids equals more unbridled sugar fiends.Couple the state's bounty of confectionary with its proximity to Idaho, and you've got a wealth of potato-based treats to contend with, as well. In some cases, potatoes and dessert become one. Our advice? Don't knock it until you try it.


12 Places in Massachusetts Where Literature Comes to Life

Massachusetts is a lit-lover's paradise. From landscapes that have moved writers to wax poetic about beans to story-inspired sculpture parks and shops stacked with volumes new and old, the Bay State would also be aptly named the Book State. Here are 12 places to celebrate writers or the places that inspired them.

Basshenge is a big homage to a big instrument.

8 Places to Get Musical in Minnesota

Two 20th-century musical figures tower over the state of Minnesota: Prince Rogers Nelson and Robert Allen Zimmerman. (That's Prince and Dylan to us mere mortals.) And while the Gopher State definitely celebrates its favorite musical sons, much of the state has a musical bent to it, from a singing beach to a room so devoid of sound is makes a musical madness all its own.

The Boston Avenue United Methodist Church's dramatic entrance is one of the finest examples of Art Deco in the state.

8 Buildings That Prove Oklahoma's an Eclectic Art Paradise

In the 1920s, a number of oil reservoirs were discovered in Oklahoma, and the promise of riches led to a population boom. Would-be oil barons moved in from the coasts, bringing with them the most popular style of the moment, Art Deco. Much of that architecture still stands today, alongside institutions that honor the state’s earlier history and its modern culture. Though many people know Oklahoma better for its oil fields and cattle ranches, the state also has a rich history of innovative art and architecture. From elaborate family estates to experimental art collectives, these are a few of the unique creative spaces that await in Oklahoma.

Fermilab's bubble chamber, a device used to detect and study subatomic particles, looks like it's straight out of science fiction.

9 Stunning Scientific Sites in Illinois

When you think about Illinois, what are the first things that come to mind? Maybe it's the environment, with its vast prairies and cold winters. Maybe it's someone from the state, like Abraham Lincoln, or something, like Chicago-style hot dogs or deep dish pizza. What you might not realize, though, is that there's a lot of fascinating science happening in Illinois. (There was even a settlement named Science along the Illinois River in the early 19th century.) From some of the world's most powerful computers and particle-smashers to horological oddities, these are a few of the laboratories and collections that the 21st state has to offer.


5 Strange and Satanic Spots in New Hampshire

What is it with New Hampshire and the Devil? Since the time of European settlement, Satan seems to have lurked around every corner of the Granite State. In the era of witch hunts, terrified townspeople accused their elderly neighbors of speaking with the Devil, and local lore has it that the stones around a frothing waterfall in the woods once served as Satan's kitchen, where he cooked a pot of beans with the flames of Hell. Perhaps the Devil got his best turn in “The Devil and Daniel Webster,” a 1936 short story by Stephen Vincent Benét. The story features real-life lawyer and politician Daniel Webster fighting for the soul of a down-on-his-luck New Hampshire farmer who, in a moment of desperation, made a deal with the Devil. In the tale, the Devil uses every legal and supernatural means possible to outwit Webster, who battles to spare New Hampshire from further demonic meddling. “Any Hades we want to raise in this state, we can raise ourselves, without assistance from strangers,” Webster remarks. But for those who still do want to raise a little hell, New Hampshire has plenty of spots for devil-dealing.

These Civil War guns are located at Fort Washington in Maryland.

8 Historic Military Relics in Maryland

Maryland has the distinction of being one of the first states to officially join the Union in 1788—and as such, it’s played both big and small roles in various battles across the nation's history. Here are eight nods to its military past, ranging from a furnace that produced George Washington’s cannonballs to an unusual museum dedicated to the U.S.'s cryptographic history.

"Blucifer," in his gleaming glory.

5 of Colorado's Least-Natural Wonders

The state of Colorado is a gold mine of natural beauty: It's famous for its picturesque deserts, dramatic canyons, and shimmering, snow-capped peaks. But the Centennial State also deserves some love for its many unnatural wonders. There's a psychedelic church, a 231-pound sticker ball, and a cryogenic mausoleum. And who can forget the blue horse with neon-red eyes that towers outside the Denver airport? If you're looking to skip the ski slopes and hiking trails in favor of Colorado's strangest sights and most curious creations, this is where to start.


Rogue Routes: The Road to Sky’s the Limit

For all of the images of Hollywood glamour, beach living, and beautiful people, Southern California has a lot of peculiarities that don’t get nearly as much attention. This route from Los Angeles to Twentynine Palms seeks out the strange and novel, providing a refreshing foil to SoCal clichés.


6 Hallowed Grounds in South Carolina

South Carolina is known for its picturesque coastal cities and Southern charm. Given its firm placement in the Bible Belt, the Palmetto State is home to many churches—but it also holds fascinating ruins of houses of worship, wondrous works of art inspired by African traditions, and historic holy grounds hiding in plain sight.

The Rock of Ages Granite Quarry is the world's largest deep-hole dimension granite quarry.

9 Rocking Places in Vermont

Vermont may be known for its maple syrup and homey coziness, but beneath that rustic veneer lies a solid history of mineral industry. Here's a history of the Green Mountain State from the ground up.


Knoxville Study Guide

Knoxville, Tennessee, is a small city that’s made a big impact on the world. Founded by George Washington’s administration as the capital of the new Southwestern Territory, it was the 16th state’s capital — twice — for almost 20 years. Tucked in the heart of the valley along the Tennessee River, Knoxville is home to more than 120 parks and more than 160 miles of trails and greenways. It witnessed culmination of the women’s suffrage movement, played host to the 1982 World’s Fair and hosts the oldest symphony orchestra in the South. It’s also home to the University of Tennessee and its Volunteers, the fans of which bleed orange and white, the prominently displayed school colors. Need to give your feet a break as you explore the natural beauty, history, and culture of this thriving Southern city? Hop aboard the free Knoxville Trolley, the transit system operating since 1876. No matter how you choose to get around, there’s much to discover in Knoxville.


Nashville Study Guide

Glitz, glamour, guitars, honky-tonks, sequins, and neon are synonymous with Music City and its country music roots. While there’s perhaps no other city that embraces big hats, big hair and big personalities quite the way Nashville does, there’s much more to Tennessee’s capital than meets the eye. Its rich history of food, culture, and innovation makes it a haven for creatives of all stripes. Though the city shimmers with energy, it’s easy to commune with nature and enjoy the pristine beauty of East Tennessee, starting with the Cumberland River that runs right through the heart of downtown. Whether you’re looking for a brush with history, a chance to enjoy the great outdoors or an opportunity to hear some of music’s biggest stars, Nashville has it all. If your boots don’t feel like walking the entire route, Old Town Trolley offers hop-on-hop-off tours around the city, with a stop just outside Graduate Nashville.

A road winds through Mount Rainier National Park.

Rogue Routes: The Road to Camp Colton

Lush rainforests filled with ethereal shades of green; foggy beaches that stretch on for miles; towering mountains that dominate city skylines. It’s hard to think of a region with more diverse natural beauty than the Pacific Northwest. Take a journey from Seattle to Colton through the environments that have inspired artists, musicians, and storytellers for generations. From ancient mountains to reclaimed lands, these places are filled with excitement, intrigue, and maybe even a little off-road mystery.


Black Apples and 6 Other Southern Specialties Thriving in Arkansas

Climate, globalization, trends, employment rates, lobbying—it all influences what we eat. As time marches ever-onward, recipes are forgotten, traditions fade into quiet obscurity, and institutions are abandoned. But some entities that seem slated for cultural demolition are kept alive in Arkansas. From brewing beer using the spring water of a once-infamous bathhouse to serving historic Appalachian home-cooking hot off of diner skillets, these seven Arkansan spots savor and celebrate relics of regional heritage.

The boll weevil monument is a grand celebration of a tiny critter.

4 Monuments to Alabama’s Beloved Animals

Maybe you love your cat a lot—maybe even enough to commission a little painting of your furry companion. But the people of Alabama can do you one better. Here, you’ll find a whole cemetery devoted to hounds, a heartfelt memorial to a fish, even a statue of a pest that drove farmers batty before it also spurred them toward ingenuity. Alabama knows how to fete Fido, as well as his scuttling, swimming, and spacefaring compatriots.

A famous mountaineer.

The Dark History of West Virginia in 9 Sites

The Rockies may be bigger, but there's something special—and sometimes spooky—about the Appalachians. With dense forest cover, long history, and the shadowy hollows ("hollers," locally), they seem at times to be full of secrets. In West Virginia, the mountains and hills hold tales and myths, and a lot of places that were used and then abandoned. If you get excited about the feel of a shiver down your spine, you'll find a lot to love.


11 Zany Collections That Prove Wisconsin's Quirkiness

Pick an object. It could be a bottle of mustard. Or a life-size troll sculpture. Or a metal sculpture with big Victorian-steampunk energy. It doesn't really matter, as long as you collect or create so many of them that your collection becomes a roadside attraction and a cherished local landmark. A remarkable number of Wisconsinites have chosen this life path, and the result is a truly remarkable collection of collections scattered across the state.

There are lots of big creatures at the Porter Sculpture Park.

7 Inexplicably Huge Animals in South Dakota

One of the great resources of the Mount Rushmore State is millions and millions of years old: fossils. The state has long had pride of place in the paleontology world for the dinosaurs and mammoths that have been excavated there. And that history seems to have provided inspiration for the state's menagerie of massive megafauna. Here are some of our favorite places that celebrate dinosaurs, huge animal art installations, mammoths, and ... a prairie dog?

Displays at the Weaver Dental Museum include a jumble of dentures.

6 Fascinating Medical Marvels in Pennsylvania

In the 1700s and 1800s, Philadelphia was the center of medical scholarship in the United States. The city not only attracted the brightest minds, but also the most curious cases and characters. From the oldest quarantine facility in the country to a museum that memorializes a traveling dental circus, here are six places to marvel at the trials, errors, and triumphs of medical history in Pennsylvania.

The <em>Cementiscope</em> is a jumble of color and light—inside a cement mixer.

8 Places in Virginia That Aren’t What They Seem

They say that Virginia is for lovers. If you love a little mystery, then they’re definitely right. With its mountain ranges, deep forests, and proximity to the nation’s capital, the state is filled with unusual corners and overlapping histories. From a Cold War bunker turned recording archive to a Styrofoam Stonehenge, these places in Virginia are more than meets the eye.

Some of the many historic stones on Graveyard Island.

7 Cool, Creepy, and Unusual Graves Found in North Carolina

Every state in the union has graves, and their share of unusual burials or cemeteries, but there's something about the Tarheel State's final resting places that carry a sense of history and mystery, from long-forgotten graveyards, to eternal resting places for conjoined twins, to a politician that had himself buried inside a giant boulder.


7 of Montana's Spellbinding Stone Structures

The Continental Divide runs through Montana, separating the mountains and glaciers on the west from rolling plains to the east. Much of the state is built on a bed of rock that dates back more than a billion years, to the Precambrian, or the earliest era in Earth’s history. The geology of Montana has shaped the state, from the mountain ranges to that draw hikers to Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks to mineral deposits that drew prospectors during the Gold Rush to the vast plains that have long supported hunting and agriculture.

Waves crash against the rocks near Thor's Well in Oregon.

9 of Oregon’s Most Fascinating Holes and Hollows

Along with the rest of the Pacific Northwest, Oregon has been shaped by volcanic activity. Active volcanoes, Mount Hood among them, dominate the skyline, and the city of Portland was built atop an extinct volcano. Over tens of thousands of years, these geological hotspots have left many holes in their wakes, including deep craters, narrow canyons, and subterranean lava tubes. Here are a few of the most intriguing voids that Oregon has to offer.

The Avrocar hovered, but never really lifted off in a big way.

Take to the Skies With These 9 Gravity-Defying Sites in Ohio

Sure, Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, got headlines, but the Wright Brothers were Ohioans through and through. That's where they had their print and cycle shop, and established the world's first airplane factory. From Dayton's Aviation Heritage National Historical Park, to NASA's Glenn Research Center, to Congress officially declaring Ohio the “birthplace of aviation,” and much more, no other state takes to the skies and beyond like the home of the Buckeyes. Here are some of our favorite places to feel the wind beneath your wings.

A foggy view from Washington's Mount Rainier, the most glaciated peak in the continental United States.

9 Strange and Surreal Spots in Washington State

The deep, moody forests of Washington state are filled with secrets and stories. From springy mosses to towering Douglas firs, rocky outcrops, and glacial deposits, it’s easy to see how the landscape helped set the tone for stories like David Lynch’s trippy TV series Twin Peaks and the teen vampire romance that is Twilight. Across the Evergreen State, human- and nature-made oddities are rarely far from reach.


8 Watery Wonders in Hawaiʻi, Without Setting Foot in the Ocean

Yes, we know, Hawaiʻi is surrounded by water—the state is a watery wonder in and of itself. But the ocean is only the beginning. The volcanic islands' dramatic topography, unpredictable coastlines, and high rainfall mean that water in and around the Paradise of the Pacific cavorts in all sorts of stunning ways: waterfalls, blowholes, pools, and more. (Plus rainbows. Lots and lots of rainbows.) And you can enjoy all of these natural showstoppers without having to get your feet wet.

Pizza, burgers, and a feminist restaurant: Connecticut has it all.

6 Unusual Eats Curiously Cooked Up in Connecticut

For superb pizza, most people look to New York. Excellent burgers are available in every one of the 50 states. But where can you find hamburger recipes caught in the early 20th-century, cooked in steamers or served on toast with absolutely no ketchup allowed? Or, for that matter, fancy cheese made by trailblazing nuns who launched their dairying business at a time when Velveeta was still the norm? Connecticut may be an odd place to designate as a culinary cradle, but the state contains everything from the last of a generation of feminist vegetarian restaurants to what the Library of Congress dubs the very first place to have served up a hamburger. Unique culinary institutions cropped up in every corner of the state. Some have survived, while others have fallen by the wayside (R.I.P. to the Frisbie Pie Company). Here are six remarkable gastronomic institutions in a place that has proved to be fertile ground for unusual eats.

Telescopes open up a window to the stars.

11 Close Encounters With Aliens and Explosions in New Mexico

In the arid and remote expanses of New Mexico's landscape, booms and zooms abound. From the volatile effects of the Manhattan Project to the otherworldly possibilities of Roswell's UFO, the Land of Enchantment has never shied away from the controversial or far-reaching. Here are several places to encounter those legacies across this southwestern state.

Jim Dickerman's sculptures are magical and a little brain-scrambling.

10 Places to Trip Way Out in Kansas

The Sunflower State has a reputation for being flat—in fact, scientists have shown that it is objectively way flatter than a pancake. Far from being featureless, though, Kansas can be mind-bending in its own weird way. Maybe it all started with The Wizard of Oz. From a missile silo that once dominated the world's LSD supply to rock formations shaped like mushrooms, roadside art that will make you think you've been whisked away by a tornado, and a giant pile of sock monkeys, Kansas is full of treasures that are sure to make you do a double take.

The Museum at Eldridge Street Synagogue has a past full of stories and struggles.

The Resilience of New York in 10 Remarkable Sites

New York has been described as a playground for the rich and powerful, but the state's history is full of ordinary people who have overcome extraordinary struggles. What if Seneca Falls, the village that launched the fight for women's suffrage, were as famous as Niagara Falls? What if Weeksville, the historic free Black community in Brooklyn, were as well-known as Williamsburg? From immigrant sanctuaries to the Survivor Tree, here are sites where New York has shown its resilience.

Flat ground, big skies, huge cows.

7 Very Tall Things in Very Flat North Dakota

North Dakota is not quite the flattest state in the U.S., but it's pretty close. (In one analysis, it placed third, after Illinois and Florida.) During the last Ice Age, glaciers moving across the terrain had a planing effect on the land, dropping sediment that filled in any valleys, creating sprawling prairies and open, big skies. These large expanses are home to more than a few sky-high structures, both natural and human-made. From rocky peaks and multi-ton animal statues to one of the tallest buildings in the world, these are some of the most impressive structures that North Dakota has to offer.

An architectural pilgrimage.

8 Blissfully Shady Spots to Escape the Arizona Sun

For about half of any given year, much of Arizona is too hot to handle. But even in peak summer, the state is home to a stunning spread of geographic diversity and a mysterious magic that emanates from the landscape—and we don’t just mean the mirages. Locals and visitors alike flock to higher altitudes, recreation-friendly bodies of water, and indoor spaces that are so heavily air-conditioned they practically require a jacket. Here are eight sheltered spots to retreat from the heat, from natural formations to an immersive art exhibit that invites lingering. We've even added a couple cool places (220 feet underground or a mile above sea level) to dream about spending the night.


On the Run: NYC

A run through New York City demands a delicate balance: Zoning out versus keeping your eyes peeled. On the one hand, there’s the clear-headed, in-the-zone mental state that any good sneaker-to-pavement exercise requires. At the same time, well, it is New York City. You can hardly walk two blocks without uncovering a hidden gem or noticing some new detail that’s actually been lurking in plain sight for decades. This 5.3-mile run takes you along a scenic route to discover some of these hidden gems. You can run the entire route, break it up into multiple runs, or do it in reverse. With the right running shoes, you’re bound to pick up on one of the million tiny, fascinating details along the way.


On the Run: Los Angeles

Originally named “Venice of America,” Venice, California, owes its existence to a wealthy developer’s dream of a canal-laden resort town west of Los Angeles. The dream didn’t last long: After opening in 1905, the city went broke before joining Los Angeles in 1926. The decades of neglect that followed earned Venice the nickname “the slum by the sea,” but its affordability also attracted artists, beginning with the Beats in the late ’50s. Venice’s identity as a rough-around-the-edges artist haven endures more than 60 years later, though its affordability less so. If you’re looking to plot a trek across Los Angeles pavement and beaches, zero in on Venice with a run that oscillates between fast-and-furious and slow-and-curious. Take on this 5.2-mile run in one go, break it up into multiple runs, or do it in reverse. With the right running shoes, you’ll be ready to navigate Venice’s storied past and its eternally eccentric personality.

The Blythe Intaglios are as mysterious as they are massive.

9 Surprisingly Ancient Marvels in Modern California

Long before California was home to tech campuses, freeways, and palm trees, Native inhabitants etched huge designs into the landscape. Even before that, at roughly the same time that the Pyramids of Giza were under construction, a tree that still survives today began taking root. And even farther into the past, glaciers and mammoths created enduring monuments to antiquity. Across the state, the distant past is still within easy reach.

One of Houston's four giant concrete Beatles.

10 Art Installations That Prove Everything's Bigger in Texas

There’s a time-tested saying about things being large in Texas—and it certainly holds true for the state’s artworks, many of which are so huge or sprawling they could only reasonably live outdoors. Across the vast expanse of the Lone Star State are artistic testaments to some of the area’s oddest characters and stories.

Honestly, the tallest building in the state is still a little dinky, compared to skyscrapers elsewhere.

6 Huge Things in Tiny Rhode Island

The smallest state in America is often the butt of jokes. Rhode Island is neither a road nor an island, and it was once famously parodied in the now-defunct website “How Many Rhode Islands”—a simple tool that allowed you to see just how many Rhode Islands could squeeze inside a given country. The United States could contain 3,066 Rhode Islands, and Russia could hold 5,445. But the tiny state has a rather grand history. Rhode Island was founded on the principle of religious freedom, was the first of the Thirteen Colonies to renounce its allegiance to the British Crown, and was one of only two states not to ratify the 18th Amendment, which prohibited the manufacture and sale of alcohol. Many of the state’s attractions still loom large, including a 58-foot-long blue fiberglass termite and an improbably large blue bear slumped under a lampshade.

Forbidden Caverns, ready for its closeup.

7 Underground Thrills Only Found in Tennessee

Famous for country music and hot chicken, Tennessee is also filled with natural wonders. Across the state, caverns beckon. Venturing into some of Tennessee's strangest subterranean haunts is a great way to experience the depths of the state's spell-binding charm.

Watch out for any chimp-gator hybrids lurking in the tea-colored water of Honey Island Swamp.

Sink Into 7 of Louisiana's Swampiest Secrets

Louisiana has long had a complex relationship with the wet world. Chitimacha, Choctaw, and Atakapa peoples built communities among the knobby knees of bald cypress trees; French fur traders and pirates eventually made their own marks. Later still, modern engineers attempted to corral waters with levees and dams, or to reclaim land where there had been none. Across the 50,000-odd square miles that make up the state, troves of special places are becoming concealed by rising water. Here are seven places water has revealed or covered up.

Diego Rivera's mural sprawls across a light-flooded room in the Detroit Institute of Arts.

7 Mechanical Marvels in Michigan

Michigan is famous for its steep, sweeping sand dunes, freckling of lakes, and unique fossils—but across the state, you'll find slews of automated wonders, past and present. From old animatronic toys to the ruins of early assembly lines, here are seven places to be dazzled by industry.

Who doesn't love an old tree?

11 Wholesome Spots in Nevada

Here at Atlas Obscura, we have a fondness for the forbidden, a hunger for the hidden, a gusto for the grim. (You get the point.) But it wouldn’t be so intrepid to simply highlight Nevada’s underbelly, would it? There’s more to the state than extraterrestrial-themed brothels and nuclear bomb test sites. Kids and grandparents might enjoy enormous Ferris wheels, unusual geysers, or pristine parklands. Even Nevada—home to Sin City—has a family-friendly side.

All aboard for a plate of pancakes.

7 Places to Glimpse Maine's Rich Railroad History

Maine is widely known for its mottled red crustaceans and stony-faced lighthouses, as well as bucolic towns and the top-notch hiking outside of them. But before all that, Maine was all about one thing: trains. As America industrialized in the 19th century, there was an insatiable demand to build and a hunger for lumber. Maine had plenty of it, and the state’s rivers became swollen with the fallen bodies of pine and spruce, much of which was hauled by rail. Trains did the heavy lifting to coastal hubs including Bangor and Ellsworth, and by 1924, there was enough railroad mileage in Maine to get from London’s King's Cross station to Mosul, Iraq. Over the years, some of the old cars were fashioned into eateries, but many were simply abandoned in the woods. Now, relics of Maine’s railroad history are scattered in museums, restaurants, and more.

At Glacier Gardens, the tree canopies are flowers in bloom.

11 Places Where Alaska Bursts Into Color

Picture Alaska. You might see in your mind's eye the granite and stark white snowcaps of Denali National Park, or the dark seas that surround 6,000-plus miles of coastline, or the muted olive of its tundra in the summer. But as anyone who's been there knows, the country's largest, most sparsely populated state can absolutely burst with color, from the luminous green of the Northern Lights, to the deep aqua of its glaciers, to the flourish of wildflowers fed by its long summer days. Here are some places to see the full spectrum of The Last Frontier.

Workers assess the exterior of the Washington Monument after an earthquake in 2011.

9 Places in D.C. That You're Probably Never Allowed to Go

The District of Columbia is home to a number of places that you need to flash the right ID to access. From restricted rooftops to government storage facilities and underground tunnels, the city is filled with places that are off-limits to the average visitor. What’s more, many of them are hidden within popular tourist destinations and densely populated neighborhoods—so you might catch a glimpse of them, but never get any closer. These are a few of our favorite restricted spots in D.C., and the stories behind them.


2 Perfect Days in Pensacola

If you thought Pensacola, Florida—with its powder-white sand beaches, near-perfect weather, and fresh seafood—was just a place to soak up the sun, think again. In fact, the city and beach of the same name is the site of the first European settlement in the continental United States. Established by Spanish explorer Tristán de Luna in 1559, it was christened Panzacola, a name of Native American origin and the precursor to the city’s modern name. The destination is also the birthplace of U.S. naval aviation and is still home to a naval air station and the thousands of service members stationed there, as well as the Blue Angels, the flight squadron famous for their death-defying fighter plane stunts. This delightful coastal city is an ideal, if somewhat quirky, blend of historical sites (on land and underwater) and activities to get your adrenaline flowing.


Rogue Routes: The Road to the Ice Castles

A deep blanket of snow often covers New England in the winter. But there’s adventure to be found in the frozen landscape, with its steep mountains and frozen ponds—and not just for skiers and snowboarders. This route blazes a unique path through Massachusetts and New Hampshire that is filled with bright colors, bold flavors, and the legacies of pioneering thinkers.


Taste of Tucson

The people of Tucson have been eating off the land for 4,100 years. From grains to livestock to produce introduced by missionaries in the 1600s, this UNESCO City of Gastronomy is home to some of the oldest farmland in North America. What once was old is new again in The Old Pueblo where ancient flavors are found in nearly every dish — trendy to traditional.


North Iceland’s Untamed Coast

Any travel enthusiast would be hard-pressed to open any social media channel and not see photos of Iceland, with its jaw-dropping peaks, natural hot springs, pure glaciers, northern lights and snow-covered landscapes. But the island nation’s appeal goes well beyond the well-worn paths of Reykjavik, the Golden Circle and the southern region's countryside. Travel to the untamed north along the Arctic Coast Way to discover otherworldly beauty—sans crowds—around every bend.


Hidden Haight-Ashbury

In 1967, 100,000 artists, activists, and hippies gathered in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood for the Summer of Love. Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix played free concerts for fields of college dropouts, and San Francisco established itself as a countercultural capital. More than 50 years later, in a city increasingly known for Twitter and tech rather than art and activism, travelers who come on a pilgrimage are often disappointed to find expensive, skin-deep psychedelia. But if you know where to look, you’ll find a walk down Haight Street to be wonderfully weird, full of historic links to hippiedom and modern takes on the vibe.


The Many Flavors of NYC’s Five Boroughs

More than eight million diverse individuals call New York City home, and many of them share their heritage through food. Whether it’s a billiards hall that serves stellar Bhutanese fare or a mosque where Malian vendors sell snacks for just a few hours each Friday, the city offers a vast culinary landscape for those willing to explore it. Venture beyond the flashy hotspots with months-long waiting lists and you’ll find New York’s true flavor lies within the small restaurants and stands rooted in its thriving immigrant communities.

Musical instruments in the courtyard of SecondLine Arts and Antiques in New Orleans' French Quarter.

Hidden French Quarter

It may be famous for Mardi Gras, but New Orleans has subtle, surprising wonders on tap all year long—even in the touristy French Quarter. Around every cobblestoned corner, you’ll find historic ephemera, bits of Creole culture, environmentalism, and no shortage of spooky stories, whenever you happen to visit.


The Metropolitan Museum of Art

From the street, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is hard to miss: The institution’s two-million-square-foot main building, at 1000 Fifth Avenue, spans four New York City blocks and stretches into Central Park. Inside the galleries, you’ll find thousands of objects spanning 5,000 years of world history. With so many treasures under one roof, it's inevitable that some fascinating pieces are tucked into the museum's lonelier nooks and crannies, hiding in plain sight. The next time you spend a day at the museum, keep an eye out for these overlooked wonders.

The RV/MH Hall of Fame.

Motown to Music City Road Trip

Detroit and Nashville are synonymous with two all-American music genres. It’s no surprise that visitors flock to these cities each year to get a feel for the places where artists such as Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross & the Supremes, Johnny Cash, and Dolly Parton began their careers. A (relatively) straight, north to south route connects the two cities, as does musical heritage. Load up the RV, make sure your speaker system is in tip-top shape, and create a playlist filled with old-school Motown and Country hits. If you're not driving on the trip down south, you should be dancing.

The East Texas Bayou.

Gulf Coast Road Trip

The terrain along the Gulf of Mexico is sometimes called the “Third Coast,” but for an offbeat road trip, it’s second to none. Starting in Houston and ending in Pensacola Bay, this journey takes you through some of America’s most diverse landscapes. You’ll cross Cajun swamps, drive along sparkling white sand beaches, and even spend some time in the Big Easy. Take an RV and camp along the way to truly immerse yourself in this wondrous region. The world’s largest gulf, it turns out, holds some of America’s best-kept secrets.

Coachella Valley Preserve.

Hidden Coachella Valley

The Coachella Valley and its environs boom in the spring, when tens of thousands of music lovers flock to catch their favorite artists perform in front of a dramatic, mountainous backdrop. But this region stays wonderfully weird all year long. If the festival drew you to the area and you only have a day to explore, choose a direction: Either head north, toward Joshua Tree and Landers, or southeast to the Salton Sea and nearby oases for a blissful respite. If you can spare a couple of days, lucky you—go forth and see it all.

A view of L.A. from the top of Highland Park.

Highland Park

Los Angeles’ Highland Park is a diverse, eclectic neighborhood that Native Americans and Latinx communities have inhabited for centuries. Celebrated for its history, art scene, ethnic diversity, and cuisine, Highland Park is filled with surprising delights that more and more people are discovering every day. Exploring the neighborhood's nooks and crannies is one of the most rewarding ways to spend a day in L.A.

The heart of Venice.


Once referred to as “The Coney Island of the Pacific,” L.A.’s beachfront neighborhood of Venice has long been a popular tourist destination. Its colorful characters, quirky architecture, and carnivalesque atmosphere are well-known the world over. But take a moment to look past the kitsch, and you’ll discover a place where artistic ingenuity thrives more than a century after Abbot Kinney endeavored to bring a grandiose version of Venice to America. The bohemian beehive has always attracted artists and performers, and everyone is welcome to enjoy the show.

Artist Colette Miller's tribute to the City of Angels.

L.A.’s Downtown Arts District

The 1970s brought a wave of artists into this former industrial area in Downtown Los Angeles. They sparked a fuse of creative imagination that burned for years. Up-and-coming creators took advantage of the then-low rents and built a foundation for the creative mecca that exists here today. In its infancy, L.A.’s Downtown Arts District came to life behind-the-scenes, with artists mostly working in closed studios. Today, the art has spilled onto the streets in the form of colorful murals, attractive gallery spaces, and stylish storefronts. But the curious explorer can still find literal and figurative traces of the ‘70s. In addition to the more historic spots that remain, a creative, entrepreneurial spirit abounds.

The Whitehall Banqueting House is full of topsy-turvy views.

Hidden Trafalgar Square

Wedged between Charing Cross and Leicester Square, Trafalgar Square is known for the throngs of people flocking to its famous attractions. Weave around the tourists on the National Gallery stairs and dodge the crowds clogging the street corners. Instead, duck down dreamy alleys and pop into unique, overlooked museums and shops. There, a secret side of this busy area waits to reveal itself.

An elevator shaft in Tribeca opens to reveal a museum of small wonders.

Secrets of NYC’s Five Boroughs

Few cities on Earth are as well-trodden as New York–but as any intrepid traveler knows, the more you explore a place, the more wonders you find. You may not be able to discover all of these spots in a single trip, but that could be a good thing. No matter how many times you return, the city that never sleeps never ceases to surprise. Visit NYCGo to uncover more of the city’s secret spots.

Plenty of sweet treats are on offer at Pastelería Ideal

Mexico City's Centro Histórico

Anchored by the Zócalo plaza and the architectural splendor of the Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City's historic center rightfully draws scores of visitors from around the world. If you look, smell, and taste carefully, you’ll also find a universe of culinary offerings that tells stories of immigration, adaptation, and imagination. With the help of Culinary Backstreets, we assembled a primer on eating and drinking your way through the district.

View of the Hollywood Sign from Babylon Court

Hidden Hollywood

Hollywood Boulevard is world-famous—for the Oscars and the Walk of Fame, for schlocky souvenir shops and crowded tour buses. But beyond the terrazzo stars and the occasional celebrity sighting, there’s plenty left to discover. Here’s how to make Hollywood’s acquaintance, whether you’re a visitor or a local who keeps a practiced distance from these busy, saturated blocks. Look closer and you'll find a neighborhood full of nature, history, and wonder.

A subway entrance in Times Square.

Hidden Times Square

There's the Times Square you know, full of blazing billboards, selfie sticks, and costumed characters. Then there's the less familiar one, beyond the lights—the nooks and crannies that most visitors to Midtown Manhattan overlook. They're not obvious, but surprises can still be found along this world-famous stretch of real estate.

Upper Hoh Road, Olympic National Park, Oregon.

Summer Radio Road-Trip

Follow along on our 2,200-mile adventure with NPR's 'All Things Considered.'



Forge your own path in this tourist magnet, toward places that are less crowded but no less wondrous.


Buenos Aires

Find faded grandeur and vibrant street life in Argentina's largest city.



Just when you thought you knew the Windy City, it finds new ways to surprise you.



Find secret vistas, labyrinthine bookstores, and eclectic public art.

The dome of Estrela Basilica in Lisbon.


In the homeland of explorers, your best bet is to keep looking.



Go beyond the beaches in the continental United States’ only truly tropical city.



New York City's most diverse borough is also its most rewarding.


San Diego

Southern California's second city holds plenty of sparkling secrets.



Find surprises around every corner in a U.S. city that embraces history like no other.