“In an age where everything seems to have been explored and there is nothing new to be found, we celebrate a different way of looking at the world,” says Atlas Obscura, a travel site that continually turns up weird and wonderful sites around the globe.
Click on their “random place” button and you’ll get a good feel for its style and contents. You might find yourself jumping from the site of world’s largest nuclear explosion to a “magic mushroom house” in Colorado to a monkey spa in Japan.
Established in 2009, the site has always been based on collaboration, although a redesign earlier this year has pushed that element more to the forefront. Users can sign up, create a profile, then suggest new sites or add existing ones to their wishlist. The result is an intriguing database of crowdsourced oddities.
Science journalist Josh Foer and video editor Dylan Thuras founded the site and still retain a hands-on role curating the content. Thuras says he was initially concerned that the site might be detrimental to the places it featured, but, instead, they have seen the opposite effect.
“Some of these places desperately need attention or acknowledgement to stop them being destroyed by development or lack of interest,” he says. He recalls a tip they once had of some living root bridges in India. “It came from local, who said they were being replaced with steel-and-cable bridges that could be set up instantly. We listed the bridges on our site and, before long, they ended up on the BBC [and, ahem, Guardian Travel before that)
and people were travelling to see them.”
Atlas Obscura has carved out a good space for itself by appealing to the whole spectrum, from go-getters to armchair travellers. In the year ahead, they will be expanding their events programme, which they run under an offshoot called the Obscura Society in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Past events include an occult “show-and-tell” and a crime “salon”.
“It’s not just about far-flung places,” says Thuras. “It could be something six blocks from your house. It’s more about an approach to the world and redefining what we think of as travel attractions.”
Oddity Central: “Real-life Hulk has the biggest hands you’ve ever seen!” Yes, there is plenty of silly stuff here that must do very well from Facebook shares, but it’s worth heading straight for the travel section, which somehow skimps on the shock value and is often just nicely intriguing. Sample stories: a look at the ‘world’s smallest restaurant’ in Italy and a marital arts park in China where you can re-create flying moves of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
Uniqhotels.com: This site brings together the world’s most unusual hotels, with categories including treehouse, floating, castle and ghost. And to show that unusual doesn’t always mean more personality, they also profile the Morosani Fiftyone hotel in Davos, Switzerland, which is fully automatic and offers no human interaction at all.//