Show Mobile Navigation
Travel |

10 Unique Places with Crazy Claims to Fame

by Ivan Farkas
fact checked by Darci Heikkinen

Open up a map, throw a dart (hopefully not at your computer), and you’re bound to strike one of our world’s innumerable towns, villages, cities, or municipalities.

Understandably, not all of them can be special or unique. But the following places don’t adhere to expectations or uniformity. Instead, each has some remarkable aspect that sets it apart from all the other places in this gigantic, place-filled world!

Related: 10 Places That Still Bear the Evidence of History

10 Cairo’s Necropolis, the City of the Dead (and Living)

The Egypt That Most Don’t See (al-Qarafa, Cairo)

The ancient Egyptians built their tombs and necropolises on the west bank of the Nile, the side of the setting Sun. The other side would be for the living. But now, the dead and living intermingle in Cairo, whose greater metropolitan area holds more than 22 million people and does not have enough resources to house them.

As a result, many have moved into Cairo’s famed, historic necropolis, where they live among the tombs and care for the departed. This graveyard is known as the City of the Dead and is at least 1,200 years old. It’s even described as “the oldest and longest-in-use Muslim cemetery in the world.” Yet thousands of families eke out a living among the marble tombs, mausoleums, and unmarked, unknown burials. However, even this last refuge is in danger, as city officials plan to raze it and build a highway.[1]

9 Arizona Sky Village, the Desert Outpost Where Everyone’s an Astronomer

Hunting for Nebulas | Astrophotography Short Documentary

Imagine a place where everyone keeps their eyes on the stars. Such a place exists: it’s called the Arizona Sky Village, and it’s very dark. It’s located in a remote patch of southeast Arizona, encompassing a “rural 450-acre development of stargazers,” consisting of unlit houses equipped with domed observatories.

Besides being in the desert and away from the many lights of cities, the Sky Village is protected from light pollution (more poetically called “urban sky glow”) by the Chiricahua mountains. The houses have no outdoor lights, and all the windows are blackout-shaded. All the better to see the sky, as these 21 households, 150 miles (241 kilometers) from Tucson, are hopefully enamored by nightly deep dives into the universe.[2]

8 Giethoorn, the Dutch Venice

Giethoorn ‘Venice Of The 🇳🇱 Netherlands’ [8K HDR] Walking Tour

Giethoorn, founded in 1230, is called “the most beautiful and fairytale village in the Netherlands.” Of course, that’s a quote from the town website, but it’s hard to argue when you see it. Giethoorn is remarkable as a place of “no roads.” It’s also the “Venice of the Netherlands” because this locale is traversed by canals and waterways hand-dug to transport peat.

There are no cars here, leading to a calmer pace of life. The village is comprised of hand-dug canals and small islands, interconnected by 176 bridges that lead to the mainland. These islands are dotted with farmhouses, while quaint Dutch homes stand proudly with their thatched roofs. More than one million global tourists visit each year, yet Giethoorn is thankfully able to preserve its character.[3]

7 Masuleh, an Ancient Iranian Village of Rooftops

Iran’s Breathtaking Mountain Village + Big Iranian Breakfast!! | Masuleh, Iran 🇮🇷

The ancient Iranian Masuleh is perched on a 60-degree incline high in the Alborz mountains, nearly 3,500 feet (1,066 meters) in elevation. Over a thousand years ago, it began as a center for ironwork. It was built around a mine but was moved a few miles down the “road” due to misfortunes, including a plague and earthquake. To fully use the space, angles, and environment, the stepped structures are built into the incline, with public spaces on the roofs!

Optimizing space is becoming more critical than ever in cities worldwide, but the town of Masuleh, where cars are prohibited, has it figured out. Rooftop living is the norm here, and as you exit a building, you’re likely to find yourself on the rooftop rather than the porch. These are public places, with plazas and hangout spots adorning the tops of the town instead of pigeon droppings and antennas that cover the topsides of buildings in the rest of the world.[4]

6 Casey, the Little Town of Big Things

Casey, Ill., a small town home to giant things

Giant roadside attractions are an iconic part of Americana alongside the famed highways they adorn. They’re so firmly lodged in our collective consciousness that who among us can even remember whether our memories of “the world’s tallest thermometer” are real or from television?

In that regard, Casey, Illinois, fits multiple of the world’s biggest things into a single municipality. Casey has some pretty big things, including (nearly) 14-foot-tall (4.3-meter) knitting needles, a 32-foot-tall (9.8-meter) measuring stick, and an oversized pencil with an inspiring religious quote: “Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.” Neat.

Yet these items aren’t the main attraction because Casey also has 12 of the world’s very biggest things, all matched to scripture quotes, including a 54-foot-tall (16.5-meter) wind chime, an 82-foot-long ((25-meter) seesaw (yes, it works, and you can ride it), as well as gigantic wooden shoes that stand nearly 5 feet (1.5 meters) tall. The 28-foot-tall (8.5-meter) Chevy truck key features a scripture quote reminding visitors of the keys to heaven.[5]

5 Sighișoara, the Fortified Medieval Town

Sighisoara – The Medieval Pearl of Transylvania – A Charming Medieval City

My birth country of Romania is commonly known for mid-millennium Dracula lore, and it’s hard to blame people when you see places like Sighișoara: a medieval mirage, a vision stolen from long-gone epochs.

This fortified locale featured prominently in the strategy and commercial economy “on the fringes of central Europe for several centuries,” according to UNESCO. No wonder its idyllic center is a world heritage site. It was founded by German craftspeople and mercantile emigrants circa 1280 and is now an extant fairy tale. In addition to its imposing citadel, it features churches and other civil architecture that harks back to the bygone centuries of the Middle Ages.[6]

4 Laredo, the Old West Town (in England)

I Found a Real Wild West Town…. in England!!

Laredo is an Old West town, representing “the American Wild West as it would have been in 1865 to 1889.” It’s got everything necessary in any old-timey town worth its salt, including a grand hotel, saloon, working blacksmith, saddlery, undertaker’s office, Ranger’s station, tobacconist, and more. The interiors, signage, and people are all scene-specific.

Where in the Western United States can you see Laredo? Nowhere, because it’s located 20 miles (32 kilometers) from London. Founded in 1971, it’s England’s (and maybe Europe’s) most accurate and hotly popular historical representation for filming, promos, and recreations. In true period-specific fashion (and I’m not trying to be insensitive), it’s being rebuilt after a significant fire razed “six major buildings and nine smaller cabins.”[7]

3 Maaloula, Where They Still Speak the Language of Jesus

The Village In Syria Were They Speak Jesus’ Tongue

Maaloula is an ancient village in Syria and one of the oldest extant Christian settlements. It sits amid rugged mountains 35 miles (56 kilometers) northeast of Damascus, the Syrian capital.

As one of the handful of places that still speaks Aramaic, the language of Jesus, it is now a protected UNESCO World Heritage site. The village has a turbulent recent history as well, being captured by the Al-Nusra Front in 2013. Many Christians fled as holy sites were looted and desecrated. However, the Syrian army liberated this historic village one year later.[8]

2 Nzulezo of the Dark Waters

Discover Nzulezu, a village built on a river

The Ghanaian village of Nzulezo rests above the dark waters of Lake Tadane. Notably, it’s a swamp-adjacent village that draws many visitors but has trouble keeping its schoolteachers. Nzulezo (meaning “water surface”) has a population of 500 residents along with the essentials, spacifically a bar, a school, two churches, and a guesthouse.

Its school may be its most important institution (though many would argue for the bar), and it encompasses four classrooms. It has more than 80 pupils, ages four to fourteen, but only a couple of teachers. The reason for this shortage may be surprising: Teachers who come here can’t swim. The locals can, of course, but there is no “no culture of learning to swim in Ghana, and it is not taught in schools, in part because of lack of access to pool facilities.” The water is deep, very dark, and quickly rises when it rains, partially sinking the houses. Okay, now that is scary.[9]

1 Hum, the World’s Smallest Town

How Big Is The SMALLEST TOWN In The World? (Hum Croatia)

The word “town” conjures images of small, idyllic communities: little markets, people gossiping on terraces on lazy streets, and bars where everyone knows your name, if you’ll allow that last cliche. But the Croatian town of Hum exceeds all these assumptions with its smallness. Many consider it the smallest town in the world, and its diminutive nature does not disappoint aficionados of tiny things: Hum is only about 300 feet (91.5 meters) long and around 100 feet (30.5 meters) wide!

According to Hum lore, it’s the result of giants. These giants hoisted massive stones to build the nearby cities in the Mirna River valley and had a few leftovers. Not enough for a village proper, they put them aside to build little Hum, which now houses about 50 residents. Historically, Hum was totally “enclosed by walls in the 11th century on the remains of an earlier fortification,” making it a miniature walled city and probably the most adorable fortified town in the world. (Who’s a cute little fortified town? You are!)[10]

fact checked by Darci Heikkinen