You’ve been up the Eiffel Tower and down the Grand Canyon. You’ve toured the Vatican and crossed the Golden Gate Bridge. But some impressive attractions have escaped your travels—and even your awareness that they exist. Here are seven wacky spots that will wow you and are well worth a stop if you’re visiting the area where they reside… 

The US

If you’re exploring the mountains and National Forests of Colorado: Bishop Castle in Rye, Colorado. For nearly 60 years, an eccentric named Jim Bishop has been building a stone castle one-and-a-half hours south of Colorado Springs. This is no modern ­mansion—it’s an old-fashioned fairy-tale medieval-style castle. Visitors can climb its tower, which soars 16 stories into the sky…explore its Grand Ballroom…and walk along the breathtaking wrought-iron walkways high above the ground on the exterior of the structure. And a fire-breathing metal dragon projects out from its walls. Bishop has built this virtually by himself, without blueprints and, by all appearances, without much regard for building codes. He started out building a cottage for his bride, but when people told him the stone structure looked like the beginnings of a castle, he kept building and never stopped. Bishop opened his castle to the public for free because he wanted people who couldn’t afford the local ski resorts to have something to do. He’s still at it ­despite major health issues, hauling stones around and expanding his astounding structure. There’s no building like it outside of children’s ­storybooks. Details: Bishop Castle is open year-round during daylight hours. Although admission is free, donations are accepted and there is a gift shop to help fund the ongoing construction. There are no guided tours.

If you’re visiting the home of Frank Lloyd Wright: The House on the Rock in Spring Green, Wisconsin. Less than 10 minutes from Taliesin, the home that famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright built for himself, this unusual home is a tourist attraction of a very different sort. The House on the Rock, designed by Alex Jordan, Jr., is full of distinctive items and eclectic collections—there are more than 200 model ships…dozens of ­dollhouses…three massive pipe organs…a mechanically operated orchestra…a display of antique weapons and armor…and the world’s largest indoor merry-go-round, which has 269 carved animals, though it is not open for rides. The building itself is sprawling and unique. There’s an Infinity Room that extends more than 200 feet out over a cliff—some have dubbed the structure the work of Frank Lloyd Wrong. There are plenty of roadside attractions displaying oddball collections across the US, but none comes close to matching this one, two hours west of Milwaukee. It takes hours to see it all. Details: Open from 9 am to 5 pm daily from May 13 through October 13…closed from December 31 to March 13…and closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays during the remainder of the year. Admission is $29.95 ($26.95 age 62 and up…$15.95 ages four to 17). ­ 

If you’re touring the Pacific coast: The Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo, California. Each of the 110 guest rooms in this hotel, located roughly halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, is decorated in its own memorably tacky style. Some are bright pink…some are festooned with floral patterns or animal prints…a few look like caves. The hotel’s Gold Rush Steak House features pink leather booths and a generous amount of gold trim—the Copper Café and Silver Bar Cocktail Lounge are nearly as ornate. A men’s room on the hotel’s lower level has a urinal designed to look like a rocky waterfall. It’s all astoundingly kitschy in a way that speaks to the ­Madonna Inn’s late-1950s origins. Whether you love or hate its style, it’s a memorable place to stop for a night (or just a meal or cup of coffee—most diners give the food good reviews online) during a drive up the Pacific coast. Details: Room rates vary but generally are around $200 per night.

If you’re looking for a stop between New York City and Philadelphia: Northlandz in Flemington, New ­Jersey. More than eight miles of miniature train tracks and 100-plus trains weave their way through a 52,000-square-foot building on Route 202 about a half hour northwest of Princeton. But Northlandz is more than just a ­model-train display. With replicas of dozens of tiny towns, detailed landscapes with cliffs and canyons, 400 bridges and countless little handcrafted citizens, it’s a miniature world where you can find (very small) big cities…Civil War battlefields…miniature carnivals…a farm growing toothpicks and much more. Details: Open from 10 am to 8 pm Fridays and Saturdays, 10 am to 6 pm Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday…closed Tuesdays. Admission is $20 ($15 age 62 and up and ages two to 12).


If you’re visiting Rome: Park of the Monsters in Localita Giardino, Bomarzo, Italy. In 1552, Pier Francesco Orsini, an Italian prince who had endured the horrors of war and the death of his beloved wife, commissioned an architect to create a park that would serve as an outlet for his sorrows—and frighten its visitors. Hundreds of years later, the park, which is an hour north of Rome, is still sending shivers down the spines of its visitors. Grotesque sculptures dot its grounds—a war elephant attacks a soldier…a pair of giants battle…a building leans precariously…and a massive ogre screams, its open mouth so wide that visitors can ascend a set of steps and walk in. Details: Open 8:30 am to 7 pm April to August and 8:30 to sunset September to March. Admission is 11 euros (around $12) for adults…and 8 euros (around $9) for ages four to 13.

If you’re touring Eastern Europe: ­Buzludzha Monument in Kzanlak, Bulgaria. This might be the strangest, most memorable structure that the Communists left behind. The main building is a huge disk hundreds of feet across perched on a hilltop—it looks like a ­massive concrete flying saucer landed in Bulgaria. And this monument is located in Central Balkan National Park, a ­striking mountainous region that is among the largest protected nature preserves on the entire continent—it’s a wild side of Europe that most Americans never experience. Buzludzha Monument was constructed to celebrate Communism, but it’s been falling into ruins since Communism itself fell decades ago. The monument is in such poor repair that it’s no longer possible to go inside, but that dilapidation makes the scene more mysterious and poignant. Details: There is no charge to visit the monument area and no official operating hours.

If you’re visiting the famous Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia: Beng Mealea, northeast of Siem Reap. Angkor Wat temple is one of Southeast Asia’s most famous tourist attractions, but that fame means that visitors to the site inevitably find themselves swallowed up by crowds. Beng Mealea is a very similar 12th-century temple just 25 miles east of Angkor Wat, but it’s relatively obscure and attracts only a fraction as many tourists. Unlike Angkor Wat, Beng Mealea has not been rebuilt and portions of it still lay in ruins after being abandoned and forgotten for centuries. There’s a sense of tremendous age here and of discovery. This is an unpolished piece of ancient history that you can “discover” like explorers of the past did. You’ll feel as if you’re in an Indiana Jones movie when you explore this ancient moss-covered temple that for centuries was hidden by the surrounding jungle. Details: Open 7:30 am to 5:30 pm daily. Entrance fee is $5.­attractions/angkor/beng-mealea.htm