PHOTOS: The World’s Top Tourist Destinations While People Stayed Home In 2020

More than 100 countries went into lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic. Popular tourism destinations that typically bring in millions of dollars became eerily empty during this time, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t still beautiful.

Vacant, wildlife returned while businesses lost millions of dollars without tourism. These before and after photos of the top attractions around the world show just how much of a presence we have on the places we love to visit the most.

Before 2020, Disney World Hosted Over 20 Million Visitors

Crowds walk into the Magic Kingdom park in Disney World, FL.
Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images
Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images

Walt Disney World has been in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, since 1971. In 2019, the park received 20.96 million visitors. That’s a quarter of a million visitors every day, not counting the 77,000 employees. No wonder the lines get so long!

Disney World isn’t all rides, either. The park contains 27 hotels, camping sites, golf courses, and an outdoor shopping center called Disney Springs. In 2018, it was the most-visited vacation resort in the world, receiving more tourists than any other Disney theme park.

Eerily Empty Pictures Of Disney World, Florida

In 2020, the Cinderella Castle at Disney World is empty.
Olga Thompson/Walt Disney World Resort via Getty Images
Olga Thompson/Walt Disney World Resort via Getty Images

On March 15th, 2020, Disney World closed due to the pandemic. The park was initially scheduled to close for a month, but it ended up remaining that way until the end of July. In the meantime, people who drove by the resorts, golf courses, and shopping centers saw them barren and empty.

Disney World eventually reopened its parks gradually, starting with Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom on July 11th. But since capacity is limited to 35%, the park is still not as packed as it was in 2019.

The Great Wall Of China Usually Creates Claustrophobia

In 2018, 3,700 tourists climb the Badaling Great Wall.
TPG/Getty Images
TPG/Getty Images

The Great Wall of China is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. This 14th-century monument receives over 10 million visitors every year. The most popular months to visit are in October and around the holidays, and fewer people go when it snows.

On crowded days, the Great Wall can give people claustrophobia. Although it is over 13,000 miles long, it is only 16 feet wide, and many tourists walk on the Badaling Wall. Before 2020, the Great Wall was nearly always crowded.

In 2020, The Great Wall Was Empty

During the 2020 pandemic, a long visitor in a face mask leans against the Great Wall of China.
Lintao Zhang/Getty Images
Zhou Wanping/VCG via Getty Images

On January 24th, 2020, the Great Wall closed to tourists. Although other countries had not locked down yet, the Great Wall was completely empty. Beijing, which many tourists visited before traveling to the Wall, also locked down.

Two months later, the Great Wall reopened to a limited amount of tourism. Visitors were required to book in advance, wear face coverings, and have their temperature checked before visiting. Still, the UNESCO Heritage Site saw few tourists, especially when the snow came.

Before The Pandemic, Venice Had 36 Million Tourists

Venice Carnival celebrants release balloons while in boats on the canals.
Matteo Chinellato/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Matteo Chinellato/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Venice is one of the most iconic cities in Italy, hosting over 36 million visitors every year. Between 2011 and 2019, the number of tourists in Venice has only increased. In 2019, Venice housed over 13 million overnight stays, the second largest in Italy behind Rome.

As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Venice is famous for its architecture and canals. The city earns more than $90 million from tourism annually. One of its most famous attractions being Carnival, a festival held at the end of lent.

In 2020, The Canals Of Venice Cleared

A long man on a boat sails through Venice canals in April 2020.
Simone Padovani/Awakening/Getty Images
Simone Padovani/Awakening/Getty Images

Venice closed on March 10th, 2020, when the pandemic hit Italy. When the city became empty of tourists, something spectacular happened. The water of the canals, usually polluted by the city’s boat traffic, turned clear.

Photos from the European Space Agency showed that Venice’s canals had turned a bright blue as opposed to their usual green. Residents could even see fish returning. Unfortunately, the travel business suffered. Even when they reopened domestic tourism in June, few people visited, and the city appeared empty.

Thousands Of People Flock To Stonehenge During Solstice

Visitors celebrate the Summer Solstice at Stonehenge, 2015.
NIKLAS HALLE’N/AFP via Getty Images
NIKLAS HALLE’N/AFP via Getty Images

As a Bronze Age architectural marvel, Stonehenge is one of the most recognizable spots in the world. Over 1.5 million people visit it yearly, or 9,000 every day. Many people visit during the summer and winter solstices when NeoPagan communities hold festivals there.

Unlike other famous tourist spots, people can see Stonehenge for free. The most popular months are between June and September when England warms up. It is a World Heritage Site with a long, fascinating history.

In 2020, Animals Returned To Stonehenge

In 2020, sheep graze the fields of Stonehenge during lockdown.
ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images
ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images

Like many other tourist spots in England, Stonehenge closed during the pandemic. The surrounding roads (the only way in and out of Stonehenge) shut down too. It remained off-limits through the summer solstice, which is usually one of its most popular times. With no visitors, hares, sheep, and other wildlife returned to Stonehenge.

In July, Stonehenge reopened. The cafes and surrounding shops remained closed, and roads were limited to one-way access. The site still receives far fewer tourists than it did before.

In 2019, The Pyramids Of Giza Made A Profit From Visitors

Tourists gather in front of the Great Pyramid of Giza, 2019.
Ahmed Al Sayed/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Ahmed Al Sayed/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The Pyramids of Giza are one of the most famous architectural wonders in the world. Every year, 14.7 million people flock to the pyramids. Between 2018 and 2019, Egypt saw a 21% growth in tourism as more and more people visited the pyramids.

The three buildings are called the Pyramid of Khufu, the Pyramid of Khafra, and the Pyramid of Menkaure. The largest, nicknamed the Great Pyramid, is one of the seven wonders of the world. It’s a spectacular look at the ancient world that many around the globe want to visit.

In 2020, Egypt Lost 15% Of Its Jobs With The Pyramids

A view of the Great Pyramids of Giza appears empty during the lockdown of 2020.
KHALED DESOUKI/AFP via Getty Images
KHALED DESOUKI/AFP via Getty Images

In mid-March, Egypt shut down all of its airports and closed its historical sites, including the Giza Pyramids. The country’s tourism income, as well as 15% of its jobs, came to a grinding halt. Nobody visited the pyramids anymore.

On July 1st, 2020, Egypt reopened its airports and allowed tourists to reaccess the pyramids. When it opened, only a handful of people saw the pyramids. But as the world becomes healthier, Egypt expects the Pyramids of Giza to recover.

The Eiffel Tower Attracts 75% Of France’s International Tourists

Crowds of people hang out in front of the Eiffel Tower, 2019.
BERTRAND GUAY/AFP via Getty Images
BERTRAND GUAY/AFP via Getty Images

The Eiffel Tower, France’s most famous building, receives seven million tourists every year–75% of whom are international. Since it was built in 1887, the building has seen over 30 million visitors. Tourists love to ascend the Tower through an elevator to see a stunning view of Paris.

In 2014, a glass walkway opened that allowed people to view the roads of Paris below their feet. This addition attracted even more visitors. Paris itself houses 30 million tourists every year.

Few People Visit It In 2020

The Eiffel Tower is devoid of people during the 2020 lockdown.
LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP via Getty Images
LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP via Getty Images

Like many other hot spots in Paris, the Eiffel Tower shut down in March 2020. France installed a nationwide curfew and did not allow international tourists. Champ de Mars park, which usually holds large crowds of people snapping photos of the Eiffel Tower, emptied.

On June 25th, 2020, the Eiffel Tower opened to a limited capacity. The building permits a limited amount of visitors who must take the stairs (as the elevators are closed). The Tower will also be disinfected daily.

Before 2020, The Sydney Opera House Hosted 2,000 Events

Hundreds of people gather for a Bob Hawke memorial service at the Sydney Opera House, 2019.
James D. Morgan/Getty Images
James D. Morgan/Getty Images

When the Sydney Opera House opened in 1959, it became one of the world’s most famous architectural sites. Over 10.9 million people travel to the opera building, either to take photos with it or experience one of its many performances.

Each year, the Opera House hosts over 2,000 events, about 40 per week. And it’s not just opera–rock bands, circus performers, and dancers also go on stage. The Sydney Opera House makes up to $4.6 billion annually.

Nobody Performed In Its Halls During Lockdown

An aerial shot of the Sydney Opera House shows it being empty in March 2020.
James D. Morgan/Getty Images
James D. Morgan/Getty Images

On March 16th, 2020, the Sydney Opera House closed. Along with following lockdown regulations, the Opera House also began renovations. These renovations began in February and are scheduled to finish in mid-2021. The New South Wales government is spending $200 million on these improvements.

In October 2020, the Sydney Opera House reopened with reduced capacity (50%). Guests are required to leave one empty seat between them and others. As the pandemic slows down, capacity slowly increases, and the Sydney Opera House goes back to normal.

2019 Was One Of The Taj Mahal’s Most Popular Years

Muslim worshippers offer prayers in front of the Taj Mahal, 2019.
PAWAN SHARMA/AFP via Getty Images
PAWAN SHARMA/AFP via Getty Images

The Taj Mahal was built in the 17th century as a tomb for Mughal emperor Shah Jahan and his wife. Every year, eight million tourists head to Agra, India, to see the Taj Mahal. Most people arrive in the cooler months, October, November, and February.

Between 2018 and 2019, the Taj Mahal made more money than it ever had, around Rs 86,48,93,100. That’s up 60,00,00,000 from 2014. People don’t only visit for the architecture, but also the surrounding garden and reflecting pool.

Then, It Closed For Six Months In 2020

A low number of tourists visit the Taj Mahal in 2020.
PAWAN SHARMA/AFP via Getty Images
PAWAN SHARMA/AFP via Getty Images

On the 17th of March, 2020, the Taj Mahal closed. To prevent the spread of COVID-19, the UNESCO World Heritage Site planned to close until March 31st. It ended up remaining closed for six months. The Taj Mahal stay eerily quiet for months.

In September 2020, the mausoleum reopened to a limited capacity. Only 5,000 visitors are allowed daily, tickets are digital, and no group photos are allowed. Soon the government expects to let in 10,000 tourists.

The Leaning Tower Of Pisa Makes $25.5 Million From Tourism

People walk past the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
FABIO MUZZI/AFP via Getty Images
FABIO MUZZI/AFP via Getty Images

The Leaning Tower of Pisa is one of the world’s most famous buildings. To see the Tower, over five million tourists travel to Pisa, Italy, every year. Visitors buy tickets to climb the Tower and see stunning views of Italy.

Every year, the Tower makes € 21 million, or $25.5 million from tourism. Not only do people want to take photos of it, but they also walk up the spiraling staircase to the top. Tourism is Pisa’s primary source of income.

The Building Was Abandoned During Lockdown

The Leaning Tower of Pisa has few tourists.
DeAgostini/Getty Images
DeAgostini/Getty Images

The Tower of Pisa shut down on March 9th, 2020. Italy has gone through cycles of intense lockdown throughout the pandemic, and the country does not allow international visitors. The Cathedral Square next to the tower suddenly looked abandoned.

In May 2020, the Leaning Tower of Pisa reopened. Only 15 visitors were allowed into the building at one time. The limited opening is designed to raise funds, as Pisa suffered heavily from the lack of tourism.

Niagara Falls Is Canada’s Most Photogenic Spot

Crowds of gather to take photos of the Niagara Falls, 2019.
Dinendra Haria/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
Dinendra Haria/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

For over 200 years, Niagara Falls has been a well-known tourist site. Over 30 million people travel there each year, with numbers steadily rising. The city and waterfall lie between New York state and Ontario, Canada.

Niagara Falls has the fastest flow rate of any waterfall. Over 700,000 gallons of water drop down every second. Lakes and pools around the park are usually open for swimming. The waterfall is also beautiful, and many people want to take photos there.

It Lost Millions Of Dollars When It Closed

Only two visitors approach Niagara Falls to take a picture during 2020.
Stringer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Richard Lautens/Toronto Star via Getty Images

On December 26th, 2020, the Ontario government shut down Niagara Falls. Roads that led to the waterfall also closed. When it closed, the site lost some of its $400 million that it usually earns in tourism every year. The waterfall continued to run, but no one was there to see it.

Niagara Falls went through four phases of reopening between December and June. Today, the park is open with limited hours. Many spots that would usually welcome visitors are still closed. However, most hotels, campsites, and even the local aquarium are open.