Plane tickets, neck roll, passports and visas — wow, what a hassle! There’s got to be a better way!

Are you wary of trying new things? Had enough of learning local customs, tasting scary delicacies, and dealing with just plain unfamiliar smells? Sick and tired of not being understood when addressing people in plain English? Are you itching to see the Eiffel Tower without making a French faux-pas? The Great Wall of China without the great haul to China? The Temple Mount without all the schvitzing?

Well say goodbye to those crying-baby-behind-you blues because air travel — indeed any travel at all — could be a thing of the past when you visit these miniature scale models of famous places. See an entire city in a glance or all the world’s landmarks in an afternoon. What these places lack in authenticity, they more than make up for in convenience.

1. Shanghai Model City — Shanghai

Located in the slightly kooky Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center, this model of Shanghai shows what the city will, in theory, look like in the year 2020. At 1,000 square feet, it’s the biggest to-scale model in the world — showing all planned developments for the entire city for the next nine years. We’ve got to say their construction foresight and attention to detail is pretty impressive.

Image: Stuck in Customs/Flickr

Image: mobil’homme/Flickr

We can’t imagine how long this bad boy took to make, but we do know that twice a year workers delicately clean mini-Shanghai with mini-dusters and paint brushes to keep it looking this good.


2. Miniaturk — Istanbul

Image: Basak B./Flickr

Just in case you happen to be in Istanbul but aren’t interested in going to historical sites yourself, you can always head to Miniaturk. The theme park was built in 2003 and contains the marvels of Istanbul and the Ottoman world — all at 1/25th scale.

Image: Basak B./Flickr

It’s actually one of the largest miniature (whoa…) parks in the world, with 105 models on display. Although nothing can really stand in for the original monuments, Miniaturk ups the ante with its virtual, online 360-degree view of park (here). Simulated 3D views of miniature scale models of real monuments? The mind boggles.

Image: Basak B./Flickr

Image: Basak B./Flickr

3. Beijing World Park — Beijing

Image: omefrans/Flickr

With such a well traveled population, you’d think the cosmopolitan city of Beijing’s World Park would be on top of updating its monument models. But no — in the land of Beijing World Park time stands still. Not only could the models benefit from a good cleaning, but the World Park’s curators should really consider removing the Twin Towers from their Manhattan model.

Image: omefrans/Flickr

Image: omefrans/Flickr

That being said, the park is still good for a few laughs. Beijing World Park employs dancers that perform daily, and they are known to bring in animals to “highlight” the different displays. We also heard it’s a popular spot to take wedding photos. Go figure…

Image: omefrans/Flickr

4. Minimundus — Carinthia, Austria

Image: nrares/Flickr

Open since 1958, Minimundus in Austria strives to stay on top of and consistently deliver “what’s hot” in the world, at a convenient 1/25 scale. It has 150 miniature models of international landmarks, from the White House to the Taj Mahal. It doesn’t discriminate by nationality or race, and attempts to give visitors a taste of the entire world in around 26,000 square meters.

Image: nrares/Flickr

Images: nrares/gholzer/Flickr

Unlike many other model amusement parks, Minimundus is seriously lacking in kitsch. The models are expertly crafted by professional model makers and just one building can cost upward of $700,000 to build. The grounds are well maintained and the gardens are lush and lovely. The park is such a hit, a second location was constructed.

Image: zerok/Flickr

5. Panorama of the City of New York — New York City

Image: Queens Museum of New York

When famous urban planner of New York City Robert Moses set out to build an exact model of New York, he really went for it. Commissioned for the 1964 World Fair, Moses teamed up with the great Raymond Lester Associates to bring his dream to fruition. What they created was a 9,335 square foot model that included every single building in all five boroughs of New York. They used aerial photographs and insurance maps to create the masterpiece. Important research it was since, according to the initial contract, they were only allowed a 1% margin for error. When it was completed in ’64 the model had 895,000 buildings in total.

Image: llahbocaj/Flickr

Images: llahbocaj/Pdence/Flickr

When it was unveiled for the World’s Fair it was unquestionably the biggest hit, attracting an average of 1,400 visitors a day. Maintained until 1970, the Panorama was essentially abandoned until 1992 when Raymond Lester Associates again took it upon themselves to update it, adding 60,000 more buildings to bring it up to date.

Image: fliegender/Flickr

Although it’s no longer being updated, the Panorama is truly a model like no other and it lives on permanent display at the Queens Museum of Art.

6. Mini Europe — Brussels

Similar to Minimundus but with slightly less, ahem, taste, Mini Europe is a theme park with 350 scale models of monuments found within the European Union. At 1/25th scale, certain of the creations are also interactive. If you get really lucky, you can see Mt. Vesuvius blow during a visit.

Image: LinksmanJD/Flickr

Image: infomatique/Flickr

Interestingly, this is also home to the Atomium: a reverse-scale model of an iron crystal lattice that’s magnified to 165 million times its original size. So Mini Europe gets bonus points for helping you check off two totally different perspectives in one easy trip.

Image: Wootpeanuts/Flickr

7. Mini Siam — Pattaya, Thailand

Mini Siam has a lot going for it. Located almost 100 miles south of Bangkok, the park was built in 1986 to lure tourists to Pattaya. It is split up into Mini Europe and Mini Siam, and the entire park has about 80 famous landmarks. Mini Europe is pretty standard, and also poorly named: along with European landmarks Mini Europe has the Statue of Liberty, the Sydney Opera House, and Angkor Wat.

Image: Pictoluck/Flickr

Mini Siam, on the other hand, actually has some unique, semi-unusual models of famous Thai landmarks.

Image: Pictoluck/Flickr

Images: ne*/ne*/Flickr

8. Window to the World — Shenzhen, China

If you’re looking for the ultimate in cheesy mini-world adventures, this is your place. With 130 reproductions of famous tourist spots, Window to the World in Shenzhen doesn’t seem to adhere to any standardized ratio or scale. Some models are huge, while others are pretty small.

Image: dcmaster/Flickr

With a magnificent Pantheon-esque entrance, the park promises great things. Once inside, the various models are often big enough to walk around, but definitely not life-size. Although this constant shift in scale can be slightly disconcerting, the park makes up for it with a real-life indoor ski-slope, ice rink, and a fishing pond filled with fish.

Image: dcmaster/Flickr

Image: flickr.Marcus/Flickr

Image: DoNotLick/Flickr

9. Forbidden Gardens — Katy, Texas

Ira P.H. Poon is our favorite type of millionaire: reclusive, secretive, and super eccentric. Chinese by birth, Poon decided to use his vast fortune to craft an incredible replica of the Forbidden Palace at 1/2oth scale in his adopted town of Katy, Texas.

Image: Mr. Kimberly/Flickr

Image: frankienose/Flickr

Image: k<3money/Flickr

If that wasn’t enough, he also commissioned a replica collection of the Terracotta Warriors. Poon ordered 6,000 clay statues 1/3 the size of the originals from a factory in China and put them on display in a parcel of land the size of a football field. The incredible collection cost a reported $40 million dollars to build and was open to the public. Surprisingly, Poon didn’t seem interested in recouping his costs, and did nothing to promote his collection.

Image: Mr. Kimberly/Flickr

Image: frankienose/Flickr

Tragically, Forbidden Gardens was forced to shut down when the Texas State Highway was scheduled to expand into the park. The entire Terracotta Warrior collection was put up for sale on Craigslist in February 2011, at $100 a soldier. According to the original post, high demand forced the sellers to take the soldiers off the market. But according to the Forbidden Gardens website, they were later sold for $250 each. With the collection sold off and a highway scheduled to be built through his park, Poon has now disappeared back into obscurity.


What miniature worlds did we miss?

Article by Rachel Greenberg, originally written for NileGuide