10 Cold War Sites You Can Visit Today

A guarded history, exposed

Photo: trabantos/Shutterstock

The Cold War once dominated the nightly news. It divided continents and literally cut cities in half. Though a few remaining stalemates remain — on the Korean Peninsula for example — the tense standoff between nuclear powers basically ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Sections of that famous barrier remain, but the non-shooting war between communism and democracy, between the U.S. and the USSR, is remembered now through history books, museums, movies and television shows.

You can also see replicas of Cold-war sites (like this copy of Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin), though, and many relics from this important part of recent history are hidden in plain sight in Europe, North America and the Far East.

Here are several places where you can see remnants of the Cold War and perhaps, learn a little history while you're there.

East Side Gallery, Berlin, Germany

Photo: Peter Dargatz/Pixabay

Large sections of the Berlin Wall were famously torn down in 1989. Television images of elated Germans breaking apart the barrier were broadcast all over the world. Of course, the wall stretched for miles and miles in and around Berlin, so not all of it was destroyed. A 4,000-foot section near the Spree River was saved from demolition and turned into an outdoor art gallery.

The East Side Gallery features more than 100 murals on the original wall. The works are meant to depict the feeling of freedom and relief that defined newly reunified Germany. Many of the murals had to be restored because of vandalism and weathering, but the wall on which they were painted has not changed much since it was built in the 1960s. Interestingly, the barrier here was not actually on the border between East and West Berlin. The line between the two sides in this area was the Spree River, and the wall served as an additional barrier.

Minuteman missile site, South Dakota, USA

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The Cold War’s most frightening aspect was the nuclear arms race between the U.S. and Soviet Union. Missile sites in remote corners of America are still active, but one that has gone offline is open to the public. The Minuteman Missile National Historic Site houses now-obsolete intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) from the 1960s. The site is adjacent to Badlands National Park in South Dakota.

Tours of the facility, including a chance to peer down at a missile still in its silo and a visit to the underground control capsule, are led by park rangers. This is the last remaining Minuteman II system in the country (the current U.S. arsenal consists of newer missiles), but the weapon was quite powerful when it was in use. The warhead was 10 times stronger than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, and it had the ability to reach Soviet targets in 30 minutes.

Karosta Prison, Liepaja, Latvia

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Karosta Prison was one of many detention centers that operated in the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Something unique about this former jail in Liepaja, Latvia: you can now stay overnight because it has been converted into a Cold War-themed hotel. You can book a room and get a full “inmate experience,” complete with interrogation, verbal abuse from guards in period costumes, prison food and a night in a cell.

The immersive experience (some past guests were reportedly shocked at how realistic it was) is only one of the options available. If you want to skip the interrogation and prison food, you can opt for a guided tour of the facility. The prison was part of a much larger complex that served as a naval base on the Baltic Sea during the Soviet era.

Memento Park, Budapest, Hungary

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Budapest’s Memento Park features one of the world’s largest remaining collections of communist-era statues. Marx, Lenin and Engels are represented, as are Hungarian dictators and other figures. The statues were erected in the country between 1949 and 1989. To have such a collection is quite rare; most of this type of public art was destroyed after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Memento Park is one of the only places where you can still see communist statues in their Cold War condition.

The park was designed by Hungarian architect Ákos Eleőd. A quote from Eleőd explaining the concept of the project is engraved near the entrance. “This Park is about dictatorship. And at the same time, because it can be talked about, described and built up, this Park is about democracy. After all, only democracy can provide an opportunity to think freely about dictatorship. Or about democracy, come to that!”

Greenbrier Bunker, West Virginia, USA

Photo: Bobak Ha'Eri/Wikimedia Commons

The Greenbrier is a luxury hotel in the Allegheny Mountains in West Virginia. People started coming to the springs in this area during the Revolutionary War. The property still welcomes guests, but one of the biggest attractions is actually located under the resort. The Bunker, otherwise known as Project Greek Island, was meant to host the U.S. Congress in the event of a missile attack on Washington, D.C.

Parts of the bunker, built in the late 1950s, were used by the hotel as conference facilities, though the real purpose and the hidden rooms were not revealed until 1992 after a report by the Washington Post. The bunker had living facilities, a broadcast center, a hospital and enough rations to last for decades. The facility now has period furnishings so it looks much like it did during the Cold War. Members of the general public can see the facility by joining a 90-minute tour .

Bunker 42, Moscow, Russia

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Bunker 42, officially known as Tagansky Protected Command Point, is now a privately owned museum dedicated to the Cold War. Tour groups can wander through tunnels and see artifacts and exhibits from the Cold War era. When it was in use, the bunker was an important communications center that was meant to house Stalin and his cabinet in the event of a nuclear attack. Though the attack never came, the bunker was still used as a command center for deploying Soviet bombers around the world.

It was built over a five-year period in the 1950s. The builders were supposed to keep the construction a secret, which was no small task considering the project called for 75,000 square feet of space, and the bunker was more than 200 feet below the surface of central Moscow. At that time, the Russian capital was likely crawling with spies who would have been on the lookout for evidence of just such a project.

RAF Stenigot, Linconshire, England

Photo: David Skinner/flickr

RAF Stenigot was a radar station first used in World War II to give early warning of German bomber attacks to cities in the English Midlands region. After the war, the base was converted into a relay station used as part of a NATO plan for long-distance communication in Europe. Large tropospheric scatter dishes (used to send microwave radio signals over long distances) were installed at the site. These massive disks are still there, although they were decommissioned in the late 1980s, and most of the buildings were demolished during the following decade.

The concrete bases of the buildings still remain, as do the dishes (knocked off their stands) and a nearby radar tower. The reason for abandoning the equipment: Authorities deemed the cost of removing the dishes too high, so they simply left them behind. The radar tower is still used in military training, and the fence is intended meant to keep people from climbing on the dishes.

Berlin Friedrichstraße Railway Station, Germany

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Today, Berlin Friedrichstraße Railway Station is busy because of its central location. The station has a secret history: It was once a "hole" in the Iron Curtain. In the early years of separation, many of East Berlin’s best and brightest escaped to the West using Friedrichstraße. When the Berlin Wall went up, East Germany paid special attention to the station, which is actually on their side of the border. The platforms on the surface were divided by metal and glass barriers, but the subway platforms, though technically in East Germany, were used only by West Berlin trains.

In fact, several subway “ghost stations” in East Berlin were closed during the Cold War. Trains on the West Berlin network would go past these hubs without stopping, but passengers could see them. The busiest border crossing in the city during the Cold War was here, inside Friedrichstraße Station, and not at the famous Checkpoint Charlie. West Berlin residents would visit relatives in the East using this checkpoint. It was nicknamed Tränenplast, which means Palace of Tears, because of the tearful goodbyes that took place there.

Kelvedon Hatch Bunker, Essex, England

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The Kelvedon Hatch Secret Nuclear Bunker was built in Essex County as part of a post-World War II effort to improve England’s air defenses. It was meant to house the regional air force command in the event of an attack by the Soviet Union. It was subsequently preserved to hold the regional government for the London area during a nuclear attack.

Decommissioned after the Cold War, it was sold to a private party (related to the owners from whom the government originally bought the land) and turned into a museum and tourist attraction. The location is occasionally used for filming movies and television shows.

Korean DMZ

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One of the deadliest conflicts between U.S. and U.N.-backed forces and a communist military took place on the Korean Peninsula in the 1950s. The war ended with a ceasefire and the peninsula was divided along the DMZ. A full peace treaty was never signed, so the two Koreas are technically still at war and now engaged in one of the final standoffs from the Cold War era.

There have been skirmishes on the border over the years, but DMZ tours remain popular. In the Joint Security Area, military members from North and South are less than 100 yards apart. Tourists can visit a conference room right on the border where the two sides could potentially meet to negotiate a full truce (which currently seems unlikely). Though this is the most well-known site, there are other areas along the border with attractions that date to the early years of the Cold War.