Once heavily thronged, global tourist hot spots now lie empty. Gaggles of tourists posing for selfies and vendors hawking souvenirs are things of the past.

With no end in sight for the coronavirus pandemic, the World Travel & Tourism Council predicts that travel is likely to slump by at least a quarter this year, leaving famous streets, iconic beaches and historic palaces desolate.

These seven surreal before-and-after photographs tell the story of the drastic impact of the coronavirus on the world’s top tourist sites.


Taj Mahal, Agra, India

India’s iconic white marble mausoleum attracted almost 6.5 million visitors in 2018, according to the Indian Ministry of Tourism.

Designed as a monument by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as a tribute to his late wife Mumtaz Mahal in 1632, the Taj Mahal is widely considered the greatest architectural achievement in Indo-Islamic architecture.

Highlights include the fine relief work in its marble and the perfect symmetry of the building.

Even before Taj Mahal was closed on March 17, tourist numbers had dwindled drastically.

Sainte-Catherine street, Bordeaux, France

Sainte-Catherine street is home to street-fashion brands such as H&M and Zara and upmarket French department store chain Galeries Lafayette. 

Pedestrianised in 1984, the 1.2km landmark is Europe’s longest shopping street, according to Bordeaux’s tourism website. 

However, since the French lockdown on March 17, the once bustling street in the famed wine-growing region of Bordeaux now resembles a ghost town. 

Stores and cafes are all shuttered.

Times Square, New York, United States

Buzzing with neon billboards and the occasional flash mob, Times Square is a major commercial intersection, tourist destination and entertainment centre.

An embodiment of The City That Never Sleeps, the destination attracted more than four million visitors last year, according to its official website.

It is notoriously jam-packed with tourists keen to catch a Broadway show, shop or just to soak in the electric atmosphere.

However, with New York now the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic in the US and non-essential retailers and businesses ordered to close since March 22, the streets are eerily quiet. Only Times Square’s billboards continue shining brightly into the quiet night.

Ipanema beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The white sands of Brazil’s iconic Ipanema beach are usually lined with colourful umbrellas and sun-worshippers.

Made famous by the 1960s Brazilian jazz hit The Girl From Ipanema, the popular tourist spot stretches for 2km and is known for its buoyant nightlife and beach activities such as beach volleyball and surfing.

However, since Brazil closed its beaches on March 20, the beach has been deserted.

Soi Cowboy, Bangkok, Thailand

Famous for its go-go bars and raucous parties, the once bustling nightlife destination is now empty, after the Thai government shut down entertainment venues on March 18 to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Named after a cowboy hat-wearing African- American man who opened the first bar in the district in the 1970s, the entertainment district caters mainly to tourists and expatriates. It has more than 30 bars and clubs, including the adult entertainment club Suzie Wong.

Bangkok was the world’s most visited city last year, with around 22.7 million international visitors, according to Mastercard’s 2019 Global Destination Cities Index.

Spanish Steps, Rome, Italy

The Spanish Steps are so popular that visitors have been banned from sitting on them since last year to prevent further damage.

They were made famous by the 1953 classic movie Roman Holiday, in which American actress Audrey Hepburn sat on the steps eating gelato.

The unique design of the steps has made it a popular subject for artists, painters and poets. Highlights include the bright pink azaleas which decorate the steps from April to May every year.

Since Italy’s lockdown on March 9, the steps, once the resting place for many tired tourists, have not seen any action.

Gyeongbokgung palace, Seoul, South Korea

Tourists and locals used to dress in rainbow-hued hanboks, traditional Korean outfits, and pose for photos outside historic South Korean palace Gyeongbokgung.

Gyeongbokgung palace, the largest South Korean palace constructed during the Joseon Dynasty, was built in 1395.

Along with Seoul’s three other major palaces – Changdeokgung, Changgyeonggung and Deoksugung – it recorded a total of 10.1 million visitors in 2016, according to South Korean newspaper The Korea Herald.

Due to the coronavirus, all official guided tours to Gyeongbokgung have been suspended, but the palace remains open for those who wish to explore the premises on their own, according to its official website