Photos show how the coronavirus affected the world's biggest tourist attractions throughout this unprecedented year

Sophie-Claire Hoeller,Monica Humphries
·11 min read
empty times square coronavirus
Times Square in New York City. Anadolu Agency/Getty
  • Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many people stayed home in 2020.

  • This spring, tourist attractions, theme parks, and famous landmarks made history by shuttering their doors for the first time in decades. 

  • Come fall, many had reopened, but with strict new protocols in place, like capacity limits, temperature checks, and mask requirements. 

  • From the Louvre Museum in Paris to the Blue Lagoon in Iceland, here's what tourist attractions looked like throughout this unprecedented year.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

In March, the world came to a temporary standstill. Billions of people were under lockdown, borders across the world closed, nonessential businesses shuttered.

With that, the travel industry was nearly decimated. Tourist attractions and famous landmarks around the world closed their doors.

Although some attractions have since reopened, many of the once-bustling attractions are still eerily quiet today. 

Keep scrolling to see pictures of what some of the most-visited tourist attractions looked like throughout 2020. 

The "Happiest Place on Earth" attracted crowds right up until its closing on March 15.

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Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. Courtesy of BlogMickey.com

March 16 became the first time all six Disney parks across the globe shut down, according to Vox.

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Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. Gregg Newton/Reuters

Source: Vox

By July, the parks had reopened and were once again bustling. Daryl Austin, writing for Insider, said he regretted his trip to the crowded amusement park in November.

The official re-opening day of the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in July.
The official re-opening day of the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in July. Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service/Getty Images

Source: Insider

St. Mark's Square in Venice, Italy, is a tourist hot spot that sees 26 million to 30 million visitors annually, per Business Insider.

Venice Crowds St Marks Square
Tourists fill St. Mark's Square in Venice, Italy. Manuel Silvestri/Reuters

Source: Business Insider

The lockdown rendered it a ghost town in March.

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Italy's lockdown left spots, like St. Mark's Square, deserted. Andrea Pattaro/Getty

Seven days before Christmas, a handful of tourists explored the square, but visitor numbers were drastically lower than what the city usually sees over the holidays.

The famous St. Mark's Square is quiet on December 18, 2020 in Venice, Italy.
The famous St. Mark's Square is quiet on December 18, 2020, in Venice, Italy. Laurel Chor/Getty Images

In a typical year, the Great Wall of China usually sees around 10 million visitors, according to China Daily.

Badaling Great Wall of China crowds
Shutterstock

Source: China Daily

The wall closed to visitors on January 25 and it wasn't until the end of March that it reopened with limited capacity and temperature checks, according to Insider.

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The Great Wall of China nearly empty in March when it reopened. Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

Source: Insider

In November, the region experienced its first snow of the season and only a handful of people explored the landmark.

A snowscape of the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall in Beijing.
A snowscape of the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall in Beijing. Bu Xiangdong/Xinhua/Getty

In 2018, over 6.5 million people flocked to the 17th-century Taj Mahal in Agra, India, per CNN.

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Millions of people explore the Taj Mahal each year. PAWAN SHARMA/AFP/Getty Images

Source: CNN

This year, that number is drastically lower since the monument sat empty for months.

A single tourist takes a picture at the empty Taj Mahal.
A single tourist takes a picture at the empty Taj Mahal. SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images

September 21 marked the attraction's reopening, and crowds quickly flooded the marble mausoleum.

Tourists visit the Taj Mahal in Agra on December 19, 2020.
Tourists visit the Taj Mahal in Agra on December 19, 2020. PAWAN SHARMA/AFP/Getty Images

The Blue Lagoon is Iceland's No. 1 attraction. The geothermal spa sees about 1.3 million visitors a year, per the BBC, even though Iceland has a population of only about 330,000.

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People swimming in the bustling Blue Lagoon. Roberto La Rosa/Shutterstock

Source: BBC

The Blue Lagoon closed on March 23 and plans to stay that way through January 2021, according to the attraction's website.

The Blue Lagoon, Iceland, empty coronavirus
Not a swimmer was in sight by March. Chloe Pantazi/Insider

Source: Blue Lagoon Iceland

The Eiffel Tower is normally bustling with both locals lounging around it and tourists climbing up to its top. According to Tour Eiffel, it sees about 7 million visitors annually.

eiffel tower crowded
Parisians and tourists relax on the grass near the Trocadero fountains across from the Paris Eiffel Tower as spring-like weather arrives on April 6, 2010. Charles Platiau/Reuters

Source: Tour Eiffel

The Eiffel Tower was closed for months, and neither tourists nor locals visited the attraction.

Eiffel Tower closed coronavirus
A sign explaining that the Eiffel Tower is closed. Thomas Samson/Getty

Over the summer, it reopened with limited capacity, but closed indefinitely in October due to a second lockdown, according to Radio France Internationale.

The Eiffel Tower as a national lockdown starts as part of the COVID-19 measures to fight a second wave of the coronavirus disease.
The Eiffel Tower as a national lockdown starts as part of the COVID-19 measures to fight a second wave of the coronavirus disease. Christian Hartmann/File Photo/Reuters

Source: Radio France Internationale

The Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy attracts throngs of tourists pretending to hold it up.

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Tourists pose in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Shutterstock

The only people around the Leaning Tower during Italy's first lockdown were workers spraying disinfectant solutions.

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A worker disinfects the surrounding park. Laura Lezza/Getty

By May, crowds were back at the landmark attempting to take their iconic, touristy pictures once more.

Tourists seen at the tower of Pisa on May 30, 2020.
Tourists are seen at the tower of Pisa on May 30, 2020. Laura Lezza/Getty Images

Red Square in Moscow attracts tourists and visitors alike with its colorful Saint Basil's Cathedral.

Red Square Moscow Russia
Red Square in Moscow, Russia. NurPhoto/Getty

According to Reuters, Moscow put special safety measures in place at tourist attractions and hotels as early as January 28.

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The enormous square was nearly empty this spring. Gavriil Grigorov/Getty

Source: Reuters

This winter, the Russian capital still decorated for the holidays, and locals flocked to the landmark, according to Agence France-Presse, an international news agency.

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The square on December 27, 2020. Valery Sharifulin/TASS/Getty Images

Source: Agence France-Presse

Rain or shine, hordes of tourists congregated to watch the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace in London before the pandemic started.

Buckingham London changing of the guards crowds
Buckingham Palace. Daniel Leal-Olivas/Getty

Prime Minister Boris Johnson issued a stay-at-home order on March 23. According to CNN, Britain hadn't seen restrictions like this since the end of World War II.

Buckingham Palace coronavirus empty
An empty Buckingham Palace. Dan Kitwood/Getty

Source: CNN

In the fall, some tourists were back. But this winter, as a new strain of the virus emerged, the UK imposed stricter lockdowns, as The New York Times reported. The outside of the palace was once again empty.

A photo of Buckingham Palace taken on October 15, 2020.
A photo of Buckingham Palace taken on October 15, 2020. Kirsty O'Connor/PA Images/Getty Images

Source: The New York Times

Las Vegas sees about 42 million visitors a year, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

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Crowds line up to take a photo in front of the iconic Las Vegas sign. Shutterstock

Source: Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority

On March 17, the governor of Nevada ordered nonessential businesses to close for 30 days, leaving the Las Vegas Strip looking like a ghost town.

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The barren Las Vegas Strip. John Locher/AP

But the strip reopened in June, and by December, Molly O'Brien, writing for Insider, said she was 'shocked how much it still felt like the Sin City I remember.'

Fremont Street on November 28, 2020, in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Fremont Street on November 28, 2020, in Las Vegas, Nevada. Bryan Steffy/Getty Images

Source: Eater, Insider

A year ago, the Spanish Steps in Rome would be teeming with tourists.

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Crowds in front of the Spanish Steps in Rome. Kamira/Shutterstock

In March, 60 million Italians went into lockdown in an effort to curb the coronavirus, leaving the UNESCO World Heritage Site unusually desolate.

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On March 5, a woman wearing a mask poses for photos at the bottom of the Spanish Steps in Rome. Andrew Medichini/AP Photo

Months later, the steps are still eerily quiet as Italy imposed stricter lockdowns this winter, as Business Insider reports.

A face masked woman sits on empty Spanish Steps in downtown Rome on December 5, 2020.
A woman sits on empty Spanish Steps in downtown Rome on December 5, 2020. FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images

Source: Business Insider

Locals may avoid it, but New York City's Times Square is one of the world's most visited tourist attractions. It sees nearly 380,000 pedestrians every day, according to Times Square Monthly Pedestrian Count Reports.

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Thousands of people walk through Times Square in New York City every day. Getty/Alexander Spatari

Source: Times Square Monthly Pedestrian Count Reports

New York City went into lockdown in March and the area was left barren.

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A deserted Times Square. Anadolu Agency/Getty

By December, some lockdown restrictions lifted and the square saw a slight resurgence of locals and tourists.

People await the lighting of the New Year's Eve numerals on display in Times Square on December 21, 2020
People await the lighting of the New Year's Eve numerals on display in Times Square on December 21, 2020. Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

The Forbidden City, a palace complex in Beijing, is one of China's most visited attractions.

the Forbidden City, Beijing
Crowds at the Forbidden City, Beijing. Miles Astray/iStock

Along with many other Chinese attractions, it closed to the public on January 25.

Forbidden city
The Forbidden City sat empty at the beginning of this year. testing/ Shutterstock

But The Forbidden City has reopened and now welcomes a limited capacity of guests.

People holding umbrellas visit the Forbidden City during the first snow of the season on November 21, 2020
People holding umbrellas visit the Forbidden City during the first snow of the season on November 21, 2020. VCG/VCG/Getty Images

Source: AP

With about 750,000 daily visitors, Grand Central Terminal is usually one of the busiest spots in New York City.

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New York's Grand Central Terminal. Bebeto Matthews, File/AP

Source: Grand Central Terminal

As people self-isolated and worked from home, few used public transportation in the spring and summer. Ridership on commuter railways plummeted nearly 90%, according to The New York Times.

Grand Central NYC empty coronavirus
An empty Grand Central terminal. NurPhoto/Getty

Source: The New York Times

As New Yorkers take to the subways once again, the terminal is still drastically empty compared to a year ago.

People walk through Grand Central Terminal two days before the Christmas holiday on December 23, 2020
People walk through Grand Central Terminal two days before the Christmas holiday on December 23, 2020. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The Piazza del Duomo in Milan is one of the city's top attractions.

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The Piazza del Duomo in Milan. Getty/Oscar Gonzalez

When Italy went into lockdown, few ventured outside. The Duomo closed its doors to visitors on February 25.

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A picture of the Duomo during Italy's lockdown. Getty/Miguel Medina

For the holidays, the Piazza del Duomo put up a Christmas tree and visitors flocked to the city center.

GettyImages 1230145095A general view of the Christmas tree in Piazza Duomo on December 7, 2020.
A general view of the Christmas tree in Piazza Duomo on December 7, 2020. Alessandro Bremec/NurPhoto/Getty Images

The Louvre Museum in Paris, home to the "Mona Lisa," is the world's most visited museum, according to Museums EU.

Tourists at the louvre
Crowds waiting to get into The Louvre. Christian Bertrand/Shutterstock

Source: Museums EU

After months of being closed, The Louvre was set to reopen in December, but a new lockdown means the museum remains closed until further notice.

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A deserted Louvre. Ludovic Marin/Getty

Source: The Louvre, Getty Images

San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf is one of the city's busiest tourist areas.

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Tourists at the wharf. AsianDream/Getty

But a shelter-in-place order was imposed in March, and the wharf was the quietest it's been in years.

Fisherman's Wharf San Francisco empty coronavirus
An empty wharf. Ben Margot/AP

Throughout the winter, the wharf remained largely empty, minus a few runners and locals, as California went back into a lockdown.

The Fishermen's Wharf on September 16, 2020.
The Fishermen's Wharf on September 16, 2020. Yalonda M. James/The San Francisco Chronicle/Getty Images

Source: Business Insider

The Colosseum, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, sees about 7.4 million visitors a year, according to a local magazine.

tourists at the colosseum .JPG
The UNESCO World Heritage Site welcomes millions of visitors each year. Alessandro Bianchi/ REUTERS

Source: Italiani

Post-lockdown, it was practically barren and reopened for a short period until Italy went into a second lockdown.

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The Colosseum is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Andrew Medichini/AP Photo

When in Los Angeles, the Hollywood Walk of Fame is a must-visit attraction.

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Stars fill the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Tupungato/Shutterstock

When Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a stay-at-home order on March 19, the streets were left deserted.

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An empty bus travels along Hollywood's Walk of Fame. Rich Fury/Getty

By December, California was back in lockdown and crowds stayed away from the star-filled sidewalks once more.

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A man wearing a mask takes a picture of President Donald Trump's star. Rich Fury/Getty Images

Source: Business Insider

Vatican City is the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church.

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Crowds at Vatican City. Franco Origlia / Stringer

Source: CNN

With Italy on lockdown, the familiar crowds quickly disappeared, and this winter, Vatican City remained desolate.

A woman prays on her knees in front of an empty St. Peter's Square as Pope Francis gives his weekly general audience via transmitted video a day after the Vatican closed the square and Basilica due to coronavirus concerns, as seen from Rome, Italy March 11, 2020. REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane
Vatican City placed barriers around its building to prevent tourists from entering. Reuters

For most visitors (and many locals) no trip to New York is complete without catching a Broadway show.

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The Broadway show, "Matilda." Atlantide Phototravel/Getty

To curb the coronavirus, theaters closed their doors, suspending all plays and musicals in March.

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Broadway will have closed its doors for over a year. Cindy Ord/Getty

The theater district still sits empty, and show-goers will have to wait an entire year before seeing a musical. The theaters aren't scheduled to reopen until May, according to NY Tix.

A person walks outside Hamilton at Richard Rodgers Theatre in Times Square in December.
A person walks outside Hamilton at Richard Rodgers Theatre in Times Square in December. Noam Galai/Getty Images

Source: NY Tix

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