Places With Histories Too Creepy to Resist
If it’s relaxation you crave, you’ve come to the wrong place. But if you’re looking for a freaky adventure, we’ve got you covered.
There are so many sites around the world associated with evil, spirits, extraterrestrials or something bizarre yet earthly that you could spend all your traveling days hopping from one creep show to the next. Or you could just consider one or two of these 20 morbid and disturbing destinations for your next trip.
From a mountain village plagued by mysterious bird deaths to a market full of rotting animals to islands containing death and poison, these places are living nightmares — so get ready to be spooked.
There is an island in the Venetian Lagoon that’s so haunted the Italian government won’t allow anyone near it.
Over the centuries, Poveglia has served many horrifying purposes. For one thing it’s an enormous graveyard; more than 100,000 people have been buried there, either as plague victims in the 14th century or asylum patients in the late 1800s, turning the island’s soil into 50 percent human remains. Local lore has it that the voices of the dead can still be heard around Poveglia, and human remains have been known to wash up on its shores.
The last known tourists to make the mistake of illegally visiting the island tried to stay there overnight in 2016 but were reportedly so frightened by whatever the heck inhabits the place that their terrified screams were heard on a nearby sailboat, whose crew called authorities to help the wayward group.
From around 1850 to 1941, a brutal and inhumane practice called shanghaiing quietly took place in cities along the West Coast in which able-bodied men were taken hostage and sold into slavery aboard ships heading back to the Orient. Although official records of this practice largely don’t exist, it was a well-known problem in San Francisco, Seattle, Portland (Oregon) and other cities. In Portland in particular, shanghaiing was aided by the underground tunnels in the city’s business district and old Chinatown neighborhood.
This intricate tunnel system, which covered several miles, was originally created to move goods from the Willamette River to businesses in the downtown core. But much of the vice activity of the time — gambling, prostitution, opium use and drinking during Prohibition — also took place in the Portland Underground. Men who imbibed or smoked too much and passed out would find themselves aboard a ship and forced into several years of hard labor.
The tunnels are believed to be haunted, and tours of a portion of them are still offered today. Many guests have reported seeing, hearing or feeling strange presences during these tours, reminding them of a tragic and horrifying chapter of American history.
As far as haunted places go, castles are among the most spooked. And for scares, you can’t do much better than Leap Castle in County Offaly, Ireland.
There are at least seven distinctly haunted sections of the castle. Most frightening of all is a spirit called the Elemental that can be seen anywhere on the grounds. This apparition is a decaying face who brings with it the distinct smell of death whenever it visits.
It’s unclear when Leap Castle was built, but estimations put it as early as the 12th century. It was constructed atop grounds used by druids for initiation ceremonies, and some stories posit that they were responsible for bringing the Elemental to the castle.
Seeing as how druids believed that souls passed from one living body to the next, it’s understandable that this castle would be wildly haunted. It also doesn’t help that the murderous O’Carroll family carried out hundreds of killings there for more than a hundred years in the 1500s and 1600s.
Lava is a fascinating and frightening liquid, but it’s made even more creepy when it cools into anthropomorphic rocks that resemble the melting faces of the Nazis in the penultimate scene of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” For this terrifying reality, look no further than the Big Island of Hawaii and the lava skylight in West Kamokuna.
There you will find what’s been described as the “portal to hell,” with creepy, distorted rock formations that look like they’re being sucked into the depths of the Earth. You’ve been warned, brave traveler.
Imagine being 16,000 feet above sea level in a remote and frigid part of India and stumbling upon a frozen lake containing the remains of hundreds of people. That’s the story of the discovery of Skeleton Lake in 1942 by a British forest ranger.
How and why the skeletons of 200-plus people ended up at the site remains a mystery. Originally, scientists thought the lake contained the remains of Japanese soldiers who died while attempting a land invasion during World War II.
Then, in 2004, DNA testing suggested everyone died at the same time around the year 850, and all from blows to the head. But the skull impacts were too shallow to be from weapons. Stumped, researchers actually turned to a Himalayan folk song for their answer. The song is about a goddess who rains giant hailstones upon anyone who dares enter her mountain sanctuary. Mythical goddess intervention aside, a massive hailstorm made perfect sense as an explanation for the sudden deaths.
The plot thickened just this year, when scientists revealed that it actually appeared the deaths occurred over a 1,000-year history, and theorized that perhaps the skeletons were from religious burials or exploration trips gone awry.
No one knows for sure, adding a sense of intrigue to this seriously disturbing site.
There are actually more bone churches and skeleton catacombs around the world than most people would care to know about, but perhaps the creepiest is located underneath a gothic Roman Catholic church in the Czech Republic. The creep factor is derived solely from the fact that human bones decorate the entire place.
Burials at Sedlec Ossuary date back to the late 13th century, when an abbot who brought back soil from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem made it a desirable resting place. It also received an influx of burials during the Black Death years and crusades.
But it wasn’t until 1870 that the decorative effort began. That’s when a local woodcarver was hired to do something with the remains of the 40,000 to 70,000 people who had been sitting in the ossuary after being exhumed centuries before during the construction of the church. He decided to honor them by decorating the ossuary with their bones, including an intricate chandelier that contains at least one of every bone in the human body.
The designs are incredible if incredibly macabre, and the church is one of the most visited sites in the Czech Republic.
Winchester Mystery House
San Jose, California is well known as the anchor city of Silicon Valley, but it also contains one of the strangest estates in the country, with as creepy a background story as they come. And it might just be haunted by the ghosts of people killed by Winchester rifles.
Construction of the sprawling mansion was started by Sarah Winchester in 1884 and continued until her death in 1922. Winchester was bequeathed a king’s ransom as the heir to the Winchester Repeating Arms Co. due to the fact that her husband and father-in-law had both died in the early 1880s. Her only child, a daughter, died five weeks after birth in 1866. Believing she was cursed and haunted by the ghosts of people killed by Winchester rifles, she allegedly claimed that a spirit told her to never stop building the house if she wanted the departed to let her be. So that’s what she did.
The Winchester Mystery House contains some 160 rooms and includes doors that open onto walls, doors that open from high floors onto nothing but the air, crooked hallways, spy holes, hidden passageways and oh so many more curiosities. It’s well worth a visit and is only closed on Christmas Day.
While Scotland is full of creepy old estates, not all of them have a reputation for dog deaths. That is the case, however, at the Overtoun House just outside Glasgow — and the reason why canines have a penchant for leaping off the bridge is rather curious.
The bridge itself is said to be haunted by Lady Overtoun, who after her husband’s death in 1908 would pace back and forth over the bridge for the next 23 years until her own demise. While visitors have reported feeling her presence, though, she’s not responsible for the 600-plus dogs that have leapt off the bridge (most survive the fall, but at least 50 have died). This has been happening since the 1950s, and until recently no one knew why.
The jumps always happened from the same area of the bridge on its right side and on sunny days. Something below the bridge must have been attractive to dogs. A canine behavior specialist finally realized that there was a ton of mink underneath the bridge, and dogs are fully intoxicated by the aroma of this flowering plant. It’s also much more fragrant on sunny days, and it was first planted in the area in the early 1950s.
Mystery (likely) solved! Just don’t bring Fido when you visit.
Nazi-led atrocities are well documented and were horrifyingly prolific, but one of the most gruesome power displays came in June 1944 in this village during Germany’s occupation of France. In total, 642 men, women and children were executed in a matter of hours, many burned alive.
Following the war, Gen. Charles de Gaulle made sure the village remained as is to serve as a memorial and reminder of the Nazi occupation. A new village was built nearby, but this ghost town remains to this day a sobering detour and a stark reminder of the ravages and terrifying inhumanities of World War II.
This downtown Los Angeles hotel has been rebranded and renovated as a budget accommodation, but it will never lose the sinister reputation and history of violence that have been a draw for voyeuristic travelers.
Infamous Night Stalker serial killer Richard Ramirez lived there in the 1980s. One of the last places where Elizabeth Smart, aka the Black Dahlia, was seen in 1947 before her still unsolved murder was at the hotel bar. And international serial killer Jack Unterweger stayed at the Cecil in 1991, committing three murders while there. Other killings and many suicides have also taken place at the hotel. As recently as 2013, the mysterious death of Canadian student Elisa Lam at the hotel made headlines as well.
Little wonder that this hotel served as the inspiration for “American Horror Story: Hotel.”
The good thing about Snake Island off the coast of Brazil near Sao Paulo is that it’s illegal to visit and no one will take you near it. The bad thing about Snake Island is that it exists in the first place. This small land mass contains as many as 4,000 deadly snakes, or one per square foot. Just let that sink in for a moment.
The golden lancehead rules the island, and one bite from this snake could kill a human in less than an hour. Legend has it that pirates trying to protect gold introduced these snakes to the island, but the true story of their existence is far more sobering. The island was in fact connected to the mainland some 10,000 years ago when sea levels globally were much lower, but eventually the peninsula turned into an island as waters rose. The lanceheads that remained there evolved much differently than their less venomous cousins on the mainland. Their only natural predators were birds, so they developed a super-strong poison to quickly execute attackers.
First discovered in 1949 but not fully studied until the early 2000s, this pile of limestone fragments in the Irkutsk Oblast of Siberia is called Fire Eagle’s Nest by locals and carries with it bad omens. Some believe it’s an extraterrestrial landing site or underground storage for nuclear weapons. Others believe it’s a meteor impact site or the remnants of a volcanic event.
But locals think it’s cursed — and it didn’t help that the leader of the first comprehensive scientific expedition in 2005 died from a heart attack while there.
Subsequent expeditions came to the conclusion that the mound/crater was formed by an underground steam rupture, the cause of which is unknown. Still, the fact that magnetic anomalies were detected during one expedition fuels ongoing speculation about what’s really going on in the area. Animals avoid it like the plague and people who visit it report feeling woozy and disoriented standing atop the rubble.
Bird Death Village
Every year after monsoon season ends in late summer, a mountain village in Assam, India becomes a graveyard for birds. This phenomenon in Jatinga has been described as suicide, but birds do not have such capability. What actually happens, scientists believe, is that the weather leads the birds astray.
Thick monsoon fog disorients the birds and they unintentionally plunge from the sky, dying on impact or injuring themselves so badly that they cannot fly away. Villagers then find the maimed birds and finish the job, believing they carry evil spirits that forced them to the ground. And while that’s odd enough, it gets even stranger: The birds only plunge toward a thin, mile-long strip of land when it’s very dark between the hours of 7 and 10 p.m. It’s unclear why they’re attracted to this area, but scientists posit that the timing might be due to the uniquely disorienting combination of light and fog that occurs during these hours.
Avian harakiri, as it’s called locally, has been observed since the early 1900s, and occurs every September through November.
Island of the Dolls
This small island in the canals of Xochimilco south of Mexico City is something of an accidental tourist destination. It was allegedly originally intended to be a memorial for a young girl who drowned there but has since taken on an otherworldly reputation.
The island’s owner and caretaker, Don Julián Santana, is believed to be responsible for placing thousands of dolls throughout the trees and other plants starting in the 1950s. Local legend largely drives the creepy mysteriousness of the area, with folks claiming that the dolls move at night and call to them in low whispers to venture to the island.
Regardless of what you believe, there’s no denying the eerie nature of a place that contains innumerable decaying children’s toys. If you have any fond memories of dolls, you probably want to steer clear of this island.
Village of Dolls
If you're intrigued by spooky dolls, and an island of them isn't enough to sufficiently creep you out, consider a trip to the village of Nagaro, Japan.
Here, life-size dolls crafted by a local artist are the de facto residents, outnumbering human inhabitants by a long shot: There are just 27 humans and some 350 dolls.
Akodessewa Fetish Market
This marketplace in the West African nation of Togo is the largest of its kind and often called the strangest market in the world, and for good reason. This is where practitioners of the voodoo religion find their wares, which includes all manner of dead animals like monkeys, crocodiles and birds, as well as the skins, heads and skulls of various fauna and even humans.
Voodoo is a misunderstood religion to say the least. Often associated with witchcraft and spells, it’s actually similar to many other religions in which one supreme creator is worshipped along with many other spirits. The stuff sold at Akodessewa is used in traditional medicinal practices.
Still, while it’s important to respect the religion, it’s also acceptable to feel a little queasy when confronted with the heads of hundreds of animals laid stacked upon each other, decaying in the harsh African sun.
Hanging Coffins of Sagada
In the town of Sagada in the Philippines, the cliffs are lined with an unusual and disturbing sight: pinewood coffins strung together with wires and ropes, some dating back over a century.
The tombs are displayed as such to honor the ancient burial traditions of the Igorot tribe. And honestly, the tradition makes sense: The cliffside tombs allow the dead to be closer to their ancestral spirits, while keeping their bodies away from hungry roaming dogs.
In Bolivia, North Yungus Road leading from La Paz to Coroico is an anxious driver's nightmare: Just 12 feet wide, it passes between solid rock and an abyss 2,000 feet below. And there are no railings or safety features to speak of.
In the '90s, it was estimated between 200 and 300 people perished here each year, earning the highway its chilling "Death Road" nickname, as well as a designation from the Interamerican Development Bank as the “World’s Most Dangerous Road."
A much safer road was constructed a few years back, thankfully, but this is still the only way to reach certain destinations in the area. Warning: Drive very carefully here!
Holy Land USA
In the 1960s, Connecticut was home to a wildly popular roadside religious-themed amusement park called Holy Land USA. Marked by a memorable 56-foot steel cross, it welcomed some 50,000 visitors a year at its peak.
But after it was shut down for renovation, and the Roman Catholic entrepreneur who opened it died, the site fell into disrepair. Today, its attractions, including a Garden of Eden recreation and religious dioramas, are vandalized and in ruins, making for a creepy setting that few have the guts to explore at night.
If you've ever wanted to come face to face with the largest collection of mummies in the world, this is your place.
Located in Palermo, Italy, these burial crypts contain some 8,000 mummies, including a fair share of skeletons straight out of "Tales from the Crypt." The oldest corpse belongs to a friar who passed in 1599, while the most recent is from 1920.
Perfect for a Halloween visit, perhaps?