Spookiest Haunts to Visit This Halloween
Halloween is on its way, bringing with it pumpkin-flavored everything, cemetery walks, and the scent of wet leaves. For some, October is nothing more than a precursor to the stressful holiday season and cold weather. For others, October is the month they look forward to all year round.
Finally, the horror movies come out. Fake tombstones crop up in front yards, and the world is painted red — not by blood, of course, but by bright, shining leaves that burn like fire against gray skies. Cinnamon-scented candles are lit and Ouija boards dusted off. Everyone knows Oct. 31 is the night the dead are free to roam, the boundary between the living and dead at its thinnest. Friends band together and eat too much candy while children own the streets, disguised to keep the goblins away. If you are of the spookier ilk, a fanciful trip might even be in the works, but where will you go?
There are so many choices when it comes to “scariest places on Earth.” Whether you’re into ghosts or voodoo, witches or history’s real monsters, there is a Halloween haven for you. We offer you fifteen to choose from all around the world. Some you’ve probably heard about. Others may come as more of a surprise; just ask Washington Irving and Bram Stoker. (In autumn, it’s dangerous to think their stories mere works of fiction.) It’s time to don your most ghoulish gear and plan a trip for Oct. 31.
Don’t worry, ghosts don’t bite much … but I hear Dracula is one hungry dude.
As a town, you probably don’t want to be famous for wrongfully killing a bunch of people — unless you’re Salem.
Arguably, the Salem witch trials of 1692 and 1693 put this tiny Massachusetts town on the map. Now, the entire month of October is dedicated to the dastardly and macabre. There’s a psychic fair and witches’ market — featuring practicing witches and even voodoo dolls. There’s a scary movie festival and about a dozen themed drinking nights at local breweries and bars.
Unsurprisingly, haunted tours are everywhere. Wander the dark back alleys and brick roads while hearing stories of horrors straight out of "The Crucible." Find yourself a costume ball to attend (Halloween is a serious affair around here), and don’t forget to pay a visit to “The Witch House:” the only structure still standing in Salem with direct ties to the witch trials.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Orlando, Florida
There’s something about J.K. Rowling’s "Harry Potter" series that brings out the child in all of us — a lot like Halloween.
Wherever you live, escape to warm, sunny Florida and fully immerse yourself in the world of wizards for the wickedest weekend of the year. Walking into Universal’s Islands of Adventure is surreal with Hogwarts in the background, especially once the "Harry Potter" theme music starts playing, following you everywhere.
Go to Ollivander’s shop and buy your very own magic wand. Drink butter beer at the Hog’s Head. Not for the faint of heart, “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey” is an in-your-face rollercoaster built inside Hogwarts that features a dragon, huge spiders, and more.
It’s hard to leave — but easy to find a Halloween costume. Just figure out your Hogwarts house and buy the appropriate gear.
Home to Ohio University, Athens is a small town in southern Ohio once featured on SyFy’s "Scariest Places on Earth." It’s not a mecca of tourism, its main industry being the university, but at Halloween, it overflows with enthusiastic ghosts hunters and costumed coeds. On top of a nearby hill, The Ridges glare down at the city like a vindictive ghost.
Once a so-called “lunatic asylum,” half the building has been restored and is now offices while the other half still lingers empty, rumored to be haunted by ghosts of past patients. The university’s West Green was apparently built on an Indian burial ground.
There’s a weeping angel in the West State St. Cemetery, but what really brings Halloween enthusiasts is the Court St. Halloween bash. The main drag is closed down, people from across the country compare costumes, and the party doesn’t stop until the sun comes up.
Poenari Castle, Romania
Bram Stoker’s Dracula character was roughly based on a real guy: Vlad the Impaler, so-called because he impaled his enemies in the 1400s. Reportedly, he massacred tens of thousands of people. Whispered stories and books made him into a legend long before Stoker turned him into a fictional beast.
Poenari Castle sits on top of cliffs overlooking the Romanian countryside. Built in the 13th century, it never would have survived without Vlad, who fixed up the crumbling fortress and made it his home — when he wasn’t busy murdering people.
Now, there are tour buses that go straight to the crumbling castle from Bucharest. There are ways to get there on your own, but make friends with the locals just in case. You don’t want to get stranded in the shadows of Poenari. Rumor has it ghosts still wander the property, and one of them might want to suck your blood.
Les Catacombes, Paris
The catacombs form a dark and disturbing labyrinth beneath the romantic City of Lights. Twenty meters below ground, you’ll find the boney remains of millions of people, bodies placed there starting in the 17 century when Paris cemeteries got too crowded and public health became a concern.
In super sick style, all manner of bones are stacked together to resemble works of art that guests can admire or abhor as they pass through.
Lovers of literature, the French even offer thought-provoking inscriptions, cheerful little messages like, “Halt, this is the realm of death.” Most of the catacomb ghosts stories aren’t about the bones on display but instead about unwise travelers who entered illegally and were never seen again.
Tours last about forty-five minutes, but the haunting feeling you’ll get lasts a lot longer.
Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast Museum, Fall River, Massachusetts
We’ve all heard the deceptively cheerful children’s rhyme: “Lizzie Borden took an axe, And gave her mother forty whacks ...” Despite the song, young Lizzie was never found guilty of murdering her parents and lived a normal life up until her death in 1927.
In true American entrepreneurial fashion, the site of these horrible hatchet crimes is now a place where you can lay your head and enjoy a pleasant breakfast. According to the current owner, the site of Lizzie’s stepmother’s murder is the most requested room.
Surrounded by such bloody history isn’t for everyone; guests have been known to get freaked and leave early. The owner often hears floors creak and doors opening and closing when no one else is home, but I’m sure you’ll be fine — as long as you aren’t related to little miss Lizzie.
Krewe of Boo Parade, New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans is widely considered one of the most haunted cities in the United States. What with all the history, haunted houses, and cemeteries, this is no surprise.
There are plenty of ghost tours available for tourists all year long, but come October, the parade planning gets underway. The “Krewe of Boo Parade” haunts the French Quarter annually the Saturday before Halloween.
It includes costumed revelers, marching bands, and decadent, flowery floats that make the Macy’s Day Parade look like a kindergartener’s creation. Unlike the beads of Mardi Gras, float riders throw locally made collectibles and food.
After the parade is the Monster Mash costume party, and outside a voodoo nightmare, you’ll never see adults play dress up quite like this.
Cedar Point, Sandusky, Ohio
Located on the edge of Lake Erie in northern Ohio, Cedar Point is a rollercoaster rider’s dream all summer long but transforms into a town of terrors for October’s famed HalloWeekends.
During the day, the park is safe for kids and adults alike, but at night, I suggest you leave the kids at home as the park features an immense array of mazes, scare zones, and haunted attractions. It’s a fully immersive experience as so-called “Screamsters” linger around every corner, easily hidden by fog, ominous music, and sinister lights.
Fantastic makeup and special effects give the scare zones that too-real touch, and the mind-bending mazes will make you wonder why you paid to have your nightmares brought to life. There’s a reason so many horror films take place in Ohio, and Cedar Point confirms Hollywood’s suspicion that all the monsters live here.
Dia de Muertos, Mexico
This annual event, occurring Oct. 31 through Nov. 2, is a time of remembrance of family and friends lost. Translated “Day of the Dead,” it’s a time for Mexico — and, internationally, those of Mexican descent — to visit cemeteries, light candles, and bake food for those gone before.
To an outsider, this might sound morbid, but Day of the Dead is more celebration than sadness. There are parties and parades. This holiday is to thank for sugar skulls and the breathtaking Mexican tradition of building altars.
Mexico City is the best place to witness this ritual via a massive parade and altars displayed in the main square. Despite all the drinking and eating, it’s important to be respectful since this is a time for Mexican families to remember the dead.
Be sure to visit one of the city’s cemeteries, but beware: pickpockets are scarier than any spirit.
Sleepy Hollow, New York
Known as the haunting grounds of Washington Irving’s infamous Headless Horseman, Sleepy Hollow is a village on the Hudson River. In Irving’s day, it was called “North Tarrytown;” it only accepted its fate as Sleepy Hollow in 1996. Along the way — and thanks to Irving’s influence — the village also claims to be one of the “most haunted places in the world.”
Sadly, the famed bridge in the Headless Horseman story no longer exists … if it ever did. However, there is an amazing cemetery, boasting over 45,000 internments, including Washington Irving, whose ghost probably still walks the foggy forests.
It seems like everything in this small town comes back to Irving, but even if you’re not into his short story, the town itself is quaint and spooky, especially around Halloween when the leaves start to die and dark clouds creep across the river.
You wouldn’t expect a town in Northern Ireland to be one of the best Halloween destinations in the world, but it is. Halloween is an Americanized version of Samhain, a Celtic festival over two thousand years old when, according to tradition, the ghosts of the dead return to walk the Earth.
In Derry, this ancient festival continues with ghost stories, costumes, a carnival, and visitors from all around the world. This is the most historically accurate take on the Halloween tradition, and locals really get into it. If you’re not participating, you’re the weird one.
Costume making is an art form, so don’t be that guy who cuts holes in a sheet and says, “Boo.” The Derry carnival now draws upwards of 80,000 people, and it’s only getting more popular.
The State Street Halloween Party, now known as “Freakfest,” welcomes thousands upon thousands of visitors to the state capital. The party hit its high point in 2005 when upwards of 100,000 people showed up, decked out in costumes and ready to drink.
Since then, the city has taken over and done its best to limit attendance — and arrest rates — so the annual crowd is down to about 30,000.
Going as far back as the 1960s, students carved pumpkins at the University of Wisconsin’s Union. In the '70s, the partying began, and State Street became the place to be with live bands and beer. In the 2000s, the riots began, but the costumed chaos continues.
A scene for the more rowdy reveler, this city on the lake is ready and roaring, perhaps a modern throwback to the pagan Samhain rituals of yore.
Queen Mary, Long Beach, California
Once a British ocean liner, the Queen Mary is now docked in Long Beach, Calif., where it functions most of the year as a tourist attraction for those with a nautical passion. In October, it’s a haunted house — and a good one, at that.
Of course, there are doubters. Proprietors of the Queen Mary suggest it’s “famously haunted,” but skeptics claim there’s really no evidence of that. Regardless, the haunted attraction is legendary and not kid friendly. The staff is 200-strong as you scream though mazes and haunted houses.
Available, too, is the option to stay over night on the ship during the “Dark Harbor” extravaganza. Find nightly shows reminiscent of Cirque Du Soleil, a hookah lounge, and themed bars as the demented Ringmaster does his best to scare you out to sea.
London Dungeon, England
Along London’s South Bank, tourists discover a place where the twisted tell stories and laugh at humanity’s worst. Various horrific events from England’s past are reenacted here with little regard for human decency.
Halloween fanatics will love every minute. Originally a wax exhibition — scary in its own right — the Dungeon is now a thing of theater, showcasing Jack the Ripper and Sweeny Todd. It has developed to be less historically based and more gallows humor while mixing fact with fiction. For instance, the Black Plague really happened, as did the Great Fire of London, just possibly not as portrayed by the Dungeon’s many players.
Audience participation is encouraged, and there’s even a free-fall ride staged as a public hanging. Some critics have called the attraction amateur, but a true freak fan should never shirk the ghastly comedic.
Frenchmen Street, New Orleans
As already established, New Orleans is a popular place to be for Halloween. Frenchman Street hosts one of the biggest Halloween parties in the world, focused mostly on morally gray areas and debauchery.
Tens of thousands of costumed carousers swing into the city and spend the next day sulking through a hangover — as do locals. This is not a tourist only event. Instead, many New Orleans residents attend to get a glimpse at the elaborate and often titillating autumn attire.
Located in the Marigny neighborhood, Frenchmen Street is filled with Cajun restaurants and jazz music, although I would suggest eating early … or very, very late. The crowds are copious and costumed, so find a friend and take a breather beneath an aging oak.