To us, travel is about leaving your comfort zone and opening your eyes to new experiences. This includes, of course, overcoming fears (and we’re not just talking about the thrills of bungee jumping or skydiving.) This spooky time of year is rife with opportunities to push your limits by visiting destinations like these, which are both historic and horrific! The memories will be sure to pleasantly haunt you long after you return home — if you do that is! Muahahahaa!
The World’s Spookiest Destinations
Here are our top picks of the scariest places to visit. Are you daring enough to read on, or better yet, see them for yourself?
1. Transylvania, Romania
Tourists love this medieval region for its fairytale beauty, but they flock to Transylvania because of the legend of Count Dracula. Transylvania conjures images of nocturnal vampires emerging from coffins, bloodthirsty bats in dark forests and malicious, ancient undead. Perhaps the most iconic Transylvanian image is Bran Castle, the home of Vlad III Dracul, the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula, a character who is practically synonymous with Halloween. Bran Castle sits on the border of Transylvania, and the chilling allure of its myths is as captivating as this imposing fortress itself.
2. The Island of the Dolls, Mexico
Doesn’t Isla de las Munecas, translated to Island of the Dolls, sound cute and inviting? Nothing could be further from its reality. On this eerily quiet island in Mexico’s ancient Xochimilco district, you’ll find its strange and spooky attraction. The island is home to hundreds of mutilated dolls which appear menacing even in bright daylight. It remains a mystery where they originated from, but are said to be possessed by a little girl who drowned in the area. Later, the caretaker of the island was found drowned in the same spot. The piercing doll eyes seem to follow you around, staring right into your soul and instilling dread in locals and visitors. Mexicans do not generally fear the deceased, as one of their most iconic celebrations, Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) proves, where Mexican families don costumes, visit the graves of their loved ones and hold parades in their honour. This festival happens all over Mexico but is most well known in Oaxaca. Interestingly, Mexico is said to have originated the pumpkin as a symbol of Halloween, originally inspired by Day of the Dead observances.
3. Les Catacombes, France
Paris is one of the world’s most beautiful destinations, but deep in the city’s bowels lies a dark and haunting past. Les Catacombes de Paris, or The Catacombs of Paris, is an underground cemetery housing the skeletal remains of what is estimated to be six million people. Dating back to the 18th century, the Catacombs were created as an answer to the city’s overflowing cemeteries. Part of a labyrinthine network of ancient stone mines and quarries, in 1810, renovations transformed this subterranean cavern into the neatly stacked skulls and bones visitors see today. Paris Catacombs guided tours run Tuesday through Sunday from 10 am to 8 pm. Or, we can create a tailor-made Europe tour of your own, taking you to The Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo near Sicily, where bony corpses of Capuchin Friars and their followers hang before you in their final sleep.
3. Fengdu (Ghost City) China
Situated at the northern end of the Yangtze River, this spot attracts tourists from all over China to learn about Chinese ghost folklore and the afterlife. Using tangible, imposing threats like stone statues depicting demons desecrating humans, Ghost City serves as a reminder that good is rewarded with good, and evil is met with terrifying and torturous evil. Seen as the gateway to Diyu, the Chinese realm of hell, Fengdu is filled with temples and pagodas to help counteract the looming dread. Visitors to Fengdu in March may observe and participate in the annual festival that honours the spirits that haunt Fengdu.
4. Death Valley, California
As its ominous name implies, Death Valley is no stranger to its visitors dying. Its barren, arid and inhospitable landscape makes it not only the hottest place in the USA in terms of temperature but also the most bone-chilling when it comes to the creepiness factor. While many travellers have tragically perished due to its unforgiving climate and conditions, there are some inexplicable stories of ghosts, giants and even lost civilizations reported in this remote and desolate terrain.
5. Edinburgh, Scotland
Centuries of gruesome military attacks, malicious tortures and macabre executions give renowned Edinburgh Castle its reputation as Scotland’s most haunted spot. One of Britain’s biggest tourist destinations by day, by night the castle is said to have other visitors lurking in its cold and dingy shadows, the ghosts of those who were put to death here. The Gothic architecture and storied history of the Scottish capital add to the city’s allure as a haunted destination. Study the history of Halloween and you’ll find claims that the tradition of All Hallow’s Eve has Scottish roots. About 32 km away from Edinburgh is the site of the North Berwick Witch Trials, which occurred from 1590-1592 and also makes a chillingly fascinating excursion.
6. Koh Samui, Thailand
Koh Samui is a much-loved Thailand destination, home to luxury resorts and stunning beaches. But even this idyllic place can give one the creeps. Step into Wat Khunaram, one of the island’s many Buddhist temples. This one draws the most visitors, as it houses the shrine of Luang Pho Daeng. Now known as “the Mummy Monk,” Daeng died in 1973 and wanted his body displayed as a reminder of the transience of human existence.
7. New Orleans, Louisiana
With a history of Voodoo, black magic and all things spooky, New Orleans definitely makes the list of destinations with a dark side. You’ll find Louisiana tour companies specializing in walks through cemeteries, ghost stories that fill the French Quarter, and an array of stores selling custom-blended potions, Tarot cards and authentic Voodoo dolls. The New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum, at 724 Dumaine Street, traces the origin and development of Voodoo, which originated from the ancestral religions of the African diaspora. Its cramped rooms contain alleged possessions from New Orleans Voodoo’s most famous practitioner, Marie Laveau. Located just outside of the city is the notoriously haunted and scenic Manchac Swamp, cited as “one of the creepiest places on Earth.”
8. St. Augustine, Florida
Venture latitudinally east from New Orleans to find yourself in St. Augustine, the oldest city in the USA. It’s also rumoured to be the most haunted. Its popular ghost tours take you back to 1585, when the first Spanish colonists arrived, but the spirits of St. Augustine’s first inhabitants are believed to remain. Paranormal sightings and mysterious apparitions are just as famous here as the coastal town’s beautiful cobblestone streets and stretches of beaches.