If you like witches, ghosts and things that go bump in the night, then these spooky destinations are bound to provoke a scream.
Edinburgh’s old town has a stormy history peopled with beheaded queens, body-snatchers and witches. Start at the castle, wander through medieval alleys and end up at bloodstained Holyrood Palace. At Brodie Close you can see the home of eighteenth-century William Brodie: town councillor by day, violent robber by night, he inspired Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. You can also tour eerie underground laneway Mary King’s Close, sealed in after its inhabitants died of plague in 1645. See edinburgh.org
Gargoyle on St. Vitus cathedral in Prague. Photo: iStock
If ever there was a city designed to look spooky at night, it’s Gothic-era Prague with its shadowy streets, looming towers and frightful gargoyles. On ghost tours, you’re entertained with stories of spectres, werewolves and other creatures that inhabit the Eastern European imagination. Other tours lead you into the mysterious world of paranormal investigation, or take you underground into the medieval dungeons beneath the town hall. See prague.eu
Nowhere has a more vampire-ish history. The city’s St Louis Cemeteries feature prominently in Queen of the Damned, one of the bestselling vampire series by local writer Anne Rice. Visitors can trace her dark characters through city streets. The city’s Garden District has a particularly strong historic melancholy, from gloomy cemeteries to shadowy voodoo shops. Absorb the atmosphere and acquire a little touch of the black magic. See neworleans.com
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Sicilian capital Palermo’s bizarre tourist attraction houses the embalmed bodies of local worthies who died between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. There are 1284 bodies, dressed in their best finery. A young lady with a crumbling chin stands in a pink crinoline dress, her tumbling hair preserved by arsenic. Arms and legs have dropped off some corpses and been refixed with wire like grotesque puppets. See palermocatacombs.com
One of Europe’s liveliest and most interactive castles is noted for its historical re-enactments, most family friendly. However, its infamous dungeon tours had to be toned down when they caused visitors to faint. You’re still warned you need a “strong stomach”. Costumed guides introduce you to witches, mad monks and torturers during a participative experience that will have you jumping. The Horrible Histories Maze has also caused meltdowns. See warwick-castle.com
This is perhaps the world’s most horror-movie-like cemetery thanks to its lopsided Gothic-style tombstones, dripping trees, tendrils of ivy, weeping stone cherubs and mausoleums with yawning doorways. Opened in 1839, the cemetery encapsulates the Victorian era’s gloomy attitudes to death. Do a guided tour in the rain, with wind moaning through the trees, and you’d swear the gargoyles are watching you. See highgatecemetery.org
This whopping eighteenth-century British maritime fort in Nova Scotia can be delightful during the day, but take an after-dark ghost tour by candlelight and you’ll get a nerve-wracking experience as shadows flicker. The tours take in cobbled alleys, tunnels and prisoners’ cells, but more unnerving are the tales of numerous ghost sightings. Uniformed soldiers, a man in a red cloak and an old lady apparently make regular appearances. See parks.canada.ca
This small town near Boston is infamous for its 1690s mass-hysteria witch trails. To get the full scary experience visit during month-long Halloween celebrations, which include a witches’ ball and talks on the paranormal. Haunted Happenings Festival has family-friendly magic shows, ghost tours and haunted harbour cruises. You can also take candlelit guided walks into the cemetery, go on a witch hunt, and visit the Witch Dungeon Museum. See salem.org
This turreted national monument on the border of Transylvania is more nightmare than fairy tale. The bloodthirsty fifteenth-century Count Vlad the Impaler, inspiration for the Dracula legend, used the castle in the fifteenth century. The interior is spooky, with a labyrinth of corridors, secret passageways and patrol corridors. Wooden floorboards creak, tiny windows let in gloomy light and, in the dungeons, you’ll easily believe Dracula might leap out of a coffin. See bran-castle.com
The Isle of Dolls in Xochimilco, a canal district in southern Mexico City, is well named for hundreds of dolls that hang from its trees with missing limbs and eyes, and in various states of decomposition. They were collected by the island’s eccentric former owner, supposedly as talismans against evil. It could easily be a scene from a horror movie, and the blank eyes and weird silence of the dolls is unnerving. See isladelasmunecas.com
Brian Johnston has travelled courtesy of numerous tourism offices and tour companies.
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