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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 bony 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 travellers who entered illegally and were never seen again.
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.
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.
Spookiest Haunts to Visit This Halloween
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.
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.
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.
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