While some of us are content to laze away a holiday on a beach, others enjoy actively seeking out spooky locations and actively scaring themselves half to death. From skull-filled catacombs to an island of snakes, we count down the world’s scariest travel destinations.
Paris’ famous catacombs are lined with skulls and hold the remains of over 6 million people – where better to visit for a spooky Halloween experience? Built in the late 18th century as a way to deal with the city’s overflowing cemeteries, the catacombs feature sections dedicated to different bones and body parts. They don’t call Paris the ‘city of love’ for nothing, you know.
The Island of the Dolls, Mexico
Among the beautiful canals of Xochimico near Mexico City is the beyond-creepy Isla de las Muñecas (Island of the Dolls): old dolls, many sporting missing limbs or empty eye sockets, hang from trees and buildings in a scene straight out of a horror film. Legend has it that after a little girl drowned near the island some years ago, its caretaker hung up her doll in remembrance, and the collection was added over the years. Locals say the dolls are possessed by the girl’s spirit, and some have even heard them whispering to each other.
Salem, Massachusetts, USA
This Massachusetts town is synonymous with the 1692 witch trials, during which 20 people were hanged for witchcraft. The town has fully embraced its witchy past: local police cars sport witch logos, and locals can send their kids to Witchcraft Heights school (we’re not sure if they play Quidditch there, though).
Dracula’s Castle, Romania
Just the name Transylvania brings to mind bloodsucking, black cape-wearing vampires. Make a gothic horror pilgrimage to Bran Castle – a grand, turreted medieval castle widely regarded to be the inspiration for Dracula’s – just make sure to bring some garlic.
Japan Suicide Forest
Near Mount Fuji, Aokigahara Forest is infamous as one of the world’s most popular suicide spots and is closely associated with the home of the dead in Japanese mythology. The country’s suicide problem has grown to such an extent than in 2010, 200 people attempted suicide; signs at the entrance now warn suicidal people to seek help, and patrols regularly search the forest for bodies.
Snake Island, Brazil
Those with a fear of anything slithery should avoid this rocky outcrop in Brazil, home to an estimated 2,000–4,000 golden lance head pit vipers, an endangered venomous snake. The island, Ilha da Queimada Grande (Snake Island), is closed to visitors both for their own safety and to preserve the snake population.
World’s Tallest Glass Bottomed Bridge, China
The world’s tallest glass bottomed bridge opened in 2016 in Zhangjiajie and is not for the faint-hearted. The 430-metre-long (1,410-foot) bridge gives visitors views 300 metres (985 feet) down into the lush, green valley below. As if just walking across wasn’t scary enough, visitors in June 2016 witnessed a terrifying safety experiment involving a BBC journalist hitting the glass walkway full force with a sledgehammer.
Japan’s Village of Dolls
When Tsukimi Ayano returned to the Japanese village of Nagoro in the early 2000s after a lifelong absence, she noticed many people had either moved away or died. To preserve their memories, she started making dolls in their image and placing them around the village. So far she has made over 400, including a whole classroom of children in the abandoned village school. Just goes to prove that one person’s art project is another person’s waking nightmare.
Peruvian sky lodges and hanging hotels
Scared of heights? Imagine the terror of sleeping in a see-through pod strapped to the side of a sheer cliff. Thanks to travel company Natura Vive, that is just what you can do (or avoid like the plague) in the Peruvian Andes near Cusco, at a spot overlooking the stunning Sacred Valley. Oh, and when heading to bed, you have a choice of climbing a 123-metre (400-foot) steel ladder up a steep cliff face or braving a zipline.
Death Road, Bolivia
A pleasant hillside bike ride might sound like a delightful holiday experience until you realise you’re about to head down the Camino de los Yungas (Death Road). The notorious, largely single-lane road north of La Paz has no railings or safety features to speak of and earned it its macabre nickname from an estimate of 200–300 deaths per year in the ’90s.
Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, West Virginia, USA
West Virginia’s Trans-Allegheny lunatic asylum operated from 1864 to 1994, but its heyday (if you can call it that) was in the 1950s, when 2,400 patients were crammed into a space designed for 250. Today, the asylum offers paranormal tours, where you might encounter some former inmates, including a little girl named Lily.
Highgate Cemetery, London, UK
One of London’s best known cemeteries holds around 170,000 people and is the final resting place of Karl Marx, Lucien Freud, Christina Rossetti, and many others. From the 1960s, people reported seeing a ghostly figure, dubbed the ‘Highgate Vampire’, stalking the cemetery grounds.
Castle of Good Hope, South Africa
South Africa’s oldest structure (built by Dutch East India Company in the 17th-century) was for many years used as a prison, where inmates were subjected to torture and abuse. It is said that even today, its guards often hear the chilling screams of former inmates.
Pluckley, England, UK
Though easily mistaken for a charming chocolate-box English village, the quaint Pluckley in Kent is, in fact, said to be the most haunted place in England – a dubious claim to fame granted by Guinness World Records in 1989. At least 12 regular local ghosts are said to wander around the village, including an old woman who sits on the bridge smoking a pipe and drinking gin.
Poveglia Island, Italy
Frankly, we’d be surprised if this banned island near Venice – being the site of choice not only for banished plague victims (twice) but also a 1920s lunatic asylum – wasn’t haunted. A doctor at the mental hospital, who reportedly performed experimental (and not altogether successful) lobotomies, threw himself to his death from the hospital tower after claiming he had been driven mad by Poveglia’s ghosts.
Want more spooky travel inspiration? Check out 11 spooky superstitions you need to know from around the world.