With haunted houses, ghost walks, a bit of dark magic and a whole new outlook on death, these 5 Halloween destinations will make your skin crawl.
With its long history of dungeons, hauntings and serial killers, London has perhaps one of the most sinister pasts of any city, and as such, makes for a perfect Halloween destination. After-dark ghost-walks abound (as do Jack the Ripper-themed walks), and a visit to the infamous and unforgettable London Dungeon remains a Halloween favorite. Check out the interactive map at Grim London to see just why it is often called the most haunted city in the world. One attractions that particularly caught our attention this year is Warner Bros Studios, where the spookier elements of the world of Harry Potter will be brought to life. The Great Hall is to be fittingly decked out for the occasion, and visitors will have the chance to battle an actual Death Eater during a reenactment of the Battle of Hogwarts.
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Long famous for being the home of Vlad the Impaler – the real-life inspiration for the tale of Count Dracula – the region of Transylvania, in Romania, has a special aura that lends itself to Halloween celebrations. But it is the true stories of the region’s past, not fairy tales of ghosts and ghouls, that make it so horrifying. The vicious Vlad had tens of thousands of his enemies impaled on stakes outside his home, Bran Castle, and left them there to rot. Today, visitors can take a Halloween tour of the castle to learn all the gruesome details of its past, while enjoying the lively celebrations nearby, which include traditional Romanian cuisine, live folk music and an infamous Dracula Wedding.
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Unlike Halloween celebrations, which strive to be morbid, scary and dreary, and despite abundant imagery of skulls and having the word “death” in the name, Dia de Muertos is a festive and joyful occasion which celebrates and honors the lives of deceased loved ones and ancestors. It is a fascinating fusion of traditional Aztec and Catholic rituals and beliefs, with celebrations lasting several days, starting as early as October 28th and continuing through November 2nd.
Celebrated primarily (though not exclusively) in Mexico, the holiday involves setting up altars in honor of the deceased with offerings of candles, food, clothes, bright orange marigolds and miscellaneous things they enjoyed in life. People often visit graves, as well, but rather than mourning in black clothes, observers of the holiday dress up in costumes and masks, play music, share food and enjoy a lively party. Assuming that the dead would be insulted by their loved ones’ sadness, it is treated as a joyous event, and anyone looking for a unique and uplifting Halloween experience would be a fool to miss out.
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Few places, if any, celebrate Halloween with as much gusto and fanfare as the USA, and travelers have a wealth of options to choose from. Salem, Massachusetts, for one, with its disturbing history of witch-hunts, or the town of Sleepy Hollow, home of the Headless Horseman, are perennial favorites around Allhallowtide, with tours, reenactments, séances and various other events taking place at Salem’s Festival of the Dead throughout the entire month of October.
If you’re looking, rather, for an unforgettable Halloween party, you’ll want to head to the big cities. New York’s Village Halloween Parade is a mile-long display of music, costumes and merriment, where all are invited to join in (provided they dress up). In Long Beach, California, the imposing RMS Queen Mary hosts Dark Harbor, a terrifying haunted ship experience with mazes, events and some of the most realistic and haunting props and decorations to be found anywhere.
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Finally, let’s end the Halloween season where it all began. The year’s creepiest holiday has its origins in Ireland, where Samhain (Old Irish for ‘Summer’s End’), the medieval festival marking the end of the harvest, has been celebrated for centuries. It was believed to be the time when the dead revisited the world of the living, and over the years it merged with the Christian celebrations of Allhallowtide, resulting in the holiday we know today. The Banks of the Foyle Halloween Carnival in Derry, Northern Ireland, is perhaps the best place to get a taste of both old and new Halloween traditions. The festival lasts 9 days and includes everything from parades and fireworks to spooky events like ghost tours and haunted houses.