Roving witches, ghosts, and monsters paired with spooky decorations and self-carved jack-o-lanterns can only mean one thing: It’s Halloween! Interesting fact: the origins of Halloween go way back further than you might think. Legends have it that the ghoulish night finds its roots in the world of the Irish-Celtic festivals, as “All Hallows Eve” marks the beginning of the dark season in the tribe’s calendar.
On the eve, the Celts believed, the gate to the realm of the dead opens, and the souls of the deceased come back to visit their former homes. As part of the Celtic festival of Samhain, bonfires were lit, and people dressed up to drive away the evil spirits.
When Irish immigrants arrived in the United States in the 19th century, they also brought their traditions and customs with them. Thus developed the Halloween practices, we know today, such as pumpkin carving and the universally known tradition of “Trick or treat!”. Believe it or not, in terms of worldwide popularity, only Christmas surpasses Halloween.
If you’re planning an even spookier vacation at the spookiest time of year, and you aren’t yet sure where to go, here is our list of the top 12 best destinations for Halloween to consider for your trip.
Ireland: The Cradle of Halloween!
Ireland is considered the cradle of Halloween, and for Halloween fans, a trip to the home of the holiday, Ireland, is an absolute must. Nowadays, you can enjoy numerous parties in bars, pubs, and clubs in Dublin. Dublin is an excellent place to start the celebrations of Halloween and to do some sightseeing as well.
If you want to visit a real haunted castle, you can combine your vacation in Dublin with a trip to the surrounding countryside. Take a rental car from Dublin to Leap Castle. Considered the most haunted in Ireland, and arguably the whole world, the castle has such extremely bizarre and scary looks.
Its former owners did not shy away from cruel murders, and some of those killed in there are now said to be haunting the castle as ghosts. These legends earned the property its reputation as a haunted castle.
As for the County Meath, there are numerous events to attend at the famous Spirits of Meath Festival. The county is only an hour’s drive from Dublin. There is also the city of Derry, AKA Londonderry, that has a lot going on; the highlights there are the Halloween costume parade and the final big fireworks display. It takes about 80 minutes to get to Derry by rental a car from Dublin.
Northern Ireland isn’t just the home of Halloween; it’s also home to the largest Halloween festival in Europe: The Banks of the Foyle Halloween Carnival. The festival takes place for a whole week and includes various activities to enjoy such as fortune-telling, face painting, a family fun day, dance performances, nightlife, and much more.
London: Home of Jack the Ripper
The British capital, London, has a long history of ghoulish tales when it comes to Halloween horror. From the monarch Henry VII, who ordered the execution of several of his wives, to Bloody Mary, a queen who burned hundreds of heretics at the stake, to the world’s most famous serial killer, Jack the Ripper, who terrified all of England, London is the place to be for Halloween fans.
You can explore the city, among other things, during a Ghost Bus Tour with a night-black double-decker bus from the 1960s. The tour reveals numerous gruesome stories in a comedic-horror style giving you the chance to learn more about the many corpses in the basement of London.
Of course, your vacation in London won’t be complete without a visit to the London Dungeon; it is a scary classic par excellence. In London’s scariest tourist attraction, take a look inside a torture chamber, learn about London during the Black Plague and escape from a serial killer.
London surrounds many dark and mysterious horror stories, though none of them is as frightening as that of Jack the Ripper. That is why we highly recommend taking part in the Jack The Ripper Walking Tour when on vacation in London. This is a guided tour usually led by Donald Rumbelow, the greatest expert in this field.
In London, you can have this same mysterious feeling on Halloween we all get from the famous English novels, but don’t worry, you won’t be alone, because thousands of people will be out on the streets in costume. And afterward, you can go on to a party or just to the nearest pub – whichever you prefer.
In addition to London, England has several other truly haunted towns to offer. Chester, on the border with Wales, for an example. The city was the scene of bloody battles between the Welsh and the Irish – many victims are said to still haunt the ancient walls and houses. There is hardly a street in Chester without a ghost story to tell about it.
New York City: Halloween Parades as They Should be!
It is hard to find any other country where Halloween is celebrated like it is celebrated in New York City. Houses are decorated with spooky cobwebs and glowing pumpkins, and parties are held everywhere. Not to forget also, the city is home to one of the largest Halloween parades in the world, with over two million participants in scary or even funny costumes.
The “city that never sleeps” has so many parties and other activities on Halloween that will make sure you never get bored while there. A popular place to go at night is the world-famous Times Square, which is illuminated bright as day by the numerous LED billboards.
Also, in the south of Manhattan, a big Halloween parade takes place every year on October 31. You can participate in disguise and not just watch. Afterward, you can join the party.
If you want to get away from it all, take a trip north to the Hudson Valley and visit the Great Jack O’ Lantern Blaze in Croton-on-Hudson. At this festival, you can expect to see around 7,000 creatively arranged, illuminated pumpkins.
The orange figures get arranged in various shapes; you can find pumpkin-shaped statues of liberty or dinosaurs. Make sure to book your ticket online in advance because the pumpkin spectacle is very popular. You can reach Croton-on-Hudson from Grand Central Station in New York City by train in about an hour. From the train station, it’s only a ten-minute walk to the show.
Salem: The Witch City
If you have planned a little more time for your trip to the USA, then grab a rental car from New York City and start a tour to the state of Massachusetts, located about 370 kilometers to the north, more precisely to Salem. The place gained its fame through the witch trials in the 17th century, and to this day, Salem has the nickname The Witch City.
You can learn more about the city’s witch history in the Witch History Museum, as well as the many tours available to original Witch Houses. While there, make sure to visit Old Burying Point Cemetery, the oldest cemetery in town, where graves date back to the 18th century. The resting place is also one of the oldest in the United States.
There are also other numerous events around Halloween, such as the Salem Haunted Happenings that take place in October. The festive celebration is full of fun activities like witch markets, fortune-telling, and séances, as well as magic shows and lectures on the history of the place.
Las Vegas: The Gambling Capital of Horrors
The gambling capital of the USA is a great destination for Halloween. On the well-known Las Vegas Strip, where the most famous hotels such as Mandalay Bay, Luxor, Excalibur, Tropicana, New York-New York, MGM Grand, Planet Hollywood, and many more, you can meet many costumed visitors as night falls.
Make sure to come up with a distinguished costume for your Halloween night in Las Vegas because on-site in numerous hotels and casinos, the best costumes in different categories are awarded. In addition, there are multiple events (also in the days before and after) for big ghosts and small creatures, so the night in Las Vegas will certainly be unforgettable.
Paris: The Underworld of the City of Love!
Paris is known to be the city of love, but the French capital also has a dark side. In Paris’ underworld, things get really creepy. Beneath the City of Love, in the catacombs of Paris lie the remains of more than six million Parisians. In the 18th century, famine and epidemics caused overcrowding in the cemeteries, and the lack of space for the dead made for disastrously unsanitary conditions that put the health of the inhabitants at life-threatening risk.
This allowed about six million people to be buried in the approximately 300-kilometer-long tunnel system. From 1785, exhumed bones began to be transferred to the catacombs. Visitors can see the piled-up bones and skulls arranged in geometric shapes in a small part of the catacombs, which has been turned into a museum. This is not for the faint of heart!
In addition to the catacombs, the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris is also a must-visit – and a little less creepy than the catacombs, to be honest. This resting place is considered the largest cemetery in the French capital and also the first to be laid out as a park in the world.
The first burial took place here in 1804, and since then, numerous celebrities have been buried in the cemetery. Père Lachaise is home to the graves of writer Oscar Wilde, singer Edith Piaf, and composer Frédéric Chopin, among others.
Finally, if all of this is too scary for you, you can always visit Disneyland for a friendlier entertainment and spend Halloween with your favorite comic book heroes.
Romania: Scary Journey Through Transylvania
Do you want to experience a real scary vacation? Then you should travel directly to the homeland of Count Dracula or Vlad III Dracula, who is considered to be the model for the novel character, and take a look at some exciting stations in the life of the legendary count.
You can start your tour with a rental car in Bucharest. Your first stop should be to Snagov village. Dracula is said to be buried in the small church of the village, which stands on an island in the middle of a lake.
Continue north, and after another two hours of driving, you will come across the medieval Bran Castle. Embedded in a dense forest area of the Carpathians, you will find the residence of the eerie count with the pointed teeth enthroned on a rock. In the imposing building from the 14th century, a museum with exhibits from several centuries awaits you. It doesn’t get any scarier than this!
The real Dracula fans among you should take a trip to the city of Sighisoara, where Vlad III is said to have been born. You can also visit the house where he was supposedly born and stroll along the narrow, interwoven streets of the town. It will take you another two hours to get to Sighisoara by rental car.
Mexico: Dia de los Muertos
You can’t deny that the famous, beloved film Coco made you want to pack your bags and go enjoy the Dia de los Muertos in Mexico. Well, while things will not be going as they did in the film, the Dia de los Muertos is soooo worth the trip!
Dia de los Muertos is one of the most important Mexican holidays, traditionally commemorating the deceased – and often in skeleton costumes or at least with painted faces. However, you shouldn’t equate it with Halloween. The days are merely thematically related, as Mexico celebrates the day in a rather abundance of color and joy.
You will find typical paintings of colorful skulls or skeletons as decorations everywhere in the cities during this time – also in the form of sweets. Celebrations are held from October 31 to November 2. The city of Oaxaca is known nationwide for its magnificent celebrations, but you will also find corresponding celebrations in other parts of the country. An important piece of information to consider is never to call the Dia de los Muertos Halloween parties because they are not!
The Dia de los Muertos is an event where people show love and respect to the dead with colorful costumes and makeup. An altar (ofrendas) is set up in the homes, with photos, sweets, and other things that the deceased liked while alive and might miss in the afterlife.
Prague: The Capital of Horror
Prague has become a hotspot for Halloween fans over the past few years, earning a reputation as the “Capital of Horror.” At numerous events in late October, zombies and ghosts wreak havoc against the eerie medieval backdrop of the Czech capital.
The city has earned its title due to its history with numerous battles, executions, and assassinations; unfortunate souls still haunt the city. Not only that but also followers of alchemy, esotericism, and witchcraft have been magically attracted to the city in the Bohemian countryside in the past centuries.
You should start your Halloween trip in Prague with a visit to the Charles Bridge. The Charles Bridge in Prague looks incredibly spooky during the gray autumn months. There are 30 sculptures of saints and patrons symmetrically arranged on each side of the bridge, which is over 500 meters long. The sculptures all come from different sculptor’s workshops and are mostly designed in the Baroque style.
If you want to experience real goosebumps, take a day trip with a rental car from Prague because about 70 kilometers east of the Czech capital is the small town of Kutná Hora. In this small town, you can visit the Cemetery Church of All Saints with the Ossuary, where 40,000 bones have been stored in the basement since the 15th century.
From 10,000 of these bones, the Czech woodcarver Frantisek Rint created the interior of the walls in the 19th century. The Ossuary also contains chalices and chandeliers made of human bones, among other things.
Edinburgh: Haunted Castle and Catacombs
While the city is a great vacation destination, Edinburgh is also an excellent Halloween destination. A must-visit in your trip to Edinburgh is the Glamis Castle, Scotland’s number one haunted castle. Travel 110 kilometers in a rental car from Edinburgh to the northeast of the country, and you’ll reach the town of Angus with its eerie castle.
Queen Mum spent her childhood in the magnificent castle, but the Glamis Castle is not only famous for this, but it is also known for its horror story about the monster of Glamis. According to legend, this was a deformed child born into the family of the castle’s owner. The child was imprisoned on the estate for the rest of his life, and the room was bricked up after his death. A second legend revolves around the ghost of the Grey Lady, who still haunts the castle.
In Edinburgh itself, you can visit the catacombs of South Bridge on a guided tour. These underground vaults in the depths of the old city used to house illegal taverns and shelters for the homeless. Crime and murders were also not uncommon in the dark walls, which you can learn more about on one of the many tours offered in the city.
Above ground, the creepy fans among you can also visit the impressive Greyfriars Kirkyard cemetery with monuments, mausoleums, and graves from the 16th century. You can also take a guided tour of the cemetery after dark. Here you can learn about the cemetery’s own poltergeist, Mackenzie.
Vienna: Nameless Horrors!
Vienna has a total of 46 cemeteries – one of which is surrounded by a particularly mystical aura. The Cemetery of the Nameless at Albern Harbor was used for the burying of bodies washed up by the Danube between 1840 and 1940.
Today, the cemetery is still maintained on a voluntary basis by residents of the Austrian capital. On the other hand, those interested in the needs and concerns of the living should head to the princely city center and follow in the footsteps of Mozart, Sisi, and Co. during their vacation in Vienna.
Amsterdam: Ghost Tour and Dungeon
You wander in semi-darkness through the alleys of Amsterdam’s old town, fog rising from the canals; ghosts could be among you at every corner. Perhaps they are even there beside you as you listen to the spooky stories of the narrator on your ghost walk through the city! One of the best ways to spend your Halloween is to go to Amsterdam’s old town and learn about the life stories of the ghosts that still make their mischief in the city during a 90-minute Ghost Walk.
If you want to get really spooked, you should definitely visit the Amsterdam Dungeon. In it, you’ll embark on a journey through the darkest secrets hidden in the history of the Dutch capital. The Amsterdam Dungeon combines exciting historical facts with a spooky-comedy show. On Halloween, there are also regular, terrifying live performances.
While we may not appreciate everything from the old traditions, we sure do appreciate Halloween and the fun we have while celebrating it. Whether in the USA, Paris, or Ireland, the world is full of great places to celebrate the famous holiday! Happy Halloween, everyone!