Chills & Thrills: 7 Spectacularly Spooky Destinations for Your Next Adventure

Chills & Thrills: 7 Spectacularly Spooky Destinations for Your Next Adventure

When the leaves begin to fall and the air turns crisp, our thoughts often turn to Halloween and all things spooky and supernatural. Ghastly ghost stories, wicked witches, creepy crypts, and haunted houses are just a fraction of the tricks and treats lending their frightful fun to the spirit of the season.

But chills and thrills don’t have to be just for the kids. Many people enjoy traveling the world to search for haunted hangouts and bewitching attractions. These incredible destinations counterpoint their scare factors with surprising history lessons and unique insights into the lesser-known facets of the local culture. Some places are shrouded in centuries of myth and legend; others reflect the all-too-true tales of real-life human horrors.

From a cathedral covered in bones, to a mass of mysterious military bunkers, here are some of our favorite places where you can have a ghoulishly good time, on All Hallows’ Eve or anytime of the year.

Prague, Czech Republic
Charles Bridge, Prague, Czech Republic. Photo: Max Sjöblom

Eerie sunrise over the Charles Bridge, Prague
Photo credit: Max Sjöblom

Don’t let fairytale appearances fool you: despite the city’s romantic riverside setting and exquisite concoction of art and architecture, Prague is often said to be one of the spookiest cities in the world, riddled with tales of ghosts, magic, and terrifying events.


During the 16th and 17th centuries, Prague garnered a reputation as a well-known meeting place for astrologers, alchemists, and black magicians. A number of these secret gatherings were rumored to have taken place in the so-called Faust House on Charles Square, where Doctor Faust was supposedly carried off to hell after he made his nefarious deal with the devil. The interior of the Faust House is closed to visitors, but you can still admire the building and its handsome baroque facade from the outside.

Prague Castle, Czech Republic. Photo: Czechtourism

Prague Castle was the site of numerous defenestrations
Photo credit: Czechtourism

Another of Prague’s ominous occurrences? Defenestrations. Rather than take to the pulpit, the populace here once expressed dissatisfaction with their leaders by tossing them out of an open window — an alternative means of execution. Though the act has its origins in the early 15th century, the most famous incident happened in 1618, when two imperial regents were flung out of a window of Prague’s Royal Palace, thereby igniting the Thirty Years’ War. You can view the spot where the shocking act happened on a tour of Prague Castle.

Charles Bridge, Prague, Czech Republic. Photo: Czechtourism

The Charles Bridge has been known to be haunted by ghosts — spooky sightings here have included a “Headless Templar Knight” carrying his own severed head on horseback
in true “Spooky Hollow” fashion
Photo credit: Czechtourism

Tourists love to flock to Prague’s famous Charles Bridge for its riverside views, but the scene here in the early 17th century was horrifically different. After the Bohemian’s unsuccessful revolt against Emperor Ferdinand II in 1620, 27 leaders of the ill-fated rebellion were executed, and their heads displayed in iron baskets at either end of the bridge. It’s said that the emperor ordered the heads to remain mounted here for several decades in the hopes of deterring further uprisings.

Travel Suggestions

Discover Prague’s historically haunted spots on our Essential Central Europe flexible independent itinerary, or on a hand-crafted private tour, customized to your interests, pace, and dates.

 

Bran Castle, Romania
Bran Castle is surrounded by mountains Photo: Peter Guttman

Bran Castle lives up to its reputation as Dracula’s home
Photo credit: Peter Guttman

Of course, no list of haunted hangouts is complete without mentioning the famously imposing Dracula’s Castle in Romania, formally known as Bran Castle.

Vlad the Impaler, the ruthless medieval prince said to be Dracula’s forebear, never actually lived in Bran Castle. However, the fortress served as inspiration for Bram Stoker’s enduring 19th-century novel, and the name “Dracula’s Castle” stuck despite its inaccuracy. You can easily imagine the creepy vampire count crawling down the tower walls of this 14th century castle.

Bran (Dracula's) Castle

Bran Castle looks much less creepy on a sunny day

Aside from all the inevitable Dracula kitsch, some of the highlights of Bran Castle are the labyrinthine architecture and low-timbered ceilings of the castle’s interior, as well as the wonderful Gothic furnishings collected by Romania’s Queen Maria herself nearly a century ago. Among some of the finery on display are full suits of armor and beautiful Persian carpets.


Dedicated vampire hunters can track down even more devilishly fun Dracula sites in the historic Transylvanian city of Sighisoara. The marvelous medieval town was the birthplace of Vlad Tepes, and today you can tour his childhood home and the old room where he spent his earliest formative years.

Travel Suggestions

Creep around Bran Castle on our Bulgaria & Romania: Frescoes & Fortresses small group tour, or on a hand-crafted private tour, customized to your interests, pace, and dates.

 

Hill of Witches, Lithuania
Hill of Witches, Juodkrante, Lithuania. Photo: Lithuanian Tours

Monsters and folk spirits line the pathways along Lithuania’s Hill of Witches
Photo credit: Lithuanian Tours

Lithuania’s forests have long set the scene for many a haunting tale, and the eerily named Hill of Witches is no exception.

Located near one of the oldest settlements on the Curonian Spit, the Hill of Witches weaves a trail through groves of carved wooden figures straight out of old Lithuanian folk tales and mythology. The fantastically sculpted creatures range from charming fairytale animals to grotesque devils and monsters.

Hill of Witches, Juodkrante, Lithuania. Photo: Lithuanian Tours

Visitors stop to hear the story behind this carved wooden figure at the Hill of Witches
Photo credit: Lithuanian Tours

Local artists first carved these wooden sculptures here in 1979, but the hill has been a place of pagan celebrations for hundreds of years. It was believed that this spot was a mystical place where the world of the living and the magical realm converged.

Hill of Witches, Juodkrante, Lithuania. Photo: Lithuanian Tours

A young couple encounters a creepy carving
Photo credit: Lithuanian Tours

During midsummer’s eve, pagans came here to sing, dance, and convene with the unseen spirits. These traditions became part of the Festival of Kupole — now associated with John the Baptist and called St. John’s or St. Jonas’ Day — which is still celebrated by Lithuanians here every June 24.

Travel Suggestions

Lithuania’s Hill of Witches casts a spell on our Kaliningrad & the Baltics small group tour. You can also opt to travel on a hand-crafted private tour, customized to your interests, pace, and dates.

 

Old Town Wroclaw, Poland
Old Town Wroclaw, Poland. Photo credit: Polish National Tourist Board

Wroclaw is said to be one of Poland’s most haunted cities
Photo credit: Polish National Tourist Board

Poland is steeped in a multitude of ancient legends and folklore – including fascinating stories of demons, witches, and monsters – and perhaps no city embodies them more than the medieval city of Wroclaw.

Originally a Slavic settlement already established by the year 1000, Wroclaw was for hundreds of years called Breslau and ruled by Germans. Today, the city retains the beauty of its Old Town, a handsome mix of Germanic Gothic, Viennese baroque, and Flemish Renaissance architecture and culture.


Walking the city’s winding, cobbled alleys on a misty fall day ought to get you in the spooky spirit, but a real spine-tingling treat you won’t want to miss is the Gothic St. Mary Magdalene Church, founded in the 13th century. One of the church’s highlights is the footbridge, called the “Witches’ Bridge,” which connects its twin towers. Not only does it offer some of the best views of the city, but it’s said that the shadows seen on the bridge are the souls of girls gone bad, doomed to sweep the bridge for all eternity.

St. Mary Magdalene Church, Wroclaw, Poland. Photo: Martin Klimenta

Walking the aisles of Wroclaw’s St. Mary Magdalene Church
Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

Among Wroclaw’s other haunting highlights are the so-called Hansel and Gretel houses on the magnificent main square, the Rynek. The beautiful 13th century tenement homes were once the site of a gruesome murder said to have been carried out by a man possessed by an evil dwarf. Some city-dwellers claim to have heard the shrieks of the man’s unfortunate victim on dark and eerie nights.

Old Town Square, Wroclaw, Poland. Photo: Martin Klimenta

Wroclaw’s Hansel and Gretel Houses are linked by an 18th-century archway sporting a spooky Latin inscription: “Death is the gate to life.” The macabre words are fitting,
as the archway once marked the entrance to a cemetery
Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

Travel Suggestions

Wander the winding streets of Wroclaw by adding a visit to our Essential Poland flexible independent itinerary, or create a hand-crafted private tour customized to your interests, pace, and dates.

 

Sedlec Ossuary, Czech Republic
Sedlec Ossuary, Kutna Hora, Czech Republic. Photo: Czechtourism

A massive chandelier of skulls inside the Sedlec Ossuary
Photo credit (left and right): Czechtourism

Fans of the mysterious and macabre are sure to appreciate Kutna Hora’s UNESCO-listed Sedlec Ossuary, otherwise known as the “Bone Church.”

The unusual chapel’s history dates back to the 13th century, when the local abbot brought back a handful of sacred soil from his pilgrimage to Jerusalem and sprinkled it across the abbey cemetery. News spread of the church’s direct association with the Holy Land, and soon it became one of the most desirable places in the region to be buried.

Sedlec Ossuary, Kutna Hora, Czech Republic. Photo: Czechtourism

Sedlec Ossuary houses the remains of some 11,000 plague victims and casualties of the medieval Crusades
Photo credit: Czechtourism

It wasn’t long before they ran out of room — the plague swept through Europe in the 14th century, and the Crusades brought thousands more bodies back to be buried here. Cramped quarters eventually forced the church to exhume the remains of some 11,000 people and move them into a separate crypt. They were left undisturbed until 1870, when the church rediscovered the bones and commissioned local woodcarver Frantisek Rint to create something out of them.

Sedlec Ossuary, Kutna Hora, Czech Republic. Photo: Czechtourism

The bone-based coat of arms of the noble House of Schwarzenberg,
the family that funded Frantisek Rint’s interior redesign
Photo credit: Czechtourism

Rint took the well-preserved remains and fashioned them into dozens of memento mori — reminders of the impermanence of human life. The church’s interior is covered top to bottom with his dark, yet beautifully designed pieces, including chalices, crosses, a chandelier composed from almost every bone in the human body, and an intricate coat of arms to honor the aristocratic family that funded the peculiar project.

Travel Suggestions

See the spine-chilling Sedlec Ossuary on a customized version of our Essential Central Europe flexible independent itinerary, or on a hand-crafted private tour, customized to your interests, pace, and dates.

 

St. Petersburg, Russia
Palace Square, Hermitage, St. Petersburg. Photo: Jered Gorman

An autumn view of the Palace Square near the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg
Photo credit: Jered Gorman

St. Petersburg may be better known for dazzling imperial palaces and cathedrals, but the city also claims its fair share of dark secrets, rife with tales of royal intrigue, restless ghosts, and haunted palaces.

One of St. Petersburg’s most mysterious sights is Mikhailovsky Castle, also known as the Engineer’s Castle. This peculiar take on a medieval castle, complete with moats and drawbridges for protection, was built by Czar Paul I, the notoriously cruel and erratic son of Catherine the Great, who initiated the project because he feared an assassination attempt.

Mikhailovsky Castle (Engineers' Castle), St. Petersburg, Russia. Photo: Barry Goldsmith

Mikhailovsky Castle, the former royal home of Czar Paul I,
is said to be haunted by the ghost of the unfortunate czar himself
Photo credit: Barry Goldsmith

The czar’s premonition, as it turns out, was right – Paul only lived for 11 days in his new abode before he was murdered by high-ranking dignitaries and guard troops so that his son could take the throne. Residents of St. Petersburg say there’s a castle window where the ghost of the unfortunate czar has been seen playing the violin, his favorite instrument.

Yusupov Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia. Photo: Jessica Clark

Yusupov Palace, where the infamous plot against Rasputin occurred
Photo credit: Jessica Clark

Suspicion and sinister deeds have also been known to swirl around the notorious figure of Grigory Rasputin, the self-proclaimed mystic and miracle man who befriended Russia’s last czar and his family. Today, you can see the place where the plot against him unfolded at the spectacular Yusupov Palace. It was here that Felix Yusupov, the young heir to the Yusupov fortune, and several of his friends invited Rasputin to an evening party, and after serving him wine in the basement room, shot him three times. As the story goes, the bullets seemingly left Rasputin unmarred, as he attempted escape before his murderers ultimately caught and drowned him in the river.


Another of St. Petersburg’s famous haunted spots is the equestrian statue of Peter the Great on Senate Square, known to locals as the “Bronze Horseman.” The monument got its name after a famous poem by Pushkin, in which the protagonist is chased through fog-shrouded city streets and trampled to death by the statue after it was brought to life by a powerful curse.

Bronze Horseman, St. Petersburg, Russia. Photo: Barry Goldsmith

This famous statue of Peter the Great is brought to life in Pushkin’s classic 1833 poem,
“The Bronze Horseman”
Photo credit: Barry Goldsmith

Travel Suggestions

Explore St. Petersburg’s spookier side on a customized version of our Essential St. Petersburg flexible independent itinerary, or on a hand-crafted private tour, customized to your interests, pace, and dates.

 

Hoxha’s Bunkers, Albania
Bunker, Albania. Photo: Panoramic Tours

It’s estimated that between 175,000 and 750,000 bunkers
from the Cold War era are scattered across Albania
Photo credit: Panoramic Tours

Modern-day Albania, the country-cousin of Greece and Italy on the southern Balkan Peninsula, is dotted with thousands of strange steel and concrete bunkers. Foreign travelers might view these structures as bizarre and incongruous relics, but Albania’s citizens see them as painful reminders of their nation’s troubled past.

Bunker, Tirana, Albania. Photo: Martin Klimenta

An abandoned bunker in downtown Tirana
Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

Late communist dictator Enver Hoxha, who led Albania from 1944 until his death in 1985, ordered the construction of these pod-shaped shelters after he cut ties with the USSR in the 1970s. His reason for building the bunkers (today currently tallied somewhere between 175,000 and 750,000) was that he was protecting the country from impending war with its neighbors. In reality, Hoxha’s enemies never came, and the bunkers only stoked an irrational, collective paranoia among Albanians.

Hoxha’s creepy constructions continue to leave scars across every corner of the country, but a number of Albanians have innovatively repurposed the old military bunkers into museums, hotels, cafes, and more.

Bunker, Tirana, Albania. Photo: Martin Klimenta

Since the end of the communist era, Albanians have creatively repurposed hundreds of
old bunkers into cafes, museums, homes, and art installations
Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

In Tirana, Albania’s capital, Hoxha’s own presidential bunker has been transformed into a combined museum and art exhibition space called . Many of the eerie fallout chambers here have been left just as they were in the 1970s, including Hoxha’s personal office with his original furniture, desk, radio, phone, and maps. Wander elsewhere through the bunker’s seemingly endless maze of spooky corridors, and you may just end up picturing Hoxha himself trailing after your footsteps.

Travel Suggestions

Uncover the sinister secrets surrounding Hoxha’s military bunkers on our Balkan Odyssey: Crossroads of Cultures small group tour. Alternatively, a visit to Tirana’s underground Bunk’Art complex is included on our Essential Albania and Essential Albania, Macedonia & Kosovo flexible independent itineraries. Or, create a hand-crafted private tour customized to your interests, pace, and dates.

 

Necropolis of Dargavs (“City of the Dead”), Russia
Necropolis of Dargavs ("City of the Dead"), Dargavs, Russia. Photo: Michel Behar

Clouds build around Dargavs’ “City of the Dead” in the Russian North Caucasus
Photo credit: Michel Behar

This fascinating “City of the Dead” in one of Russia’s most remote regions is more than deserving of a spot on our list — if not for its name, then certainly for its spectacular surroundings.

Set in a far-flung corner of the North Caucasus, the necropolis of Dargavs contains nearly 100 medieval tombs and crypts built of stone with stepped slate roofs, some of which are two to four stories high. Shaped like beehives, the oldest of these tombs date back to the 16th century.

Necropolis of Dargavs ("City of the Dead"), Dargavs, Russia. Photo: Michel Behar

Bodies of the village’s dead used to be inserted into these crypts
via the square-shaped openings on the side of the tombs
Photo credit: Michel Behar

Each tomb belongs to just one local family or clan. In the old days, villagers would insert the bodies of their dead through the window-like openings in each crypt, with extended families interred together. Some of the tombs are missing roofs or walls, and brave visitors can see the bones of humans scattered within, along with personal clothes and belongings of the deceased.


It’s said that during the 18th century, a plague swept through the area, forcing local clans to quarantine sick family members in the crypts until they were eventually taken by the illness.

Travel Suggestions

Encounter the mysterious crypts of Dargavs on our Return to the North Caucasus small group tour, or on a hand-crafted private tour, customized to your interests, pace, and dates.

 

Discover Spooky Spots Around the World with MIR
Casa Vlad Dracul Restaurant, Sighisoara, Romania. Photo: Phil Kidd

MIR travelers get into the spooky spirit in Sighisoara, the Romanian town where
the real-life Dracula, Vlad Tepes, was born
Photo credit: Phil Kidd

MIR is celebrating over 30 years of remarkable journeys to destinations at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. Clients rave about our on-the-ground support and stellar Tour Managers, and our full service, dedication, commitment to quality, and destination expertise have twice earned us a place on National Geographic Adventure’s list of Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth.”

More than 30 years of travel expertise means that the specialists at MIR know how to get there, what to do while you’re there, and how to enhance your trip in each of our destinations.

Wondering which destination or itinerary is right for you? In addition to browsing the pages of our free catalog, you can narrow down your choices online using our Trip Finder and the Destination Map. Or chat with our Private Journeys department to have a trip handcrafted to your interests, pace, and budget.

Contact MIR today at [email protected] or 1-111-111-1111.

(Top photo: A lone resident walks the empty streets of Prague at dusk.)

PUBLISHED: October 26, 2018

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