13 Tourist Destinations for Horror Lovers
October is a gorgeous month for traveling! From leaf peeping to camping, it’s probably the nicest time of year to see the sights. But true horror lovers want more than fall foliage; we want scary ass shit. So I’ve put together a list of 13 destinations for fans of the macabre, strange, and creepy. And this is no list of movie sets and theme parks, either. These locations are real – and really disturbing.
(Bonus: many of them still have fall foliage.)
1. The Stanley Hotel
Estes Park, Colorado (photo credit: William Andrus)
The Stanley is famous for being the inspiration for Stephen King’s Overlook Hotel in The Shining, but don’t let its fictional past obscure its real history. It was originally opened in 1909 by a couple hoping the mountain air would help Freelan Oscar Stanley’s tuberculosis, which it did indeed. Despite Stanley himself living to a ripe old age, it hosted many a guest and live-in staff members – and with that much human life, there’s bound to be some human tragedy. The Stanley is purported to be a hotbed of paranormal activity to this day. Is the hotel truly haunted, or are they just playing up to King fans hoping for a glimpse of ghostly gore? It doesn’t really matter; the views are so gorgeous it’s worth it either way. But you can book room 217 and see for yourself.
Braşov, Romania (photo credit: Lucian Huffer)
Situated on the border between Transylvania and Wallachia, this beautiful fortress claims to be home to the legend of Dracula – though not without contest. Though Bram Stoker himself never actually visited Romania, his description of the land where Bran Castle stands rings true: “. . . on the very edge of a terrific precipice . . . with occasionally a deep rift where there is a chasm [with] silver threads where the rivers wind in deep gorges through the forests.” Perhaps of equal interest, real ruler Vlad Tepes – one of the most violent leaders in history – is believed to have been held prisoner at Bran Castle for two months in 1462. So whether you’re seeking the man or the myth, Bran Castle looks to be a fascinating and gorgeous place to stay.
3. Hoia Baciu Forest
Cluj-Napoca, Romania (photo credit: Swithun Crowe)
While you’re in Romania, why not stop by the infamous Hoia Forest? The site often dubbed the Bermuda Triangle of Romania has much reported paranormal activity ranging from ghosts to UFOs. The forest itself was named after a shepherd who disappeared there – with his entire flock of two hundred sheep. The vegetation grows strangely, many report mysterious burn and char marks on trees and stumps, and local residents are afraid to enter due to its legends and myths. If you’re brave enough to visit, be sure to take a camera. When you get home, check your pictures and footage for unexplained faces.
Amsterdam, the Netherlands (photo credit: Sandeep Singh Thukral)
The only other location on this list that I can personally vouch for (the first being the Stanley). This place is cool! A small museum practically hidden in the heart of Amsterdam, The Torture Museum is exactly what it sounds like: a historical museum dedicated to the devices themselves. What makes it memorable, though, are the small, dark, cavernous rooms that give you the impression of being in an underground maze. Not to mention that many of the instruments are out in the open for you to actually walk up to and touch, most including images from books depicting their use. The experience varies from comedic (the “flute of shame,” really?) to incredibly somber and disturbing. I found myself trying to wrap my mind around the reality of their heinous usage the whole time. You can take a tour, though it’s certainly not for the faint of heart.
Mexico City, Mexico (photo credit: Cordelia Persen)
What’s creepier than an abandoned doll? How about hundreds and hundreds of them, mutilated and decaying, hanging from trees on a floating island? That’s what you’ll get if you dare to visit Isla de las Muñecas in Xochimilco. Legend says the owner of the island, Don Julián Santana Barrera, discovered a drowned little girl and hung her doll from a tree as a sign of respect. (Don’t ask me.) But after he became haunted by whispers and crying, he began hanging dolls all over the island in an attempt to free the little girl’s spirit. Although locals claim the place is ‘charmed,’ visitors consistently describe it as the creepiest thing they’ve ever seen. Many bring their own dolls to hang as a type of offering. The island is accessible by canal.
6. Winchester Mystery House
San Jose, California (photo credit: Anna Fox)
Speaking of people haunted to the point of dedicating their life to altering their surroundings, the story of Sarah Winchester is one of the most fascinating in US history. Widow of the gun magnate William Wirt Winchester, Sarah built a mansion that she claimed to be haunted by all those killed by Winchester rifles. It’s said that a medium told her the only way to appease the spirits of the victims was to continuously keep building her house. (Again, don’t ask me.) The house is said to be an intense epicenter of paranormal sightings to this day, and is famous for its eccentric and unplanned architecture. Many claim that Sarah continued adding on the home until the day of her death, when all construction stopped. Unfortunately, you can’t stay overnight at the Winchester House, but you can take a tour.
7. Sedlec Ossuary
Kutna Hora, Czech Republic (photo credit: Interfase)
The Sedlec Ossuary laughs at Isla de las Muñecas and says, “Dolls? That’s cute.” This is a Catholic chapel underneath the Cemetery Church of All Saints that holds tens of thousands of human bones – many of them arranged artistically. Skulls and other parts form entire walls, garlands, bells, a coat of arms, and a spectacular chandelier. Although the bones are the work of centuries of deaths (including plagues), the current macabre arrangement of them is the work of František Rint, a woodcarver with a strange artistic vision hired to organize the bones in 1870. You can visit the ossuary for a nominal fee; they even offer a special nighttime tour.
8. Darvaza Gas Crater (The Door to Hell)
Derweze, Turkmenistan (photo credit: Tormod Sandtorv)
Think humans are the only ones busy creating terrifying locales? Think again. When a natural gas field in Turkmenistan collapsed, creating a crater over 200 feet wide and almost 100 feet deep, all mankind did was set it on fire. Geologists did this in 1971 to prevent the spread of methane gas, and it has been burning ever since. The effect is an awesome, hellish pit with orange flames and boiling mud. Since the fire is most visible at night, many people take tents and camp in the surrounding desert. As far as I can tell, there are no official tourism companies set up – there aren’t even parking places – so if you decide to camp, be sure you bring all of your own supplies, water, and food.
9. Aokigahara (The Suicide Forest)
Mount Fuji, Japan (photo credit: Simon Desmarais)
Terrible, exploitative horror movies aside, the Aokigahara Forest truly is a location of exceptional and uncanny beauty. Lore says the forest became a death destination for locals to bring elder parents to starve – an alleged euthanasia-like custom known as ubasute. But the reputation for suicide increased when author Seichō Matsumoto published Black Sea of Trees, a novel in which a couple commits suicide there. Subsequently, myth and legend grew of the ghosts who now haunt the forest. Whether you believe in spirits or simply feel awed by the tragedies, Aokigahara is undoubtedly a powerful place to visit.
10. Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast Museum
Fall River, Massachusetts (photo credit: Kenneth C. Zirkel)
To many people, the name Lizzie Borden calls forth little more than a folk rhyme and a vague sense of sensationalism, but the 1892 axe murders were very real. Abby Durfee Gray Borden and Andrew Jackson Borden were brutally murdered in their home. Due largely to botched investigative work, Lizzie was acquitted of the crime and no one else ever charged. But the site of the massacre is still there today, decked out with plenty of camp, where you can tour the museum or even stay overnight at the bed and breakfast.
11. Catacombs of Paris
Paris, France (photo credit: Rijinatwiki)
As if in direct competition with the Sedlec Ossuary, the catacombs under Paris hold macabre, bone-filled ossuaries of their own. While the Sedlec location wins for sheer artistry, the Paris ossuaries vastly outnumber it with once-living souls. The bones of more than six million people bedeck this network of tunnels and rooms underneath the city. Though originally little more than a storage place for remains, in 1810 Louis-Étienne Héricart de Thury ordered renovations on the caverns that would make them into the visitable destination they are today – complete with walls patterned with femurs and skulls, cemetery décor, plus beautiful and ominous inscriptions.
12. Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant
Pripyat, Ukraine (photo credit: Sergiiasvn)
Most people have heard of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, an explosion that became the worst nuclear disaster the world has ever seen. This tragedy was responsible for many deaths from direct and indirect sources (the exact number is contested). Told that their evacuation would be temporary, most people left behind their belongings and were never able to return for them, which is why the site has become a tourist destination despite the danger of radiation poisoning. Pripyat has become a city frozen in time – a veritable museum of life in Eastern Europe before the fall of the Iron Curtain. The effect is a stunningly eerie ghost town that has become a destination for photographers, the morbidly curious, and paranormal activity chasers. If you decide to visit, be sure to do your research on safety practices first.
13. Amityville Horror House
Long Island, New York (photo credit: Seulatr)
In 1974, Ronald DeFeo, Jr. murdered six members of his family in the now infamous house in Amityville. He was convicted the following year. This is, arguably, where historical fact ends and muddy, muddy waters begin. It is true that the Lutz family – George and Kathy plus three children – subsequently bought the house, moving out after less than a month of living there, claiming to have been terrorized by paranormal activity. Of course whether or not you believe in the supernatural, and whether or not you believe the Lutz really experienced it, is up to you. The already famous house was made infamous when author Jay Anson published The Amityville Horror in 1977, purporting to chronicle the ‘true story’ of what the Lutz family experienced. Although the house itself has remained a private residence – the address changed in an attempt to discourage visitors – the determined continue to drive by the building in hopes of catching a glimpse of the haunting past or the haunted present.
Whether you want a brief chill during an otherwise peaceful road trip or an extended stay in serious ghost territory, in the US or abroad, I hope I’ve given you some ideas. We all love to be awed and creeped out sometimes, but remember to be respectful at the sites of actual tragedies. History and its horrors have much to teach us if we’re paying attention. Whatever your focus, this list should have something to offer.
I personally have been charmed by the Stanley Hotel and awed by the Torture Museum. Have you visited any of these destinations yet? Which ones top your personal wish list?
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