Get Spooked: 9 Hauntingly Beautiful Destinations to Visit on Your Next European Vacation
Get Spooked: 9 Hauntingly Beautiful Destinations to Visit on Your Next European Vacation - Wander the Ancient Streets of Edinburgh, Scotland
With its winding medieval alleys, mysterious underground vaults, and looming Gothic architecture, Scotland's capital city of Edinburgh seems tailor-made for ghost hunters. This is a place alive with history, mystery, and more than a few chilling tales.
A stroll through the Old Town transports you back centuries. As you weave through closes and wynds—the narrow, steep alleyways between towering tenements—you can almost feel the spirits of past inhabitants following your footsteps. Stop into one of the area's many atmospheric pubs, and you may catch whispers of the Burke and Hare murders, when two entrepreneurs turned to graverobbing to supply corpses to the medical school.
No visit to Edinburgh's underbelly is complete without a tour of the underground vaults that honeycomb the city. Used for everything from housing the poor to holding criminals awaiting execution, these man-made caves were eventually abandoned and sealed off. Today you can take a guided walk through the chilling chambers, hearing stories of those once imprisoned and entombed within the claustrophobic cells. Just be prepared for the sensation of not being alone down there in the dark.
Of course, Edinburgh has ghosts galore above ground as well. Greyfriars Kirkyard is said to be one of the most haunted graveyards in the world, thanks to the infamous Mackenzie Poltergeist that dwells among the tombstones. Or join an after-dark tour of the royal mile to hear tales of witches burned at the stake and discover which close is considered the most actively haunted street in the city.
Finish up your paranormal adventures with a candlelit stroll through Mary King's Close, an entire street that was buried beneath the city for centuries after the plague. Wander the perfectly preserved 17th century rooms and learn the tragic tales of those shut in to die. Just be prepared for the occasional unexplained cold rush of air or shadow at your back.
What else is in this post?
- Get Spooked: 9 Hauntingly Beautiful Destinations to Visit on Your Next European Vacation - Wander the Ancient Streets of Edinburgh, Scotland
- Get Spooked: 9 Hauntingly Beautiful Destinations to Visit on Your Next European Vacation - Explore the Catacombs Beneath Paris, France
- Get Spooked: 9 Hauntingly Beautiful Destinations to Visit on Your Next European Vacation - Hike the Dark Forests of Transylvania, Romania
- Get Spooked: 9 Hauntingly Beautiful Destinations to Visit on Your Next European Vacation - Tour the Eerie Castles of Ireland
- Get Spooked: 9 Hauntingly Beautiful Destinations to Visit on Your Next European Vacation - Marvel at the Mysteries of Stonehenge, England
- Get Spooked: 9 Hauntingly Beautiful Destinations to Visit on Your Next European Vacation - Stroll Along the Canals of Venice, Italy
- Get Spooked: 9 Hauntingly Beautiful Destinations to Visit on Your Next European Vacation - Witness the Ghosts of Prague, Czech Republic
- Get Spooked: 9 Hauntingly Beautiful Destinations to Visit on Your Next European Vacation - Hunt Vampires in Bulgaria
Get Spooked: 9 Hauntingly Beautiful Destinations to Visit on Your Next European Vacation - Explore the Catacombs Beneath Paris, France
Far below the City of Light lies a maze of tunnels and caverns holding the remains of over six million Parisians. This is the Empire of the Dead, a labyrinthine ossuary that has become one of the French capital's most intriguing attractions. Descending into the tunnels is an experience that will linger with you long after you return to the world above ground.
After obtaining your tickets and passing the somewhat stern warning at the entrance ("Stop! This is the empire of the dead"), you'll follow a tightly winding spiral staircase some 130 feet down into the gloom. The initial tunnels feel claustrophobically narrow, with rough-hewn walls pressing close. Duck your head to avoid knocking it as you pass elaborate gates guarding the ossuary proper.
Then the tunnels open into a mind-boggling sight: corridor after corridor lined with neatly stacked bones and skulls. These are arranged in elaborate patterns: femurs creating heart shapes, rows of vertebrae interspersed with lines of tibias. Skulls grin eerily at you as you pass. The scale is stunning, with milllions of bones arching overhead. Artfully arranged, there is a strange beauty to it all. Just don't reach out and touch!
As you explore deeper, information plaques recount the history. Paris' cemeteries were overflowing by the late 1700s, leading to unsanitary conditions. Beginning in 1785, bodies were exhumed and transferred to these underground quarries that had been renovated for the purpose. Even after new cemeteries were built, the transfer of remains continued into the mid 1800s, resulting in a macabre mausoleum below Paris.
Get Spooked: 9 Hauntingly Beautiful Destinations to Visit on Your Next European Vacation - Hike the Dark Forests of Transylvania, Romania
Nestled in the mysterious heart of Romania, the region of Transylvania feels torn from the pages of a Gothic novel. This is a realm of looming castles, isolated villages, and dark, beckoning forests that seem alive with secrets. For those seeking thrills and chills, you can't do better than taking to the wooded hillsides and winding trails here.
While Transylvania may be best known as the storied home of vampires and werewolves, its forests offer genuine spookiness even without the paranormal. As you venture down overgrown paths, gnarled branches reach for you through the mist and the heavy canopy plunges you into an perpetual twilight. The woods take on a primal character, populated by wild bears, wolves, lynx and more. Keep alert for rare glimpses of these elusive creatures.
The packed earth softens underfoot, muffling your footsteps. A hush falls, broken only by the call of a raven or the rush of unseen streams. Moss-coated boulders rear up at odd angles, evoking Druidic altars or the weathered tombstones of giants. Climb high enough and you'll reach windswept ridge lines dotted with ancient Dacian fortresses. These crumbling ramparts only add to the sense you've stumbled through a wrinkle in time.
Speaking of wrinkles in time, some forests come with local legends of gates to other realms. Hoia Forest near Cluj-Napoca supposedly contains a portal to another world, where ghostly apparitions and unexplained lights are regularly sighted. And in Hateg Country's Retezat Forest, gnarled trees called "grandfathers" are said to swallow up unwary hikers.
Get Spooked: 9 Hauntingly Beautiful Destinations to Visit on Your Next European Vacation - Tour the Eerie Castles of Ireland
From rugged cliffsides to misty bogs, Ireland is dotted with crumbling castles that seem ripped from Gothic tales. Exploring these evocative ruins offers thrills and chills galore for travelers. As you walk the lonely battlements, it's easy to imagine you've slipped through time to an era of sieges and sorcery.
Foremost among Ireland's eerie castles is Leap Castle, known as the most haunted in the country. Dating to 1250, it has a dark history of betrayal and bloodshed. The infamous "Bloody Chapel" saw one brother brutally murder another over succession rights. Today, the castle's haunted reputation draws ghost hunters and paranormal investigators seeking glimpses of its resident spirits. Visitors report sudden drops in temperature, phantom screams, and more.
Not far away, Charleville Castle also promises paranormal activity with its winding staircases, secret rooms, and resident ghosts. A banshee is said to wail from the ramparts when death is imminent. Those brave enough can request an after-dark tour and ghost hunt. Just steel yourself when specters begin materializing in the darkness.
For scenic spookiness, head to County Clare and the iconic Cliffs of Moher. Perched precariously alongside the thundering Atlantic, the cliffs are home to the ruined O'Brien's Tower. On a moonlit night, the lonely tower's silhouette against the inky water evokes all the romance and eeriness of a Gothic novel. Listen for the howl of the wind and the cries of unseen spirits.
No discussion of Irish castles is complete without Trim Castle, the largest Norman fortress in the country. The location has a starring role in medieval fantasy film "Braveheart". The extensive ruins are shrouded in myth, including the tale of a dark sorceress entombed within the walls for eternity. Visitors have reported strange shadows and spectral orbs of light haunting the keep.
Get Spooked: 9 Hauntingly Beautiful Destinations to Visit on Your Next European Vacation - Marvel at the Mysteries of Stonehenge, England
Of all the mystical and ancient sites scattered across Europe, none captures the imagination quite like the prehistoric monument of Stonehenge. Rising from the windswept Salisbury Plain, this ring of massive sarsen stones has intrigued and awed visitors for centuries. Even today, with slews of studies and theories about its purpose, an air of mystery still clings to the neolithic ruins. For travelers seeking a genuinely eerie experience, a pilgrimage here promises goosebumps and existential questions galore.
Approaching Stonehenge on foot, you feel as if you're about to commune with an ancient power beyond comprehension. Your first glimpse of the towering megaliths makes you catch your breath; it's a primal moment like seeing the Pyramids appear out of the desert. Moving closer, you crane your neck to follow the great sarsens as they rise intimidatingly overhead. You trace your fingers over the cold granite, sensing the reverberations of ceremonies carried out here long before recorded time. Circling the stones, you marvel at the precision with which they were arranged, oriented to solar and lunar positions. It sparks a sense of deep time stretching back ages, well before your insignificant lifespan.
As the wind whips across the plain, you visualize the ghostly forms of priests and pagans moving among the trilithons during rites of life, death, and renewal. Excavations have revealed graves here from long ago, and human ashes mark it as a sacred site for millennia. Standing within the inner horseshoe and gazing up at the impassive stones, you can imagine the sacrifices and celebrations once held here under moon and stars. What rituals and offerings summon the Old Gods today?
Get Spooked: 9 Hauntingly Beautiful Destinations to Visit on Your Next European Vacation - Stroll Along the Canals of Venice, Italy
A stroll in Venice is a journey back through the mists of time. As you wander the narrow backstreets and verdant canalside paths of this impossible floating city, the modern world seems to melt away. Everywhere you look, weathered facades and arching bridges conjure up visions of doges, merchants, and masked revelers from centuries past.
Yet while the romantic decay of Venice is legendary, this is still a living city. As you meander aimlessly, follow the sounds of laughter and clinking glasses to tucked-away canalside cafés. Linger over wine and watch as gondolas drift slowly by in the fading light. Ducks paddle lazily, accustomed to the regular gift of crusts tossed by chuckling children. Nearby, flower-bedecked balconies and flapping laundry lines remind you that, while the city may seem an ancient mirage, it remains a vibrant, everyday home.
Venice rewards those who put away their maps and simply wander. Ditch the main tourist drags and duck into the tangled lanes known as calli. There's magic to getting lost here, stumbling upon dusty campi where neighborhood kids kick soccer balls against centuries-old walls. Seek out the legendary Ponte dei Pugni - the "Bridge of Fists" - where rival factions once brawled on precarious perches above the canal. Peer through wrought-iron gates and spy overgrown gardens untouched by mass tourism. Breath deep of sea air tinged with a hint of mildew and mystery.
The city truly comes alive as dusk approaches. Find a rustic bench along a sleepy rio and sip an Aperol spritz as the fading light paints the milky water in pastels. Plump pigeons flutter down to keep you company as the distant sounds of violin music provide a soundtrack.
As darkness falls, make your way to where spotlights illuminate majestic palazzos emerging from the night fog. Pause atop the exquisite Rialto Bridge to admire the Grand Canal stretching off between flickering lamps lining its walls like earthbound constellations. Pass silence-shrouded churches older than your entire country - portals to the Venice of old.
Dreamy though it may be, remember Venice struggles beneath mass tourism. Consider visiting in the off season: February skies and quiet, misty autumn days reveal the city at its most hauntingly introspective. Wander lonely quays as the wind rifles the dark waters, igniting visions of Verdi operas and never-realized romances from the glory days of the Serenissima republic. Lose yourself in alleyways untrodden since the plague doctors once masked their crossing.
Get Spooked: 9 Hauntingly Beautiful Destinations to Visit on Your Next European Vacation - Witness the Ghosts of Prague, Czech Republic
With its twisting cobblestone lanes and somber Gothic facades, Prague exudes an allure that transcends mere tourism. This is a city built for wandering without aim, slipping from one moody alley to the next as though traversing a maze of memory and imagination. Turn a corner and you may come face to face with one of the many myths, legends and chilling tales that have echoed through Prague's streets and tunnels for a thousand years.
Of all the specters said to haunt the Czech capital, none surpass the Headless Knight that dwells among the halls and towers of expansive Prague Castle. According to lore, the knight lost his head in battle but returns nightly to stride the castle grounds on his spectral steed, searching tirelessly for his missing cranium. Those brave enough to lurk near the powder tower after midnight might glimpse his towering, decapitated form passing beneath the archway, horse's hooves clattering loudly in the silence.
Another famous phantasm calls the grounds below Prague Castle home. The ghostly Daliborka was once a knight imprisoned in the fortress' tower and now haunts it eternally. Her tall form has been spotted drifting across the empty tower rooms, passing directly through closed doors and stone walls with supernatural chill. Seek her out through one of the after-dark ghost tours that share the secrets of this imposing castle complex after the tourists have departed. Just beware if the air suddenly turns icy cold...
Of course, a haunted city needs haunted bridges, and Prague boasts several. Most renowned is the eerie Charles Bridge spanning the Vltava River, lined with impassive statues that are said to come to life after midnight. One particularly creepy sculpture depicts a Christian saint calmly carrying his own severed head. Locals whisper that the ghost of the saint still prowls the bridge on moonless nights. Cross it late at night and you may glimpse flickering forms passing in your peripheral vision, only to vanish when you turn to look directly. And beware the bridge's infamous Headless Golem, glimpsed slipping furtively between the statues.
No tour of Prague's paranormal places is complete without seeking out the legendary Faust House. This creepy abode hosted occult philosopher Edward Kelley in the 16th century as he attempted to summon spirits from the beyond. His efforts evidently succeeded - the house remains a hotbed of uncanny occurrences, including objects moving on their own and sightings of a spectral black dog prowling the rooms after dark. Arrange a private tour to gaze upon Dr. Faustus' ancient conjuring chamber and glean the house's shadowy secrets. Just don't be surprised if you accidentally rouse something unnatural from its slumber...
Get Spooked: 9 Hauntingly Beautiful Destinations to Visit on Your Next European Vacation - Hunt Vampires in Bulgaria
Of all the destinations promising spooky thrills, few can compete with Bulgaria as the birthplace of vampires. This Balkan country seems to bleed myth and mystery, from its mist-shrouded mountains to medieval fortress towns where the paranormal lurks around every corner. For those craving serious scares, a vampire hunting trip through Bulgaria offers the chance to walk the same cobblestones and forests as the immortal blood drinkers of lore.
The legends trace back centuries in Bulgaria, woven into the very fabric of its culture. The Rhodope Mountains have long whispered of creatures that emerge from their caves and dense woods to prey on remote villages. Archaeological evidence proves settlements in Bulgaria drove iron stakes through the hearts of corpses, hoping to prevent the newly dead from rising again to feast. Even Bulgarian folk dances mimic the relentless pacing of the undead.
Modern vampire seekers have flocked here to trace the bloody trail of Vlad Tepes, the notorious Wallachian prince remembered as Vlad the Impaler. While not technically a vampire himself, Vlad helped cement the legend across Eastern Europe through his brutal reign of terror in the 1400s. You can visit his birthplace Sighisoara, Romania and even stay in his father’s house, now an atmospheric medieval hotel on the town square.
From there, travel onward to Bulgaria, land of Vlad's grisly deeds. Or better yet, start your quest in Sofia, a city inexorably linked to vampires since at least the 1800s. The ruins of the 4th century fortress of Serdica in central Sofia are said to have once held captive a beautiful female vampire who lured victims from the town.
Follow legends and lore inland to Plovdiv, Bulgaria's second largest city set dramatically upon seven sylvan hills. Cobblestoned lanes wind up to the ancient Roman stadium ruins high above, where ghostly whispers may tell of Thracian tombs and temples nearby that once channeled dark, unearthly forces.
As dusk falls, trace those whispers south to the stunning Rhodope Mountains, where dense forests offer an ideal cover for supernatural beasts. Drive the hairpin turns to the hilltop village of Shiroka Laka, whose name translates chillingly to "Broad Stake". This was once the site of particularly brutal vampire slayings. Listen closely as wind howls through the pines - do you hear cries of the undead?
Finally, make your way to the Black Sea for an aptly named climax to your adventure. The aptly named Black Sea town of Sozopol was another notorious hub of vampire activity, with over 100 skeletons discovered here pinned down with iron rods driven through their hearts. Wander the winding lanes and peer up at the wooden houses looming overhead, imagining what unholy creatures once stalked these same streets...