Have you ever gone somewhere and wanted to leave immediately, without being able to say exactly why? Perhaps you felt inexplicably uneasy or like you were being watched. Maybe the temperature plummeted for no reason whatsoever, or an icy breath rolled along your neck. I say, trust your instinct and get out of there! But some people travel across the world hoping to be scared out of their wits, so it’s for these foolhardy souls that I’ve trawled through the world’s most haunted places to compile this list of islands, hotels, houses and castles you really shouldn’t spend the night alone in – although in many cases, you can…
Image by David Staedtler on flickr
South Africa’s oldest existing colonial building is also one of the country’s most haunted buildings. Built in 1666, it’s had plenty of time to build up a litany of tortured souls, including the angry soul of Governor van Noodt who died of a heart attack as several soldiers were hung on his order, a man who repeatedly hurls himself from the castle wall, a sad woman in a long grey cloak, voices that echo in the Dark Hole dungeon, and the ghost of a big black dog. Some soldiers on night duty still prefer to walk right around the outside of the castle rather than walk through the castle itself.
“Join one of the new After Dark tours if you dare…”
Image by Henning Supertramp on flickr
If you’re a non-believer, this one may change your mind. One of the most haunted sites in Scotland looms over one of Europe’s most haunted cities.
“In other words, you get a lot of ghosts for your buck in Edinburgh Castle.”
It’s hardly surprising really. The site of the castle has a history that dates to 850BC and has seen more than its fair share of terrible torture and bloody battles since then. As part of the 2001 Edinburgh International Science Festival, it was the site of one of the biggest paranormal investigations this world (and the other) has ever seen. Nine pro researchers and 200 carefully selected members of the public explored the castle’s vaults and tunnels for 10 days – without knowing which areas are reputedly haunted and which are not. 51% of those taking part reported spooky experiences in the haunted areas, and just 35% in the non-haunted areas.
Image by Allan Watt on flickr
3. Monte Cristo Homestead, Australia
Australia’s most haunted homestead has been home to the Ryan family for the last 50 years, and they’re convinced there’s something sinister about the place. The history of deaths in the Victorian building certainly points to something out of the ordinary: the maid pregnant by the man of the house who fell to her death from the second-floor balcony, the baby ‘pushed’ by an unseen force down the stairs, the stable boy burned to death as he slept, and the caretaker shot dead in 1961.
“And then there’s the reported feeling of being watched, the voices and the hands on the shoulders.”
Tucked away among the canals of Xochimico is an island so creepy you’ll have IT-style nightmares for months after. The island’s trees are hung with the limbs, head and bodies of dolls. Some locals say that the dolls whisper to each other, and it’s too easy to imagine exactly that as hundreds of blank eyes follow your progress among the trees. A local man started hanging dolls in the trees after finding the body of a young girl in a nearby canal. He later drowned in the exact same spot.
Image by Alejandro de la Cruz on flickr
Built in 1145 on the intersection of two ley lines, this ancient inn has built up a fearsome reputation as one of the most haunted buildings in the UK. Apparently, there are ghosts of witches, a young girl called Rosie who was murdered, and even an incubus (that’s a male sex demon, by the way). As a B&B it was surprisingly popular if not altogether successful on the repeat business stakes – some guests fled in terror in the middle of the night. Now it’s only possible to stay the night as part of an organised ghost hunting tour.
There’s nothing spooky about The Hill of Crosses per se, but you wouldn’t want to spend the night here alone. The effect of more than 100,000 crosses of all shapes and sizes clustered together on a small hill in northern Lithuania is distinctly eerie. The first ones were placed here after the 1831 Uprising to mark the unfound bodies of rebels who died in the uprising. The number of crosses placed here has grown as people travel from all over the world to place their own crosses for their own reasons: spiritual, memorials, patriotic or artistic. Pope John Paul II even visited, in 1993.
Image by Tania & Artur on flickr
The welcome message across the top of the entrance to the Paris Catacombs translates as “Halt, this is the realm of Death”. Not the warmest welcome, but every word of it is true. This tunnel network deep beneath Paris is made from the bones of more than six million dead Parisians. Just a small portion is open to the public but the network is so labyrinthine that people still find nooks and crannies for secret meetings and once even a secret cinema. I just hope they screened something like Thelma & Louise rather than The Exorcist.
Image by deadmanjones on flickr
The Stanley Hotel has a significant accolade that should impress even the most hardened non-believers. This is the haunted hotel that inspired Stephen King to write The Shining. He and his wife were the hotel’s only guests one night at the end of the 1974 season. It’s a big hotel, with long corridors. That night King dreamt that his screaming three-year old son was being chased along the corridor by a fire hose. He woke sweating and scared, and by dawn he had the outline of The Shining in his head. Which room was he in? Room 217 of course – the most haunted room in the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. Naturally it’s the hotel’s most requested room. Book that room, and go on one of the hotel’s Night Spirit Tours.
This colonial-era landmark building in Semarang, Central Java, has a relatively short but unhappy history. The huge basement of Building B – said to be haunted by a kuntilanak (female vampiric ghost) – was a detention centre with a formidable reputation for torture and executions during World War II. The building was also the site of the bloody Battle of Semarang in 1945, shortly after Indonesia declared independence. No surprise then that the place is supposedly haunted by the hopeless ghosts of those killed for empire and revolution.
Not just another medieval gothic church, the Sedlec Ossuary takes art to its most macabre extremes. In 1870, a woodworker was charged with organising the bones of 40,0000 human skeletons into an artistic arrangement. The results are spine tingling (excuse the pun). There’s a huge chandelier made up of at least one of every bone in the human body, a remarkable coat of arms featuring a raven pecking at a human skull, and skulls strung like bunting. The website urges visitors to experience it as a place of peace rather than fear. I’d like to see you try!
You’d think that a tiny island between Venice and Lido could be nothing other than a place of pleasure and beauty but Poveglia is reputedly the world’s most haunted island. It’s been used as a quarantine station, a Black Death plague pit and, in the 20th century, an asylum where gruesome lobotomies were carried out on the mentally ill patients by abusive doctors. More than 160,000 people died here, and there are rumours that the soil is 50% human remains.
“Poveglia is reputedly the world’s most haunted island.”
Did you know you can stay in the castle said to have inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula? Stoker never stayed here – he never even visited Romania – but it’s highly likely he based the lair of the eponymous Count Dracula on Bran Castle. Find out more about the region’s mysterious tales and vampiric connections in Ana’s piece about hunting the real Dracula in Transylvania.
The Mermaid is the perfect haunted pub. There are secret passageways, smugglers, creaking floorboards, sloping ceilings and a long rollcall of ghosts. A lady sits by the fireplace in Room 1, apparitions walk through walls and stand at the end of beds, rocking chairs rock by unseen hands and bottles smash to the floor. You’d have to have an imagination made of concrete not to feel something if you spend the night here!