Originating as an ancient pagan festival in Ireland, Halloween has since become wildly popular across Europe – and the globe (USA, we’re looking at you).
You might already know about the many spooky theme parks, or destinations steeped in tragedy surrounding accusations of witchcraft. But there’s an abundance of other sites that showcase the supernatural and paranormal. From fancy dress parties in castles to weekends celebrating gothic culture, here are six of the best destinations in Europe for experiencing a spooky Halloween.
Halloween-themed festivities are fairly new in Lithuania, having been introduced after the Independence declaration in 1990. In the capital, there are guided tours of Vilnius Cathedral and its age-old crypts, while the bohemian area Užupis has its own series of art installations. Every year, it lights up the shores of the river running through the neighbourhood with hundreds of jack-o’lanterns. Elsewhere in Kaunas, there’s the Devil’s Museum, which stores some 300 exhibits from around the world. Just outside of the city, Farmland park is transformed into a huge Halloween town filled with rides, costumed zombies and a haunted house.
With quiet narrow streets and a bustling harbour, the ominous history and myths in the seaside town of Whitby are often overlooked. It was here that Bram Stoker gathered inspiration for his novel Dracula, and the town is rumoured to be filled with various ghosts. The annual Goth Weekend nods to all of this while celebrating the town’s history, gothic culture and alternative music. Further north in Scotland, you can take a tour of the places where Robert Burns took inspiration for creepy stories. In the village of Alloway, there’s Auld Kirk, a 16th-century abandoned chapel that’s five miles from where Burns grew up. Bring your ghost meter because it’s known to be haunted.
While celebrating Halloween is not a Czech tradition, Prague’s ancient, towering buildings and narrow streets make for a great destination to spend the spooky season. An hour north of the city is Houska Castle, allegedly one of the most haunted destinations in the world. On a steep hill in a forest, the castle was built to protect the surrounding villages from the ‘Gateway to Hell’ – a deep pit that legend says black-winged creatures would emerge from. Stay around until November 2 for the country’s annual celebration of All Souls’ Day, when cemeteries are filled with twinkling candles to kindle a light for the souls of the dead.
The Latvian city of Liepaja is shrouded in horror from its brutal past. Here stands the military prison of Karosta, which witnessed many executions and the horrific torture of criminals during the Nazi and Soviet occupations. Stories of ghosts roaming the halls and toying with light bulbs remain, but visiting this site is above all a chance to learn its history and pay your respects. Further inland, close to the town of Šiauliai, the Hill of Crosses is a somewhat chaotic place. Over 100,000 crucifixes are squished and crammed across the mound, though the reasoning for this isn’t entirely known.
The iconic Bran Castle in Transylvania is the fictional birthplace of Dracula and one of the most popular spots in the country to spend Halloween. The castle is decorated for its annual Halloween party, where people dress up for the occasion (mostly as vampires, unsurprisingly). For something even more chilling, Hoia-Baciu Forest in Cluj-Napoca has often been the centrepoint of folklore and haunted tales – many records of ghost and UFO sightings have become part of its spooky arsenal. Elsewhere, Sighisoara is the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler (the real-life inspiration for Dracula). The town organises many Halloween parties, but some of the most popular sites in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of a medieval citadel are the Vlad Dracul House and the Clock Tower for panoramic views of Dracula’s town.
On a hill that towers over the city of Poznan, Poland’s Przemysl Castle is steeped in haunted history. Tales are often told of the ghost of Duchess Ludgarda, who has allegedly been roaming the corridors since her murder in 1283. Another spooky destination in the country is the Chapel of Skulls in Kudowa-Zdrój, just under two hours from Wroclaw. Look for the eerily beautiful tessellations made from the bones of war victims in the chapel, designed by Czech priest Vaclav Tomasek and local gravedigger J Langet. Over 3,000 skeletons reside here, and it took 18 years to build the chapel.