How brave do you think you are?
We’ve put together a list of the world’s spookiest, most unsettling destinations. A trip to any of these places is enough to make the most fearless of travellers quake in their (well-worn) boots…
Chernobyl is always at the top of these sorts of lists, and for good reason. Tourism to the abandoned town soared in popularity in the wake of the success of the hit TV drama in 2019, but the sites are no less sobering.
A proper tour of Chernobyl should feature a visit to the ghost town Pripyat and other nearby villages, where radioactive buildings were buried under mounds of earth, and children’s toys still lie abandoned in the streets.
The only thing to see in the zone, is that there is nothing to see. Landscapes are desolate and wildly overgrown, and the villages feel eerie and empty. A few die-hards have returned to their country homes and live brazen lives in ghost towns.
For the most part though, things have remained as they were left at the time of evacuation. The real excitement of the journey comes from entering an area that’s frozen in 1986 USSR, and the trip is the closest you may ever get to time travel.
Museum of Sorcery and Witchcraft, Iceland
The only one of its kind in Iceland, the Museum of Sorcery and Witchcraft is built on the spot of the country’s most famous witch trial. Running over two floors, the displays take visitors through the magical traditions that go back to medieval Iceland.
Beyond the expected runes, spells, and grimoires (and the spooky interactive histories), the museum does a great job spelling out a narrative of the times, and circumstances surrounding Iceland’s biggest witch hunts (the 17th century).
Sedlec Ossuary, Czech Republic
Originally the cemetery of the Cistercian monastery in Sedlec, it became fashionable to be buried here after earth, brought back from the Holy Land by the abbot of Sedlec, was sprinkled on the cemetery ground.
The grounds were enlarged to accommodate plague victims and again during the Hussite wars. So where did all the bones come from which are now inside? The bones were stacked up outside and then inside the small Chapel of All Saints, when the cemetery was reduced in size. The chapel was then restyled into an ossuary.
It is incredible to think that the bones of an estimated 40,000 people were used to create this creepy decoration. You cannot miss the chandelier in the middle of the ossuary containing at least one of every bone in the human body, or the coat of arms in bones of the Schwarzenberg family who purchased the abbey and the land in around 1784. This is an eerie, thought-provoking place and not one you would want to visit alone after dark.
Patarei Prison, Estonia
In 2006, when visitors were first granted access into Patarei Prison, they saw the hurriedly abandoned remains of what the Estonians took over from the Russians, and which were hardly improved during the 1990s.
They walked up broken staircases, saw loose electric wires, rusting bedsteads and pealing photographs of former pornographic beauties. Not even shattered glass was cleared, let alone any weeds growing in the courtyards.
This ghost town, once the principal town of the local diamond industry, was abandoned over 45 years ago and now gives a fascinating insight into the area’s great diamond boom. Many of the buildings are left exactly as they were deserted, and now the surrounding dunes are gradually burying them.
In its heyday, Kolmanskop was home to over 300 adults and 44 children, and luxuries included: a bowling alley, iced refrigerators and even a swimming pool. A few of the buildings, including the imposing concert hall, have been restored. But many are left exactly as they were deserted, and are gradually being buried by the surrounding dunes.
Parish Church of St Blaise, Istria
This is the largest parish church in Istria, with a 25m-high dome and a 62m-high bell tower. The most interesting thing about the church, however, is its mummies.
Hidden in a curtained, dimly lit room behind the main altar are six glass cases, containing the intact bodies of three saints, as well as various body parts of three other saints. The bodies are clothed, and the skin and fingernails have darkened, giving them a strange, almost wooden appearance. Exactly how or why the bodies – which were not embalmed – have failed to decompose, remains a mystery.
Bran Castle, Transylvania
Bram Stoker and Hollywood have given us more than 150 versions of Dracula, but the person behind the fictional Count Dracula was even more cruel and bloodthirsty. The real-life Dracula was born Vlad III Drăculea (meaning ‘son of Dracul’) in 1431 in Sighişoara, and was said to have stayed in this 14th-century castle.
During his reign, Prince Vlad III committed many cruelties and thus established his reputation, earning him the posthumous moniker of ‘Ţepeş’ (‘Impaler’). His preferred method involved binding victims spread-eagled, then hammering a stake up through the rectum as far as the shoulder, then leaving them to die in agony, raised up for the crowd to watch.
Triora has a rather dark past and is known as the Paese delle Streghe (Country of Witches), after the witchcraft trials held here from 1587 to 1589.
In the 16th century Genoa came under the control of Spain, at that time in the throes of the Inquisition. It was believed that witches gathered at a ruined house, la cabotina, that lay just outside the village.
When famine struck in 1587, it was blamed on the witches: 13 women, four girls and a boy. They were hauled before the local magistrates, who began a series of trials and torture sessions. One of them committed suicide by jumping out of a window in the main square and four others were executed. Surprisingly, eight had their sentences revoked.
Höfði House, Iceland
Reykjavík’s most famous residence also happens to be its most haunted, or at least one of its better documented cases. Constructed in 1909, the squat structure expresses the influence of Jugendstil, a Nordic version of Art Nouveau. Like so many wooden buildings of the time, the house was completely prefabricated in Norway and shipped in pieces to Reykjavík for the customer, one Monsieur Brillouin – the French consul.
This was at a time when French fishing interests granted significant weight to diplomatic relations with Iceland, though the consul spoiled his welcome by raising his official residence before the city planning department had approved its location. Monsieur’s nonchalance ruffled bureaucratic feathers and the Versailles-like quality of the house (the largest private estate in the city limits at the time) led to his being generally envied, admired, and despised by Reykjavík society.
He also found his new home uncomfortable and complained that the house was haunted. Brillouin stayed in Iceland for less than four years, selling the unlucky address to the lawyer and poet Einar Benediktsson. Einar already felt haunted by the ghost of a young woman (Sólbórg Jónsdóttir) who had poisoned herself following his judgement in a notorious court case.
Accusations of incest led to her child being taken away and although the suicide occurred in the faraway north, Einar felt that Sólbórg’s ghost followed him when he moved to the capital. At Höfði House, the woman’s ghost would appear to him in the night so that he began to sleep with the lights on. In exasperation, Einar sold the house. Ten different owners followed, none of whom occupied the building for more than three or four years. In the course of sales and resales, Höfði became the British embassy and was visited by Winston Churchill in 1941 and later by Queen Elizabeth II.
The last man to ever live in Höfði was British ambassador John Greenway, who arrived in 1950 with great ambitions. A confirmed bachelor, Ambassador Greenway realised quickly that he did not like to be left alone in the house. The dark spooked him and the ghosts caused such a racket that he couldn’t sleep. He was most terrified by the ‘white lady’ who wandered in and out of his bedroom and office day and night. Nerve-wracked and sleepless, he sent London’s foreign office a rush of eccentric and harried dispatches recounting the phantasms and demanding that a new residence be found immediately.
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