Written by Bradt Travel Guides
How brave do you think you are?
To celebrate Halloween, we’ve put together a list of the eight spookiest, most unsettling places to visit from all around the world. A trip to any of these places is enough to make the most fearless of travellers quake in their (well-worn) boots …
1. Pripyat, Ukraine
Chernobyl has been a ghost town since 1986 © Roman Harak, Wikimedia Commons
Chernobyl is always at the top of these sorts of lists, and for good reason. Tourism to the abandoned town has soared in popularity since the success of the hit TV drama in 2019, but they 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.
2. Museum of Sorcery and Witchcraft, Iceland
The only one of its kind in Iceland, the exhibit 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).
(Photo: Necrophants on display in the museum © bodily wanderlust)
3. Sedlec Ossuary, Czech Republic
You’ll find the bones of over 40,000 people at Sedlec Ossuary © Dominik Pierce, Wikimedia Commons
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.
4. Patarei Prison, Estonia
The hanging room at the prison © JIP, Wikimedia Commons
In 2006, when visitors were first granted access, 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.
5. Kolmanskop, Namibia
Kolmanskop was once the principal town in Namibia’s mining industry © Matej Hudovernik, Shutterstock
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, the town 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.
6. Parish Church of St Blaise, Istria
Skulls on show in the church © Danas, Wikimedia Commons
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.
7. Bran Castle, Transylvania
Bram Stoker and Hollywood have given us more than 150 versions of Dracula. The real 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. He was said to have stayed in this 14th century castle.
The real-life Dracula was said to be born at Bran Castle © dinosmichail, Shutterstock
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.
8. Triora, Liguria
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.
(Photo: Alleyway in Triora, Liguria © Ettone)
Get a terrifying 10% off our guides: