Have you ever entered a place and felt like you were being watched? Do strange shapes sometimes appear out of the corner of your eye? Does a place just feel off and give you the creeps? If seeking out scares is something on your travel itinerary, consider visiting some of the creepiest places that I’ve visited around the world.
Haunted Richhill Castle
If you read my previous post, you’ll know that my friend and I sought out haunted houses in Northern Ireland only to be sorely disappointed. Well as soon as we stopped looking, the ghosts found us. Curious about how a “forest park” would compare to our world class national parks in Canada, we drove to Gosford Forest Park near Armagh to do some hiking. Unsurprisingly, it was nothing like the evergreen majesty of Algonquin National Park or alpine splendor of Banff National Park, but it was quaint enough in its own right. We ambled around the mostly level paths through sparse woods that served as the garden grounds for the resident castle. As we were preparing to get into our car, a local man and his adorable dog came over to talk to us. After chatting for a while, we asked him if he knew of a good pub where there may be live music that night and he had just the one in mind. He tried to explain the directions to us, but eventually realised we’d never get there on our own so he told us to follow him.
After a short drive, we ended up in an awesome casual pub called “Groucho’s on the Square” in a tiny village just outside of Armagh. He introduced us to some of his friends and before we knew it, a crowd had formed around us and we couldn’t get a word in edgewise. Eventually, some of the people went home and one of our new friends asked us if we wanted to see the “haunted castle” next door. Definitely!
The Richhill Castle was divided into three sections and one of our friends owned that portion. Convinced that there was a ghost in the castle, he had even had paranormal investigators come to “test” for ghosts. The castle was under renovations so no electricity worked. We had to use our phones and a flashlight to work our way through the different levels. As someone who can give herself the creeps walking down to her own dark basement, I expected to be more freaked out but this experience really didn’t rattle me (the generous offerings of Guinness from our new friends may have had something to do with it). Our impromptu guides tried to scare us with stories about the findings from the paranormal investigators to no avail. That is, until we arrived at the “death room”.
The death room was where many people died, including a young woman from the original owner’s family who had allegedly passed of a broken heart. She did not let just anyone in the room which meant the door would only open sometimes. I watched a few people on our unofficial ghost tour try with no success until it was might turn. No matter how hard I jingled and jangled it, I could not get that doorknob to turn and open. Next, my friend tried and opened it on her first try. Walking in she said she felt a wave of cold, negative energy hit her as if a wall was in front of her. I felt no such thing. The room was cold, but I thought that was to be expected when a room in an old drafty castle is frequently shut.
We finished our tour in the attic, which should have been terror central, but was really just a cluttered and smelly place. Still, my friend insisted that she could feel something terribly off about the space. On the way back out of the castle, we tried the death room door again. Only my friend could open it.
Castles are inherently creepy, especially ones with storied histories or ones that are nothing but cavernous ruins. While Richhill didn’t frighten me the way some of the other places on this list have, it certainly spooked my friend so that alone means it belongs on the list.
Catacombs of Paris
As you may know, I went to Paris alone as a 17 year old. I took the train by myself and explored many famous landmarks on foot. Paris definitely has a bloody history, from the bodies piling up during the Black Death, to the storming of the Bastille, to Nazis marching in front of the l’Arc de Triomphe, there are no shortage of creepy destinations to discover.
The best has to the Catacombs of Paris which are an underground ossuary created in the late 18th century to house the bones of over 6 million people in abandoned quarries. There can be waits depending on the season, but on that cold December day I descended into the underground graveyard alone. The space is musty and claustrophobic with low ceilings where water drips from every dark corner and the ambient temperature can be a good 10C colder than on the street above. Did I mention the walls are entirely made out of bones? Bones arranged into shapes like hearts and crosses, bones spelling out the year they were moved down there, bones that came loose so uncouth tourists could pick them up and juggle them. Yes when I finally ran into another human in the catacombs, that is what he was doing despite the omnipresent warnings not to touch the bones. Maybe that guy got poltergeisted, and maybe he didn’t but I sure as heck was not touching any bones that day. Eventually stairs appear in front of you and then you’re popped out in some unremarkable intersection in an uninspiring Paris neighbourhood having just zigzagged through a portion of the City of Light’s macabre underground. Walking through the Catacombs of Paris is a surreal experience that is not to be missed.
Speaking of undergrounds, Seattle is famous for its Space Needle and rainy weather, but it is also home to a network of underground passageways that represent the original foundations of the city. Having had their businesses razed by floods and fires, people sought restitution from the government for their property that was destroyed. Rather than buying them out, the government of the day offered to re-build their businesses underground. Skylights were built into the new city’s sidewalks and ladders were installed to descend to the old one. The underground scene thrived for a while and there were even bars that people liked to visit below street level. Some are even said to be haunted. Regardless of whether or not you believe in that, it is decidedly eerie to be walking around an abandoned city while another one bustles overhead.
To book an underground walking tour, click here.
Pays Dogon (Dogon Country) in Mali is a world unto itself. Steeped in a mix of animism, Islam and Catholicism, the villagers that cling to their old ways along the cliff offer a glimpse into a truly different way of life. As you hike along the cliffs between villages, you’ll find evidence of ritualistic sacrifices, burial urns, and unexplained sacred sites. While there’s certainly an argument to be made that pretending you’re eating Christ every Sunday morning is more than a little creepy, I at least understand the symbolism and the backstory. I can’t say the same for wall will skulls cemented into it that I saw while hiking along the cliff. Although our guide explained the lore behind some of the symbols we saw, he did not explain them all, so I was left to my overactive imagination to figure that one out. My Pays Dogon trek was only 4 days, but I would love to spend more time in this fascinating area and to learn more about the Dogon people’s unique way of life. Indeed, there is a joke about Dogon Country that in every village there is an elected chief, a Hogon (spiritual leader), and an anthropologist.
Mali is probably the scariest place on this list to go to right now since it has descended into to civil war proving once again that it’s usually humans that make the world a terrifying place. I hope the fighting can calm down so more people get to experience the country’s diverse historical and cultural offerings, as well as its citizen’s legendary hospitality. Until the security situation improves, it pains me to discourage people from travelling there at this time.
Lake Bunyanyi in the Kabale region of Western Uganda is an awe-inspiring location. Its deep and cold waters seem to hold many secrets and have claimed many lives, both locals and tourists alike. Perhaps the worst kept secret was the practice of sending girls who became pregnant out of wedlock (because that doesn’t take two people? but I digress…) to “Punishment Island” to basically figure out their own way off of it. Often these were desperately poor young women with little more than the clothes on their back who were left on a tiny, barren island to fend for themselves. Many simply drowned while trying to escape, but a few got off by flagging down a passerby in a boat and begging them to drop them off in a village far from their own, so their stories lived on.
Legend says, the practice finally stopped when a young boy was paddling his sister to the island when she asked him to pull over so she could go to the bathroom. Once on land, she tried to make her escape but soon found herself facing the deep, cold waters of the lake. Her brother pushed her in to expedite the inevitable, but as she went down, she grabbed him too. They both drowned, which incited the central government finally intervene to make the practice in this far flung region illegal. Other sources claim it was the European missionaries who put an end to the practice. To this day though, there’s something sinister about the island. As we paddled by it, I opted out of docking and setting foot on it. Instead we turned back toward our lodge for the night and saw one of the rare lake otters on the way. A much happier story. If you head to Lake Bunyonyi, I recommend staying at the Byoona Amagara eco-hotel, for its amazing views of the lake like the one below, good eats, and great prices. You can also set up gorilla trekking and safaris through them which are must dos in Uganda.
York is rumored to be the most haunted place in England. Its storied history includes Roman invasions, Viking takeovers, mass death during the bubonic plague, and a killing spree where York’s inhabitants turned on their city’s Jewish population. You can even go on a “Ghost Hunt” walking tour to see where some of the most famous local ghost stories originate from. I particularly enjoyed visiting the cobblestone streets that make up the Shambles and walking along the city’s walls, because it’s like stepping back in time.
The city’s appeal goes far beyond its ancient streets. For example, the folks at the York Dungeon Museum make it their job to scare to you while keeping you highly entertained in the process. Perhaps the most terrifying place of all, is Clifford’s Tower, where in 1190 townsfolk chased Jewish citizens inside and then burned them alive. Like most places in York, it’s said to be haunted.
Tower of London
This is a given. The Tower of London is probably one of the most famous landmarks around and it is also famously haunted. Anne Boleyn’s ghost has been spotted stalking the halls, as has the ghost of her cousin Catherine Howard, and several other victims of Henry VIII. I did not run into any ghosts while I was there, but seeing the dungeon and room will all the medieval torture devices was enough to make my skin crawl.
If you’re going to visit the Tower of London, give yourself lots of time and consider buying your tickets ahead of time here.
Have you ever visited somewhere that gave you the creeps? Let us know where in comments.