Five of Europe’s spookiest ghost tours
From a guided trip introducing the real-life inspiration for Dracula to overnight stays in haunted castles, these ghost tours weave in enough history and intrigue to keep even non-believers entertained.
The echo of footsteps fleeing down a corridor. A prickling of the skin and a flicker of candlelight. A feeling that something, somehow, just isn’t quite right.
You might feel some or all of these things on a ghost tour of one of Europe’s most haunted places. Even if you don’t, the best paranormal expeditions are alternative ways to explore a destination while providing a fascinating glimpse into the past. Here are five of the best for Halloween.
1. Bodmin, Cornwall
Spend the night in a haunted jail
The imposing granite building of Bodmin Jail was groundbreaking when built in 1779, under the reign of King George III. Commissioned as part of Britain’s prison reforms, it was a relatively cushy place to be incarcerated thanks to its hot water and natural light. However, this certainly wasn’t the case for the 55 people executed within its walls. Many died in the Victorian hanging pit, sometimes watched by thousands of spectators.
The pit is the last of its kind in the UK and one of the most fascinating areas explored during the After Dark experience. The five-and-a-half-hour tour starts with an introduction to the jail’s architecture and history, with stories of infamous inmates such as Sarah Polgreen, sentenced to death and dissection after poisoning her husband. Guests can explore parts of the prison rarely open to the public and can spend time alone soaking up the atmosphere (or feeling the terror take hold) into the early hours. £55pp, bodminjail.org
2. Transylvania, Romania
Trace the story of Dracula
Bram Stoker never actually visited Romania, let alone the historic region of Transylvania where his iconic gothic novel is set. Yet there’s no doubt the Irish author was inspired by the area’s history, myths and legends, basing the bloodthirsty Count Dracula on local tales of strigoi (vampires).
One real-life figure is also believed to have heavily influenced the story of Dracula: the vicious 15th-century prince Vlad ‘the Impaler’ Tepes. Vlad and the fictional Count provide the focus of a six-night escorted tour, starting and ending in Bucharest. Stops include Vlad’s birthplace and a peek inside the hilltop Bran Castle, widely thought to be the inspiration for Dracula’s lair.
Fact and fiction become tangled at times — there’s an overnight stay at the Dracula Castle Hotel, built according to Stoker’s description in the novel — but that’s all part of the fun. From €999pp (£860pp), including B&B accommodation, transfers and some meals. visit-transylvania.eu
3. Chillingham Castle, Northumberland
Sleep with ghosts in a medieval castle
Chillingham Castle is aptly named. The elegant 13th-century fortress in Northumberland is known as one of Britain’s most haunted, with frequent reports of ghost sightings.
The quadrangular castle, which has four corner towers, hosted eight executions (for high treason) and many a bloody battle during the county’s border feuds. It was frequently visited by royalty and, according to tales told through the centuries, the ghosts of previous residents and guests.
Book one of the guided four-hour ghost hunts, which burrow into the most haunted nooks and crannies. You might meet the White Pantry Ghost, a frail woman in white said to beg for water, or hear the disembodied voices of two men in the chapel.
You can also stay overnight, though there’s no guarantee you’ll sleep well after all those ghostly tales. From £50pp for the ghost hunt and £110 per night for a self-catering apartment sleeping two. chillingham-castle.com
4. Prague, Czech Republic
Meet one of the city’s many ghouls
It’s no surprise that Prague’s cobbled streets and gothic buildings are soaked with bloody stories of murder, revenge and tragic ends. Among the city’s many ghosts are plague victims, several executed souls, headless men haunting Charles Bridge and a butcher sentenced to death for refusing to fight in the 1611 Prague Uprising.
There are many ghost tours through Prague’s Staré Město (Old Town), but if you really want to plunge into the dark underbelly of the Czech Republic’s capital, try Prague Underground Tours’ Ghosts, Legends & Dungeon Tour. Starting in the Old Town Square, the atmospheric evening event weaves a rich and rather creepy tapestry of myths, legends and historical tragedies while passing some of the city’s most inspiring architecture.
It also enters the underground city — a network of tunnels that runs beneath the streets, linking ancient dungeons and torture chambers where the spirits of those who perished are said to remain. Czk450 (£16pp). prague-underground-tours.co
5. Paris, France
Explore the city’s dark underbelly
How could an underground cemetery packed with the remains of six million Parisians not be haunted? Whether or not you believe in ghosts, Paris’s Catacombs are bound to tease out a few goosebumps.
The labyrinthine ossuary lies 65ft beneath the City of Light like its spooky shadow. The bones were moved here from severely overcrowded cemeteries during the 18th and 19th centuries. Many of the deceased’s identities remain unknown, though their remains are now incorporated into walls of skulls and a barrel made of bones.
Tour in your own time or, for few extra euros, join the daily two-hour guided tour. Lively guides cast light on dark tales of people disappearing into prohibited sections of the 200-mile tunnel network, while also revealing quirky aspects of the past. Among the weird and wonderful stories is that of the restaurant that operated here until it was discovered by Paris police. Sub’s note: on the website it says that the Guided Tour is held every Thursday. €34pp (£30pp), catacombes.paris.fr/en
Subscribe to National Geographic Traveller (UK)
Follow us on social media