Spooky season is amongst us - that time of the year when the grey clouds start rolling in, the air is filled with the scent of cider and a chill runs down your spine. That chill may be from the crisper weather, or it may be because it’s close to the witching hour. Either way, if you’re up for some eerie exploration in and around All Soul’s Day, look no further on where to get spooked (or to casually summon an unspeakable presence during a séance).
Now, North America may be known for its plethora of haunted places and hauntings from the likes of Amityville Horror and Salem. Still, long before Canada and the U.S came to be, across the pond there were sites all over Europe that had set the pedigree for ghoulish and frightful scares. There are spooky places - and then there are places that border on the spectacle of the occult, the unknown - unexplainable and sometimes unmentionable fears if you will.
In this roundup - whether it’s for Halloween or during daylight hours any time year-round, these are our top recommended places dotted across the old continent of Europe for you to feel the hair stand on the back of your neck. Curious? Follow me on Instagram and YouTube for more adventures!
Here are also some popular activities for this Halloween season:
1. The Werewolves and Witches Castle outside of Salzburg
A medieval castle is nothing out of the ordinary across this continent that’s filled with them in almost every single country. But the Moosham Castle in Uternberg outside of Salzburg is truly a site of horror that’s considered one of Europe’s most haunted castles. It doesn’t help that it’s surrounded by acres and acres of dense forest where - even though the famous saying goes, “if a tree falls in the forest when no one else is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” should actually be - if anyone screams from Moosham Castle, would anyone even hear? As so, that’s what happened during the barbaric witch hunts of 1675.
Over a hundred people who were accused of being witches got beheaded in this castle, which gave its nickname the Witches castle. The wild imaginations of Austrian locales amplified their fears, originating from the quickly spreading plague and post-war famine. This mass hysteria resulted in a round-up of orphaned children, the homeless and beggars to be trialled within the castle walls for being witches. Few escaped - and those who did manage had their hands cut off.
Then, some centuries after the witch trials, animals such as cattle and deer were creepily found slaughtered with their mutilated bodies laid out around the castle grounds. This led to assumptions amongst the townfolks that werewolves were the moonlight malefactor - and thus, a delirium of accusations resulting in the roundup of people getting tortured in the castle’s dungeons.
Today Moosham Castle is open for everyone to visit - including the torture chambers. For those that have a penchant for seeking the supernatural, you can actually book an overnight stay there. If you do, keep an ear out for the screams that still linger from the witch trials (or so as rumoured by the townsfolk) as well as unexplainable shadows lurking around the castle, as reported by the castle’s staff.
2. A haunting Venice and its Poveglia Island
Romantic for some, creepy and ramshackle to a certain crowd - Venice has more faces than the masks that are worn during the annual Carnival of Venice. One set of Venetian masks, the Medico Della Peste, is recognizable for its long hollow beak and circular eye sockets, having origins from the Plague doctor. Already creepy in design - this mask, along with Venice itself, is historically tied with the tragedy of the plague.
Since Venice is a series of islands, along with the Venetian lagoon, over the centuries many grievous mishappenings had washed its shores. During the Plague, the island of Poveglia became a cruel literal dumping ground for the residents of Venice who were sick from the Plague. Poveglia Island earned the nickname “the island of no return” for a reason - It didn’t matter if the person was alive - they would be lumped in together with piles of bodies annexed away from the main city.
Then in the 1920s, Poveglia Island was retransformed once again, this time into an inhuman psychiatric asylum. Stories since that decade have long been passed down, including one about a doctor who had illegally experimented on his patients with lobotomies. That same doctor then jumped from the bell tower (which you can still see poking out from the overgrown nature that has taken over the island), due to being driven to insanity himself by the hauntings of ghosts.
Poveglia Island today still stands, but its land will be forever heinously marked by tortured souls of the 160,000 deaths that had occurred on it over the years.
3. The psychiatric asylum of Ospedale Psichiatrico di Volterra
Just because you can visit somewhere nowadays - even during the day - doesn’t mean you should. Such a place is the leftover abandoned institution in Volterra, Italy. If you do dare to venture there today, you’ll see leftover wheelchairs, gurney with straps, and decaying walls still standing from 1888 when the psychiatric asylum was founded.
Patients of Ospedale Psichiatrico di Volterra were there mostly against their own will, locked up away because they had mental health problems that weren’t fully understandable by the doctors or society even as far back to the 1950s and 60s. Thus, was the booming era of the asylum, when it tripled in size to become one of the largest psychiatric institutions in the country. Behind these doors though were malpractice and mistreatment - from forcibly inducing comas using insulin to common electroshock treatments administered.
What was meant to be a place for mental health instead was a sickening reality closer to prison - where bars and grates were installed in the windows, and patients were mistreated like inmates and nurses were regarded as guards. Today, you can still see the imprint of its harrowing past as you wander through the arched doorframes and crumbling paint of Ospedale Psichiatrico di Volterra.
4. The satanic haunted mansion of Cortijo Jurado, Málaga
There’s always something troubling or dark secrets kept with old money families, isn’t there? The tale of this influential family, the Heredia from Malaga - one of the wealthiest families in Andalucia at the time - adds to that. The 19th century Cortijo Juardo, also locally known as Casa Encantada is a huge grand estate that now has been left into a crumbling haunted mansion.
There’s science and proven evidence, then there are some things in this world that can’t be explained. Paranormal phenomena such as whispering of voices, ghostly sightings and a cursed film. Back in 2000, a director shot a short film at Cortijo Juardo, only for one of the actors to fall through an elevator shaft, and upon being discharged from the hospital - also disappear. No one knows where the actor is to this day. After filming, the hard drives and backups of the film were unexplainably damaged. This all adds to the lore around this mansion.
For as long as the Heredia family has been living in this estate, there have been rumours about how the family - of high society grace and bourgeois standing - kidnaps young girls and inducts them through satanic rituals along with painful torture. They say that those bodies are buried within the mansion - underground as well as wherever they may fit.
5. Witches Cave, Zugarramurdi
This gigantic karst tunnel carved out as a natural cavern within walking distance from the town of Zugarramurdi in Basque Country was the site of rituals, incantations, and devil worshipping during the Inquisition. The cave runs over 120 metres deep, with different galleries that you can explore. From here, it’s easy to see that it was an ideal space for pagan rituals. To this day, the town honours this coven tradition - and holds its own recreation of a bombastic feast celebrating the dark arts in the Zugarramurdi caves.
While no Latin tongues are actually used to conjure anything from another astral plane, during the summer solstice the townsfolk light up bonfires within the caves, roast lambs, and drink copious amounts of wine in honour of this occult legacy. If you’re here, definitely check out the Witch Museum well to learn more about the witching hour during the inquisition.
6. Cismigiu Hotel
This historical hotel from 1912 located in the heart of Bucharest adds to why the city is one of Europe’s most haunted capitals. The Cismigiu Hotel today is of modern luxury, impeccable service, and thoughtfully designed contemporary rooms with well-preserved Art Nouveau architecture. But behind the sleek interiors still reeks a storied chilling past that echoes in its hallways to this day.
The Cismigiu Hotel that you can book a room to stay at today was actually left in cobwebs, disarray, and abandoned back in 1970s. That is, until the Theatre Academy purchased it and turned it into student living for the university. Unfortunately, during a cold winter weekend before the holidays were to start, most students had left to go home but one girl. That night, in the dimly light hallways, she walked into what she thought was a dorm room but instead tumbled far down an open elevator shaft. Adding to the tragedy, she had still survived the fall - though badly hurt and immobile. Screaming out for help, her broken voice had echoed from the bottom of the shaft, though no one was around to hear. When students had returned back from their holiday, her body was discovered… And since then people have claimed they would hear the sound of shattering cries, bellowing through the hotel in the middle of the night.
7. Dracula’s Castle
It looks idyllic as it does macabre - the Bran Castle which sits on a rocky cliff surrounded by a dense forest. Home to myths of undead curses and literary legends of blood-sucking creatures of the night - Bran Castle is also known as Dracula’s Castle. Count Dracula is a creation of Bram Stoker’s gothic horror Dracula novel, which has become a staple image whenever people think of vampires.
In the eerie outbacks of Transylvania, Bran Castle is also a fortress that started off in the 13th century as a wooden citadel. There are viewpoints to this day of mountainous peaks that you can see when you visit. Each year the Transylvanian castle throws a Halloween party with Romanian DJs and vampires a flock (dressed up that is). While no real fanged-feeding creatures of the undead have been spotted here, who knows what could happen when you celebrate Halloween at the castle or even visit it during a full moon.
8. The Black Forest’s Slender Man
The name may be eerie already, but the Black Forest got its name from the Romans who had set eyes upon thick, almost impenetrable lush conifer trees that made up the mountainous forest in southwest Germany.
Since some parts of the forest become so dim due to the denseness of its trees, there has long been local folklore and legends about what may have happened in the Black Forest. From demonic dances to devil worshipping and sites where witches would have been free to come out to act their blasphemy - there is one tale that locals say still could potentially lurk on in the darkness behind the branches today. Der Grossmann is German for the Slender Man, a tall lanky entity that tip toes through the Black Forest. Somewhat disfigured with arms as long as its legs, one look into its bulging pupils and the tortured face will be embedded into your mind whenever you close your own eyes. Parents of the nearby villages have long taunted their children that if they misbehave, they’ll be sent to the Slender Man. Those who actually were mysteriously had never returned from the forest.
9. Wolfsegg Castle’s Woman in White
It’s no wonder that one of Europe’s oldest countries, Germany, is filled with sites that claim to be haunted by souls that were never laid to rest. The 800 year old Wolfsegg Castle, a seemingly majestic Bavarian splendour, is one of these places. In the sunlight the castle looks like it can be a replica for Rapunzel, however as the evening sets in or days when the fog settles too low, Wolfsegg Castle is a place that shouldn’t be visited by the faint of heart.
Locals today still tell the tale of Ulrich von Laaber and his wife, Klara von Helfenstein, who both inhabited the castle. When Klara took on a secret lover, she would rendezvous all around the castle walls while Ulrich was gone. Ulrich then learned of Klara’s affairs and fueled with anger, he hired two farm boys to kill his wife. Upon these unfortunate events, her lover disappeared and when Ulrich returned to Wolfsegg Castle - he would end up without a trace as well. Nowadays, the castle is an open museum that interestingly enough, some visitors have said they’ve seen a fleeting presence in the corridors of a “Woman in White”.
10. The Catacombs of Paris
Above ground, Paris is known as the city of life and love with icons like the twinkling Eiffel tower. Underground, the city is riddled with a tunnel that snakes over 200 kilometres long filled with skulls, bones, and the remains of over 6 million deceased people. It’s an eerie contrast to a city that’s often romanticized and what most people wouldn’t come to think of when they picture Paris.
Yet a section that runs about 1.5 kilometres from the Catacombs of Paris is accessible to the general public to explore. If you do plan to undertake this macabre activity, be sure to plan and book your tickets in advance since day-of bookings are rare to come by. But an adventure into the underbelly of Paris makes for a time warp-trip back to the late 18th century when the catacombs started.
11. Mont Saint-Michel
What looks like a Disney fairytale location today was more like a sinister Brother’s Grimm fairytale back then. Mont Saint-Michel is undeniably attractive - an island in a bay in Normandy that’s controlled by the tides. At certain times of the day, depending on the tides, the island and its hilltop abbey is only accessible by boat. Anyone who gets a chance to lay eyes on this place will be in jaw-dropping awe of what a vision it is.
But, like some beauty, there’s a dark side. During the country’s Hundred Year’s War with England, Captain Louis d’Estouteville and his army had a gory battle that ended up with the death and bloodbath of over 2000 Englishmen. Since the high waters were not in yet, the sands surrounding Mont Saint-Michel was drenched and washed with blood of the slaughtered. And when the tides did come in, bodies upon bodies drifted in and out around the island. To this day, there are local legends that the spirits of those unrested men haunt the abbey and within the historical walls of Mont Saint-Michel.
12. Gates of Hell, Vardoe
Within the secluded Norwegian arctic where the winds never seemed to stop howling and the harsh climate often got residents to hide away, over a dozen women were falsely accused and executed for witchcraft. This may have happened over four centuries ago, but today the sins of the past are still steeped in the town of Vardoe, where a memorial stands on the Varanger peninsula.
Back then, about 31% of the country’s witch hunts and its subsequent horrific indictments happened in this remote northern area. This leads to the idea back then to an entrance to hell, which was called literally, the Gates of Hell, where the devil and demons could have been summoned from witchcraft - out of the fire and into the ice. Today, you can visit the Steilneset Memorial and walk through a candle-lit corridor commemorating the 91 people that were executed for witchcraft. The pain of the past lives on in the plaques along the walls, detailing who they were and what happened to each person.
13. Hill of Crosses
A pilgrimage site that sits in the hinterlands in northern Lithuania, the Hill of Crosses to this day draws a spectacle as it is significant for those that make the journey for their spirituality. Picture this: a hill top with rows and packed stacks of crucifixes, statues of the Virgin Mary, and cross after cross. The Hill of Crosses started off in the 1800s with already over 9000 crosses and nowadays there are over 100,000 piercing into the one hill alone. It’s possible to stroll through the narrow alley throughout the crosses, but there have been reported sightings of supernatural entities and figures over the centuries.
Fear not - as a pilgrimage site, it also has become a symbolic place that holds a peaceful representation for local Lithuanians of their perseverance against occupying invaders like the Russian tsar and the Soviet Union.
In search of more scary places in Europe?
This list is only the tip of the iceberg of the derelict and ghastly happenings over the centuries on this old continent. If you’re curious about other frightful places - check out our most scary places in Belgium recommendations - if you dare. Also what's more frightful than the catacombs and skulls laid to waste all over the Czech Republic? Then there's our most scary spots in The Netherlands, a country that seems to be ripe with historical deviance.