Europe has given us so much to be thankful for: castles, art movements, high-speed trains, fashion icons, cheese — but it’s also given us a few things to be scared of. Creepy things. The other continents have their share of creepy things too, but there are certain haunted places and legends that feel distinctly European, the same way that the Champs Elysees would feel out of place anywhere other than Europe.
Here are 10 places that we feel give a good overview of the creepy places lurking around certain corners of Europe — from haunted forests to bone churches and torture museums and beyond, read on at your own risk!
10. Bone churches.
Bone Church Enthusiasts, this is your lucky day! Europe is full of them. The most well-known is probably the Sedlec Ossuary in the countryside of the Czech Republic, but there is also one in Faro, Portugal (note: this one was “closed for renovations” when I tried to visit it a few years back… I certainly hope they didn’t require any new skeletons for these renovations?)
The Paris Catacombs aren’t exactly a bone church situation, but they are full of millions of bones, so that counts for something. You’ve got the Capuchin Crypt in Rome (4,000 bones of monks), the Medieval Ossuary in Wamba, Spain (bones dating between the 12th and 18th centuries), Hallstatt Karner in Hallstatt, Austria (skulls adorned with paintings), and a few more scattered throughout Italy and beyond.
In the Capuchin Crypt, there is even a set of human bones that was arranged on the ceiling to look like the Grim Reaper, because apparently the Grim Reaper wasn’t terrifying enough already.
To get there: The closest train station to the Sedlec Ossuary in the Czech Republic is Kutna Hora hln (about 1 hour on a fast train from Prague; local trains take about twice the time). The church is about a 10-15 minute walk from the station (look for posted signs to direct you).
9. Borgvattnet (The Haunted Vicarage), Sweden.
If this one took place in England, I’d bet there would be a BBC series about it. “Haunted Vicarage” has a nice ring to it. The first haunting was reported in 1927 — the chaplain was taking down some laundry and suddenly some unseen force started tearing the clothing off the line.
The ghosts here seem pretty tame — knocking people out of rocking chairs, appearing and then disappearing in the night — but who knows, maybe it’s just the calm before the storm? Maybe no one’s made these ghosts really angry yet. The vicarage now functions as a restaurant and hotel, and if you spend the whole night without leaving, you get your very own overnight-stay-certificate to prove your bravery.
To get there: Not the easiest place to reach — but then again, do we really want a haunted vicarage right around the corner? Probably not. The closest railway station is in Ostersund, which is about a 5.5 hour train ride from Stockholm. From Ostersund, you will need to take one or two buses (depending on day of week/time of visit). We recommend contacting the vicarage directly for the best travel advice for your particular visiting date.
8. Abandoned Mansions, Ireland.
Any structure is a bit creepier once it’s been abandoned. The aura of mystery is probably what does it — just like with any scary movies or adrenaline-inducing sports or activities, the element of the unknown is the scariest part of abandoned mansions. Why was it abandoned? Why has no one claimed or bought it and turned it into some resort?
County Galway in Ireland is known for its abandoned mansions that pop up seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Pictured here is Tyrone House, one of the most famous. It’s surrounded by a fence and signs warning visitors not to approach, but there’s no one around for miles to enforce this. The mansion is abandoned in every sense: by the original family who owned it, by whoever it is that’s supposed to be watching over it, and largely by the media as well, who don’t seem nearly as interested in investigating these abandoned mansions as I would be if I was writing about Ireland.
I guess the eeriest thing to me in this case is the apathy — why doesn’t anyone care about these places anymore?
7. Vodnjan Mummies, Vodnjan Croatia.
Most people think of Egypt when they think of mummies, but Croatia has a pretty impressive collection as well. And Croatia’s mummies are said to be “mystical” — this is because the bodies don’t appear to have been carefully prepared for preservation in any way, and yet — gross! — they have failed to completely decompose. One of these, the body of a nun who died in the early 1500s, is considered to be the best-preserved mummy in Europe, and mysterious healings have been reported by those in close proximity to her body.
To Get there: If coming in from the north (somewhere like Ljubljana), you could take the train to Buzet and then connect to a small regional train or bus from Buzet to Vodnjan. If you’re traveling with a Eurail Croatia Pass (or other pass that includes Croatia), your pass would cover these regional trains. If you are traveling with point to point tickets, you can purchase the tickets locally at the train station.
6. Torture Museum, Amsterdam.
This museum is exactly what you’d expect from a torture museum: dark, uncomfortable, a little musty, and full of terrifying metal contraptions. Chairs covered in nails, wooden stretching tables, helmets that look like they probably weren’t meant for bike safety… it’s painful to imagine how some of these devices might have been used, but not as painful as actually reading the descriptions posted to the walls next to the devices, which describe exactly how they were used.
The finale towards the exit of the museum is of course the torture device that Europe has made infamous: the guillotine. Bonus: this one is pretty rusty and has a sign (or it did five years ago when I visited) asking visitors to please not attempt to use and/or take photos with the guillotine, because apparently it would cross people’s minds to do that.
To get there: Amsterdam is accessible by high-speed train from Paris, Brussels, and Cologne, to name a few.
5. Ancient Ram Inn, Gloucestershire, England.
So we have abandoned towns, bone churches, mummies, torture museums, forests (coming up!) — and now we have a haunted hotel. This particular hotel is considered to be one of the most haunted in England and has been featured on several ghost-hunter-type of shows in recent years. The inn was built on an ancient pagan burial ground, and the owner has found some of the human remains buried near and underneath the inn.
This is an example of the more “kitsche” side of haunted places — the ones that always seem to be on those ghost-hunter TV shows — but it’s still unnerving that the setting here is a little innocent-looking, quintessential British inn in the countryside.
4. Paris Sewers Museum.
Trust Paris to have a museum for everything. Here you can get down and dirty with the most romantic city’s least romantic setting. Sewers represent the underbelly of a city, the dirtiest parts — we associate them with rats, trash, and villains (or at least, I personally imagine the villains of Parisian novels slipping away into the shadows and the sewers. Just me?)
Fun creepy side-note: Allegedly, in the 1980s, a fully-grown crocodile appeared in the sewers of Paris. We say “allegedly” because no one can seem to agree whether this actually happened or not — some sources say it’s a confirmed fact and the crocodile now resides in the zoo; others claim this is just an urban legend. A lot of strange things happened in the 80s, so — who knows.
3. Tower of London.
This tower is haunted by one of our favorite ghosts in history: Anne Boleyn. Countless books, movies, and TV shows have depicted Henry VIII and his many wives, and Anne is by far the most popular among them. She was tried for treason and locked away in the tower until her execution by beheading, also on the tower grounds.
Hundreds of prisoners were held in the tower (many of them tortured, depending on the crime), and though there aren’t really any specific ghosts that are famous for haunting these grounds, it’s still fairly unsettling to wander around an area that was used for torture and executions for so many years.
Travel tip: If the Tower is only one of many stops for you throughout London, an activity card/pass can be very budget friendly. Many of these passes will combine public transport and sightseeing admissions, which also helps to simplify things to keep track of while you’re out and about in the city.
2. Hoia Baciu Forest, Romania.
And you thought you were safe as long as you avoided the castles and guillotines — nope! Turns out nature is just as terrifying. Forests can be a little unsettling as it is, but a haunted forest? Romania is not messing around. This particular forest outside of Cluj Napolca is known for all of the things our haunted-forest-nightmares are made of: ghost stories, folklore, mysterious disappearances, weird electronic malfunctions, UFOs, and more.
Well, fine — the UFOs were kind of a surprise.
Visitors to the forest often report an intense feeling of being watched, and electronic devices will often malfunction on the forest grounds. Apparently there is a huge “dead-zone” in the middle of the forest where vegetation will not grow, despite any evidence that it shouldn’t, and where much of the paranormal activity occurs (the malfunctioning devices, weird orbs of light, and UFO sightings). There are certain trees that have begun to grow completely crooked, as if bent by some unseen energy. There are some who believe that somewhere in this forest is a portal to an alternate universe, and before any of you say, “Ok, that’s pushing it,” just think about it — of all places to have a portal to another universe, wouldn’t a haunted forest in the middle of Romania actually be kind of perfect?
Let us know if you find that portal.
To get there (if you dare): The closest rail station is Cluj Napolca, which connects to a couple of larger cities in Romania, like Sibiu and Brasov.
1. Edinburgh Castle.
This fortress is not only one of the most haunted castles in the world — it’s widely considered to be one of the most haunted places in the world, period. It has been home to so many ghost sightings and strange occurrences that it’s undergone some of the most extensive paranormal experiments ever performed, the largest of which took place in 2001 and involved over 200 volunteers. The volunteers spent 10 days in the castle without any prior knowledge of the specific sightings or hauntings the castle is known for, and the majority of them reported strange activity during this time period — the same strange activity that had already been reported but that none of them knew about in advance.
Much like Romania’s haunted forest, this castle has got it all: hundreds of years of imprisonment and torture, murder, betrayal, quarantine (victims of the plague were locked up in the tunnels and/or dungeons below the castle and left to die) — basically every awful thing that humans could do to each other was done here, and the ghosts are not going to let us forget it.
This castle is a staple on almost every single “Top Haunted Places In the World” list.
To get there: Most cities in England and Scotland have direct train service to Edinburgh. To travel from London to Edinburgh by train, the trip is roughly 4.5 hours. Once you get into the city center, simply find the route to the Royal Mile and walk right to the castle — the more creepy vibes you feel, the closer you’re getting.