While events in historic cities like Dublin, London, Bucharest and Prague are bound to be frightfully fun, looking further afield at Halloween could mean you reap the rewards of exploring some of the most authentically spooky surrounds Europe has to offer. If you have a curious bone in your body you’ll dare to visit these chilling landscapes for a more unique sense of dread this Halloween.
Explore vampire legend in Orava Castle, Slovakia
Perched precariously atop a limestone rock on the banks of the Orava River, deep in Slovakia's forests, Orava Castle is best known as the shiver-inducing backdrop in the vampiric cinematic masterpiece Nosferatu (1922). This castle has been enchanting visitors for centuries. Just as impressive a feat of design and resilience, the formidable fortress-turned-castle was erected in the 13th century, and development has seen it continue to mold perfectly into the rugged topography.
Take an autumnal tour of the castle, where the audio guide will treat you to bloodcurdling legends of violence, injury and ghosts who still stroll the halls, alongside bloodcurdling stories of vampire lore. This won’t be a swift visit; the castle boasts 154 rooms and around 66o stairs. Most tours take you on a dizzying upward climb through myriad tunnels, courtyards and exhibits – and staircases emblematic of the iconic film scene with the hunched vampire – up to panoramic views of lush mountain vistas. For classic horror fans, it’s love at first bite.
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Join ghouls and goths in Whitby, UK
Don your darkest colors and head to Whitby on England’s North Yorkshire coast for a suitably moody Halloween you’ll never forget. Famed for featuring as the brooding backdrop in much of Bram Stoker's Dracula, the picturesque seaside town hosts the annual Halloween Whitby Goth Weekend over a late October weekend. This includes Tomorrow's Ghosts Festival – expect DJ sets and bands with ghoulish names such as Carpe Noctum and The Last Cry, and an abundance of market stalls selling clothing and jewelry. The main attraction is arguably the spectacularly creative fashions paraded in the name of goth and, more recently, other subcultures such as steampunk and rockers. Want to frock up and join in the fun? Think black lace, corsets and bowler hats, and get inventive with accessories, from steampunk goggles to feathered hats and masks.
Spend the rest of your visit exploring the atmospheric shores of the harbor, or take a quintessential British boat cruise. Gaze out over the melancholic horizon as a cool North Sea breeze brushes your cheeks and you might just glean a sense of what Stoker was inspired by all those years ago.
Walk with spirits in Meath, Ireland
Buried deep in Ireland’s past are tales of the ancient Celtic Samhain feast that celebrated the end of the harvest season with fire and song. Samhain is believed by many to be the origins of today’s Halloween festival, and the misty moors of easterly County Meath is reportedly where the Celtic festival began, between the sunset of October 31 and sunrise on November 1 more than 3000 years ago. Easily accessible from Dublin, the eerie events in Meath provide a more spiritual alternative to the capital’s unapologetic Halloween hedonism.
An array of new Halloween festivities suitable for all ages are gaining momentum in Meath as The Spirits of Meath Halloween Festival takes over the county for a month in October and November. From the camp to the creepy, you’ll find historical re-enactments, spooky walking tours and everything in between, as the festivities take full advantage of the landscape’s relationship with the mystical and the macabre. You can also attend the Púca Festival, a celebration intended to immerse visitors in Ireland's folklore. The events take place in the spellbinding Trim Castle grounds and at an ancient ceremonial hill in Athboy between October 25 to 31. With interactive light and laser shows, theatrical aerialist performances and the lighting of traditional Samhain fires, it’s hard not to feel the ethereal energy of pagan rituals past.
Visit Dracula's birthplace in Sighişoara, Romania
Where Romania's Bran Castle in Transylvania tends to steal the Halloween moonlight, you can experience more low-key chills by following fascinating legends and myths in the stone lanes and medieval fortifications of Sighişoara. This Unesco-protected old town is the alleged birthplace of Vlad Ţepeş, the bloodthirsty 15th-century Wallachian prince. Ţepeş was known to impale his enemies with a stake on the ground, leaving them to suffer a prolonged and agonizing death, earning him the nickname Vlad the Impaler. His other well-known name is Dracula or "son of Dracul", after his father Vlad Dracul.
It's possible that stories of horrors and cruelties dished out by Ţepeş were an influence on Bram Stoker for his character Dracula – he certainly took inspiration for the name – but further connections are unconfirmed. Nevertheless, the town of Sighişoara has embraced the vampire legend and you can join the horror at a party in town. Alternatively, scare yourself with a Halloween visit to Casa Vlad Dracul, stand in the central square where witch trials and impalings took place, and take a stroll through the spine-chilling cemetery. For more Halloween frights, follow the legends of vampires and Vlad at Bran Castle, about a two hour drive away.
Follow lanterns and flames in Edinburgh, Scotland
Edinburgh can spook a visitor's socks off with its many ghost tours. A visit to Real Mary King's Close alone will do it, where costumed guides tell stories of 17th-century Edinburgh while leading you through the tenements in this crumbling subterranean labyrinth. They ramp up the fear factor on Halloween by plunging you into the darkness with just the flickering light of a lantern throwing shadows all over the damp stone walls. Keep your wits about you – was that movement a trick of the light or was it Annie, the ghostly child who's been spotted in these parts?
Outside of the Close, upgrade your lantern on October 31 at Samhuinn Fire Festival on Calton Hill. This immersive event marks the shift of seasons following traditions of the Celtic lunar calendar. Watch as the forces of Winter and Summer meet in an epic clash through musical performances, theater, dance and fire-play (it all happens again on April 30 at the Beltane Fire Festival, when performers bid farewell to winter). For a slightly less flame-themed experience, follow the atmospheric illuminated Halloween trail at Edinburgh Zoo.
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