On the hunt for family-friendly antics that’ll keep the whole clan on their toes? Don’t fear. Or maybe do. There’s something satisfying about spooky happenings, whether at Halloween or year-round. Scare your little monsters (and yourselves) silly on tours for families that take you to haunted houses, underground dwellings, frightful festivals and historic ruins.
Haunted house horror – San Jose, USA
This is no ordinary haunted house. The architectural maze of The Winchester Mystery House will fascinate the whole family. Don’t be fooled by the comforting warmth of sunny San Jose; step inside 160 rooms that allegedly sent their owner mad and you’ll feel a shiver down your spine.
After inheriting her husband's family fortune, Sarah Winchester started to believe that the restless spirits of those killed by Winchester guns were behind her bad luck. She spent the rest of her life trying to avoid the vengeful ghosts, hiring builders to add to the house... every day for 38 years! Tours of the resulting structure reveal countless twists and turns, from stairways leading to nowhere to skylights in the floor.
Fright factor: 8. This experience will leave you all feeling as if you’ve had a lucky escape.
Grave times – Buenos Aires, Argentina
Experience the elegance of the other side with tours at one of the world's most grand and imposing cemeteries, La Recoleta Cemetery. Not only is this the resting place of many leading Argentinian figures, including former First Lady of Argentina Eva Perón, but it’s also a sprawling network of beautifully carved mausoleums and gravestones that hold many an intriguing tale.
Tours might take you by the grave of David Alleno, an Italian immigrant who spent time here as a gravedigger and reportedly spent his lifetime's earnings on his own palatial plot. Then there’s the not-so-restful resting place of Buenos Aires socialite Rufina Cambaceres, who was said to have been in a coma when she was buried alive.
Fright factor: 9. The opulent surrounds only add to the spine-tingling stories that this epic cemetery holds.
Subterranean skeletons – Paris, France
Beneath the footfall of fashionistas, this underground dwelling is a stark reminder of grisly Parisian history. An estimated six million skeletons line the walls of Les Catacombes. With Paris’ booming population, cemeteries were so overpopulated that from the 1780s, bodies were exhumed and piled here instead in a network of passageways spanning an estimated 280km.
Today, you can visit a slightly less claustrophobia-inducing 1km section of tunnel, where kids can explore the underground history of Paris without encountering anything unduly gruesome.
Fright factor: 7. Navigating the tunnels on tour is pretty chilling – though not suitable for younger kids, it's a must for those with inquisitive minds.
Friendly ghosts galore – Hong Kong, China
The month-long Hungry Ghost Festival centres around the Buddhist and Taoist celebration of the lives of loved ones who’ve passed away. It’s Hong Kong that takes the festival to a new level of spooktacular. During mid-August, people parade the city streets in light of the restless spirits coming out to play, appeasing the ghosts by singing, guiding the ghosts’ paths with lanterns and warding off any angry spirits by burning incense.
But it’s not all fun and games. There are lessons for kids in the art of giving to those who need it most, such as free rice offerings. There’s also the opportunity to sail a paper boat – decorated with the names of ancestors – downstream along the river, symbolising the ghosts’ departure from their earthbound journey. And if you happen to catch a traditional Chinese opera at this time, you might leave wondering why the front row of seats are left empty – these are reserved for the dearly departed, of course.
Fright factor: mid-level 5. Children can’t stay freaked out for too long with the array of colour parading the streets at this festival.
Witchy business – Salem, USA
Home to everything witchcraft, there's heaps of spookiness for families to get stuck into in Salem, particularly during the month of October, which sees in the Salem Haunted Happenings festival and everything from carnivals to haunted harbour tours. At other times of the year, you can get oriented in town by hopping aboard a narrated tour on The Salem Trolley. Then, further your knowledge of the witch trials at The Salem Witch Museum or join a Salem Kids Tour aimed at younger children.
For older kids, a tour of House of the Seven Gables – the historic building said to have inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne’s supernaturally-spooky eponymous novel – might be of interest. And if anyone fancies dressing up, book them in for a frightful photo shoot available year-round at costume studio, Witch Pix.
Fright factor: 4. Salem’s bloody history may have been paved over with a brighter shade of black, but it doesn’t shy away from its past. Don a witch’s hat or wizard’s robe and let the kids discover its tales.
Vampiric wanderings – Whitby, UK
Nothing says spooky like Dracula. The children might have seen many iterations of the character in literature and film, but Whitby itself will bring the reality of the stories home. Discover how Bram Stoker’s 1890 visit to a small harbour town on the Yorkshire coast provided him with the atmospheric locations for his novel.
Get the whole family involved with Dracula- or ghost-themed kid-friendly tours, such as the 'Ghost Walk' or ‘In Search of Dracula' tours with local expert, Dr Crank. From the mystery of the headless horseman to the haunted lighthouse, there’s plenty to scream about in deceptively cutesy Whitby. And don’t miss a stroll around Whitby Abbey, the gothic ruins that Stoker was so struck by.
Fright factor: 8. Once you get a glimpse of the brooding scenery here, you’ll soon understand what gave Stoker the shivers all those years ago!
Manor mysteries – Junee, Australia
Dubbed Australia's most haunted house, the Monte Cristo Homestead welcomes adults and children for spine-tingling tours of their creepy Victorian manor house – the bravest among you can even stay the night! The building sits just outside of the small country town of Wagga Wagga in New South Wales, and was constructed on behalf of the Crawley family in 1884. The restored building is part of a museum and antiques store with more than its fair share of creepy paraphernalia, including a number of haunting paintings of Mr Crawley.
Many tragic tales have befallen the residents and workers at the house, and the current owner believes that the place is still haunted by its formidable prior owners today. Rumours say that once you visit, you’ll come out a believer in the supernatural.
Fright factor: 9. With antiquities from a horror-filled past lining the hallways of this mansion, and recent ghost sightings from guests, a visit here is not for the faint-hearted.
Gory tales – Edinburgh, UK
So you thought all ghost tours would take place well after the kids’ bedtime? Think again. Edinburgh has gothic written all over it, and kids can travel back in time with atmospheric yarns spun on historic tours conducted in broad daylight. Edinburgh’s haunted walking tours for kids are sure to give them a fright and there are also tours at Edinburgh Castle, supposedly one of the most haunted edifices in Scotland – made even more macabre when the weather’s looking a little shabby (which, let’s face it, can be a lot of the time in Edinburgh).
There have been a number of paranormal accounts experienced here, where hundreds of secret underground tunnels were found beneath the castle and stories of former prisoners tell of their ghosts haunting the dungeons.
Fright factor: 6. Edinburgh is full of terrible tales, but the family-oriented tours add a bit of camp, lively fun.
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