Whether you firmly believe in the paranormal or doubt anything beyond the physical plane, haunted places offer a fascinating way to get into the spirit of a place. The thrill of the unexplained is what prompts so many to take ghost tours, which often offer rich context to the typical history tidbits on plaques and in brochures. You can engage with the spirit realm in many different nooks and corners, spanning castles, hotels, and even an island full of dolls.
These are the eight most haunted places in the world, with lore so captivating you may want to consider a spookier approach to travel. Or not. That’s perfectly fine, too.
1. Paris Catacombs
- Visit: The Paris Catacombs
For a darker experience in the City of Light, venture beneath Paris and explore its hundreds of miles of catacombs. During the 18th century, the catacombs were used in response to a public health crisis that resulted in more than 6 million Parisians needing to be buried in an easily accessible site. The resulting mass grave of human remains in various arrangements is enough to send a shudder, but if that’s not spooky enough, there’s the entrance inscription that reads: Arrête, c’est ici l’empire de la mort! (Translation: Stop. This is the empire of death!). Some say those who explore the catacombs after midnight start to hear whispers, egging travelers deeper into the underground maze.
2. Edinburgh Castle
- Book a tour: Old Edinburgh Ghost Stories and History Tour
Perched overlooking Scotland’s capital on a chunk of volcanic earth known as Castle Rock, Edinburgh Castle is one of the oldest fortified places in Europe. King David I started its construction in the 12th century, and the site has housed many historical figures over the years, from Queen Margaret to Mary Queen of Scots. Its changing tenants reflect a history of constant war: Researchers have estimated that 26 sieges have taken place throughout the castle’s history. As a result, many legends are connected to its violent past, and its dungeon, in particular, is said to be haunted by tortured souls.
One of the castle’s most famous ghosts is a piper boy who was sent through some of the castle’s underground tunnels—never to be seen again. Visitors sometimes report hearing bagpipes when exploring the tunnels. Another is a headless drummer, who was seen drumming in the 17th century before the castle was attacked by Oliver Cromwell. His playing has now come to be an omen of danger, so visitors who hear drums playing should be wary.
2. Stanley Hotel
Estes Park, Colorado
- Book a tour: The Stanley Hotel Spirited Night Tour
It’s not hard to believe Stanley Hotel’s relationship with the paranormal considering that this was the setting of The Shining. In fact, Stephen King’s unnerving experience in room 217 as a guest of this property was what inspired him to write the best-selling novel. This haunted hotel a 10-minute drive outside of Rocky Mountain National Park opened its doors in 1909 and became a luxury stay for figures like President Theodore Roosevelt and the Emperor and Empress of Japan. But by the 1970s, years of neglect put the hotel in a state of disrepair. Nowadays the ghosts of the hotel’s original owner, his wife, and the spirit of a mysterious child are said to haunt the property. Arguably the most haunted room in the hotel is the famous number 217, which is haunted by a maid spirit named Mrs. Wilson. But stay at your own risk: Actor Jim Carrey tried staying in room 217 while filming ’90s comedy movie Dumb and Dumber, but he left in the middle of the night after getting spooked.
New Orleans, Louisiana
From American Horror Story to Disney’s Princess and the Frog, New Orleans’s relationship with the otherworldly has been well documented on film and television. With good reason—the history of this Louisiana city is filled with lore of witchcraft, voodoo, and even vampires. The city is unsurprisingly full of haunted spaces, but Muriel’s restaurant by Jackson Square is especially known for its ghostly guest Pierre Antoine Lepardi Jourdan. The story goes that in 1814, the New Orleans resident took his own life where Muriel’s Séance Lounge now stands. He hasn’t exactly had the track record of being a calm apparition (there have been several instances where an unknown source has thrown a glass from across the room), but the restaurant says that the resident ghosts of Muriel’s are harmless. But to be safe the restaurant leaves a table reserved for Jourdan set with bread and wine.
5. Island of the Dolls
Laguna de Tequila, Mexico
- Book a tour: Tour doll island in Xochimilco
The stuff of Chucky nightmares, Mexico’s Island of Dolls—known as La Isla de las Muñecas—amid the Xochimilco canals south of Mexico City is known for hundreds of dolls displayed throughout the island. The sad history goes back a century, when Don Julián Santana Barrera (the former owner of the island) came across the body of a young girl floating in a canal. A doll was also found floating in the canal, which Barrera hung on a tree in memory of her.
The incident started an obsession within Barrera, who spent years collecting discarded dolls that resulted in the Guinness World Record for the world’s largest collection of haunted dolls. It gets weirder: In 2001, the collector died near the spot where the young girl had died all those years ago, with some thinking her spirit was involved. Today, some people claim that the dolls move on their own—and even beckon people to the island’s canals.
To reach the island, you can take a boat from Xochimilco’s Embarcadero Celada. Make sure to let the boat operator know you’re headed for Isla de las Muñecas.
6. Zvíkov Castle
Zvíkovské Podhradí, Czech Republic
The medieval Zvíkov Castle towers over its surrounding forest landscape at the confluence of the Vltava and Otava rivers, offering the kind of isolation found in Gothic novels. Legend has it that the 13th-century castle is haunted by a magical imp who frequently visits the Markomanka tower. Visitors who stop by the area have reported strange things happening here, ranging from cameras breaking to animals behaving abnormally.
An even more foreboding warning travelers may want to heed: Legend has it that those who spend a night in the castle will die within a year, possibly caused by a paranormal creature who doesn’t want his home disturbed. The most efficient way to reach Zvíkov Castle is to rent a car and drive 90 minutes south of Prague. There aren’t many tours available, so an excursion to the castle is most likely going to be an independent adventure.
7. Bhangarh Fort
This 17th-century fort in the Alwar district of Rajasthan is known to be one of the most haunted places in India. Now in ruins, the fort has an infamous reputation thanks to two separate stories: The first revolves around its construction led by King Madho Singh. Legend has it that Singh got permission from local ascetic Bala Nath to erect the fort under the condition that the shadow of the fort must never cover Nath’s home. When Singh’s successor decided to make the fort taller, its shadow fell on the hermit’s home, consequently bringing destruction to the complex and surrounding towns.
The other legend concerns a black magic practitioner who fell in love with a princess. In an attempt to win her love, he cast a love spell on perfume that she would wear, but the princess saw through his plot and threw the perfume bottle at a boulder that crushed him. Before dying under the weight of the boulder, the spell caster cursed the princess, her family, and the city.
8. La Recoleta Cemetery
Buenos Aires, Argentina
- Book a tour: Recoleta Cemetery Tour
La Recoleta Cemetery is known as much for its residents as its beauty. Many of the marble mausoleums on this 14-acre spot are held by Argentina’s elite—think past presidents, Nobel Prize winners, and military commanders. But among the cobweb-covered religious statues are other cemetery residents with a less-than-pleasant history. The most popular ghost story of this cemetery is that of Rufina Cambaceres, a 19-year-old girl who was laid to rest in the cemetery. One day, a groundskeeper noticed her coffin was out of place, and upon investigating the inside of the coffin, he made the horrifying discovery of several scratch marks inside her tomb. Turns out, she was buried alive—and is now a mainstay at the cemetery as a ghost.