Halloween has come a long way since the Celts celebrated the date as a transition from summer to winter. This year, don’t limit yourself to dressing up in a tacky costume, carving a wonky smile onto a pumpkin, and answering the door to a plague of irritating trick or treaters – head to some truly spooky dwellings, wild street parties or ghoulish haunts around the world instead. Here’s HI’s guide to the eeriest, and coolest, places to be seen this Halloween.
If you really want to scare yourself out of your wits this Halloween, make your way to Ottawa – a city that boasts some of the most haunted buildings in Canada. HI’s Ottawa Jail Hostel was originally Carleton County Gaol – a formidable jail where inmates were forced to endure inhumane conditions in cramped cells. The jail was finally closed in 1972 and it was snapped up by HI to provide you with the opportunity to spend a night in the slammer. Staff and guests have reported spooky sightings of the ghost of Patrick J. Whelanon who was hanged in the jail in 1869 for murder – don’t be surprised if you’re woken in the night by an eerie presence! Then there’s Bytown Museum, considered to be one of the most haunted buildings in the country where the ghost of Duncan McNab aimlessly roams, the sound of his footsteps echoing around the rooms.
Stay in an authentic jail cell at the 150-year-old stone and brick Ottawa Jail Hostel and hang out in Mugshots bar, Ottawa’s only jail bar, which is a favourite among guests and locals alike with live music and parties livening up the eerie atmosphere.
Steeped in history and said to be one of the most haunted cities in the world, London’s past inhabitants have included a list of unsavoury characters with the likes of Jack the Ripper and Queen Mary I, infamously known as ‘Bloody Mary’, topping the list. There are an endless amount of haunted locations in this city – The Tower of London where the imprisoned and executed of past times still roam the timeworn grounds now; Whitechapel where the chilling presence of Jack the Ripper and his tragic victims can still be felt; 50 Berkeley Square, said to be the most haunted house in London; and the Old Cemetery at Barnes Common where creepy sightings of floating ghosts have captured the imagination of horror writers. Visit the terrifying London Dungeons for a theatrical telling of London’s most gruesome history.
With plenty of hostels located around London you’ll be within close reach to the city’s creepiest dwellings. Stay at YHA St Paul’s, once the home of St Paul’s Cathedral choir boys and still retaining the original headmaster’s study; or YHA Holland Park which is based in a mansion in the middle of Holland Park and was once visited by Sir Walter Scott, Lord Byron and Charles Dickens.
New York, New York
Nowhere is Halloween celebrated with more gusto than New York City. The Village Halloween Parade is the biggest Halloween event in the world where two million spectators gather to watch 50,000 people parade up Sixth Avenue in outrageous costumes alongside dancers, circus performers and wildly eccentric floats. Founded in 1974, the costumes have grown more imaginative by the year, with no limit to their creativity – scary costumes, comical costumes, weird costumes – anything goes. Arrive early for a good spot and enjoy the live bands and wild atmosphere.
Stay at HI NYC Manhattan Hostel, set in a historic, Victorian-style building where you’ll be in the heart of Manhattan, close to all of the festival action, plus just two blocks from Central Park. Take a free guided tour of the city led by hostel volunteers or watch a comedy show in the in-house theatre.
Forget the most romantic city in the world – Paris can be the most creepy city in the world. Venture down into the Catacombs where the remains of roughly six million people are stacked artistically, skulls and bones on show for all to see, beneath the bustling streets of Paris; some have had to escape the catacombs for the fresh air of the streets above as soon as possible after feeling uneasy.
The catacombs are also said to have inspired the macabre stories of Edgar Allen Poe. Stroll through the miles of crumbling tombstones of the Père Lachaise Cemetery which draws hundreds of thousands of mourners per year to the graves of famous inhabitants such as Chopin, Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison.
Le d’Artagnan Hostel is conveniently located mere steps away from the Père Lachaise Cemetery so you can wander amongst the tombs of the deceased whenever you feel like it.
The Dia los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations in Oaxaca begin a week before Halloween and involves families honouring the return of their deceased loved ones on the first two days of November. Altars are set up in homes, adorned with traditional food and flowers to welcome back the dead. The streets are decorated with flowers, skulls and skeletons and an enormous street festival rages on for days in celebration of the revered Day of the Dead. Head to Oaxaca’s main square to eat, drink and dance all night long. When 1 November arrives, families gather in the graveyards to await the arrival of the spirits of their loved ones by candlelight.
Where better to stay than Oaxaca’s Casa de Don Pablo Hostel where you’ll be at the centre of the festivities in the downtown area, close to bars, restaurants, parks and museums.