In the dark of night, a chilling breeze rattles leafless trees, knocking branches together like old bones. Tales of ghosts, witches, vampires and other mysterious creatures are told and retold. A lonely crow caws at the greying sky as costumed revelers creep past a graveyard, hoping not to wake any of the restless dead. It’s Halloween.
Whether your Halloween is more costumes and candy or ghouls and graveyards, there’s a perfect place to celebrate. From family affairs to alcohol-fueled revelries to traditional celebrations in spooky places, you can find it. Here are thirteen of the best places around the world to celebrate Halloween.
If you want historical haunts
Dracula Tours into Vlad the Impaler’s homeland of Romania are kitschy- creepy, but considering the cityscapes on the way, they have an inevitable historic slant. Various tour providers use Bram Stoker’s dark imagery to enthrall audiences with tales of vampires, Vlad, and villagers. Most drop by Bran Castle, also known as “Dracula’s Castle”. Try it with the Visit Transylvania tour company for a week touring and Halloween night spent in the cathedral in Sighisoara, Transylvania, the town where the real Dracula was born.
Located in the Champagne-Ardenne region of France, Chalindrey hosts a long running creepfest that’s more Celtic Samhain than Halloween. The Fête des Sorcières (Witch Festival) has happened annually for nearly a hundred years. The town is home to the Fort of Cognelot, the site of a 16th Century witch hunt, now known as Devil’s Point. The main event of the festival is an all-night Celtic dance on the Saturday of Halloween weekend. There are also scary movies and exhibits, and you can toast a glass of champagne in the region where it’s made to the newly crowned Miss Sorcière.
>> Learn more about celebrating Halloween in France
Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp, Florida
Just a 45-minute drive from Orlando, this permanent encampment of spiritually-inclined people is the furthest thing from the theme parks down the road that you can get. The residents of Cassadaga, including several psychic mediums, open up their camp to visitors for the Halloween festivities. Take a stroll through the 115-year old town on their Haunted Tour or get a reading from one of the local psychics.
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Though Salem persecuted “witches” during the Witch Trials of 1692, today the city embraces its witchy past. At any time of the year you can visit witch museums, shop for magical memorabilia, get your fortune read, stroll with haunted historical tours, or even experience a re-enactment of the trials. During October, the city’s Haunted Happenings bring an extra glimmer of magic with live bands, a Witches’ Ball, and fireworks. Salem’s harbor plays a big part of what the city is today, so a trip to the water – or out on the water– is a vital part of any visit.
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If imbibing spirits with the spirits is more your style
With voodoo shops, above-ground tombs, and mysterious bayous all around, New Orleans is probably the spookiest city in the United States. In addition to the year-round creepiness, at Halloween, the Krewe of Boo puts on a spooky version of a Mardi Gras parade, and the partying lives up to the New Orleans reputation. But the real place to be the night of October 31st isn’t Bourbon Street: it’s Frenchman Street in the Marigny, where costumed partiers jam the street. There are also two annual Vampire Balls the week of Halloween . If the well-hyped hedonism isn’t for you, there’s the family-friendly Boo at the (Audobon) Zoo and the Voodoo Experience, which attracts top international music acts in addition to New Orleans standards.
Greenwich Village, New York City
Greenwich Village has a massive parade with giant puppets, bands, dancers, and art competing with “normal” costumed folk for the attention of those who decide to be only spectators. A definite party whether you’re in the parade or just watching it. In 2010, the theme is “Memento Mori” and features a Mexican Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration. If you manage to drag yourself away from the Village, the rest of the city is celebrating. Besides the requisite costume parties, there’s everything from an After-Dark special at Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum to a Steampunk Haunted House to a Crypt Crawl underneath the Cathedral of St John’s the Divine.
Key West, Florida
Key West’s annual Fantasy Fest is the party for you if you’re looking for a seriously risqué Halloween celebration. The debauchery goes on all week with clothing-optional get-togethers, fetish and lingerie parties, wet t-shirt contests, and finally a parade sponsored by none other than Captain Morgan.
Unsurprisingly, Sin City offers some of the wildest and wickedest Halloween parties. The clubs and hotels out-do each other with lavish, themed, and often somewhat naughty Halloween celebration. Lots of skin is definitely in. If you feel bereft without a tingle up your spine, Vegas is also a good place to find some well-staged haunted houses. Madame Tussaud’s Las Vegas hosts its own After Dark evenings, Circus Circus changes its Adventure Dome into Fright Dome, and the Springs Preserve hosts Haunted Harvest, one of the few family-friendly Halloween events in the city.
>> Read about Halloween events in Las Vegas
Church-Wellesley Village, Toronto
The Halloween Block Party that jams the street of Toronto’s “Gay Village” is more about coming to see and be seen in fabulous costumes than actually getting into the rainbow bars lining the street. Since the regular attendance is fifty thousand people, not everyone can expect to get in. The Village celebrates Halloween for all of “Halloweek” with pumpkin carving contests, drag shows, and decorating competitions. Highlights through the rest of the city include Black Creek Pioneer Village’s All Hallow’s Eve, the Halloween Haunt at theme park Canada’s Wonderland, and Boo at the Zoo and the wolf-themed Halloween Howl at the Toronto Zoo.
>> Compare prices on flights to Toronto
If you want to bring along the little monsters too
Anoka, Minnesota, would seem painfully Midwestern if not for its designation: apparently, this suburb of Minneapolis-St Paul is the “Halloween Capital of the World”. Anoka is believed to be the first town in the United States to put on a real Halloween celebration, and it’s still going strong today. Join the residents for fun and family-friendly activities like Halloween bingo, pumpkin carving and decorating contests, a carnival, and three separate parades. If you arrive a week early, you get to see the parade with lighted floats, then there’s the preschoolers’ parade and finally the Grand Day Parade.
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Trick or treating was originally imported from Ireland into North America, and some Halloween celebrations survive in the Emerald Isle. Located in Northern Ireland, this city with its debated two names has an annual Banks of the Foyle Halloween Carnival. Indulge in cozy, family-oriented entertainment like pumpkin carving, ghost stories, and bobbing for apples. There are even some unique activities such as a spooky pirate cruise down the Foyle. The big day goes out with a bang with a parade, fireworks, and “fancy dress” (costume) parties, some of the more adult persuasion. The walls of this walled city are probably haunted, but they’re also packed full of museums and galleries that are worth a look.
Whether or not it’s selling out as an independent traveller, one has to admit that the Disney Parks seriously know how to celebrate Halloween. Disneyland Paris’s Tomorrowland glows with grinning jack-o-lanterns, transforming into Halloweenland. Disneyland California has a pumpkin festival down Main Street USA. Even Disneyland Japan gets in on the spooky spirit. Wherever your closest Disney Park, you can count on Halloween parades, fireworks, and Mickey’s costumed parties.
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Halloween still hasn’t quite taken off in France, but Limoges has the biggest and possibly most North American of the Halloween celebrations across the country. Though that isn’t saying much. Tens of thousands come to this city in the centre of France to watch or join the parade of creatures carrying candlelit pumpkins. But keep in mind that French Halloween is much more traditional – think costumes of vampires, ghosts, and witches rather than your favourite pop star. The city is also well-known for its Limoges porcelain and enamel, so a visit to the Musée National Adrien Dubouché, a museum of ceramic, glass, and porcelain, is a nice trip for a decorative arts fan.
>> Book a hostel in Limoges
Read more about Halloween travel:
- 13 Travel Horror Stories and Where They Took Place
- 5 of the World’s Most Haunted Places
- 6 of the Creepiest Castles in the World
This article was originally published in October 2010.