Humans have always been intrigued by the morbid, the dark and the downright creepy, however it’s only over the last few decades that the tourism industry has cottoned on to this. Now, there’s a whole sector dedicated to trips to creepy destinations around the globe. Here, we’ve rounded up some that will indulge your macabre curiosity.
1. Catacombs of Paris
The pretty city of Paris, famed for the Eiffel Tower and its picturesque surrounds, hides a secret beneath its streets. There are around 200 miles of tunnels containing the skeletons of six million Parisians snaking below the city. This vast catacomb network was created in the 1780s when Paris faced two problems simultaneously: overflowing graveyards and unstable foundations in a city built upon former mines. Moving the bodies underground was a solution to both of these problems as the bones were used to bolster the city. Today, visitors can head to this subterranean landscape to find intricate patterns made from skulls, and remnants of graves where bodies once lay. Just don’t get lost!
2. Sunken Pirate City
The pirate city of Port Royal once sat just off the shore of Kingston in Jamaica, and was often referred to as the wickedest place on earth. The city became a pirate stronghold when the British, upon taking control, paid a fearsome group of pirates to defend the islet from the Spanish and other potential invaders. While the pirates paid taxes on any money they made, it was still an incredibly wealthy city and the lifestyle was lavish. It’s been said that 25% of buildings were either brothels or bars, however all of this was to end in 1692 when an earthquake and subsequent tsunami sank the city, leaving most of it submerged below water. There are tours that take visitors out to see the remains of this former pirate stronghold.
3. Robben Island Prison Museum
Robben Island is famously where Nelson Mandela spent much of his time incarcerated. The former political leader spent 18 long years in this prison, which is situated off the coast of Cape Town. Before Robben Island was home to the now infamous prison, it was a leper colony and had housed a mental institution. Its long history is invariably bleak… Visitors today can take tours around the island with guides who were formerly political prisoners here, making for an incredibly insightful visit.
The grey island of Alcatraz lies in a gloomy spot out in San Francisco Bay. It is best known for being home to a federal prison between 1934 and 1963. The prison housed convicts who were deemed to be too dangerous for other gaols, or who had continuously caused problems where they were incarcerated before. This meant that some of America’s most famous criminals spent time on this rocky outcrop – including both Al Capone and Robert Stroud, the ‘Bird Man’. Despite its location in the middle of the sea there were still attempted escapes. Most resulted in recapture or death but five inmates were never found, leading to endless speculation about what happened to them. You can take boat trips out to this fascinating spot to imagine what it would have been like to live here.
5. Tutankhamun’s Tomb
The intricate tomb of the teenage king Tutankhamun was made infamous by the deaths that came after its discovery. The British explorer, Howard Carter, discovered this archaeological wonder in 1922, long after it was believed that the Valley of the Kings had been completely excavated. The rumours of a curse began to circle following the death of Lord Carnarvon, a backer of the expedition, who had entered the tomb with Carter. He died from an infected mosquito bite, but it was seen to be punishment for breaking open the former pharaoh’s resting place. Several other people close to the expedition subsequently died in suspicious circumstances and so the rumour lived on. The tomb is (usually) open to visitors, so go ahead and visit if you’re brave enough…
Pompeii, near Sorrento in Italy, was the scene of a great tragedy in 79 AD, when Mount Vesuvius erupted and its lava and pyroclastic ash encased the ancient town. Over 2,000 people are believed to have died that day and the rest fled, leaving the city as it was. In 1748, visitors were surprised to find the area intact with bodies, pets, pots and cutlery all preserved in ash. It’s one of Italy’s most popular tourist attractions with millions of visitors flocking here every year for an eerie glimpse at Roman Italy.
Salem, near Boston in Massachusetts, is infamous for the witch trials that took place there in 1692. The trials began when three young girls claimed to be possessed and stated that there were witches in the town. This sparked widespread panic, and the accusations spread. Over 200 women were put on trial, and a tenth of those were publicly executed. Even children were questioned, with the four-year-old Dorothy Good deemed guilty. Today, there are tours detailing the gruesome history of the town and you can go to see the Witch House, the home of the judges that sentenced the ‘witches’ – this is the only remaining building with ties to the trials.
8. The Island of the Dolls
Mexico City is famed for its tantalising food and colourful streets, however those looking for something a little more gruesome should take a ride along the Xochimilco canals to the Island of the Dolls. The island was founded by Don Julian, who scoured the surrounding canals for old, tattered dolls, and hung them from the trees. He always claimed that the dolls were to stave off evil spirits to protect the soul of a girl who had drowned in the waters around the island. These claims have always been disputed but eerily, Don Julian was found drowned himself in 2001, in the very same spot where he claimed to have discovered the dead girl’s body.
Since 2014, Kiev has been granted a fascinating new tourist attraction. When the former president Viktor Yanukovych was ousted, the true extent of his corruption was revealed via his opulent home. The house stands empty of residents now but visitors can walk through the 137-hectare estate for a small fee. Mezhyhirya is decked out with its own private zoo replete with pet ostriches, as well as gold-clad golf clubs and an array of expensive cars. It’s not often that you get the opportunity to step into the home of such a famous disgraced politician!
10. Tower of London
The Tower of London is one of the UK’s most famous tourist attractions, drawing in crowds who come eager to see the twinkling crown jewels, and to learn more about its gruesome past. There have been 10 famous beheadings within the walls of the Tower, including that of Anne Boleyn, perhaps Henry VIII’s most ill-treated wife. It was also the setting of the mystery of the Princes in the Tower, where the young Edward V and Richard, Duke of York, were banished by Richard III and never seen again. Take a trip into the Bloody Tower to imagine what their final days would have been like.