It’s the spookiest time of the year and in our book, that’s an excellent excuse for a Halloween holiday. All over Europe the temperatures are dipping, the nights are drawing in, and things are starting to go bump in the night.
If you’re a big fan of the supernatural or the scary, then you’ll be dying to know all about the creepiest places to go for Halloween.
You’ve come to the right place. But before we get stuck into the best destinations for Halloween getaways, let’s have a quick look at why things get ghostly at the end of October.
What’s the meaning behind Halloween?
These days, a lot of people dismiss Halloween as just another Americanised commercial event designed to sell us things we don’t really need, or get it mixed up with Day of the Dead. And it’s true that, for many, Halloween is just an excuse to eat sweets and have a party.
But its origins are fascinating. It all started with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. November 1st was the beginning of the new year, and the beginning of a long, hard winter. They believed that on October 31st the boundaries between the worlds of the living and the dead blurred, so they would light bonfires and wear costumes, like animal skins, to ward them off.
When the Romans conquered most of the Celtic territory, two of their festivals, one to commemorate the dead and one to honour the goddess of trees (think apple bobbing!) were, over time, combined with Samhain.
The Catholic Church declared November 1st All Saints’ Day in the 8th century, and November 2nd All Souls’ Day in the 11th century, probably in an attempt to replace the Celtic celebration. Bonfires, parades, superstitions and costumes were still the order of the day.
The name Halloween refers to the night before All Saints’ Day, All-Hallows Eve.
The best places to visit at Halloween
Now we know the history behind it all, let’s have a look at some of the best places to visit at Halloween. Some for the fascinating way they celebrate this festival, and some simply because they’re the most haunted places in Europe.
A Halloween holiday in Edinburgh, Scotland
As we now know, Halloween all started with the Celts. So, it would make sense to celebrate it in the strikingly Gothic Scottish city of Edinburgh, one of the best places to go for Halloween.
Edinburgh puts on a great show at this time of year, and you can immerse yourself in the spookiness, going on a ghost tour or just meandering from old-fashioned pub to old-fashioned pub.
Dublin, Ireland: one of the best places to visit for Halloween
Did you know that the tradition of pumpkin carving comes from the Celtic Irish tradition of carving turnips?
Like Edinburgh, Dublin is a fantastic place for Halloween travel. There are Halloween parades and all kinds of traditions, and you can warm up with a tour of a whisky distillery, or head for the Guinness brewery to learn about the black stuff.
London, England: one of the most haunted places in Europe
The English capital is a great place to go for Halloween as it has rather a spooky history and is a fantastic place for ghost tours. Explore some of the creepy dungeons or learn about Jack the Ripper in what might well be the most haunted city in Europe.
Head to Prague, Czech Republic for one of the best Halloween getaways
Prague doesn’t have a Halloween tradition like a lot of the other cities mentioned here, but it’s a wonderfully spooky destination at any time of year, with its incredible Gothic architecture and long, gruesome history. It really comes into its own during the colder months of the year, and the cheap food and drink helps, too!
Galicia, Spain: the best trips for Halloween
This northern region of Spain might be the best place to celebrate Halloween for anyone who wants to get off the beaten track. You might not be aware that Galicia also has Celtic roots, and on the 31st they celebrate the Night of the Pumpkins.
They do all of the normal things, with bonfires and costumes, but then they drink an alcohol called quemada out of pumpkins after reciting a spell to offer protection against evil.
Visit Santiago de Compostela or head for the windswept, dramatic coastline for a very atmospheric experience.
The best European Halloween destinations: Hamburg, Germany
Another curious Halloween tradition that takes place in Europe is the ‘hiding of the knives’ in Germany. Germans hide all the knives in their homes to make sure that the spirits of their family members don’t hurt themselves when they come back to visit.
Other than that, there aren’t many Halloween traditions in Germany, but they’ve adopted plenty of American Halloween culture, and it’s become quite the event. There are many brilliant Halloween parties in Hamburg, often held on the 30th, as the 31st is a public holiday.
Transylvania, Romania: the most famous of all the creepy places in Europe
A Transylvania Halloween is one you’ll never forget. Again, the festival wasn’t traditionally celebrated here, but it’s world-famous for being the land of vampires and all things spooky, so it’s still one of the best places to go for Halloween.
Visit the birthplace of the legendarily blood-thirsty (but not actually blood-sucking) Vlad the Impaler, or the castle that inspired Count Dracula’s home in the book by Bram Stoker, and do all kinds of other suitably macabre things, perfect for Halloween.