The Spookiest Cities In Europe To Celebrate Halloween

Everyone seems to think that America is the King of Halloween. But crumbling castles, cobblestone paths and lantern-lit streets feel much more fitting for the occasion. Besides, the horrific holiday can be traced back to Europe itself. Specifically Samhuinn. First practiced by Gaelic pagans, the festival celebrates the end of Harvest with a ring of bonfires. Leave trick or treating to the amateurs and come to one of these cities instead for a Halloween you won't forget... (for good or bad, you'll be the judge.)

Edinburgh Castle at night.

Guard yourself against spirits in Santiago de Compostela 👻

The northwest region of Galicia is a world apart from what most people think of when they hear Spain. Its emerald green nature and Gothic architecture has more visual similarities to Scotland, for one.

Yet Galicia doesn’t try to be anything other than itself. There’s an immediate sense of relief that comes from stepping into Santiago de Compostela: the region’s capital. This can be attributed to the fact that the city has been a final destination for pilgrims taking the renowned Camino de Santiago route for centuries now.

It then shouldn’t come as a surprise that a destination with so much religious history is bound to attract a few tales. From an old legend of a pilgrim ghost that lingers in Plaza de la Quintana to superstitions involving crossroads and the Coast of Death, Galicia and all things supernatural go hand-in-hand.

The best way to protect yourself whilst in Santiago is with a sip of Quiemada: a punch containing a healthy dose of augardente (a spirit to counter spirits) — in addition to lemon peel, coffee and cinnamon. For extra protection, an unusual spell is read out as you drink the Quiemada.

It isn’t hard to find a bar that will serve you one of these — since the student city has a cosmopolitan buzz to it. Despite all the superstitions, locals cannot help but indulge in the occasion by sharing ghost stories in the comfort of family and friends.

Take a tantalising trip to Transylvania 🧛

Predictable or not, we couldn’t resist adding Transylvania to our list. If there was ever a destination that embodied Halloween, it’s this one. From an encroaching forest everywhere you turn to folk tales of werewolves and vampire breeds, this region of Romania embraces all things eery…

Most haunting of all is the legendary Bran Castle: the fictional residence of Count Dracula himself. Vlad the Impaler (the figure who inspired Dracula) never actually lived here, but this hasn’t stopped the salesmen from making a profit off the likeness. Right outside the castle you’ll find plenty of souvenir shops — just in case you ever forget the real reason you came.

In the daytime, Bran Castle is more mellow than its notorious depiction in Bram Stoker’s novel. But when Halloween comes around, the historic setting enters new territory. Booking onto an exclusive Halloween tour is highly recommended, but if you feel like going all out this evening — opt in for a 4 course dinner held at the castle’s grounds.

But the talk of the town event has to be the decadent costume party held each year. Whilst some outfits might make you jump, the environment is so lively it’s pretty hard to feel scared. Celebrate until dawn before it’s time to hide away from the sun (whether your predicament is vampiric or a killer hangover).

Bran Castle, Transylvania.

Attend the Samhuinn Fire Festival in Edinburgh 🔱

We mentioned earlier that Halloween itself stems from Samhuinn: a Gaelic festival that marks the transition from summer to winter. This ancient tradition is celebrated on a grand scale up in Edinburgh, and has been so popular amongst locals and tourists that it now has a third location inside the city (Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, Calton Hill and under Arthur’s Seat in Holyrood Park).

Led entirely by a team of 300 volunteers, this spectacular event reimagines rite through modern performance. It’s a spellbinding story of battle between the Summer and Winter Kings as told through fire and acrobats. You cannot help but admire all the actors and dancers immersed in the action despite it being a chilling night.

As you can imagine, this event is extremely popular and thus tickets have a tendency to sell out. Whilst guests are welcome to bring their own food and drink, there are several local businesses who have concession stalls set up on the night. Find out more here.

Four masked figures dressed in black robes and carrying lit torches. Samhuinn Fire Festival, Edinburgh.

Experience a different kind of tour inside London🫣

The biggest frights can hide in plain sight. The Tower of London may be rather photogenic, but beneath the unassuming façade is a plethora of ghost stories. Different towers and lanes are said to be haunted by monarchs and political figures of the past — including Anne Boleyn, in addition to the obscured fate of the Princes in the Tower.

For the full effect, we highly recommend booking onto a Twilight tour of the Castle. This after-hours experience is both fascinating and terrifying as you uncover the layers of secrets hidden inside. Some are so gruesome that it’s enough to make even the toughest of folk squirm.

Whilst we’re on the topic of London’s horrible history, you might be interested in a Jack the Ripper tour like this one. You’ll find multiple specialising in the unknown serial killer, but what makes this one unique is that it is run by authors on the subject. Ranked as Best of the Best on TripAdvisor, this investigative tour allows you to examine old documents and take part in the questioning.

Tower of London at night.
Starting from Skratch? Here are some links to help you get started:
Dress and jet for the occasion with our worldwide Festivals series.

Halloween — Facts before you go

Why is it celebrated?

Aside from indulging in all things spooktacular, Halloween stems from the Gaelic tradition of Samhain. This holiday marked the Celtic New Year and end of summer, with the winter months being associated with death and the spirit world.

Which city to choose?

🔎  Santiago: if you’re in the mood for Ghost Busting.

🧛 Transylvania: you’re a die-hard Dracula fan.

🎃 Edinburgh: for tracing the roots of Halloween.

⚖️ ️London: your favourite genre is crime.

Share this post

Hannah Douch
October 18, 2023

More like this