For many, Halloween is just about dressing up and going in search of candy. But for others, it’s the perfect time to feed our fascination for the paranormal at some of the world’s most haunted destinations. From a park in Tokyo haunted by the trapped souls of prisoners of war to the corpse-lined catacombs that lie beneath Paris, we’ve rounded up some of the most haunted places in the world. Read on – if you dare.
The Catacombs, Paris
Buried 20 metres underground, the Paris Catacombs are a (literal) bone-chilling labyrinth filled with the remains of millions of Parisians. The tunnels, which were the result of 13th-century mining, became a mass grave in the 18th century when the cemeteries in Paris began to overflow. Descend into the catacombs, and the air takes on a noticeable chill. A haunting inscription about the entrance to the catacombs reads: Arrête, c’est ici l’empire de la mort! – ‘Stop! This is the empire of Death!’ The Catacombs are open for tours, but we’d advise you don’t get lost. It’s said that if you’re inside the tunnels after midnight, the walls begin to speak…
Alcatraz Island, San Francisco
Alcatraz Island, home to Alcatraz Prison, is said to be one of the most haunted places in America – if not the world. This unforgiving federal prison was in operation from 1934 to 1963 and housed some of the world’s most notorious criminals – such as Al Capone and George ‘Machine Gun’ Kelly. It was built to break the spirits of even the most rebellious prisoners, and today, as you explore the former penitentiary, you might well feel their lingering presence. Some say you can still hear the wails of prisoners as you walk through the cell blocks – and hear a distant banjo echoing from the showers, played by the spirit of Al Capone. For the most haunting experience of all, visit punishment cell 14D, rumoured to be haunted by a prisoner who died while locked in solitary confinement.
Old City Hall, Toronto
When it was completed in 1899, Toronto’s Old City Hall was spectacular: the largest civic building in North America and a point of pride for the city. Today, it serves as a municipal courthouse and is open to the public… if you’re brave enough to enter. All kinds of paranormal activity have been reported here – such as a poltergeist that haunts the back staircase and tugs at judges’ robes, or moans coming from the cellars that once housed incarcerated prisoners. Courtroom 33, which saw the sentencing of the last men in Canada condemned to hang, is said to be the most haunted of all. Many people have attempted to stay the night in this room. Most don’t make it through to dawn.
The Forbidden City, Beijing
With some six centuries of history to its name, it’s no wonder the walls of the Forbidden City house haunting secrets. Many imperial executions occurred within the City, and the marks of this violent past are said to still exist today. It wasn’t till the 1940s, though, when the palace underwent work before opening to the public, that people began to report strange occurrences. Guards reported sightings of ‘odd’ animals running around the grounds, flutes being heard after dark – and a weeping woman who was said to wander the grounds, dressed entirely in white.
Toyama Park, Tokyo
Toyama Park is a lush park in the heart of Shinjuku district, home to stunning cherry trees, vast green areas, and a small hill. By day, this park provides the perfect setting for relaxing, picnicking and exploring at your leisure. After dark, however, explore at your peril. This park’s haunting story starts in World War II, when it housed a number of medical facilities. Rumour has it that these facilities were used by Unit 731 of the Imperial Army, which conducted horrifying experiments on Chinese prisoners of war. Even today, there is secrecy around what exactly happened in this area – but it’s said that if you venture into the park at night, you can still hear the victims’ cries and suffering.
Ham House, London
This handsome red-brick mansion nestled on the banks of Richmond-upon-Thames was the vision of Elizabeth Murray, the Duchess of Lauderdale, who transformed it into one of Europe’s best-surviving examples of 17th-century grandeur and fashion. However, don’t let looks deceive you. This stately home, known to be one of the most haunted places in England, has secrets to tell. It is rumoured that Ham House is home to roughly 15 ghosts, including the Duchess herself, her dog, and a heartbroken servant. Elizabeth’s room – where she was forced to confine herself at the end of her life due to health – is said to be the epicentre of the paranormal activity, with many a visitor claiming a ‘strange atmosphere,’ and others claiming to have seen the Duchess clothed all in black on the stairs nearby.
Wan Chai District, Hong Kong
Hong Kong is full of haunted places, but nowhere on the island is more haunted than Wan Chai. Lurking between the skyscrapers of Admiralty and Causeway Bay, this edgy Hong Kong district may not seem like a labyrinth of haunted tales, but if you know where to look, there are ghoulish stories everywhere you turn – especially during August, Hong Kong’s ghost festival month. In fact, Wan Chai is home to its very own haunted house: Nam Koo Terrace, a former World War II military brothel said to have witnessed countless atrocities. Many have reported sightings of ghosts in and around this building ever since.
There have also been reports of supernatural sightings near Southorn playground, which was used as an execution ground during the war. Others believe that the reason businesses don’t last very long along Lockhart Road is because of the ghosts that still haunt it today.