Halloween may be known for costumes and candy, but the holiday originated as an ancient Celtic harvest festival. On the night of October 31 — the night before the new year according to the Celtic calendar — lines between the living and the dead were blurred. Ghosts and spirits were thought to roam the earth, and the occasion was marked by bonfires and costumes designed to scare away evil forces. While these ancient traditions have evolved into more lighthearted activities such as jack-o’-lanterns, haunted houses, and trick-or-treating, the supernatural spirit of the holiday remains. That’s particularly true in these eight cities around the world, which honor the Halloween spirit in unique ways.
The Transylvania region of central Romania is renowned for its rich history and stunning landscapes, but its associations with vampire lore make it a required destination for Halloween enthusiasts. Bram Stoker found inspiration for his famous 1897 novel Dracula in the historical Romanian military figure Vlad the Impaler (also known as Vlad III or Vlad Dracula), and the author designated the real-life Bran Castle as the monster’s home. On Halloween, Bran Castle — now widely known as Dracula’s Castle — hosts tours of the storied hallways and dungeons, after which guests can feast on traditional Romanian food and dance the night away.
Transylvania is not solely defined by its vampire legends, though — the region’s storybook medieval towns, fortified castles, and mist-shrouded forests contribute to its eerie atmosphere, especially during the Halloween season.
This small Minnesota city is known as the Halloween Capital of the World — and with good reason. Anoka was the first U.S. city to host an organized Halloween celebration. On November 1, 1919, the residents of Anoka awoke to find cows roaming through main streets and outhouses turned upside down — the aftermath of Halloween pranks orchestrated by local youths. In an effort to prevent similar destruction in the future, the community rallied together the following year to organize an official celebration.
The event has since grown to take over the entire month of October, with parades, haunted houses, movie nights, and more festivities. In 1937, Congress officially declared Anoka as the Halloween Capital of the World, and residents wear the title proudly to this day.
Mexico City, Mexico
Halloween isn’t a traditional Mexican holiday, but Mexico City has embraced the spooky spirit, blending ancient traditions with contemporary celebrations. One of the biggest seasonal draws is the celebration of Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). From late October to early November, the city — along with much of Latin America — comes alive with colorful ofrendas (altars) and marigold-adorned cemeteries, where families honor and evoke their deceased loved ones.
A familiar sight during Día de Los Muertos is la catrina, a traditional skull painted with decorative makeup. The skull has become an emblem of the festival and of Mexican traditions and beliefs surrounding death and the afterlife — that it is to be honored instead of feared. Other historic neighborhoods, such as Xochimilco, offer their own eerie attractions — as its name suggests, the Island of the Dolls is covered in decaying dolls.
New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans has earned a reputation as one of America’s most haunted cities due to its rich — and often tragic — history. Among the many reported ghostly encounters, the spirit of Marie Laveau (aka the Voodoo Queen) might be the most famous. Visitors have claimed to witness her apparition wandering the streets of the French Quarter, while others swear they can feel her physical presence around her tomb in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1.
The Big Easy’s distinctive above-ground graves create a uniquely eerie atmosphere, and while they’re popular tourist destinations throughout the year, Halloween is when they truly shine. The city also hosts costume parades and parties, a Voodoo festival, haunted tours, and elaborately decorated homes.
With a past marked by bloody battles, witch hunts, and other sinister tales, Edinburgh’s ancient streets are a major draw for Halloween lovers. The iconic Edinburgh Castle is considered the country’s most haunted place to visit. The castle was originally built in the 12th century as a military fortress, and alleged sights have included ghosts that still haunt its ancient underground dungeons, a missing piper, a phantom dog, and a headless drummer roaming the grounds.
The Samhuinn Fire Festival is also held in the Scottish capital on October 31, celebrating ancient Celtic traditions with fire, performances, drumming, and costumes of mythical creatures and deities. The Halloween spirit is strong along the city’s famous Royal Mile, too, a historic street filled with narrow alleyways (known as “closes”) and haunted underground chambers.
England’s capital is home to plenty of haunted historical sites, one of the most famous being the Tower of London. The fortress’s grim history of royal beheadings, including those of Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey, contribute to its enduring tales of paranormal activity. On Halloween, the Tower plays into its past by decorating the grounds and hosting an immersive haunted house.
One of the world’s most haunted theaters is also in London, and during Halloween, the venue offers late-night tours. Over the years, actors and staff at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane (nicknamed “the Lane”) have experienced encounters with a mysterious figure they’ve dubbed the Man in Gray. Wearing a powdered wig, a gray coat, and a distinctive hat, he is said to walk back and forth across the theater’s balcony before disappearing into the wall.
Boyne Valley, Ireland
What better place to visit for Halloween than the place where it all began? Halloween originated over 2,000 years ago as a pagan Celtic festival that celebrated the end-of-summer harvest with fires, dancing, and costumes. The Boyne Valley region is home to the megalithic tombs of Newgrange, Knowth, and Dowth — which are believed to have also served as solar calendars. On the autumnal equinox, the sun aligns with the passage of Newgrange, illuminating its inner chamber in a stunning spectacle that highlights the mystical nature of the season.
Boyne Valley celebrates its Halloween heritage with yearly festivals and events, including the spooky Spirits of Meath. The county’s Púca Festival features live comedy and podcast events, performances from world-renowned musicians, and tours of some of the area’s significant historical sites.
Salem is infamous for its 1692 witch trials, and the Massachusetts city leans into its history when Halloween rolls around. Fueled by superstition and hysteria, the trials resulted in the tragic hangings of 19 people accused of witchcraft. But today, the people of Salem — as well as more than 100,000 visitors — honor this dark chapter of American history with a month full of festivities.
By early October, Salem is decked out and ready for the Haunted Happenings Grand Parade, which features elaborate costumes, floats, and live music. The city’s historical landmarks — such as the Salem Witch Trials Memorial and the House of the Seven Gables, whose original owner was accused of witchcraft and executed — offer immersive experiences that explore the history of their hallowed grounds.