Courtesy of the Massachusetts Office of Tourism

From the north to the south, and even as far away as Amsterdam and Melbourne, these are the best parties worth attending this year.

October 23, 2015

Halloween may be a holiday rooted in the macabre, but these days, it offers something for everyone (as well as a wine pairing for all your favorite candies). Whether you’re a proud pet-owner with an eye for a good costume, a history buff who loves a spine-tingling story, or a culture vulture seeking a dynamic live performance, we’ve got the goods on what to do for Halloween, in beloved city’s around the world.

Related: America's Best Towns for Halloween

Read on for our ever-expanding list, or jump ahead to your point of interest: Atlanta; Amsterdam; Charleston; Chicago; Key West; Melbourne; Nashville; New Orleans; New York City; Philadelphia; Savannah;and Washington, D.C.

 

Courtesy of Atlanta's Center for Puppetry Arts

Atlanta

Atlanta isn’t known as a particularly haunted city: Many of its historic buildings were destroyed during the Civil War, and its city noises serve as ghost repellant (as any paranormalist will tell you, the undead like their peace and quiet). But that doesn’t mean the capital of the Peach State can’t have a ghoulishly good time on Halloween.

1. An adults-only Halloween play starring a bunch of puppets? It’s one of Atlanta’s cult favorite activities at this time of year, and October 14 through 31, it’s back for the eighth year at the Center for Puppetry Arts. The Ghastly Dreadfuls: Raising Spirits showcases creepy classic tales, such as Oscar Wilde’s “The Canterville Ghost” for audiences ages 18 and older. (Sorry, Little Johnny.)

2. B-Afraid. B-Very Afraid. The B-52s, Georgia’s very own pop band from the 1980s, will play a campy show at the historic Fox Theatre October 30. Never ones to avoid loud costumes, band members will show up in all their glittered, painted glory, and audiences are encouraged to follow suit. Go-go boots are encouraged; dancing is mandatory.

—Allison Entrekin

 

David Crossland / Alamy Stock Photo

Amsterdam

In the Netherlands, Halloween may be a recent Anglo-Saxon import, but that hasn’t stopped Amsterdam from taking the holiday to its heart, with a lively variety of themed events aimed at all ages. Here are some of the events not to miss at this year’s celebration.

3. The Monster Bash

Amsterdam Spook presents its 15th annual Halloween costume party on Saturday, October 31 at the Panama nightclub. This year’s theme: The Monster Bash, “an ode to sub-cultures Rockabilly and Psychobilly, vintage horror, pop art and B-movie monsters.” The party is part of a four-day festival of events taking place from October 29 to November 1, including gory make-up workshops, a themed dinner, and a family parade for the kids.

4. Immortal Fame

For the seventh year running, Amsterdam Halloween hosts its costume parade and party, this time with the theme, Immortal Fame. The costume parade starts at 8:30 p.m. sharp on October 31 at Rokin, and progresses via the Dam to the venue for the party, at WesterGasFabriek. It’s free to join the parade, but you will need to buy a ticket for the party.

5. Blood Rave

Top points for the marketing team of this event for creating a media frenzy by announcing that they would be covering party-goers with gallons of blood, in homage to the opening scene of the hit 1998 horror movie Blade, at the famous Blood Rave. The venue is secret, and whether the blood will be real or imitation is also unknown.

6. Amsterdam Ghost Walk

Not specifically a Halloween event, but particularly suitable for this time of year, the Amsterdam Ghost Walk takes you on a tour of the haunted city, stopping by sites frequented by “Black Matthew,” a 13th-century highway robber and magician, and other local phantoms. It’s good for older kids (10 or older) and adults.

7. Amsterdam Dungeon

Another open-year-round attraction, Amsterdam Dungeon (the sibling of the London Dungeon) is simultaneously scary and funny, great for older kids. Atmospheric settings and professional actors tell some of the goriest stories from the city’s past—from the Black Death to the unpleasant visiting habits of the Spanish Inquisition.

8. Sint Maarten

On 11 November, the Dutch celebrate their own traditional autumn festival, the feast of Sint Maarten (a Roman soldier who later became a monk, he was famous for his generosity, particularly for cutting his cloak in two so a beggar could have half of it). After Halloween, this is a low-key, non-commercialized event—great fun, however, if you have kids. Amsterdam’s younger children and their parents congregate in the Vondelpark carrying lanterns for a procession; they then do the rounds singing songs at neighborhood houses for candy rewards (like trick or treat, but without the tricks).

—Jane Szita

 

Courtesy Bulldog Tours

Charleston

It’s called the Holy City, but Charleston is no stranger to things of the dark. The town’s 345-year history is splattered with wars, injustices, and diseases, leaving the brick and cobblestone streets haunted by a bevy of restless ghosts.

9. Descend into a dungeon that once held Revolutionary War prisoners; tour a historic jail where 19th-century pirates languished; wander past wrought-iron gates into a graveyard where disease-ridden patients were allegedly buried alive. Bulldog Tours offers three different ghost tours highlighting these spooky sites from centuries past.

10. So abundant are Charleston’s ghosts even its bars are haunted. Throughout October, take a Haunted Pub Crawl to a handful of local watering holes, where you’ll sample Lowcountry beers and hear sordid ghost stories. (At Southend Brewery, for example, the ghost of a man who hanged himself on the building’s third floor more than a century ago still appears to visitors.)

—Allison Entrekin

 

Jason Paul Smith / Flickr

Chicago

Halloween in the Windy City isn't a single-day event—the city celebrates all month. If you're looking for some festivities that are off the beaten path, check out these events across town.

11. A new one on the scene this year, The Halloween Gathering is a full day of events put on by the Cultural Mile Association that promotes the city's creative initiatives. Beyond an afternoon arts festival, the main event is a nighttime parade along Columbus Avenue on October 24.

12. Hell in a Handbag Productions brings out the camp for Scream, Queen, Scream!, a show exploring the horrors of office work, through October 31 at Mary's Attic in Andersonville.

13. Centralia: The Bloody Rock Musical, plays through November 21 at pH Comedy Theater. The horror musical is about the town in Pennsylvania that sits over a burning coal mine, and performances include "blood zone" seating that comes with a free poncho.

14. Craving some Game of Thrones this Halloween Eve? Put on a character costume and head to Duet Dance Studio for the Halloween Game of Thrones Tango Dance Party.

15. The vaunted Drake Hotel is offering Nightmare on Walton this month, a series of Halloween events including movie viewings, a Mad Hatter tea, the hotel's annual Masquerade Ball on October 30,and Monster Bash on October 31.

16. Don a costume and join Absolutely Chicago or Steve's Segway Tours for a haunted Halloween segway tour.

17. The call is coming from inside the house—and you can have a front row seat for the bloodbath. BABYSITTERMASSACRE '78: The Musical plays through October 31 at The Public House Theatre.

18. Dress up the dogs and head to the Botanic Garden for a Spooky Pooch Parade on Halloween day.

19. True crime buffs won't want to miss the Chicago History Museum's 'Dark Side of History' tours, which explore the city's longstanding dark underbelly.

20. Forget karaoke—compete in FitzGerald's Nightclub's Ghosts of Rock Stars Past Halloween Costume Party and Lip-Sync Battle on October 24.

21. The city's oldest surviving house, the Glessner House, hosts Shadows on the Street: Haunted Tours of Historic Prairie Avenue on October 30 and 31. Join them on Halloween at the Clarke House for the annual Edgar Allen Poe reading.

22. Every year, the Monster Dash draws crazy crowds who view—or run—this lakefront race on the 31st.

23. Costumes and crab? The Heroes and Villains Costume Brunch at Shaw's Crab House on Halloween morning is a can't-miss event.

24. Later that night, glitz, glamour, and guts will reign supreme at the Virgin Hotel's Undead Disco.

25. The Northalsted Street Halloween Parade is an annual favorite, with zombie Thriller dances and costumed freaks dancing up and down the street.

26. Join 3,000 strangers for the Haunted Halloween Ball at Congress Plaza Hotel, said to be one of the world's most haunted hotels.

27. The fifth floor of the Godfrey Hotel transforms into a haunted house this Halloween. Explore the rooms alone or invite a group of friends for a private ghost hunt.

28. Spend a Rocky Horror-themed holiday surrounded by antique surgical implements at the Creatures of the Night Party in the International Museum of Surgical Science.

29. You also have your pick among the ever-popular bar crawl: the Wrigleyville Halloween Crawl; A Nightmare on Hubbard Street: The 4th Annual River North Halloween Costume Bar Crawl; the Halloween Day Crawl; the Zombies vs. Vampires Halloween Pub Crawl; the Chicago Halloween Pub Crawl Weekend; and the Halloween Trolley Bar Crawl.

—Jennifer Billock

 

Andy Newman

Key West

30. In the sunny climes of Florida, Halloween inspires the ultimate Keys bash, Fantasy Fest, a non-stop carnival that runs from October 23 to November 1. This year’s theme is “All Hallows Intergalactic Freak Show,” and the Grand Marshal is Cindy Williams of Laverne & Shirley fame. In something of an understatement, Williams observes, “Key West smacks of a good time.”

The good time begins on Friday with a Royal Coronation Ball, followed by a Goombay Street Party in Bahama Village, a Pet Masquerade and Parade, and assorted other intergalactic-meets-freaky events leading up to Halloween on Saturday. The 3Wishes.com Fantasy Fest Parade along Duval Street delivers an impressive finish: in previous years, the parade has featured everything from a giant Batman to an enormous mock octopus.

—Tom Austin

 

Courtesy of Melbourne Halloween

Melbourne

31. Australia may not really do Halloween, but Melbourne is host to an annual immersive event put on by a group called Zombie Apocalypse. This year’s theme is Ghost Train to Hell, and features an actual train that takes revellers to a warehouse where there’s a haunted house, dance floor, and bar.

—Carrie Hutchinson

 

Courtesy of Nashville Ghost Tours

Nashville

So ghost-friendly is Nashville, even Elvis allegedly has taken up residence in Music City (in Ryman Auditorium, where his daughter Lisa Marie is rumored to have heard his laugh).

32. As George Strait and Alan Jackson once lamented, there’s “Murder on Music Row.” Hear stories of the country-crooning ghosts who appear on this famed strip as you ride around town in an actual hearse, courtesy of Nashville Hearse Tours.

33. There are haunted houses, and then there are haunted mansions that once belonged to dead presidents. Experience the latter during Hauntings at the Hermitage on the evening of October 24. Tour Andrew Jackson’s former abode by candlelight, as living historians describe the spooky noises and ghostly apparitions that have long been a staple of this early nineteenth-century structure.

—Allison Entrekin

 

Courtesy of Krewe of Boo

New Orleans

Home to above-ground cemeteries, voodoo, and as the birthplace of Anne Rice, New Orleans offers Halloween celebrations as dramatic as the city itself.

34. For 27 years, members of Anne Rice’s Vampire Lestat Fan Club have gathered in her hometown the Friday before Halloween for the Coven Vampire Ball. This year, The Vampire Chronicles author will join them in person for the horror-themed event. It’s the highlight of the club’s four-day UnDead Con (October 29-November 1), which also features events such as a panel discussion with American Horror Story’s Naomi Grossman, and the always-popular Bizarre Bazaar (on sale: leather masks and custom acrylic fang caps).

35. The evening of October 24, huge papier-mâché floats of scowling skeletons, headless horsemen, and angry clowns will make their way through the streets of the Vieux Carre during the Krewe of Boo, the official parade of New Orleans. Instead of simply throwing beads, costumed float riders shower the massive crowds with Elmer’s Chee Wees (New Orleans­made cheese curls) and miniature pralines.

—Allison Entrekin

 

JASON DeCROW/INVISION FOR Purina Beggin’/ASSOCIATED PRESS

New York City

The city that never sleeps only ramps things up at Halloween, giving its events a decidedly only-in-New-York sensibility (like the Brooklyn video store that will transform its space into the tavern from Shaun of the Dead). Whether you want to get outside, get exercise, or cruise the river, the city has plenty in store for you.

36. Located in the heart of the East Village, on 9th Street between Avenue A and Avenue B, the annual Tomkins Square Halloween Dog Parade takes place October 24 and October 25, and will feature hundreds of pooches dressed to impress in their best Halloween attire. Sponsored by Purina Beggin,’ contestants compete for thousands of dollars in prizes and giveaways.

37. Making its way across the country from Los Angeles to NYC, this is the inaugural year for the New York Haunted Hay Ride on Randall’s Island. Running now through the end of October, hay-filled wagons will “slither their way through enchanted Halloween portals of ghostly apparitions, demonic possessions, creatures of leviathan proportion, psychopathic clowns of the night and much, much more.” General admission tickets start at $35. Shuttle service is also available from various locations throughout the city between the hours of 6 p.m. and 11 p.m.

38. For all of you early-risers out there, on Friday October 30, you can join the guys and gals behind Daybreakers—the movement of people who like to wake up early and dance, for the Mad-Hatter Halloween Boat cruise. DJ Scumfrog will be mixing the beats on this booze-free cruise. Tickets start at $30 a pop on Pier 40 at 353 West Street along the Hudson River from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m.

39. Right in the heart of New York City, at 42nd street and 8th Avenue, lies Times Scare, one of the most interactive haunted houses in the city. The space, which was resurrected to remind visitors that some things never die and whose walls are waiting for you to hear their next grisly tale, is open to groups who are taken on a one-of-a-kind Times Scare tour. Adults may want to enjoy a one of the aptly named cocktails, including Dracula's Kiss or Corpse Reviver, from the Kill Bar beforehand. Tickets start at $30 for adults and $25 for kids.

40. Between now and October 31, join magician and performer Jason Suran on a journey through the dark side at The Séance. Suran will guide each participant through the fascinating history of the sèance while attempting to set foot over the boundary that separates the world of the living from the dead. Each hour-long session is limited to 12 people in an intimate if not spooky affair, where ghost stories, voodoo, and things that go bump in the night will be present. Tickets are $60 a piece.

Michelle Gross

 


M. Edlow for Visit Philadelphia®

Philadelphia

Rich in history and full of irreverence, Philly does Halloween right. There are nighttime tours in a former prison, and ghost story-telling in a local cemetery. Walking tours and festivals get spirited, too, and there’s many creative, family-friendly activities, too.

41. At one time, the Eastern State Penitentiary housed infamous prisoners, including Al Capone. The massive, castle-like building is open year-round for creepy tours, but Halloween is when things come alive—literally. Terror Behind the Walls includes six bone-chilling attractions throughout the building's crumbling cellblocks. Lights, sound effects, and costumed actors who take their roles seriously make this one of the country’s best October activities.

42. Silly—not scary—is the idea at Sesame Place’s kid-friendly Halloween celebration in the suburbs, called The Count’s Halloween Spooktacular, where Sesame Street® characters abound and kids are encouraged to show up in costume. New this year is the Neighborhood Street Party Halloween Parade, which features 10 decked-out floats, as well as music and dancing. Perennial favorites include Halloween shows, a maze, and a hayride.

43. Fright makes nice with food during the Haunted Food Tours in Manayunk. Just off the beaten path, this popular neighborhood is said to have a spooky past. Costumed guides tell local ghost stories, while tourgoers nosh at seven spots along the way, while sipping autumnal drinks as they do it. You’ll walk away with a map of the creepiest spots in town and a Halloween goodie bag.

44. Center City Philadelphia’s family-friendly Franklin Square Park OktoberFestivus transforms its Philly-themed mini golf course with fog, lights, and music. Pumpkin picking and decorating at the Pumpkin Patch brings a bit of the country into the city, while the OktoberFestivus features a beer garden and popular food trucks. On Halloween afternoon, the park hosts Trick-or-Treating along a trail in the park.

45. Laurel Hill Cemetery hosts 10 special October events. Kicking off with an interactive murder mystery, several of the activities feature stories of those buried in the cemetery. The candlelit tours shouldn’t be missed, and several end with wine and beer, or cider and cookies. Tours are BYOF: bring your own flashlights.

46. Philly’s funky South Street offers two very different takes on Halloween. Families will love the pumpkin decorating, circus performers, hayrides, and face-painting at the Pumpkin Fall Festival. The Day of the Dead Festival features a six-block parade and traditional music, food, costumes, and craft vendors.

—Sarah Maiellano

 

Getty Images

Savannah

“The Hostess City of the South” is also a welcoming spot for ghosts. Built atop Native American burial sites and unmarked graves from the Colonial era, Savannah is considered one of the most haunted cities in America.

47. Friday and Saturday evenings in October, a candlelit Davenport House Museum presents Stranger than Fiction: An Exploration of the Extraordinary In Old Savannah. This living history program introduces visitors to ghostly Savannah residents from the 1820s; together, they relay their generation’s commonly held beliefs about death, the supernatural, and even hot topics of the day, like the newly published Frankenstein.

48. Made famous by John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Bonaventure Cemetery is the final resting place of such notable figures as songwriter Johnny Mercer and Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Conrad Aiken. Sixth Sense World and Blu Orb Tours guide visitors around this Southern Gothic landmark filled with statues of the deceased.

—Allison Entrekin

 

Mehgan Murphy, Smithsonian's National Zoo

Washington DC

Plenty of cities have haunted houses, hayrides, and pumpkin-carving contests. In our nation's capital, the best Halloween events run a spectrum as wide as the political one—from family-friendly celebrations at the zoo to a vaunted high heel drag race, these are the events not to miss at this festive holiday.

49. Every month, bicyclists from around the city gather together for a DC Bike Party ride, exploring new neighborhoods and finishing their route together at a bar for a post-ride drink. In celebration of Halloween, they’re putting a twist on that formula. DC Bike Party’s Halloween Ride (October 16) is a special Friday evening ride for which participants are encouraged to dress up as super-villains. The group will meet in Dupont Circle at 7:30 p.m., and wind through the city from there, blasting monster mash-up music along the way, courtesy of Sound Bike DC. Rather than just hang at a bar afterward, this time they’ll host an after-party complete with live music, beer, and plenty of super villainous spandex at a warehouse near Union Market.

50. Billing itself as “not-so-spooky,” Boo at the Zoo is the National Zoo’s very kid-friendly Halloween event. It offers more than 40 spots for kids to pick up treats ranging from chocolate to healthier options like apples. There will be magicians, jugglers, a hay maze, a pumpkin decorating competition, and opportunities to chat with zookeepers about the animals. “Ed-zoo-cation” stations will be set up around the grounds to give kids even more hands-on opportunities to learn about animals and the natural world (October 23-25, from $20).

51. In Maryland, the Silver Spring Zombie Walk (October 24) is a cherished annual tradition that, as it name suggests, mostly involves dressing up like the undead and walking through downtown Silver Spring. Zombies are encouraging to gather at 8 p.m. near Jackie’s Restaurant & Sidebar for a 9 p.m. march that leads all the way to the AFI Silver Theatre. At 10 p.m., the theatre will screen George Romero’s Day of the Dead for maximum zombie enjoyment. Along the way, participating restaurants will have cocktail and booze specials.

52. There’s no greater Halloween tradition in DC than the 17th Street High Heel Race (October 27). Since 1986, runners have lined this street in Dupont Circle dressed in their most outrageous drag costumes, from sexy nurses to Sarah Palin impersonators. Washingtonians come out in masses to watch and cheer as these drag queens—clad in stilettos and chunky heeled boots—race about a quarter of a mile down 17th Street, past JR’s Bar between P and Q streets. Though the race itself is short and begins around 9 p.m., the event starts at 7 p.m. with a parade to show off all the costumes. Be sure to arrive early enough to stake out a good spot among the crowds.

53. Unlike Boo at the Zoo, the Night of the Living Zoo is the National Zoo’s annual Halloween party for grown-ups. It’s also your best opportunity all year to dress in costumes while visiting the elephants and the great apes. This adults-only party includes a costume contest, live music, sideshow performances, and people walking around performing magic tricks and twirling fire. They’ll also have popular food trucks, like CapMac and DC Slices, serving food while breweries like Blue Point and Goose Island keeping the drinks flowing.

With an additional registration fee, you can also create your own Day of the Dead or Spooky Halloween scene to be placed on display throughout the Night of the Living Zoo, with winning entrants receiving prizes like behind-the-scenes tours of the grounds (October 30, from $20).

—Amy McKeever

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