World’s Creepiest Attractions
Walk into Portugal’s Chapel of Bones and you’ll realize something eerie: you’re surrounded by the calcified remains of 5,000 people. There’s no escaping these bones—they occupy every sight line. That superbly curved crown molding? Rows of human skulls. Those patterns on the walls? Precisely stacked ribs and tibias. And every year, plenty of travelers come to the town of Évora to be creeped out.
This necropolis-turned-chapel is not unique. With their diabolical displays and professed obsession with mortality, macabre destinations around the world draw hordes of visitors each year, reminding them that death, indeed, is inevitable.
Why do we get a kick out of being scared stiff by ghoulish places? “It’s like watching a good horror movie,” says Andrea Holden, media relations manager for Czech Tourism USA. Of course, visiting a creepy place is more like living in the movie. And, Holden says, the Czech Republic has its own scary spot—a 15th-century Gothic church about 90 minutes outside Prague containing 40,000 human bones. Would she spend the night there—alone? No, she admits, “It’s a very scary place.”
At these morbid must-sees, the subject matter ranges from religious to political to archaeological to bizarre. The Torture Museum in Amsterdam, for example, documents man’s cruelty to his fellow man. Both real and reconstructed torture devices give visitors a sense of how deep that cruelty can run. But if you’ve ever wanted to see a skull cracker or limb-dislocating rack, this is the place.
And you don’t have to travel overseas to find creepy attractions. Sunny California has its own dark side. The 160-room Winchester Mystery House in San Jose was built by the heir to the Winchester rifle fortune to appease the spirits of those killed by her family’s guns. At least three ghosts are said to live in this labyrinthine Victorian mansion with 2,000 doors and 10,000 windows. The home’s twisting hallways and dead-end stairways may have been designed to confuse unfriendly spirits, but even with 160 rooms, there are only so many places to hide.
“Usually, scary is in the eye of the beholder,” says L. Andrew Cooper, the author of several books on creepy topics including Monsters and Gothic Realities: The Impact of Horror Fiction on Modern Culture. “For some people it’s the site of some horrible murder or injustices against humanity; for others it’s the Chernobyl site,” says Cooper. “Personally, I have a claustrophobic reaction to places that are very small, like the Paris Catacombs. Small places full of skulls do get creepy after all. It’s not just like in the movies—it’s real.”
Whether you’re spooked by skeletons, ghosts, mummies, or murderers, get ready to cover your eyes at the world’s creepiest attractions.
Capela dos Ossos, Évora, Portugal
From the outside, the Royal Church of St. Francis, located in the picturesque Portuguese town of Évora, seems like any other shrine to piety. But looks can be deceiving. Inside is the Capela dos Ossos, or the Chapel of Bones. Short on space to bury the dead, enterprising monks in the 16th century moved the remains of 5,000 corpses into a consecrated chapel—and, like medieval Martha Stewarts, decorated the space with their bones.
Truly Creepy: Two rotted corpses, of an unknown man and a young child, dangle precariously from nooses. —Donna Heiderstadt
Torture Museum, Amsterdam
This small and unabashedly lowbrow museum chronicles historical torture methods in displays that are not for the squeamish. Fans of Middle Age brutality can admire the agonizing “skull cracker,” the limb-dislocating rack, and that most efficient of killing machines, the guillotine.
Truly Creepy: The disturbing illustrations include one of a naked man hung from his ankles like a wishbone and being sawed in half lengthwise.—Donna Heiderstadt
Port Arthur Historic Sites, Tasmania
This 19th-century Australian penal colony was once home to thousands of violent convicts sentenced to “hell on earth,” and the dissection rooms here are evidence to that. Awful conditions, vicious floggings and isolation in dark, dank cells led to as many as 2,000 deaths. Tragedy made its comeback in April 1996 when a deranged gunman killed 35 workers and visitors in the country’s worst mass murder to date.
Truly Creepy: The most-often reported ghost sightings are not of convicts but of a crying woman and young child. —Donna Heiderstadt
The Museum of Death, Hollywood
This stomach-churning homage to murder, dismemberment, and rigor mortis houses (among other things) a collection of serial killer artwork, photos of horrific accidents and famous crime scenes, and the guillotine-severed head of the murderous Bluebeard of Paris.
Truly Creepy: The self-guided tour takes only an hour, but the truly gore-obsessed can linger over videos of autopsies and actual death footage. —Donna Heiderstadt
Museo de las Momias, Mexico
This Guanajuato museum’s 111 remarkably preserved mummies were exhumed from the Santa Paula Pantheon between 1865 and 1989. Their facial expressions are especially scary—many seem to be shouting “No!”—and clenched fists protrude from the tattered clothes. It’s like the prop room for a zombie movie—only real.
Truly Creepy: The tiny baby mummies, dressed in local tradition as “Little Angels.” —Donna Heiderstadt
Winchester Mystery House, San Jose, CA
It took 32 years for Sarah Winchester, reclusive heir to the eponymous rifle empire, to build this labyrinthine 160-room Victorian mansion. She was inspired by séances to quell the spirits of those felled by Winchester bullets. It has 2,000 doors, 10,000 windows, 47 fireplaces, 47 stairways—and at least three ghosts. The quagmire of twisting hallways and dead-end stairways were designed to confuse unfriendly apparitions.
Truly Creepy: Paranormal activity is the norm for overnight guests who hear organ music and witness moving lights, turning doorknobs and ghostly figures. —Donna Heiderstadt
Capuchin Catacombs, Sicily
Palermo may be the birthplace of the mafia, but mob hits are not the city's only gruesome antics. Beneath the streets, behold a “human library” of 8,000 embalmed bodies dressed in their funereal finest. Hauntingly hellish visions of these skin-and-bones monks, virgins, poets, and ordinary folk—spanning five centuries—are not easily dismissed.
Truly Creepy: “Sleeping Beauty,” the miraculously intact body of two-year-old Rosalia Lombardo, who died in 1920. —Donna Heiderstadt
Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave, Belize
Brave necro-tourists must reach this archeological site near San Ignacio via a guided hike that starts with a neck-deep swim in ice cold, pitch black water. Those with vivid imaginations are advised to stay back at the hotel. Mayans practiced human sacrifice here, as evidenced by the cave's most startling skeleton: the Crystal Maiden, a teenage girl whose bones seem to sparkle.
Truly Creepy: If the bats and spiders don't put you over the edge, the ancient ceramic bowls have “kill holes,” indicating they were used for bloodletting rituals. —Donna Heiderstadt
Sedlec Ossuary, Czech Republic
Step into this 15th-century Gothic church located in Kutna Hora, about 90 minutes outside Prague, and you’ll immediately think its creator, 19th-century woodcarver Frantisek Rint, got his decorating degree at the University of Hades. The basement-level chapel contains 40,000 skeletons fashioned into skull candelabras, a towering coat of arms, and one seriously morbid chandelier.
Truly Creepy: A garland of gap-eyed skulls hangs from the vaulted ceilings, and the massive bone pyramids put “40,000 skeletons” into perspective. —Donna Heiderstadt
Mütter Museum, Philadelphia
Run by the centuries-old College of Physicians of Philadelphia, this museum manages to be scientific, shocking and creepy as it chronicles the abnormalities and diseases that ravage human flesh. Exhibits include a gangrenous hand, syphilis-riddled bones, diseased livers and a gargantuan 40-pound colon. Skeletons of giants, dwarfs and Siamese twins, plus sliced sections of a human head, complete the visual assault.
Truly Creepy: The Soap Lady's 19th-century remains that turned into a soap-like substance called adipocere, also known as “grave wax.” —Donna Heiderstadt
Manchac Swamp, Louisiana
While you may not encounter vampires and shape-shifters, this alligator-infested wetlands near New Orleans is about as close to the HBO show True Blood as you’re likely to get in the flesh. Manchac is said to be inhabited by all sorts of things that go bump in the night, including the ghost of voodoo princess Julie White and the Rougarou werewolf of Cajun mythology. Also keep an eye out for the eerie landmarks Frenier Cemetery and the Hanging Tree. —Joe Yogerst
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, Cambodia
Cabinets full of bones and a wooden waterboard are among the gruesome exhibits at former Security Prison 21 in Phnom Penh. The collection pays homage to the estimated 17,000 people imprisoned there during the Khmer Rouge reign of terror (1975 to 1979). After being tortured and interrogated, most were sent to the nearby Choeung Ek extermination center. Black-and-white photos in the cell blocks document the horrors inflicted on prisoners, including women and children. —Joe Yogerst
Stanley Hotel, Colorado
Then-unknown writer Stephen King spent a weekend at the Stanley in 1973 and got so creeped out wandering the almost empty hotel that it inspired him to write the horror cult-classic The Shining. (The movie adaptation now plays on a continuous reel in the guest rooms.) Indeed, the Estes Park hotel has been spooking guests like King for more than a century. Among its permanent paranormal residents are a spirit who plays the piano in the ballroom and ghostly kids who play pranks on the fourth floor. —Joe Yogerst
Isla de las Muñecas, Mexico
A real-life Mexican version of The Ring, this eerie “island of dolls” was created by a farmer haunted by the memories of a young girl whose dead body washed ashore on his island in Lake Xochimilco near Mexico City. To placate her spirit and those of other dead children—and end his nightmares—the farmer collected hundreds of old dolls, some missing eyes, limbs, and even heads. They dangle from trees and wires all around the forbidding island. —Joe Yogerst
Evacuated after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986, this northern Ukrainian city is the world’s single largest ghost town. Around 50,000 people lived here until the meltdown; nowadays the apartment blocks, schools, hospitals, and amusement park are hauntingly abandoned. Scientists estimate it will be roughly 20,000 years before humans can safely inhabit the city again. —Joe Yogerst
Truk Lagoon, Micronesia
Sixty Japanese warships and 275 airplanes lie at the bottom of this turquoise lagoon, the largest maritime graveyard on the planet and one of the most fascinating underwater attractions. Sunk during a daring American raid in 1944, this ghost fleet is a dream trip for scuba divers. But it’s not for the squeamish: veteran divers say the remains of more than 3,000 sailors who went down with their ships haunt the wrecks. —Joe Yogerst
The French capital offers three subterranean haunts. Skeleton-filled catacombs contain the remains of more than 6 million Frenchmen, many of them arranged in macabre displays. Underground aficionados—who don’t get freaked out by rodents—can also descend into the 700-year-old égouts (sewers). The city’s buried carrières (stone quarries) are still off limits, however, and can be explored only on unofficial (in other words, illegal) tours. —Joe Yogerst
Aokigahara Forest, Japan
Japan’s most haunted place, this wooded area at the base of Mount Fuji has witnessed thousands of suicides in the past 50 years. The extreme density of the trees makes the forest eerily quiet and also an easy place to get lost. In centuries past, Aokigahara was a venue for ubasute, the Japanese custom of leaving old people to die in the wilderness. It’s said to be haunted by the angry spirits of those who were abandoned or took their own lives amid the towering trees. And it’s just one of the world’s most haunted forests. —Joe Yogerst
Siriraj Forensic Museum, Thailand
The pickled body of a notorious serial killer, parasitical worms, and the remains of a genuine Elephant Man are just a few of the eerie exhibits at this hospital museum in Bangkok. Bygone medical instruments—many of them looking more like torture devices—also feature in the collection. But it’s the “anatomical and clinical specimens” that give people the willies, including the preserved cadavers of Siamese twins, two-headed humans, and homicidal maniacs. —Joe Yogerst
Pine Barrens, New Jersey
Sprawling more than a million acres across southern New Jersey, the mysterious Pine Barrens have sparked many a myth, including the Jersey Devil, a winged monster that’s said to terrorize those unfortunate souls who venture into the forest at night. As portrayed in a celebrated Sopranos episode, the barrens have also been a popular body dump for the Mafia and random killers. —Joe Yogerst
Kabayan Mummy Caves, Philippines
For hundreds of years, the Ibaloi tribe of the northern Philippines mummified their dearly departed by making them drink a salty potion just before they expired and then smoking the bodies over an open fire. The underground burial chambers of these “fire mummies” were rediscovered in the 20th century. Locals believe the Kabayan region is now cursed because the mummy of a heavily tattooed tribal chieftain was stolen for a circus sideshow. —Joe Yogerst
Kasanka Bat Forest, Zambia
Right around Halloween each year, the midday sky turns dark over central Zambia as 8 million giant fruit bats arrive on their annual migration from the Congo. They invade Kasanka National Park in dense spirals, with a dissonance of flapping wings and blood curdling shrieks that can be heard for miles around. Among the world’s largest bats, these “flying foxes” have six-foot wingspans, long tongues, honey-hued stomachs, and sharp fangs. Each tree is weighed down by as much as 10 tons of these bats—the highest density of warm-blooded mammals anywhere on the planet. —Joe Yogerst
In 1908, a large object from outer space slammed into the Siberian wilderness. The impact created a huge ghost forest, a massive dust cloud, and a shock wave felt as far away as England. The scientific explanation is that an asteroid hit the earth with the force of 185 Hiroshima atom bombs. But as related in an episode of The X-Files, conspiracy theorists swear it’s a UFO crash site, citing strange minerals and metal fragments found at Tunguska. Those who reach the isolated area today find themselves alone in the middle of nowhere—with a creepy feeling that extraterrestrial visitors could be watching from the woods. —Joe Yogerst
Gamarra Shaman Market, Peru
Lima’s shaman market vends everything you need to cast a spell: llama fetuses, live snakes, monkey skulls, strange Amazonian plants, and even dirt from the high Andes. The vendors can also lend advice on which blend of ingredients will ward off pishtacos, mythological human-fat-eating monsters that are said to dwell in the Andes. —Joe Yogerst