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Fear is a powerful cocktail. It can raise bumps on skin, shift glances, and tense up a jaw. It can unsettle thoughts and interrupt sleep. Yet somehow, we love the intoxicating way it draws us in.
Test your nerve at some of the world's creepiest places, from a haunted Louisiana swamp to a real African voodoo supermarket and an eerie suicide forest in Japan. These 8 delightfully disturbing destinations will give you the willies.
Chapel Of Bones (Evora, Portugal)
A reverent grimness falls over every soul visiting this chapel (Capela dos Ossos) inside the Church of São Francisco. Its walls and columns are covered in artistically composed designs of bones from more than 5,000 exhumed skeletons. Meticulously placed ribs and tibias form the bands of arches. Tightly arranged skulls and vertebrae fill every gap. Each bone was arranged by a 16th-century Franciscan monk with a message (and a dark sense of humor): Life is temporary.
Get creeped: Chapel tours ($3) take you beneath the entrance's warning, which is translated, "We bones, lying here, for yours we wait" and into the beautifully lit chapel. On one wall a child's dried corpse hangs from a chain. That a display can be both gorgeous and gruesome at once is troubling. Here's a 360-degree view.
Stay: In Evora Hotel Solar de Monfalim, a 16th-century Renaissance palace converted into a 26-room inn, is $93 per night with breakfast. Outside of town, near the Spanish border, Hotel Convento de Sao Paulo is a monastery-turned-hotel with 24 rooms. Rates include breakfast and are $268 per night in high season and $185 November through March.
Mütter Museum (Philadelphia, PA)
To describe this museum as disturbingly informative would be an understatement. Part of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, the Mütter Museum ($14 admission) is a collection of anatomical oddities. One man's enormous colon, the body of an 1830s woman whose fat turned soapy, and a slice of someone's face suspended in fluid are among the 20,000 items on display. Take the virtual tour, and shop the online store for a haunting $50 book of historic medical photographs.
Get creeped: For more of the city's unnerving medical past, wander the halls in the historical wing of Pennsylvania Hospital ($4 donation) and see the country's oldest surgical amphitheater. Amputations, tumor removals, and hernia repairs were performed here—many without anesthesia—from 1804 through 1868. When you examine the assortment of instruments, it's not hard to imagine the screams of strapped-in patients that once filled this 180-seat room.
Stay: An overnight in a 19th-century home is only fitting. Bella Vista Bed and Breakfast ($85 to $135 per night) is in downtown's Bella Vista neighborhood, and La Reserve's townhouses ($80 to $175 per night) are three blocks from Rittenhouse Square.
Haunted Galveston Island (Galveston, TX)
It was the deadliest storm in U.S. history. The Galveston Hurricane of 1900 leveled what was then Texas' biggest city, killing 8,000 people. The stench of bodies could be smelled for miles. Burying them all was impossible. Even some of those buried at sea washed back onto the beaches. Spirits of the dead, still dressed in 1900s attire, have a heavy presence here. They're most often encountered at Ashton Villa—a mansion that survived the storm—and Hotel Galvez, the island's oldest hotel.
Get creeped: See chilling images of the aftermath in The Great Storm documentary at the Texas Seaport Museum ($5 admission) at Pier 21. In October the Galveston Historical Foundation runs haunted tours of Ashton Villa, the harbor, and a cemetery. Paranormal expert Dash Beardsley leads $20 ghost tours throughout the year. There's also a new year-round haunted house: Mayfield Manor.
Stay: Featured on The Travel Channel and the Discovery Channel for its ghosts, the 100-year-old Hotel Galvez has $189 packages in October that include dinner or brunch and a ghost tour with your stay.
Chernobyl Amusement Park (Pripyat, Ukraine)
This amusement park, built for the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant workers and their families, was scheduled to open May 1, 1986. But five days earlier the world's worst nuclear accident caused the evacuation of the town of 49,000 residents in four hours. No one ever returned. Instead of children's laughter there's an eerie silence, a bizarre emptiness in the amusement park and surrounding buildings, now abandoned for 25 years. The corroding Ferris wheel and bumper cars are forever frozen in 1986.
Get creeped: Radiation levels around the park vary, so tour guides carry radiation monitors. Read: Danger truly does lurk just off the path. The government permits only organized tours to enter the Chernobyl/Pripyat Exclusion Zone. Day trips including transportation and meals range from $160 to $190 with Lupine Travel, Tour2Chernobyl, or Solo East Travel.
Stay: Solo East Travel offers an affordable two-night weekend package that includes Kiev accommodation, a Chernobyl visit, airport transfers, and round-trip airfare from London, Brussels, Amsterdam, Helsinki, or Stockholm.
Manchac Swamp (near New Orleans, LA)
"One day I'm gonna die, and I'm gonna take all of you with me," oracle Julie Brown would sing on her front porch. And in 1915, on the day of her funeral in Frenier, Louisiana, it happened. A hurricane swept hundreds of residents to their deaths in the Manchac Swamp near Lake Pontchartrain's western shore. See the mass graves by torchlight on a nighttime swamp tour through the cypress trees. Hear stories of the spirits sighted, and see the red eyes of crocodiles as you float into the moss-draped darkness.
Get creeped: Plantation Adventure offers nighttime tours for groups year-round, and Cajun Pride Tours has day tours. On Halloween weekend in nearby New Orleans, partygoers in outlandish and bizarre costumes come out of the shadows for the Frenchmen Street block party, a French Quarter parade, and a vampire ball.
Stay: The phantom package at the haunted Bourbon Orleans Hotel in New Orleans includes two tickets to a French Quarter haunted walking tour and breakfast from $149 per night.
Bram Stoker's Dracula Setting (Whitby, England)
On dreary days, when rolling fog enshrouds Whitby's clifftop abbey ruins and ocean waves slam into the rocks below, you can easily imagine Dracula's arrival in England: a lashing storm. A dead captain at the helm. The crash beneath the East Cliff. And an immense shape-shifting dog leaping onto English soil. Bram Stoker's visit to this North Yorkshire seaport inspired the foreboding scene of the novel, which he wrote while staying in town. Sit in the West Cliff memorial seat erected in his honor and take in the view that was his muse.
Get creeped: In the novel a dog-shaped Dracula climbs 199 church steps after the shipwreck. Climb those stairs to the abbey ruins and the St. Mary's Church graveyard, with its bizarre Huntrodds gravestone. Check out the city's Bram Stoker International Film Festival in October and the Whitby Goth Weekend in November.
Stay: Stay in the historic Bagdale Hall, a Tudor manor house built in 1516 and the oldest building in Whitby. A former owner is said to haunt the corridors. Rooms are $70 to $140 per night.
Akodessewa Fetish Market (Lome, Togo)
When West African voodoo practitioners' stocks of monkey skulls, mummified bats, and elephant feet are dwindling, they replenish their supplies at this voodoo supermarket, one of the world's largest. Tables in outdoor stalls hold row upon row of precisely aligned and categorized animal parts—thousands of them—in every state of decomposition for every type of black magic ritual. The scene is otherworldly. And the stench is unforgettable.
Get creeped: Mali-based Saga Tours and Boston-based Spector Travel run private overland trips throughout West Africa. Packages include a stop at this voodoo market and at a traditional voodoo ceremony, where devotees dance and drum with increasing intensity until they become possessed and lose control of their bodies.
Stay: Check TripAdvisor's Lome vacation packages for discounts on hotels or hotel-and-air packages.
Aokigahara Suicide Forest (near Mount Fuji, Japan)
At the northwest base of Mount Fuji is an 8,600-acre forest so dense it's peculiarly silent. Wind can barely sway the trees. And wildlife is scarce here. The dark forest, linked with demons in Japanese mythology, is best known for its suicides. More than 500 people have taken their lives here since the 1950s. Every year bodies, bones, makeshift nooses, and flowers left by grieving friends and family are found on the forest floor.
Get creeped: Even with a GPS or compass it's easy to get lost. Fujikawaguchiko Town leads nature hikes through Aokigahara to a large lava cave where bats hibernate in winter. En route, watch for the plastic tape used by local volunteers to mark search patterns during the forest's annual search for bodies.
Stay: Check Japanican.com for deals on hotels, traditional ryokan inns, tours, and train fare.
- Hotel Galvez