Scary sells. Whatever the nature of their flesh, the spirits of the dead rake in very real profits when it comes to sightseeing.
The tourists shelling out are doing so for a giddy but ultimately safe experience. The destinations featured on our list below are less about the sort of commercial scare that you can buy at an amusement park.
This is the real deal. These sites are authentically and unintentionally weird, macabre and mysterious.
Gonjiam Psychiatric Hospital – Gyeonggi, South Korea
The story of this abandoned psychiatric hospital reads like a textbook plot of a horror film.
According to local legend, patients started dying mysteriously at the hospital some 10 years ago, eventually forcing its closure.
It is now an abandoned, dirty building with only the most disturbing remnants of its former life, such as rusted wire fences and disintegrating examination chairs.
The hospital is famed as one of South Korea’s three major haunted sites, the others being the Youngdeok haunted house, roamed by ghosts from the Korean War, and the Neulbom Garden, a former restaurant where it’s said that you can still hear the sound of dishes being washed in the kitchen.
Sindae-ri, Silchon-eup, Gwangju-si, Gyeonggi province, Korea; (경기도 광주시 실촌읍 신대리)
Sedlec Ossuary – Sedlec, Czech Republic
The Sedlec Ossuary is a small Roman Catholic chapel in Sedlec, Czech Republic. It also contains the skeletal remains of about 40,000 human beings dispersed throughout the interior in artistically arranged designs.
The most notable creations made of human bones are the chandelier in the center of the room and the coat of arms of the Schwarzenbergs – the most blue-blooded of Bohemian aristocrats – on the left.
It’s difficult not to let your imagination run wild when pondering the sort of sick mind that conceived of things like a chandelier of human bones.
But the real motive behind it all is quite prosaic: it was simply a matter of saving space.
These bones were freely given from the bodies of devout Roman Catholics all over Europe who clamored to be buried here after the Abbot of Sedlec went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1278 and brought back soil from Golgotha where Jesus had supposedly been crucified.
So many wanted to be buried in Golgotha’s soil that the chapel was turned into an ossuary. The remains of the previously buried were dug up and rearranged in the 16th century: a practical if somewhat disquieting way to use limited burial space in a thrifty way.
Open daily 9am to 4pm – give or take an hour, depending on the date. Check the website for the updated schedule. Admission is 90 CZK (about US$4) per person. It is worth noting that the council in charge of the ossuary’s preservation considers it a sacred place.
Akodessewa Fetish Market – Lomé, Togo
As the largest fetish market in the world, Akodessewa Fetish Market in Lomé, Togo is a haven for voodoo practitioners.
By fetish, we’re referring to talismans that are used in voodoo healing. Things like crocodile heads, chimpanzee hands, cobras and bones. Lots of bones.
These things (or parts of things) are sold as ingredients to be ground up, mixed with herbs and cooked over a fire. The resulting black powder is rubbed into a cut on the patient’s chest, hopefully curing him of whatever brought him there in the first place.
This makes the market, in effect, one giant pharmacy, and while there’s nothing bad about that, it may be difficult to keep your cool amidst tables piled with the desiccating, grinning heads of cheetahs and hyenas or unidentifiable, vaguely humanoid skulls laid out like melons at the local grocer’s.
Peregrine Adventures conducts tours to Togo’s spookiest market
La Isla de las Muñecas – Teshuilo Lake, Mexico
La Isla de las Muñecas, or the Island of the Dolls, is the stunningly morbid creation of a man named Don Julian Santana, who lived as a hermit on an island for some 50 odd years until his death in 2001.
During his time there he amassed an impressively ghastly collection of dismembered, broken dolls and hung them on tree branches around the island, where they hang to this day, like sacrifices.
It looks cruel and disturbing, but the back story is surprisingly sweet.
Although there are several versions of the legend, they all converge upon the idea that Don Julian dedicated the dolls to the spirit of a little girl who had drowned in the canal.
Whether he communicated with the spirit, or whether the drowned girl had actually existed, are all points of contention.
But Don Julian just wanted to give his ghostly friend some toys to play with.
The otherwise uninhabited island is located 29 kilometers away from Mexico City, Mexico, on Teshuilo Lake, near the canals of Xochimilco.
Battleship Island – Nagasaki, Japan
Hashima Island, also known as Gunkanjima (meaning “Battleship Island” as the island resembles a warship) is a 60,000-square-meter cluster of concrete ruins in the sea by Nagasaki, Japan.
In the 1950s it was the bustling home of thousands of coal mine workers. Hashima Island has been abandoned since 1974 when the coal mines shut down.
There’s always something a bit sinister about deserted islands.
Isolation is a double-edged sword; being surrounded by sea might mean an excellent vacation getaway, or getting stranded with no place to run.
A visit to Hashima Island feels like the latter. The dilapidated buildings and abandoned belongings of the former coal miners make this place feel like the most desolate island on Earth.
Although Hashima was entirely closed off until 2009, travelers are now allowed to visit. It was UNESCO recognized in 2015.
The island also served as the secret headquarters of Bond villain Raoul Silva in 2012 movie “Skyfall.”
For more information, check the Nagasaki Tourist Information Center: +81 95 823 3631; 1-1 Onoue-machi, Nagasaki City, Nagasaki
Chernobyl Amusement Park – Pripyat, Ukraine
Deserted amusement parks can be creepy enough, but at Chernobyl Amusement Park, in the ghost town of Pripyat, Ukraine, the reason for abandonment makes the place not only creepy, but hazardous.
The 1986 nuclear disaster at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant closed down the plant and caused the evacuation of the entire city, rendering this amusement park useless.
While the people have long since departed, the radiation remains.
Britain’s Lupine Travel and Ukraine-based Solo East Travel both conduct tours to Chernobyl and its park.
Catacombs – Paris, France
Fancy descending under the streets of Paris and wandering through the catacombs, an eerie network of old caves and tunnels lined with the bones of the dead?
Now you can at one of Paris’ creepiest attractions, home to the bones of roughly six million people and deeper underground than the Metro and the sewer systems.
The catacombs were created to accommodate overflowing 18th century cemeteries.
Don’t veer of the tourist trail though – in summer 2017, two teenagers were lost in the cavernous network for three days.
A short section of the caverns are open to the public, with visiting hours from 10am to 8:30pm. Check the website for details.
Poveglia Island – Venice, Italy
This beautiful isle is haunted by its eerie past – it was once a quarantine zone for plague sufferers in the late 1700s.
Later, in the 1920s, it became an asylum for the mentally unwell.
Allegedly, the island is haunted by the spirits of the patients from the psychiatric hospital. Legend says a sadistic doctor, plagued by visions of the patients he had tortured, threw himself off the bell tower.
The building remains, an abandoned, rusty structure – it’s spine chilling
In 2014, it nearly became a luxury hotel, but the deal fell through and it remains a macabre reminder of its terrible past.
It’s not supposed to be visited by anyone, let alone tourists – but you might be able to persuade a boat operator in Venice to take you there.
The Darvaza Crater, or “The Gateway to Hell” – Turkmenistan
Yes, there really is a crater deep in the Turkmenistan desert that’s been burning an inferno for the past 40 years.
Officially called the Darvaza Crater, this incredible sight is also nicknamed the Gateway or Doorway to Hell.
There’s no concrete record of what exactly happened, making the fiery cavern even more intriguing.
It’s said to have formed in 1971, when Soviet geologists looking for oil realized they’d stumbled across a cavern of natural gas. They set it alight to avoid the spread of methane gas.
Now it’s an incredible sight, in a total wilderness – and a veritable tourist attraction, even if Turkmenistan isn’t the easiest place to travel to, due to strict visa policies.
Companies including Advantour take groups to see the fire – and recommend visiting at nighttime for maximum impact.
Bell Witch Cave – Tennessee
The spirit of Southern Gothic can be embraced with a spine-tingling visit to the Bell Witch Cave, the supposed onetime home of an evil witch who plagued the Bell family of Tennessee during the 1800s.
This malevolent spirit allegedly poisoned and killed patriarch John Bell, wreaking havoc on his family, particularly his daughter Betsy. It’s said the witch was a vengeful neighbor, Kate Batts.
The story is a local legend in Tennessee and it’s been immortalized in novels and on screen. Rumor has it that President Andrew Jackson visited the property, only to be scared away:
“I had rather face the entire British Army than to spend another night with the Bell Witch,” he supposedly said.
If you’re in the mood for some ghost-hunting, you can visit John Bell’s cabin and delve into the cave. Who knows, perhaps the witch still frequents this creepy cavern?
Bell Witch Cave, 430 Keysburg Rd, Adams, TN 37010, USA
Regular Day Time Tours, Daytime Cave and Cabin Tours are available from 10am until 5pm