Halloween. Allhalloween. All Hallows’ Eve. All Saints’ Eve. Samhain. However you classify it, it’s observed by many countries all over the world on the last day of October. Halloween is personally my favorite holiday and I love learning about the origins of my favorite holiday and finding the best Halloween towns to spend it in. It is widely believed that many of the traditions most of us love originated from ancient Celtic harvest festivals, more specifically Samhain. These pagan festivals were formed into Christian holidays much like Yule is to Christmas and Ostara to Easter.
Many Halloween activities include trick-or-treating, costume parties, carving pumpkins into jack-o lanterns, bonfires, visiting haunted attractions, watching scary movies, and much more.
Best Halloween Towns to Spend Halloween
New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
Talek of Travels with Talek
New Orleans and Halloween go together like cookies and cream! You would be hard-pressed to find a better place to spend Halloween than in New Orleans. The whole city is into the scary holiday. Residents decorate their lawns with spooky denizens of the dark, ghost tours do a brisk business and to visit one of the city’s famous cemeteries you actually have to die.
There are tons of Halloween related activities on offer in the Big Easy but here is my favorite, an escape the room Halloween adventure. You and a couple of other people are locked up in a morgue and given an hour to escape the room with tips provided by the guys who run the event. There is a “zombie” chained to the wall and as the hour ticks away, the chain gets longer and longer until, at the end, the zombie can reach you even in the farthest reaches of the room. As the group tries frantically to unravel the clues that will lead to the escape, you shout secret strategies to each other almost unaware that the “zombie” is actually a perfectly healthy actor who is understanding all your strategies and, of course, pre-empting them.
Good fun but not for the faint-hearted.
Bell Witch Cave, Tennessee, USA
There’s a legend in Tennessee that the Bell family was haunted by the Bell Witch between the years of 1817 and 1820. This is such a popular legend that it’s actually taught in schools for the Tennessee history curriculum. The Bell Witch Cave is located on what was the Bell family’s land and they open to the public during the summer and the month of October for special Halloween events. You can tour the cave, the cabin, or both. People have reported having the feeling of being watched, hearing voices in the cave, and some have even reported having the feeling of being slapped or scratched. This is just one of the many haunted houses in Nashville.
Derry, Northern Ireland
Teresa of Brogan Abroad
Most people think Halloween is an American tradition when in reality it has Irish origins. In the Emerald Ireland, Halloween is known as Samhain (pronounced sow-in), when according to Celtic tradition on the night of 31st October the boundaries between the world of the dead and the world in the living are blurred.
So it may surprise people that one of the best places to spend Halloween in Derry (also known as Londonderry) in Northern Ireland. It was voted the number one Halloween destination in the world by the USA Today in 2015, so I had to go and check it out for myself. And I discovered that Halloween in Derry is certainly a celebration that everyone must experience at least once in their lifetime.
The whole city is transformed into a stage of spooky and creepy acts where everyone joins in. The 17th-century city walls come alive with Awakening The Walls, a series of performances, storytelling, light shows and scary encounters that you will come across as you follow the walls. Ghostly drummer shows, Jack O’Lantern workshops and the spectacular Return of the Ancients parade are events that must not be missed.
Chicago, Illinois, USA
by Valentina of Valentina’s Destinations
Chicago’s haunted history and extravagant parties make it the perfect Halloween destination. There are so many spooky stories that I don’t even know where to start! For one, Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood was built right on top of a cemetery! Lincoln Park was also the setting for the famous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. The deadliest fire in U. S. history happened in Chicago’s Nederlander Theatre (because of this fire, doors now open facing out).
To learn more about these haunted events and many others, I highly recommend a tour. I loved Wateriders ghosts and gangsters kayaking tour! The Chicago History Museum also gives Haunted History tours at the Lincoln Park Zoo in October. Finally, make sure to check out Chicago’s Graceland Cemetery.
Chicago is such a fun place to party on Halloween. You can party at Navy Pier, on yachts or at many downtown hotels. Although, Godfrey’s Haunted Hotel keeps me coming back year after year.
They block off an entire floor of the hotel and turn it into a haunted house. Each room has a different theme, everyone dresses up and the drinks are killer. They also have professional photographers take free photos for guests! Needless to say, tickets sell out quickly each year.
by Ed and Jenn of Coleman Concierge
In recent years, Day of the Dead (Dia las Muertos) had grown in popularity in America. It’s like three more days of Halloween, but everybody dresses up like skeletons, right? Not exactly. That’s like saying American cheese is, in fact, cheese. If you want a cheese holiday, go to France. If you’re going to experience Dia las Muertos, go to Mexico. There no closer (or more accessible) Mexican city than Tijuana, which makes it perfect.
As soon as you walk across the border, you will feel the festivity in the air. This isn’t a holiday of the macabre; it’s a chance to remember those who passed and maybe see them again. The all the markets (like the Hidalgo Market) are overflowing with ritualistic offerings to bring the dead to you. You’ll find marigolds because the spirits love the smell, candy skulls to feed them after their long journey, and of course, the skeletons everywhere so they feel welcome.
The living do their part to make the reunion. All of the cemeteries come alive with visitors partying and picnicking, hoping to see their beloveds one more time. When we visited Panteon #1, Tijuana’s oldest cemetery, we found mariachi bands, marigold vendors, and quite a few families out and about. It was midday, but according to a local, the party really ramps up in the evening. Go to Tijuana for Dia Las Muertos with a curious mind, and try to see what this holiday truly means for the locals who are celebrating it.
Giant Kite Festival, Day of the Dead in Guatemala
Michele of A Taste for Travel
Unlike Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico where many of the rituals take place in cemeteries, in Guatemala the most spectacular Dia de Muertos festivities take place on the hilltops of the mountainous highlands outside Guatemala City, the capital. On November 1st of each year, Los Barriletes de Sumpango or Giant Kite Festival is one of the biggest celebrations for Day of the Dead in Guatemala.
The main thing to do after visiting the gravesite of one’s family ancestors is to head to Los Barriletes de Sumpango in Sumpango, a hillside town in the Guatemalan department of Sacatepéquez near Antigua where teams of kite-fliers of all ages — from children to adults — hoist enormous, colorful kites into the sky. The belief is that the kites carry messages to the spirits of departed ancestors.
It’s a festive atmosphere with hundreds of colorful kites, crowds of participants and onlookers dressed in traditional indigenous Maya clothing, food vendors, dancing and music. One of the top things to do during these Day of the Dead festivities is to enjoy typical holiday foods such as fiambre (enormous salads featuring meat, marinated vegetables, boiled eggs, and cheese), a special dish prepared just once a year.
New York City, USA
James of Travel Collecting
New York City and the surrounding area is one of the best places to experience Halloween. There are harrowing haunted houses that open for the season; spooky ghost tours; and, in Croton-on-Hudson just north of the city, the Great Jack o’Lantern Blaze in which thousands of carved pumpkins are arranged to create incredible displays. The piece de resistance, however, is the famous Halloween Parade in Greenwich Village. It may be difficult to Trick and Treat in NYC, but on Halloween, thousands of people line the streets of the village to witness about 50,000 people parade through the streets of New York in fanciful costumes.
The parade route is north along Sixth Avenue. It starts at Spring Street at 7:00 pm and typically goes until about 10:30 pm, ending at 16th Street. Grab a spot early to get great views. There are towering puppets along the way, but mostly it is packed with people in elaborate costumes ranging from drag queens, characters from horror movies – and current political events – to more traditional witches and goblins. Watching the parade is fun, but this is New York City – it’s even more fun to join in the parade yourself. It is free to join and there is no registration– just dress up in your spookiest, funniest or cleverest costume and line up at Canal Street between 6:30 pm and 8:30 pm. There is nothing quite like it!
Rosie of Flying Fluskey
Hong Kong is the spot where two worlds coincide. Whilst being firmly in Asia, and full of Chinese culture and traditions, Hong Kong has a few celebrations that are distinctly Western. For example, Hong Kong is a great place to celebrate Halloween. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it is the best place to celebrate Halloween in Asia.
Unlike in many other countries, Halloween in Hong Kong is best enjoyed as a teenager or young adult. There are numerous parties around town, but most involve drinking and partying into the wee hours.
The biggest of these is in the infamous Lan Kwai Fong area, located in and around Midlevels and Central. The whole area is crammed with revelers in spectacular costumes, who meander from bar to bar, stopping for a few selfies and many drinks. The whole place is so packed that they have to operate a one-way system!
If rowdy bars aren’t your thing, or you are a little younger then head to one of Hong Kong’s theme parks to celebrate. There are two choices. For young children, Hong Kong Disney throws its annual “Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween”. This is the same worldwide, less scares and cuter, furry spiders. Alternatively, for older kids, teens (and maybe a few childless millennials) I would highly recommend a trip to Ocean Park. This is Hong Kong’s independent theme park and the whole place comes to life for Halloween. Huge stages are erected for cool dance shows, walk through attractions scare the living daylights out of you, and the scary characters roam the areas between the rides. Great fun for nearly, all the family!
Louisville, Kentucky, USA
When most people think of Louisville, Kentucky, they think of two things: bourbon and horses. But did you know that Louisville is a perfect destination for Halloween? With super scary and family-friendly Halloween attractions alike, there’s a Halloween attraction for everyone in Louisville!
If you’re a fan of all things spooky and scary, you must plan a visit to Waverly Hills Sanatorium. Many people believe that it’s one of the most haunted places on earth – plan a visit to find out for yourself! If you’re not convinced yet, make sure to check out the former tuberculosis hospital’s body chute, where dead bodies were transported so that patients wouldn’t see them. During the Halloween season, the hospital grounds are turned into a fun, traditional haunted house.
If you want to celebrate Halloween without the scares, make sure to check out the Louisville Jack O’ Lantern Spectacular, located in Iroquois Park. You’ll be amazed by the thousands of carved jack o’ lanterns that are displayed along a walking trail in the park. In 2019, the Jack O’ Lantern Spectacular will run from October 8 to November 3. Lines can get extremely long; for the shortest wait times, visit on a weekday!
Sean of Living Out Lau
If you are looking to celebrate Day of the Dead or Dia de Los Muertos in Mexico, then there is no other place better than the city of Oaxaca. Oaxaca is easily accessible by plane or by a bus from Mexico City. What makes Day of the Dead so special in Mexico and Oaxaca is the amount of celebration and the signification it has. In Mexican culture, death is not something to mourn about. Death is part of the cycle of life. And on Day of the dead, it is a day of celebration because they believe that their dead loved one is celebrating with them in spirit. For that reason, Day of the Dead usually involves music, dancing, drinking, and much more. And of course, there is no better place to do all of that than the cemeteries themselves.
On Day of the Dead, families decorate the graves, paint their faces, and go to the cemetery to celebrate.
The celebration is usually three days, from October 31st to November 2, with each day signifying something different. October 31st s the big party day where you will see parades, celebrations and face painting everywhere on the streets of Oaxaca. November 1st is a day for all the dead children and infants. November 2nd is to honor all the dead adults.
In addition to the celebration, families will build altars at home in remembrance of the dead ones. The altars are made of pan de Muerto (“bread of the dead”), marigolds, skull chocolates, candles, and much more.
Stonehenge, United Kingdom
Danielle of Live in 10 Countries
Halloween means so many different things to different people. It might be the chance to get the kids dressed up for you and go to Disneyland, and that’s awesome.
But, for me, Halloween goes back to the ancient traditions as Samhain, history and the older beliefs of the British Isles. Samhain is associated with Gaelic culture and it’s a lot more in touch with the natural world.
The event is celebrated halfway between the two equinoxes while moving into the dark side of the year. So Stonehenge’s association with the solstice is a natural leap. Some druids visit over the period, and it’s not too commercialized.
Though it’s a famous monument, it’s easy to reach Stonehenge by road and the network around it won’t be closed off at Halloween. You can also catch fast train connections to Salisbury, but remember to bring supplies with you – the famous henge is a good way from the nearest village and only has a visitor center on-site, open office hours.
Also popular, and free from any fencing or regulations is nearby Amesbury Stone Circle. Though smaller, it’s arguably just as beautiful.
If you need somewhere to stay, there are camping and glamping options in the area and hotels in both Amesbury (nearer and smaller) and the county capital of Salisbury.
Salem, Massachusetts, USA
Jackie of Enjoy Travel Life
Salem, Massachusetts celebrates Halloween like no other. As a colonial New England town known for its nefarious tales of witchcraft, it is especially ghoulish during Halloween. This north-of-Boston waterfront destination is popular for its rich history, grand museums, fresh seafood, and plenty of shopping; but its year-round fascination with the occult is by far the biggest draw.
In October, there are numerous “Haunted Happenings” to encourage the Halloween spirit. From ghost tours, pumpkin strolls, parades, and family film nights to fireworks, the events suit various interests. There’s even a Witches Halloween Ball. A myriad of shops provides tarot card readings, divination, healing crystals, and herbal tinctures for those looking to the future. You’ll also be amazed by how many homeowners get into the fun with macabre Halloween decorations. Eek!
To get to Salem, take public transportation or the ferry from Boston, or park free at the Blaney Street Pier. Unless you have a broom, we found the easiest way to explore is by hopping on and off the Salem Trolly. (Plus they tell great stories!)
October in New England can be chilly, so dress in layers and wear comfortable shoes for walking cobblestone-and-brick streets.
If you’re embracing your inner witch (or warlock or werewolf) or just want to experience the magic of Halloween in Salem, plans early. You can expect big crowds in Salem during October, especially on weekends. Hotels fill up as much as a year in advance, and with Halloween 2020 falls on a full moon, Salem’s sure to be frightful!
Sleepy Hollow, New York, USA
Kurosh of Road Goat
About one hour north of New York by train, you’ll find the small village of Sleepy Hollow. Just reading the name of the town, you can probably already sense it’s a great place to get the Halloween spooks. And it is!
For centuries, the town is said to have been haunted by the Headless Horseman – the protagonist in Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow movie. The Headless Horseman commits a series of murders in the town.
Visit Sleepy Hollow during Halloween and explore its haunted mansions, such as Kykuit or Philips Manor. Visit the Great Jack O’Latern Blaze. Take a ride on a haunted hayride. Walk through the street fair and watch some live music. But watch out for the headless horseman who gallops through the town, looking for his next victim!
Other activities include taking a tour of the town cemetery or even taking a tour of the Haunted Hollow – the spooked trail where many of the Haunted Horseman’s crimes took place. If that’s not enough, you can watch a theatrical reenactment of the Sleepy Hollow story.
Be sure to have a buddy close by with you at Sleepy Hollow, because it’s a scary place.
Which of these twelve best Halloween towns are you dying to visit next? Which ones have you already visited? Hopefully, this gave you some inspiration to hit the road during the next Halloween season and see how other countries and cities celebrate this unique holiday.
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