Ghost Tours and Other Nontraditional Tours
By Sarah and Laurel
It’s Halloween time once again and in honor of one of my favorite holidays my sister, Laurel, and I have decided to share one of our favorite travel activities, ghost tours! We have a habit of looking for ghost tours, haunted houses and ‘murder walks’ in every major city we go to. If they have one, we will take it. We both love everything true crime and have always loved a good ghost story. I think it’s safe to say we’ve always been into the occult. We have done everything from underground city tours in Seattle, graveyard tours in Boston to Jack the Ripper walks in London and the catacombs in Rome. Here are a few of our favorites.
We went on TWO different ghost tours in York, and only a couple of stories were repeats— that’s how many ghosts York has. They’ve got everything from a creepy barn to the lost Roman Legion, and with a history that includes Romans, Vikings, and a still-under-construction cathedral, it’s no wonder. These tours were what got us hooked on ghost tours in the first place. Even if you don’t believe in ghosts, you learn a lot of fascinating history— especially the kind of history that gets left out of official accounts.
Check out: http://theoriginalghostwalkofyork.co.uk/
Not everyone knows that there is an actual city underneath modern Seattle. Even less people know that you can actually see it. Bill Speidel’s underground tours are a great way to load up on the history of Seattle, including how it was built on sawdust to its shady and darker side. This tour starts at Pioneer Square and after a brief history lesson you get to go down below the modern city and walk the old streets of Seattle. See the actual street level shops as they were. See the red light district, because that’s what everyone really wants to see…and hear about local tales. While this tour might not give you nightmares it will leave you with a deeper appreciation of the city itself. Because seriously it was built on sawdust!!
Check out more at Bill Speidel’s underground tours
You enter the catacombs from Denfert-Rochereau (a kind of pun on d’enfer, “from Hell”), and the entrance is definitely not hard to find. The catacombs were constructed after Paris’s cemeteries filled up, and are famous for the artistic arrangement of bones. Because everyone moved into the catacombs was long-dead, no one cared about who was who— or even keeping a body together. There are rooms with walls of skulls stacked on top of each other, and long hallways of femurs arranged in decorative patterns.
I didn’t actually find the Parisian catacombs that creepy, maybe because they’re so popular? They’re full of people, and I thought both the Roman catacombs and Alexandrian catacombs were a lot creepier. But Paris definitely wins the award for most artistic ossuary!
You can’t wander the Parisian catacombs on your own— and don’t try! Just this year, a couple of teenagers got lost for three days in the catacombs after sneaking in. Stay on the tour!
Official homepage: http://www.catacombes.paris.fr/en/homepage-catacombs-official-website
The Roman catacombs are actually located outside of the city and require a couple of bus rides but in our opinion are totally worth it. St. Sebastian is the largest of the catacombs and is the most bang for your buck, so to speak. Here you can wonder freely on your own, check out the tunnels and peak into the carved out graves. This site has been active since the first century AD and was a safe harbor for Christians during early persecution.
Find out more at http://www.catacombe.org/uk_index.html
The Whaley House, San Diego, California
The Whaley House is staffed with guides, some in period clothing, but you’re pretty much free to explore the place at your own pace. Which I recommend, because there’s nothing quite like turning around to see if the person standing right behind you wants you to move… only to find yourself quite alone. As far as you can see, anyway.
The Whaley House is not just a little haunted. A California Historic Landmark in Old Town San Diego, the house was built over a graveyard and has been a general store, a theater, and a courthouse, and it’s now got a reputation as the most haunted home in America. The last weekend of every month, the museum stays open late for ghost hunting, and if you go around Halloween, it has more frequent late nights.
Go visit: http://www.whaleyhouse.org/
Jack the Ripper Tour, Whitechapel, London
London has a solid claim on the title of Most Haunted City in the World, but the London mob also loves some bloody murder and a proper crime spree. And of course, the East End of London is home to what’s probably the most famous unsolved crime of all time. In 1888, between five and eleven prostitutes were brutally murdered in Whitechapel, by someone with some anatomical knowledge. A letter to a newspaper coined the phrase “Jack the Ripper” and an entire field of study has grown up around the crimes. Although every couple years someone comes along claiming to have the Ripper’s identity, the truth is that at this point, we’ll probably never know.
There are several walking tours to chose from that will help you follow the Ripper’s bloody path, and the walks are designed so that you follow narrow cobblestone streets and stay away from modern office buildings. A “ripperologist” will take you to the scenes of the five canonical murders, including the courtyard where the Ripper was interrupted and almost caught. Don’t worry— you get to finish the evening warm in a pub, discussing theories over a pint or two.
Mary King’s Close and Greyfriar’s Kirkyard, Edinburgh
I have saved the best for last! Seriously this is one of my favorite tours I have ever done, and I don’t just mean ghost tours. Back in 2004 Laurel and I went on what we affectionately call the Black Plague Tour of ’04. During the summer of ‘04 we set off on a European backpacking adventure that took us from Italy, England, and Scotland (also Egypt but we’re looking at Europe here) that somehow always came back to the Black Death aka the Great Plague. While in Scotland we knew we had to do a Close tour and see Edinburgh’s underground. It was everything we could have hoped for and more! Walking around an abandon underground city always gives you the chills. Seeing homes that were bricked up so the residents inside could not get out and spread the plague to others is disturbing to say the least. Some rooms are set up with mannequins (terrifying on their own) dressed in period clothing and boils and even the occasional doctor’s mask (nightmare-inducing). There are rooms still hung with Victorian wallpaper…and one room full of toys, gifts from visitors to the little ghost girl who supposedly lingers there.
Then come back in the open air to enjoy a romantic walk through a graveyard. Greyfriar’s Kirkyard is legendary, and if you take a ghost tour, the guides actually get hazard pay because so many of them get scratched, pushed, or dizzy. Rumor has it a poltergeist manifests around a certain crypt, smack in the middle of a dead zone. I (Laurel) was lucky enough to be sent into the crypt first, alone in the pitch dark, to make sure it was safe… I very bravely stepped in a puddle. (That’s why I’m in Gryffindor, friends.) From here they take you to the top of the graveyard and while you read the names and dates of those that passed centuries before you, you slowly hike up the hill to the top of the cemetery. Now look down at the street below you and know that when this cemetery first started… it was on flat land. That’s right— you are literally standing on top of thousands of dead bodies. The Plague wiped out so many people that the city didn’t have enough land to bury people so they dug mass graves and poured in as many bodies as they could. It is not uncommon for bones to pop out from the ground when it’s raining…so watch your step.
Find out more about this tour at The Real Mary King’s Close
There are tons of ghost, history, and other walking tours to keep you occupied in Edinburgh. Some examples:
We hope you enjoyed our list of creepy Ghost tours and hope that you will consider one the next time you’re traveling. It’s a great way to hear about the history of the city you’re in with a slight death/murder twist. It also provides a good story to tell others. Happy Halloween Wanderers!