1. Venice, Italy
In addition to being one of the most romantic and beautiful cities in Europe, Venice also is envelop ed in mystery. The legends that haunt the canals of this City of Water range from sea monsters to jilted lovers to Marco Polo's wife.
Tours of Italy offers The Venice Ghost Walking Tour, a ghost tour of the city. This tour offers you a chance to hear some ghostly legends and see the city's most important landmarks and hidden byways.
The tour begins at the Rialto Bridge, after which you'll tour the city's maze of canals and campi. You'll hear stories about a prison where inmates suffered in rat-infested cells that frequently flooded with the tides. Next, the tour goes to the Street of the Assassins, where numerous murders and dirty deeds took place. The tour then explores a "campo" (Italian for an area of land or a field) that used to house many of Venice's cemeteries. The tour also takes visitors through a secret, hidden passageway, once used as an escape route from palaces.
Along the way, you'll see the Bovolo staircase built by an extravagant, wealthy Venetian who climbed the staircase on horseback to gain access to his private apartments in his palace. This elaborate staircase is a stunning piece of the many architectural wonders of Venice.
One of the most chilling sites on this tour is the area called Milione, named after the memoirs of Marco Polo. Here, you'll hear the tragic tale of Polo's wife. Polo spent 25 years traveling; for 17 years, he worked for the emperor of China, Kublai Khan. Although never officially documented, Venetians have long told the tale that Marco Polo fell in love with Kublai's daughter, Hao Dong. He soon married this beautiful girl who was noted for her enchanting voice, and she followed him during his many years of travel.
Upon return to Venice, however, Hao Dong was mistrusted due to the fact that she looked very different from most Venetians. She would voluntarily lock herself inside, finding solace in her song. Placed under close observation by the Catholic Church for marrying a non-Christian, Marco Polo was soon imprisoned by the Genoese. Lucia, one of Marco Polo's sisters, cruelly told Hao Dong that he had died. Saying nothing, Hao Dong set fire to her clothing and threw herself out of a window into the canal. To this day, legend has it that you can hear Hao Dong's mournful melody on the banks of the canal. Some also claim to see a figure holding a blue flame floating in the night sky.
The tour ends with a breathtaking view of the main bridge of the Grand Canal. The tours costs 20 euro for adults. You can also arrange for a private tour for a more intimate and personal experience. This tour is popular, so book well in advance.
2. Edinburgh, Scotland
Edinburgh is a city notorious for its ghost sightings. In fac t, ghost tours are a popular w ay to take in this historic city situated in southeast Scotland. Along with being a cultural and political center in Scotland for centuries, Edinburgh is also notorious for its legacy of murder, plagues, and torture, which make it a prime location for haunting.
Mercat Tours, one of the premiere ghost tour operators in the city, offers several different walking tours to explore some of the most gruesome legends of this Scottish capitol. The most popular is the “Ghosts and Ghouls Tour,” a tour that combines dramatic storytelling with historical accuracy. On Mercat Tours, you’ll get both a good overview of the history of the city as well as entertaining ghost tales. Specializing in the Old Town area of the city, university-trained historians lead these tours, telling haunting tales and exploring the city's most chilling enclaves.
On the tour, you’ll explore the Royal Mile of Old Town and the haunted vaults beneath South Bridge. Constructed in the late 18th century, these underground vaults were abandoned by the 1830s and have remained virtually unchanged for 200 years. Because 18th century Edinburgh was so crowded, the vaults housed families in rooms the size of a small bedroom with no ventilation or windows. Lighted by fish oil lamps, the vaults were barely habitable; the stench of waste from garbage and chamber pots overwhelmed the area. The tour leads visitors through Edinburgh’s haunted underground vaults where, according to legend, the memories of all who have lived in the area are absorbed in the passageways. Visitors report hearing unexplainable sounds and shifts in temperature.
It seems like you can’t walk more than a few steps in Edinburgh before running into a site purported to be haunted by this city’s ghoulish past. This is perhaps due to the fact that 17th century Edinburgh was extremely overcrowded, and disease and plague ran rampant. Also, much like many other haunted cities, Edinburgh was not without its notorious murderers. Deacon Brodie, the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," lived in the city, and his residence is featured on a Mercat Tour. Legend has it that, much like his literary counterpart, Brodie was a mild-mannered citizen by day and savage killer by night.
You’ll also have the opportunity to check out cemeteries that serve as the final resting places for some of the most famous Scots, including Adam Smith, author of "The Wealth of Nations." You’ll also learn about the body snatchers who used to frequent these cemeteries to gather freshly deceased corpses to sell to surgeons-in-training.
This tour lasts approximately an hour and 30 minutes. Be sure to book well in advance because tickets frequently sell out. At the end of the tour, you also have the option to extend the tour and visit Megget’s Cellar for a complimentary drink to soothe your nerves.
3. Prague, Czech Republic
Writer Angelo Ripellino once remarked, “When I seek another word for mystery, th e only word I can find is Prague” [source: Banville]. Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic and the ancient capitol of Bohemia, is indeed a mysterious and magical city that provides an ideal setting for ghost stories. Prague’s dark, intertwining, narrow alleys and ancient bridges are said to be home to some of the most unusual ghosts and spirits in Europe.
Prague Experience Tours offers the Prague Ghost and Medieval Mysteries Walking Tour. The tour takes visitors through some of the most historically significant and paranormally active areas of this Central European capitol.
One of the most famous tourist attractions in Prague is the beautiful Charles Bridge. This bridge across the Vltava River, with origins dating from the 14th century, not only links both sides of the city but is also home to some ghostly inhabitants. The bridge is lined with statues of saints said to bless those who cross it. However, legend has it that not all of the saints rest safely in the next world. St. John of Nepomuk took the confession of Queen Johanna, wife of King Wenceslas IV. When St. John refused to tell the king what his wife had confessed, Wenceslas had the priest tortured and thrown from the bridge to die. According to legend, for the next 300 years, St. John roamed the area around the bridge until his soul was captured in his statue in the 17th century. If you touch St. John’s statue, it’s rumored that if you have a secret, no one will discover it.
In addition to St. John of Nepomuck’s wandering spirit, 10 lords who were executed during the Middle Ages also haunt the Charles Bridge. The lords’ heads were placed on spikes on the bridge, and they're now said to sing ballads of sadness to scare away anyone brave enough to cross the bridge at midnight.
After crossing the bridge from Old Town, the tour comes to the Little Quarter. A Swede who lost his head during the 30 Years War can be seen on his horse carrying his head in a burlap sack. Next, the tour explores Josefov, the former Jewish ghetto of the city. Rabbi Loew and the Golem of Prague dominate the legends of this area. In the 16th century, Loew created the Golem, a figure molded out of clay from the Vltava River, to help save the Jews from accusations of murdering Christian children. Loew brought the Golem to life by reciting Hebrew incantations and released it onto the community. The Golem grew larger and larger, and the Emperor begged Loew to destroy him. After protecting the Jews from murderous attacks, Loew put the Golem in the attic of the Old-New Synagogue, where its body is said to rest to this day. Loew ordered that no one should ever enter the attic; even the Nazis were unable to penetrate this area of the Old-New Synagogue.
The Old Jewish Cemetery, which contains over 100,000 bodies, is said to be teeming with ghosts. The oldest existing Jewish graveyard in Europe, the cemetery was used from 1439-1787. Although the Nazis attempted to destroy all Jewish cemeteries, Hitler ordered that this one be preserved because he intended to construct a Jewish museum in Prague after he had exterminated all of the Jews in Europe.
One of the more popular walking tours in Prague, the ghost tour attracts many visitors, particularly in the high tourist season. The tour costs 200czk (about $12.50). Organizers of the tour state that many tourists are afraid to walk the streets alone after learning of the ghoulish, mysterious history of this ancient city.
4. Gettysburg, Penn.
During the American Civil War, the quiet town of Gettys burg, Penn., witnessed unparalleled death and destruction. Approximately 51,000 people -- enough to fill a football stadium -- were wounded or killed in this three-day campaign [source: Nesbitt]. Some died immediately by canon fire; others suffered for weeks, enduring primitive surgeries and the mental anguish of knowing that they were doomed to leave their loved ones behind. It's no surprise that an area so saturated in human suffering continues to be haunted by the soldiers who paid the ultimate sacrifice.
In addition to the sheer amount of suffering that occurred during that short three-day period, experts claim the area around Gettysburg remains haunted because of the large amount of quartz-bearing granite in the area. Some people believe that quartz absorbed the energy of the dying and suffering and occasionally releases this energy, resulting in supernatural experiences [source: Nesbitt]
The Ghosts of Gettysburg Tours of the battlefields and town of Gettysburg, Penn., may be one of the only tours based on a popular six-volume book series, "The Ghosts of Gettysburg." Mark Nesbitt, a licensed Battlefield Guide and National Park Service Ranger, penned the series after researching thousands of stories relating to haunting in Gettysburg. In 2007 and 2008, this tour was voted the "Best in America" by Haunted America Tours.
On the tour, visitors have experienced everything from touches, smells and sounds to spotting orbs or unusual figures lurking in the distance. Nesbitt reports that one group saw a large, blue column of light descend from the sky and engulf a monument on East Cemetery Hill. Additionally, two tour groups watched -- for a full 45 minutes -- hazy figures donned in Civil War regalia move around a Civil War era home.
Another phenomena that tourists frequently experience is the infamous phantom battalion -- Nesbitt reports six documented sightings. The battalion appears to people, marches around in formation, then vanishes. The woman in white, who may be the spirit of a nun who came to minister to the wounded, now lurks in the Spangler’s Spring area. In the area around Gettysburg College, tourists claim to see individual soldiers, sometimes escorting ladies, walking in a blue haze, as well as hearing ghostly noises in dorms and fraternity houses. In an administrative building of the college, a former Civil War hospital, people report visions of gory hospital scenes featuring wounded soldiers suffering from disease and amputation.
Tens of thousands of visitors take the Ghosts of Gettysburg tour each year. Tours cost between $8 and $8.50 per person. Costumed guides carrying candle lanterns offer four different tour routes as well as a bus tour to sites too far afield. Additionally, in conjunction with the Gettysburg and Northern Railroad, the ghost train tour takes visitors through a haunted engine house to listen to recordings of EVP (electronic voice phenomena -- recorded voice of the dead) obtained during paranormal investigations of the engine house.
5. Charleston, S.C.
Fe w American cities are as beautifully preser ved and historically vibrant as Charleston, S.C. In fact, not much of the city’s architecture and ambience has changed since its founding in 1670 and its heyday in the 18th century as one of cultural and social capitols of the American South. But the Holy City, as it's called due to the large number of church steeples that dot the skyline, has a menacing and mysterious side.
Not only was Charleston home to some of the most wealthy socialites and politicos in the American South, but nearby Sullivan’s Island was the port of entry for nearly forty percent of U.S. slaves. Nearly half of all African Americans can trace ancestors who arrived through Sullivan’s Island [source: Lee]. Additionally, pirates were executed in Charleston.
Bull Dog Tours, the only walking tour company in Charleston granted exclusive rights to go anywhere other than the sidewalks at night, guides tourists through some of the cities haunted sites, including the Old City Jail, Dungeon, and the oldest graveyard in Charleston.
The Unitarian Church graveyard is one of the oldest cemeteries in the city. Senior tour guide Stephen Beard recollects that while leading a group of 20 people, he counted heads before departing the graveyard. A woman asked Beard if the group was going to wait for the other woman in the graveyard. Knowing that he had counted correctly, Beard looked back in the graveyard and saw a woman in a white dress -- only he could see straight through her body to the trees behind. The group watched her for moment, then ran.
The Old Exchange Building and Provost Dungeon on East Bay Street was the final destination for many of the pirates that stalked the seas in the 18th century. Before he was executed for his crimes, Black Beard the pirate was jailed within the walls of the building. Many pirate hangings took place here. Additionally, the north side of the Old Exchange Building served as a slave market.
Visitors to the site report poltergeist activity -- angry ghosts acting out by making loud noises or throwing things to scare those trespassing their territory. Additionally, ghost tourists and guides have claimed they've been choked by ghosts. Visitors on the ghost tour have blacked out, felt extreme temperature shifts and have reported they were touched by an unseen hand. Guides say a recent tour guest was scratched by a ghost. The marks on his back were red, raised and clearly new, with no damage to his shirt.
The Old City Jail served as the County Jail for Charleston from 1802 until 1939. The area that now houses the jail was set aside in 1680 for public use and included a hospital, asylum poor house, and “workhouse” for runaway slaves. Workhouse is a bit of a misnomer since slaves were essentially worked to death to pay for their crime. Torture and execution took place at the site -- people were burned at the stake, branded, and killed by drawing and quartering. The jail was frequently overcrowded, housing inmates at sometimes three times capacity. It’s estimated that 10,000 people died at this site.
One of the more infamous inmates of the jail included Lavinia Fisher, the first female serial killer in America. A few pirates waited their execution at the jail. During the Civil War, the jail housed the survivors of the 54th Mass, one of the only official African American regiments in the U.S. army and the subjects of the film "Glory."