11 of the World’s Creepiest Places
Haunted, sinister, evil or just plain weird—for those who dream about traveling the world, welcome to your nightmare. These places will blast chills down your spine.
1. The Bone Church of Kutna Hora // Czech Republic
In the 13th century, an abbot brought sand from Jerusalem back to Bohemia and sprinkled it over the monastery's graveyard. Suddenly, everyone wanted to be buried there, and it wasn't long before space ran out. For centuries, monks collected and stored human remains, until a local woodcarver was hired to get creative with the surplus skeletons. Using the bones of some 40,000 people, he created wall art, columns, even a chandelier made with every bone in the human body. Today you can visit the church, marvel at the morbid creativity of its contents, and the extensive uses of the human body.
2. San Franciscan Monastery // Peru
The hipbone may indeed be connected to the thighbone, but underneath the 17th century San Franciscan Monastery in the Peruvian capital of Lima, it is connected to other bones too. Beneath the impressive monastery lie a series of narrow catacombs, where you’ll find carefully geometrically arranged skeletons of some 25,000 has-beens. Built to withstand earthquakes, the air inside the catacomb is dense, lit with a distinct atmosphere of spookiness as opposed to the intended religious devotion. One catacomb is piled head-high in skulls. With the low ceilings, you’ll want to watch your head too.
3. and 4. Père Lachaise and the Paris Catacombs // France
Old Graveyards and cemeteries are creepy at the best of times. Père Lachaise gets bonus points for its long history, the deathly clutter of mausoleums, the gothic architecture, and occasional weirdness—like spooky graffiti, burnt offerings, or awful angsty poetry visitors leave to honour Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde.
Creepier still are the Paris Catacombs, a limestone labyrinth snaking beneath the city containing the remains of six million Parisians. The dark abandoned quarry, filled with the bodies from long-closed Parisian cemeteries, will make you long for the tranquility of the graveyard.
5. The Killing Fields // Cambodia
There is creepy, there is spooky, and then there is just plain evil. Nothing makes your hair stand up, your throat parch, your nerves collapse, and your faith in humanity shatter like the physical site of genocide. And yet, places like Cambodia’s Killing Fields, Auschwitz, and the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre in Rwanda are vital to understand the horrors of the past, and make sure they never happen again. It is beyond comprehension to picture murdered skulls piled 30 feet high, or pools of human ashes. It is also beyond the tone of this story. And yet sites like The Killing Fields, Auschwitz and Kigali continue to draw attention to historical acts of genocide, the importance that travellers acknowledge them, and the fact that even today, the horror of mass murder continues to exist.
6. Transylvania // Romania
Transylvania is the birthplace of modern horror—at least in books and movies. Some say (though some disagree) that fictional Dracula was based on Vlad the Impaler, a ruthless leader who enjoyed the sight of his Turkish enemies being skewered. “Dracula’s Castle” is in Romania, but it’s a renowned hokey tourist joint. Hang on, aren’t the hills of Transylvania perfect roaming grounds for werewolves? Nobody has seen one of them in ages—in fact, nobody has ever seen one outside of a movie theatre. What you will see in Transylvania are small villages alive with traditional music and cuisine. You’ll visit the historical capital of Cluj Napoca, full of cool bars frequented by students listening to dance music or reggae. There’s nothing particularly creepy about Transylvania at all, other than the fact that, hey, it’s Transylvania. And yet, knowing this still, I’m not walking alone in those woods, pal.
7. Lamanai Mayan Ruins // Belize
Most ancient ruins up the creep factor, which is why they frequently feature in horror movies. Some Mayan ruins have the added bonus of having been the setting for human sacrifice. It is uncertain if human sacrifices took place here in Lamanai as it did in other later Mayan temples, although blood-letting sacrifices almost certainly did. Walk up the blackened, cracked stairs, soak up the mystery, and wallow in silence so spooky it could break your fall.
8. Chernobyl and Pripyat // Ukraine
Though this was the site of the worst nuclear disaster in history, it didn’t feel that weird standing outside reactor number 4. That’s because radiation is a silent killer, and sure enough, the Geiger counter was reading levels dozens of times higher than normal. The true creep only sets when you visit the nearby deserted city of Pripyat. Residents had just hours to leave, abandoning everything, including their pets.
A quarter century later, the city is a post-apocalyptic nuclear nightmare. Dead silence, school books flapping in the wind, buildings cracking with time. Since everything inside the 30km Zone of Alienation is considered nuclear waste, there they will remain. Including this haunting doll, one of many to be found in an eerily silent school.
9. The Kataragama Festival // Sri Lanka
The Kataragama Festival is a colorful, peaceful and inspiring celebration of faith, as three major religions congregate in worship and respect. Nevertheless, I stumbled across a spectacle soaked in blood and wide-eyed fear. Holy men had gathered in a circle, and to demonstrate the intensity and extent of their faith, proceeded to stab themselves with knives and spears. To the chant of voices and the beat of drums, the holy man pictured jammed two knives deep in his skull, slashed his tongue and chest, but seemed to recover perfectly with a dab of ash on the wounds. Filming an episode of my TV show, the reaction of our sound guy (look right) speaks volumes.
10. Stone Town // Zanzibar
By day, Stone Town feels wonderfully exotic. A maze of narrow alleys, mosques, beautifully carved large wooden doors—there’s a glorious sense of Persian, African, Indian, and European history, a city scrubbed in the fortunes of the wealthy Sultan of Oman. Wait until nightfall. Now you can really feel Stone Town’s dark, seedy past, when the city functioned as a sordid centre of slaving, piracy and smuggling. Blackened buildings, cracked cobblestone, darting shadows in the maze of alleys—it’s enough to spook even the most sceptical imagination. Vampires don’t exist, but if they did, they’d holiday in Stone Town.
11. Lalibela // Ethiopia
Built around the 12th and 13th century, the churches of Lalibela have been painstakingly carved top down into red volcanic rock as freestanding structures. The columns, carvings and masonry make nonsense of the idea that ancient Africa lacked a civilization as advanced as any in Europe.
The 11 rock churches are dark, musty, and not the kind of place you’d want to be locked up for the night. Mummified corpses of ancient holy men stuffed into holes in the surrounding rocks don’t help. Adding to the creep factor: the fleas infesting the original rugs and carpets, known to climb up visitors’ legs.