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10 of the World’s Spookiest Spots to Visit on Your Gap Year

Written by Jenny McWhirter on 03 / 11 / 2015

Gap Year Advice

No matter what time of year it is, these places are seriously spooky...

With another horror-filled Halloween just gone by, it’s time to take a look around the world to see what's on offer for the gap year traveller that seeks a thrill, a scare and maybe even an out of body experience. Sound like your bag? Good news then:

There are plenty of terrifying, tourist-friendly places around the globe from spooky ghost towns, to abandoned orphanages to screaming woods.

So if you're looking for a spooky experience on your gap year, you're going to enjoy these ten mysterious (and often downright scary) locations...

Bran Castle, Transylvania, Romania


Vampires have become the focus of many a Halloween party, with Bram Stoker’s portrayal of Dracula many have feasted on the fantasy of Vampires and life after death. However, this castle located in true vampire territory pulls the Dracula story out of fantasy into a terrifying reality.

Bran Castle was owned by the House of Draculesti and home to Vlad III. Although not famed for drinking people’s blood, he has a reputation as one of the most brutal rulers perhaps due to fact he impaled 20,000 of his own people and placed them round the capital.

A trip to this beautifully stunning castle will allow any visitor to explore the stories of Vlad III and bring Dracula to life.

Hanging Coffins of Sagada, Philippines


If you are looking for something slightly different and want to get an up close and personal experience with ancestors then this is the place for you!

The local people of Sagada bury their dead in hanging coffins, which are then attached to the side of cliffs. I don’t know how you feel about spending eternity hanging by a rope from the edge of a rickety cliff but I can’t imagine it provides a peaceful sleep! It does however provide a surreal but intriguing landscape.

The local communities bury their dead in this way as they believe that this brings them closer to ancestral spirits and keep those that frequent the area safe.

If you fancy heading to Sagada to sense the spirits of ancestors, it would make an ideal weekend trip as part of our Borneo and Philippines 10-week programme.

Skull Chapel, Czermna, Poland


As chapel’s go, this Skull Chapel in Poland wins the prize for the scariest! It is made from the remains of around 3000 people and the remains of 21,000 people lurk in a crypt below.

It was constructed in 1776 by a priest who claimed that it acted as a reminder of the fragility of human existence. His and his co-workers’ bones were added to the display when they passed on.

Inside a statue of an angel reads “Arise from the Dead”. This place is certainly not for the faint-hearted, if you manage to cope with the striking reminder of your own death, you have to then deal with the foreboding atmosphere of the deaths of others around you.

There is no escaping the eerie feel that oozes out of the Skull Chapel...

Tuol Sleng, Cambodia


This genocide museum has a history that will send a chill down even the hardiest of people’s spines.

The building started out as a high school and was then converted into a notorious secret security prison during Pol Pot’s genocidal rule between 1975 and 1979. 20,000 people were imprisoned, tortured and murdered here over the four years. When you walk through the doors, it initially looks like your standard high school but its darker history becomes evident as you wander through the rooms with photographs of inmates, skulls and instruments of torture on show.

For many, this is enough to send them running. However, it is also rumoured that the victims continue to roam the halls and encounters with these victims range from dark lingering shadows to screams and ghosts touching your shoulder as you wander the halls.

If you want to take the challenge then why not explore the area through The Leap's 10-week gap year program in Cambodia and add this to your list of weekend activities.

Catacombs, Paris


Whilst the streets of Paris provide a beautiful, romantic afternoon stroll that allows you to take in the smells of fresh bread, cheese and other French cuisine, underneath these winding streets lies something much more macabre; a labyrinth of tunnels housing the remains of more than six million Parisians.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, when disease was rife, the bones from graves were moved underground in an attempt to halt the spread of disease.

Nowadays it is possible to get a glimpse of this spine-tingling subterranean site through the self-guided tours. These tours, if you’re brave enough, allow you to see the bones and bodies of past Parisians some are completely decayed but some have become so well preserved that they appear to be merely sleeping – SPOOKY!

Clinton Road, New Jersey, USA


Are you planning a road trip across the States? If so, consider whether you are brave enough to drive this 15km stretch of road. It is infamous for creepy goings on. From satanic rituals in the nearby woods that back onto the road, to phantom trucks that tailgate terrified drivers, if you manage to get through the drive without panicking you are one tough traveller!

There have also been reported sightings of a ghostly child that lurks on Dead Man’s Corner waiting to greet unaware drivers.

Aside from the eerie atmosphere of this road, the lack of lighting and sharp bends in the road makes this one terrifying and difficult drive. Are you up for the challenge?

Pripyat, Ukraine


This ghost town located near the site of the Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster claims to be one of the spookiest and most dangerous ghost towns of the world.

After an accident that occurred at the local power plant station, this town that had built up to serve the power plant was abandoned within 24 hours as the population that was left alive fled the nuclear radiation.

Today you can take a tour round the ghost town and wander through this deserted area, but be sure not to spend too long here as radiation levels are rumoured to still be causing problems 29 years on.

Still think that you could brave these with little difficulty? Well brace yourself as these last three are sure to rattle even the bravest of thrill-seekers!

Moundsville Penitentiary


Whilst Alcatraz receives the most publicity as being America’s must-visit prison, arguably Moundsville offers a rather more unnerving experience. It is among America’s most violent correctional facilities and, due to being less well trodden than Alcatraz, this facility is rumoured to be haunted by many a deranged sole.

Screams of tortured soles ring through the halls and cells, and encounters with previous prisoners are not uncommon.

For those of you who are brave enough, there is the option of getting locked in a cell for the night – a challenge to keep it together and try to get some sleep before being let out in the morning.

Islands of Dolls, Mexico


A cluster of artificial islands and canals make up the province of Xochimilco in Mexico City. One of these islands is named the Island of Dolls. It was owned by Julian Santana Barrera who, after discovering the body of a dead girl in a nearby canal, decided to hang dolls and parts of dolls up to ward off evil spirits.

Although Julian died in 2001, the island can still be found with these dolls and heads of dolls lurking in every corner. Julian’s attempt to ward off evil spirits may have been calming to him, but I can’t quite understand how hanging dolls would make for a more relaxing area!

If you’re interested in exploring this area then boat tours are available to drop you off for a wander through the island.

Aokigahara, Japan


The Blair Witch Project was scary enough in film version wouldn’t you agree? This forest in Japan, which echoes the setting of this chilling movie, has been associated with demons in Japanese mythology and is the second most common place to commit suicide in the world.

In 2010, a record number of 57 people took their lives in this forest. The density of the forest shuts out all but the natural sounds of the forest, making a stroll in the woods a rather disturbing experience.

An annual body hunt is undertaken by volunteers to retrieve those left in the woods. If you don’t want to get involved with this, but fancy a wander through this eerie forest, then I’d advise you to use tape along your route to avoid getting lost.

Spooky Experiences

So if you’re a traveller that likes a thrill (or you just love Halloween year round), these places are ideal and are guaranteed to give you the fright of your life!

Have you had a spooky experience whilst travelling? Do you have first-hand experience of these places? Let us know by posting in the comments box below.

Unsure about how to fit in all the places you want to see in one year? Then download our comprehensive gap year advice guide: The Gap Adventure Blueprint, which contains several chapters that will help you get your head around all the options and offer advice on how to raise funds, plus much more.

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