Haunted castles? Scary ghost tours? Eerie events after dark? There is no shortage of creepy haunts to explore and spooky things to do this Halloween. Read on if you dare...

Few things fire the imagination in quite the way that thoughts of ghosts, ghouls and ghastly goings-on do. Kids particularly delight in a little spine-tingling stimulation, and enjoyment of this special frisson lives on throughout adulthood.

The true Halloween experience is of course seasonal, and there are many popular festivals taking place every October worldwide, as well as more serious celebrations such as Mexico's Day of the Dead, where people celebrate the lives of lost relatives. But year-round possibilities abound.

Scary places

Throughout most of each October, the Bates Motel and Haunted Hayride (website: www.thebatesmotel.com), at Glen Mills in Pennsylvania, USA, plays on the joint reputations of Hitchcock's classic film Psycho and local harvest time traditions to offer a scary day out for those of less nervous disposition.

One of the UK's leading theme parks, Alton Towers, in Staffordshire, stages an annual Scarefest, firmly aimed at the family market. Hotel stopovers, with appropriately spooky ‘extras', are available as packages.

Salem, in Massachusetts (website: www.salemweb.com), is America's best-known place associated with matters paranormal, being location of the infamous 17th century witch trials. As well as major annual October Halloween festivities, which take place throughout the month and include a witchcraft exhibition and the Official Salem Witches' Annual Ball, the town offers a year-round array of ‘haunted' houses and witchcraft attractions for young and old alike.

The tiny Canton of Glarus, eastern Switzerland, bears the dubious distinction of having been scene of Europe's last ‘witch' execution, in 1782. A new museum (website: www.annagoeldin.ch, German only), which opened in September in the town of Mollis, now commemorates the sad story of the unfortunate Anna Göldi.

Ghostly tours

If you are eager to commune with the spirits, there is a huge choice of haunted buildings, ghost tours and spectre-hunting events all over the world.

In Australia, the Old Melbourne Gaol (website: www.oldmelbournegaol.com.au) was scene of many hangings, including that of the notorious Ned Kelly. It offers regular night-time ‘Hangman's Tours', and overnight on the last Saturday of most months, braver souls can join paranormal researchers working in what is claimed as the country's most haunted building.

Also ‘down under', the Monte Cristo Homestead at Junee, New South Wales (website: www.montecristo.com.au), allegedly has a lively roster of ghosts.

South Africa, too, is not without its tales of lingering presences both in its cities and on former battlefields. Mystery Ghost Bus Tours (website: www.mysteryghostbus.co.za) are available in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, with further venues, including Durban, due in the near future.

Britain, of course, has a rich reputation for things that go bump in the night. Highlights include the Ghost Hunt of York (website: www.ghosthunt.co.uk), which takes place every evening of the year, while Mercat Tours (website: www.mercattours.com) offers a wide range of similarly spooky experiences in Edinburgh.

And you can follow in the footsteps of London's foremost Victorian serial killer Jack the Ripper (website: www.jack-the-ripper-tour.com) on most days of the year, exploring the dark streets of East London in search of clues to his true identity.

More spooky haunts

The Tower of London (website: www.hrp.org.uk), with its long history of torture and execution, is a prime site for those in search of spirits. Ghosts reportedly seen there include Thomas Becket and Anne Boleyn, among many distinguished others.

Elsewhere in Europe, who knows whether the spirits of the famous wander at night among the graves of Paris' Père Lachaise Cemetery (website: www.pere-lachaise.com), whose ‘occupants' include such luminaries as Edith Piaf, Marcel Proust, Jim Morrison, Maria Callas and Honoré de Balzac? Some of these have reportedly been ‘seen' flitting among the trees.

And what powerful influences lurk in the ancient walls and passageways of the Catacombs of Rome (website: www.catacombe.roma.it), whose origins date back nearly two millennia? These and other historic landmarks are included in Dark Rome's tours (website: www.darkrome.com), which highlight ghostly and mysterious aspects of the Eternal City.

Creepy castles and churches

The prime contender for this title, without doubt, is Count Dracula's Castle in the heart of Romanian Transylvania (website: www.draculacastle.com). Former home of 15th century tyrant Vlad the Impaler, it is inextricably linked with Bram Stoker's classic novel, as is ruined Whitby Abbey (website: www.english-heritage.org.uk) in Yorkshire, northern England.

Castle Frankenstein, near Darmstadt in Germany plays host each year at the end of October to a plethora of ghosts and assorted monsters for a festival that draws thousands.

Scotland has hundreds of castles, and many of these are reputedly haunted. Ghostly pipers and ladies in white abound at such properties as Culzean Castle in Ayrshire (website: www.culzeanexperience.org), and royal Glamis Castle (website: www.glamis-castle.co.uk), said to be one of the nation's most ghost-riddled, and former home of the late Queen Mother. Brodick Castle (website: www.nts.org.uk) on the Isle of Arran, whose spectral ‘residents' include a white stag, is another spooky Scottish spot worth investigating.

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