In a 2006 survey, 36 percent of respondents said they thought places can be haunted, and 20 percent said they thought people can communicate with the deceased [source: Clark Felty].
So it's no surprise people use vacation time to seek out the living dead. Ghost tours provide tourists the opportunity to brush shoulders with spirits, or at the least, hear a few ghostly tales. Some tourists stop in for these tours on a whim, and other enthusiasts design entire trips around visiting a string of haunted places.
The spook factor on a ghost tour depends on what you get -- a tour guide's suspenseful stories or a paranormal experience. For example, during a Charleston, S.C., ghost tour, tourists have reported blacking out in the dungeon, claiming their airflow was cut off and that ghosts breathed down their necks. On that same tour, pregnant women have reported being taunted by a female ghost who died in childbirth -- saying they've felt their babies kicking and have even experienced contractions. Several of them left the tour, and more than a few have fainted.
Recently, television shows like "A Haunting," "Ghost Hunters" and "Most Haunted" have compounded the fascination with paranormal activity. Although the latest technological advances and television trends have stirred additional interest, ghost intrigue is certainly nothing new. Ghost tales make up a large part of the mythologies of many ancient cultures, and literature has always loved a good phantom. William Shakespeare, in plays such as "Hamlet," used ghosts as plot devices to link the consequences of the past to the events of the present.
So, if you're searching for a ghost tour, where should you look? Most cities have at least one ghost tour company to guide visitors through the haunted digs. But ghost tourism seems to be most popular in areas that have been centers of historic change -- places where architecture connects us to the past and to catastrophic human suffering. Believers say ghosts can be spotted anywhere from homes to prisons to public squares. Can they? Let's take a closer look.
The Catacombs, Paris
The Catacombs of Paris, that vast underground network of tunnels that holds the remains of more than 6 million deceased Parisians, has been a source of inspiration for writers from Victor Hugo to Umberto Eco, and it's also one of the top destinations in the world for ghost hunters. Beneath Paris lies a tunnel network of mind-boggling complexity covering a total of roughly 185 miles. Because of hazardous conditions, most of the tunnels are closed to the public, but visitors with a taste for the macabre can visit the Catacombs, which are located in the deepest bowels of the city [source: Associated Press].
The Catacombs were formed at the end of the 18th century when the Cimetière des Saints-Innocents, which had been in use for more than 10 centuries, became a source of disease for the city. In 1785, the cemetery was cleared out, and bodies were transferred to old quarries on the city's outskirts. From the late 18th century until the mid-19th century, black-draped carriages passed the city's many cemeteries, transferring human remains to their new underground destination. The bones of millions of people were ultimately relocated to the Catacombs, where they were collected and fashioned into elaborate walls and pillars of skulls and bones.
Because of the disrespect shown to the dead, the Catacombs of Paris are widely believed to be one of the most haunted places on Earth. Visitors to the subterranean site have reported the feeling of being touched by invisible hands, being followed, and some have even felt the sensation of being strangled. Perhaps it's the sight of all those bones, but the Catacombs have made more than a few visitors shake in their boots [source: Whittaker].
Want to find out for yourself if spirits roam the underground tunnels of the Catacombs of Paris? Take a self-guided tour by visiting the Catacombs of Paris Museum. There, you can descend more than 60 feet (18.29 meters) underground to behold floor-to-ceiling stacks of bones, and you can stroll more than 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) of underground tunnels and view the remains of more than 6 million souls [source: Catacombs of Paris Museum].
The American South has a rich history, but few cities have a more interesting past than Savannah, Ga. The handsome, mid-size city has an unofficial saying, "Savannah was built on its dead," because some portions of the city were built on top of large cemeteries with thousands of graves. Perhaps that's why Savannah is said to have so much paranormal activity [source: Hoevel].
There are other factors that could account for the city's high population of ghosts and ghouls. Savannah was founded as a debtor colony in the 18th century and it served as a battleground during the American Revolution. During the Civil War, General Sherman and the Union Army occupied the city. So many ghosts, spirits and apparitions have been reported in Savannah that the American Institute of Parapsychology named it America's Most Haunted City in 2002.
One popular destination for any ghost tour of Savannah is the Pirates' House, a restaurant and tavern that is among the oldest in Georgia. The Pirates' House was popular among sailors in the 18th and 19th centuries, and local legend has it that Captain Flint from Robert Louis Stevenson's popular book "Treasure Island" died in the bar. The Pirates' House also has an underground tunnel that leads out to the Savannah River.
Another supposed hotspot for ghosts is the Sorrel-Weed House, an enormous 1838 house that has been featured on popular TV shows like "Ghost Hunters" and "The Today Show". Visitors to the Sorrel-Weed House have reported hearing noises that sound like war, marching bands or parties when the house is empty. Others have reported feeling vibrations that make them feel uncomfortable.
But paranormal activity is something that needs to be seen or felt to be believed. Because of its reputation as a ghost hangout, Savannah is home to dozens of haunted tours that will take you deep into the city's most haunted haunts. For a deeper look at Savannah's haunted history, Sixth Sense Savannah offers a two-hour guided tour that will give you an overview of Savannah's history with stories of local encounters with ghosts [source: Sixth Sense Savannah].
With its dark, foggy streets, London seems a perfect place for ghosts to reside, and there is no shortage of ghost tours in the British capital. London visitors can learn about the city's haunted history on a variety of bus tours and walking tours, exploring everything from Bloody Mary to the city's ancient plague pits. Richard Jones, a magician, storyteller and author of the book "Walking Haunted London", leads some of London's most popular tours. Jones is considered to be an expert on psychic and paranormal activity, and he specializes in Jack the Ripper lore [source: McLaughlin].
The killing of five (or possibly six) women in the Whitechapel section of London in 1888 shocked and horrified the world. Today, the mystery of the killer, who was identified only by the nickname "Jack the Ripper," continues to fascinate, making Whitechapel a popular destination for ghost hunters, history buffs and fans of the macabre. Between August and November of 1888, a mystery killer murdered the women -- all prostitutes -- in particularly gruesome fashion. All of the women -- except for one -- were horribly mutilated, suggesting to some experts that the serial killer was either a doctor or a butcher with knowledge of human anatomy [source: BBC].
The Jack the Ripper walk takes place every night at 7 p.m., and it begins at the Aldgate East underground station. The walk takes visitors around the historic streets of Whitechapel, exploring the social history of the area, clues about the killer and the police hunt that ensued. Ten Bells Pub is a common destination for any Jack the Ripper tour of Whitechapel, as one of Jack the Ripper's victims was seen drinking at the pub before her body was discovered nearby.
More than 300 years have passed since the Salem Witch Trials, but the New England town is still haunted by the nation's most infamous witch hunt. From 1692 to 1693, in colonial Massachusetts, more than 200 people were accused of practicing witchcraft, and 20 of the accused were ultimately executed.
In the winter of 1692, the daughters of Reverend Samuel Parris, aged 9 and 11, began acting strangely. They made unusual sounds, threw things, and a local doctor blamed the supernatural for their odd behavior. Pressured by local magistrates, the girls blamed three women of casting a spell on them. After a trial, the women were put in jail, setting off a wave of paranoia in Salem Town. In May 1692, Governor William Phipps established a special court to decide witch trials, and in the months that followed, the newly formed court convicted dozens of people of witchcraft based on spectral evidence (testimony based on dreams and visions) [source: Blumberg].
One of the most popular Salem attractions for ghost hunters and ordinary tourists alike is the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion, better known as the House of the Seven Gables. Writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, the cousin of Susannah Ingersoll, who lived in the house, made the house famous. Local legend has it that Ingersoll still haunts the old house, and visitors have reported several strange occurrences there. Today, the iconic house is a museum, and it's part of the House of the Seven Gables Historic District.
For a look back at Salem's haunted history, Salem Historical Tours offers the Haunted Footsteps Ghost Tour, an evening tour that passes through historic streets, highlighting the events of the 1692 witch trials. The tours also visit Salem's oldest cemetery and the Witch Trials Memorial, which is dedicated to the innocent victims of the Salem Witch Trials [source: Salem Historical Tours].
Waverly Hills Sanatorium, Louisville, Ky.
Louisville, a modern metropolis commonly associated with horse racing and baseball bats, hardly sounds like a place where you might go searching for ghosts -- that is, until you step onto the grounds of the old Waverly Hills Sanatorium, located just outside the city. The sprawling building has been empty for decades, and it's widely considered to be one of the most haunted buildings in the United States.
The original Waverly Hills Sanatorium, a two-story structure with a capacity of just 40 patients, was built in 1910, but an outbreak of tuberculosis prompted Jefferson County to expand the facility in 1936. An abandoned hospital always feels a bit menacing, but Waverly Hills has a darker history than most. Thousands of people died at the sanatorium, as the infectious disease took its toll on Louisville and the surrounding counties in the first half of the 20th century. To deal with the escalating death toll, hospital workers removed dead bodies from the facility via an underground tunnel that led to the back of the building. The so-called "death chute" is now a key attraction on any ghost tour of Waverly Hills, and paranormal investigators have claimed that the tunnel is haunted. Another popular attraction is room 502, where a nurse hung herself, according to local legend.
The sanatorium shut its doors in 1961, and operated as a geriatrics facility until the early 1980s. Since then, the building has been closed, and although several different developers have sought to renovate it, the building still sits empty. Due to its infamy, several professional ghost hunters have visited the building, and it has been featured on TV shows like "Ghost Adventures" and "Scariest Places on Earth".
Each year around Halloween, a haunted house is hosted at the former sanatorium, and throughout the year the Waverly Hills Historical Society offers a variety of ghost tours. For the casual visitor, the Historical Society gives two-hour guided tours during daytime, but for the more zealous ghost hunters, the company offers eight-hour paranormal investigations that begin at midnight and are only open to adults [source: Waverly Hills Historical Society].
Few American cities are as beautifully preserved 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 capitals 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 40 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 a 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 on their territory. Additionally, 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 its 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."
During the American Civil War, the quiet town of Gettysburg, 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 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. 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.
Prague, Czech Republic
Writer Angelo Ripellino once remarked, "When I seek another word for mystery, the only word I can find is Prague" [source: Banville]. Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic and the ancient capital 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 city.
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 more than 100,000 bodies, is said to be teeming with ghosts. The oldest existing Jewish graveyard in Europe, the cemetery was used from 1439 to 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. 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.
Edinburgh is a city notorious for its ghost sightings. In fact, ghost tours are a popular way 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 capital. The most popular is the "Ghosts and Ghouls Tour," which 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 while exploring the city's most chilling enclaves.
On the tour, you'll visit 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.
In addition to being one of the most romantic and beautiful cities in Europe, Venice also is enveloped 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. You can also arrange for a private tour for a more intimate and personal experience. This tour is popular, so book well in advance.
Tourists aren't the only ones at Versailles. Stuff They Don't Want You To Know talks ghosts, time travel and women who say they saw Marie Antoinette.
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