Visiting spooky places around the world with kids is a tricky proposition. It really does depend on your kid’s age and maturity, obviously. Despite being world travellers, my 11 year old kids are quite young at heart. They have an active imagination and can talk themselves into a panic attack. It’s a fine line between just plain creepy crossing the border into downright scary. We have never taken them to one of the haunted house attractions at a theme park (Disney’s Haunted Halloween doesn’t count). Yet, we have been to lots of spooky places as part of visiting museums, historic sites, famous homes and iconic hotels.
Atlas Obscura’s Creepy Places in the World
When Atlas Obscura (the website) put out a book, I knew I had to get Atlas Obscura (the book). It’s subtitled “an Explorer’s Guide To The World’s Hidden Wonders” which sounds great if you are into quirky and off the beaten path places like we are.
The book has its share of spooky places, creepy locations and abandoned and mysterious places in the world. Of the 4 creepy places in the world we have been in this book, my children have been to two of the spooky places (Island of the Dolls and the Capuchin Tombs). They would have been fine at Highgate Cemetery but the Museum of Death would have been inappropriate.
When we saw the abandoned dolls on Island of the Dolls as part of a tour of the Aztec floating gardens at Xochimilco in Mexico City, it was definitely creepy. Visiting in daylight though meant my son was not upset by it. I can imagine if we visited at night it would be a lot worse. I’d say that in daylight the creep factor was high but the scare factor was low.
In Palermo in Sicily we visited the Capuchin Catacombs. My kids thought it was creepy but not scary. From the 17th to the 19th century, these catacombs with mummies were a status symbol for the local wealthy and celebrities. After you paid the Capuchin monks quite a bit for the privilege, you got mummified in your best dress or military gear to see you through eternity.
I likewise saw Highgate Cemetery as part of a tour which focussed on its historical aspect. It was a bit spooky because the Victorians were seriously into glamorising death but overall not that scary at all.
The Museum of Death in Hollywood (Los Angeles) wasn’t so much scary as inappropriate for kids. The creep factor was high because there was a lot about serial killers. The most disturbing section was as series of photos of a woman and her lover posing with the husband they had just murdered. There’s now a Museum of Death branch in New Orleans as well.
Other Creepy Locations With Kids
Of course, with my kids I have to be careful which creepy locations and abandoned and mysterious places in the world to visit. For example, we went to Bodmin Jail in Cornwall (not an Atlas Obscura find) and the kids got completely freaked out. It was an abandoned old jail which had been redone and supposedly the most haunted place in England. Yes, that was a bad idea even though we have visited a lot of prisons.
Haunted Places in the World: Prison Museums
Our visits to abandoned and mysterious places in the world extends to a whole lot of prison tours. My son loves architecture and he really finds prisons fascinating (hopefully for the architectural aspect and not as future career choice).
We have been to the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, the first penitentiary in the world built in the 19th century and the model for many later penitentiaries. It’s supposed to be one of the most haunted places in the world. During the day though, the tour was interesting and not scary. They do Halloween Scare nights though and I’m pretty sure my kids would not have liked the creepy location then.
We took a tour of the Wyoming State Prison which is in the top 10 haunted places in the USA. Our guide was great and wouldn’t tell gory stories in front of the kids. Instead of being freaked out, my kids were fascinated with the gallows mechanism and the gas chamber they saw.
The Wyoming State Prison was created by the same architect who designed Alcatraz Prison in San Francisco harbor. Even though Alcatraz is supposed to be one of the most abandoned and mysterious places to visit in the world, our tour of Alcatraz did not have any vibes at all. Of course, it was a bright sunny day and the place was packed with tourists. It’s hard to let your imagination run wild when you are listening to a really interesting audio guide too!
You would think we would have ran into ghosts at The Liberty Hotel, a former prison which housed notables like the Boston Strangler. Nope. Maybe the Starwood Group gentrified all the ghosts out of The Liberty.
My new tactic is to visit places and not tell my kids it’s a haunted place to visit. For example, we stayed at The Don CeSar Hotel in St. Pete’s Beach in Florida recently which is reputedly haunted. They loved the hotel and was none the wiser. Of course, there was nothing remotely creepy about the location even though it had been an abandoned hotel for years with a tragic love story background.
Spooky Historic Homes and Castles
Pretty much every castle you visit will have a ghost in its history. The Castle of Good Hope in Cape Town in South Africa was not only a castle but a prison. There are ghost stories plenty of tortured prisoners and soldiers on patrol. My kids weren’t spooked out though even when we were shown into the dark prison rooms.
We took the kids to Winchester House in San Jose in California and they thought it was more like a fun house than one of the creepiest places on Earth. There were doors that opened into walls, staircases that lead into ceilings and doors that opened onto 2 story drops. No one knows why the mysterious and reclusive Sarah Winchester created the house the way she did.
Of course, that hasn’t stopped the Hollywood treatment of the Winchester house becoming a horror movie starring Helen Mirren. Entitled Winchester: The House That Ghosts Built about the most haunted house in the world (supposedly) the movie didn’t actually seem to have that much in common with the house that we actually visited!
How about you? Have you visited any spooky or otherwise creepy location? Is it a place you would visit with older kids?
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