Macabre, disturbing or just downright creepy – here are the best dark tourism destinations to visit.
Humans have long been intrigued by violence and darkness, ever since hangings made a fun day out.
Even so, the popularity of dark tourism has grown considerably over recent years. Pripyat, for example, has seen an incredible spike in visitors since HBO’s Chernobyl.
For me, dark tourism is about learning from the past and showing respect to people who suffered. I’m fascinated by the macabre, so I’ve been looking forward to sharing my bucket list of dark tourism destinations with you!
The Winchester Mystery House, California
First up: the 160-room San Jose property built by Sarah Winchester.
After the deaths of her husband and child, Sarah went travelling for several years – rumour has it she went to Europe and joined the freemasons. In fact, many of the ‘mysteries’ of the house could be explained through those connections.
Even so, the Winchester Mystery House is eerily beautiful, and I would love to visit it for myself.
S-21 and the Killing Fields, Phnom Penh
This one finds its way onto many dark tourism bucket lists due to the sheer number of lives lost here. Keri visited the Killing Fields back in 2016 to learn more about the tragic history of the Cambodian genocide and atrocities dictator Pol Pot ordered.
It’s a harrowing visit, she says, but important to visit if you stay in Phnom Penh.
Champing in England
“Champing,” or camping in churches, is a relatively new phenomenon. There are several spots around the UK and the churches are open 6 months a year.
I love the idea of staying in an ancient creepy church, though the Church Conservation Trust has done its best to make the overnight stays as cosy as possible. Fairy lights, blankets and candles? Count me in.
The Mummies at Museo de El Carmen, Mexico City
This trip is certainly not for the faint of heart.
Museo de El Carmen is a former monastery school, and its’ crypt houses the remains of 12 former parishioners. The school was closed in 1861 and the bodies left there, but due to the crypt’s conditions, they naturally mummified.
In 2012, the crypt was fully restored and opened to the public.
Having seen the photos, I’d definitely be interested in visiting – oh boy do I love a good crypt.
The Museum of Death, Los Angeles
A strong contender for my ideal date, the Museum of Death houses an amazing collection of serial killer artwork and murder memorabilia.
From Manson and Black Dahlia crime scene photos to watching the recruitment video for the Heaven’s Gate cult, there is so much here I’d love to see.
Rynek Underground, Kraków
When I first read the description of the Rynek Underground – “a hologram-filled medieval market vampire graveyard wonderland” – well, I couldn’t help but be intrigued.
In 2005, an excavation beneath Kraków’s market square revealed not only treasures like coins and remains of merchant stalls, but entire medieval streets.
Now, you can wander through them and see the artefacts whilst admiring the smoke machines, holograms and lasers that apparently showcase them.
Villisca Axe Murder House, Iowa
No guesses on why this place is so creepy. On June 10th 1912 this house was the site of eight murders, including six children.
A lengthy investigation led to several suspects but no-one was held accountable, and the crime remains unsolved to this day.
Since then, many psychics and paranormal investigators have apparently confirmed the presence of spirits. Now I don’t know if I believe in ghosts, but I would certainly like to learn more about the house first-hand.
Alnwick Poison Garden, Alnwick
“These plants can kill” reads the inscription on the front gates, which only opens for special guided tours.
The Alnwick Poison Garden is filled with approximately 100 different species of toxic plants, including deadly nightshade, strychnine and hemlock.
Visitors are strictly are prohibited from touching or smelling any of them, though some have been known to faint.
Waverly Hills Sanatorium, Kentucky
Originally opened in 1910 and intended for just 50 patients, at its peak Waverly housed 10 times that amount. When the sanatorium was no longer needed it became a geriatric centre until its closure in 1982. It has since changed ownership many times.
You can now take a guided tour around the sanitorium to see for yourself the body chute, the ‘cursed’ Room 502 and an abandoned kitchen where you can still smell fresh-baked bread.
Poveglia Plague Island, the Venetian Lagoon
Midway between the islands of Venice and Lido lies Poveglia, a small island considered by some to be the world’s most haunted location.
Home to quarantined plague victims for centuries, historians estimate that Poveglia served as a dumping ground for over 160,000 plague-riddled corpses. Not disturbing enough for you? Don’t worry, it gets worse – in 1922 it was reopened as a mental asylum!
Although there is currently no way to tour the now-desolate island, I’m desperately hoping this will change.
Lizzie Borden’s house, Massachusetts
“Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her father forty whacks; when she saw what she had done she gave her father forty-one.”
This rhyme followed suspected murderess Lizzie Borden around even after her acquittal.
Now, over 120 years afterwards, the murder house has become ‘The Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast Museum.’
Supposedly the house is a hotbed of paranormal activity – though the spirits can be bribed to be kept quiet.
State Museum of Majdanek
Behind the rusting barbed wire of the State Museum of Majdanek still stands many of the barracks, warehouses, workshops and guard towers from its time as a Nazi concentration and extermination camp.
Today, alongside a gargantuan monument and mausoleum, these are used to tell the stories of the 150,000 people, from over 25 countries, who passed through its gates – 80,000 of whom never left.
Keri visited this past Nazi concentration camp during her stay in Lublin, Poland. If you’d like to find out more about the story of Majdanek and it’s prisoners, I highly recommend you read her blog post.
Rehmeyer’s Hollow, Pennsylvania
Also known as the Hex House, Rehmeyer’s Hollow was the site of a brutal murder in 1928.
Nelson Rehmeyer was an occult doctor who was beaten to death by another local witch and two accomplices. Descendants of Rehmeyer opened the Hex House to the public in 2007.
I’m rather interested in witchcraft myself, especially learning about its history.
Roopkund Skeleton Lake, India
16,000ft above sea level and nestled in the Trishul massif lies a glacier lake full of bones.
Since 1942, mystery has surrounded the 200 skeletons found here. Scientists now think that the group were pilgrims struck down by a sudden hailstorm.
Hailstones the size of cricket balls rained down on them and with nowhere to shelter they succumbed, waiting 1,200 years to be discovered.
Visiting the lake is understandably difficult, and requires a 3-4 hour trek through the mountains. But wouldn’t it be amazing to see?
The top dark tourism destinations on my bucket list
Well, there we have it, my dark tourism bucket list. Hopefully I’ll be able to work my way through it all!
In the meantime, I’d love to hear about similar places you want to visit, so let me know in the comments below.