Forget about the glimmering castles you know from fairy tales and Disney movies. Here, you’ll find shrieking ghosts, immortal blood stains, and the literal gateway to hell.
Predjama Castle, Slovenia
Built within a cave in the middle of a towering cliff, Predjama, which dates back to 1274, is imposing by most standards. Add in local legend and you’ll be hard pressed not to get spooked: Once the residence of knight Erazem Lueger, Predjama has hidden passageways and was reputedly a site of torture and treachery. Lueger was betrayed by his servants and killed in the castle, and is said to still haunt it.
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Castle Fraser, Scotland
Built between 1575 and 1636 in east Scotland, Castle Fraser is famous for its elaborate architecture, beautiful farmland, and gardens—and a somewhat horrifying urban myth. According to legend, a young princess once staying at the castle was brutally murdered in her sleep. Her body was dragged down the stone stairs, leaving a trail of blood behind. As hard as they tried, the occupants could not scrub out the blood stains from the stairs, so decided to cover the staircase in wood paneling, which remains to this day. Some say the ghost of the princess still roams the halls of the castle at night.
Burg Eltz, Germany
Burg Eltz dates back to 1157, and lore surrounding the castle nearly as long. Of the few rooms in the castle open to tourists, supposedly one of the most haunted is the bedroom of the once Countess Agnes. Her bed, breastplate, and battle axe remain in the room, and legend has it that she died defending the castle from an “undesirable” suitor and therefore still haunts the castle today.
Chillingham Castle, England
Regarded as Britain’s most haunted castle, the aptly named Chillingham Castle has a horrific history of prisoner-ridden dungeons and well-used torture chambers. Its roll call of resident spooks include the whimpering “blue boy,” the pantry’s frail “white lady,” and the perpetually lonesome Lady Mary Berkeley. Sign up for a castle-run ghost tour, or spend the night in a self-catering apartment—if you dare. — Elissa Garay
Houska Castle, Czech Republic
Located about an hour north of Prague, Houska Castle has no fortifications, no kitchen, and had no occupants when it was built. It does, however, have something within its walls that no other castle in the world has—a large hole in the ground that many consider to be the literal gateway to hell. Houska was strategically built over the hole (which is fabled to be bottomless) to seal up the gateway and keep demonic creatures from entering our world. The demons are said to be trapped in the walls of the lower level.
Here’s where the story gets really creepy: Before sealing off the gateway, nearby prisoners were granted pardons if they would agree to be lowered into the hole by a rope and report back what they saw. Legend has it that when the first prisoner was lowered, he started screaming after a few seconds. When he was raised back up, he appeared to have aged 30 years—his hair had turned white, and his face was covered in wrinkles.
Edinburgh Castle, Scotland
One of the biggest attractions in Scotland’s capital city is also, according to many, one of its most haunted. With parts dating back more than 900 years, the historic fortress’s ancient dungeons have led visitors to the castle to report “visits” from colonial prisoners from the American Revolutionary War, French prisoners from the Seven Years War—and even the ghost of a dog wandering the dog cemetery on the castle’s grounds. View our complete list of the best and worst airports in America.
Larnach Castle, New Zealand
Larnach was built between 1871 and 1887 as the residence of William Larnach, a prominent local politician. Most notable is a 3,000-square-foot ballroom, which Larnach had built as a 21st birthday present for his favorite daughter Kate, who later died of typhoid at age 26, and is said to still haunt the ballroom. Don’t chalk those taps on your shoulder and whispers in your ear as all up to imagination: The building has been visited by paranormal investigators and featured on ”Ghost Hunters International.”
Himeji Castle, Japan
Himeji Castle dates to 1333 and is regarded as one of the greatest remaining examples of Japanese castle architecture. It also has some rather eerie folklore associated with it. The most popular tale tells the story of Okiku, a mythical character from ancient legends who was falsely accused of losing valuable dishes. She was killed and thrown into the well in the castle. Her ghost now haunts the castle at night, counting dishes in a mournful tone; she reaches nine before shrieking and returning to the well. View our complete list of the most beautiful college campuses in America.
Moosham Castle, Austria
During the Salzburg Witch Trials between 1675 and 1690, Moosham played host to many of the executions, imprisonments, and torturing of hundreds of men and women accused of being witches. Later, in the 1800s, so many deer and cattle within the castle’s proximity were found dead that residents were tried—and killed—for being werewolves. Today, staff and visitors have reported banging sounds, footprints, seeing white mists, and feeling someone breathe on them.
Castle of Good Hope, Cape Town, South Africa
One of the oldest and largest of South Africa’s remaining colonial buildings, the Castle of Good Hope once sported a windowless dungeon where convicts chained to its walls drowned—they are said to haunt the place today. Other spooky stuff? A large black dog that leaps at visitors before disappearing, a bell that rings by itself (thought to be rung by a guard who once hung himself with the bell rope), and lights in the Buren bastion, switched on—and off—without any human assistance. View our complete list of the best places to visit in the U.S.