10 of the best places to celebrate Halloween around the world

Posted on 30 October 2014

Surprisingly, the tradition of Halloween originated in Ireland and not in America as many of you might think. Halloween traditions vary all over the world, from solemn remembrance ceremonies to dressing up in costumes and celebrating all things scary. If Halloween is your favourite holiday, then you should put these celebrations down on your travel bucket list.

Also read: If you’re in the mood for a spooky Halloween, why not stay over at one of South Africa’s seven most haunted hotels?


1. Mexico

Dia de los Meurtos, or Day of the Dead, takes place on 2 November in Mexico, Latin America and Spain, and is commemorated with three days of celebration starting on 31 October. The tradition of this celebration is to honour the dead, as it is believed that the spirits return to be together with their families on this day.


Photo courtesy of the_junes


Where to celebrate Day of the Dead in Mexico

The small island of Janitzio holds elaborate Day of the Dead rituals. There are processions and music, folk dances are performed and families gather in the cemetery to spend the night chanting and singing. Perhaps the most impressive sight is the fishermen in their rowboats with torches lighting up the lake.

Visitors to Oaxaca during Day of the Dead can visit colorful marketplaces in nearby villages, witness vigils in a variety of cemeteries and take part in night-time carnival-like processions called comparsas. There are also sand tapestry competitions and Day of the Dead altars set up throughout town.

In Mixquic, street stalls are set up in the days before the celebrations. A procession through town with a cardboard coffin leads the way to the cemetery where a candle-light vigil takes place.

In the Maya language Day of the Dead celebrations are referred to as Hanal Pixan, which means “feast for the souls”. In Merida, Yucatan, families gather to prepare a special seasoned chicken tamale wrapped in banana leaves, which is cooked underground in a pit. The dish is enjoyed by both the spirits, who are believed to consume its essence, and the living, who enjoy the real thing. There are also festivities in the streets and cemeteries.

Aguascalientes celebrates Day of the Dead every year with the Festival de las Calaveras (Festival of Skulls).

Xcaret theme park in the Riviera Maya hosts an annual Festival de la Vida y la Muerte, “Festival of Life and Death”, in honor of the Day of the Dead.

In the colonial town of Chiapa de Corzo, the cemetery is decorated in a lively manner with colorful ribbons, flowers and candles. There is live music in the cemetery as families serenade the deceased on their short-lived return.


2.  Ireland

Halloween originated in Ireland and is known as ‘Samhain Night’. The medieval Irish festival of Samhain marked the end of the harvest, bringing shorter days and the “darker half” of the year. It is linked to the dead revisiting the mortal world, large communal bonfires and associated lore.

The largest organised Halloween celebration in Ireland is the Banks of the Foyle Halloween Carnival in Derry City, from 25 to 2 November.

Derry City dedicates nine days to a carnival of all things spooky. There is a parade, fireworks, fire dancing, and a whole programme of family events. In between the haunted houses, ghost tours and horror-story telling, they squeeze in workshops, catwalks, scary movies and a Dragon Safari.


Photo courtesy of  Christine Zenino


3. USA

Salem, Massachusetts, the town famed for witch hunting, fear of the evil eye and general sin phobia hosts a Halloween party to die for. The town celebrates Salem’s festival of the dead. The Salem Witches’ Ball is a highlight of the festival.

New Orleans is a mysterious place. Voodoo, above-ground cemeteries, and a penchant for eccentric costumes make New Orleans a blast for Halloween. Check out the many New Orleans Halloween Events, which range from family fun at the zoo to a Vampire Ball and Voodoo Music Festival.

Madison, Wisconsin, home of the University of Wisconsin–Madison, hosts one of the more infamous annual Halloween celebrations.The party has been officially named “Freakfest” and has a wild reputation.

Anoka, Minnesota, the self-proclaimed “Halloween Capital of the World“, celebrates the holiday with a large civic parade and several other city-wide events.

Keene, New Hampshire, hosts the annual Pumpkin Fest each October which previously held the record for having the greatest number of lit jack-o’-lanterns at once. The official Guinness World Record Attempt count at 2014’s Keene Pumpkin Festival was 21,912.

If you’re a creature of the night, then it makes sense to go to the “city that never sleeps” for Halloween. There are tons of Halloween events in New York City for every age, interest, and persuasion. A few favorites are the Procession of the Ghouls, visits to haunted New York City hotels, bars, and buildings, and Halloween events at NYC museums and zoos for the whole family.

New York City also hosts the United States’ largest Halloween celebration, known as The Village Halloween Parade. Started by Greenwich Village mask maker Ralph Lee in 1973, the evening parade now attracts over two million spectators and participants, as well as roughly four million television viewers annually.

Chicago Halloween events include Chicagoween, the Spooky Zoo Spectacular, and the Haunted Sanitarium.

Los Angeles, the USA’s entertainment capital is crawling with Halloween events and festivities. Of particular note are the Adults Only Halloween Party and the Day of the Dead Celebration, which draws on LA’s long-standing Mexican heritage.


4. London

London Ghost Walk

Visit graveyards and famous murder sites on an after-dark ghost walk with author of Haunted London, Richard Jones. The capital’s sinister history comes alive at the site of Sir William Wallace (the real-life Braveheart) execution in the 14th-century, and an old churchyard said to be haunted by the ghostly figure of Queen Isabella, known as the She-Wolf of France.

Jack the Ripper Walk

Meet outside Tower Hill Tube station to join crime historian Donald Rumbelow on a guided walk around Jack the Ripper’s old haunts in East London. Afterwards, drop into the Commercial Street’s Ten Bells pub, where, allegedly, two of his victim’s drank.

The London Dungeons

The London Dungeons is a great Halloween visit, with their dedicated programme and ‘Master of Tricks’ entertainer all geared up to deliver frights and mischief.

The London Eye

The London Eye, has dress up events for kids over the Halloween period, with special story telling experiences also available.

Horse-Drawn Halloween Rides in Richmond Park

Explore Richmond Park in the dark for a thorough spooking this Halloween. Meet your horse-drawn carriage at Sheen Gate and embark on an hour-long tour, during which your guide will tell you all about the history of the park, the ghosts that haunt the grounds and a Victorian murder that was only solved in 2010.


Photo courtesy of gomattolson


5. The rest of England

The tradition of All Saints’ Day was to have solemn silence among households at the stroke of midnight, where candles burned in every room to guide the souls back to visit their earthly homes.

Halloween Ghost Hunts explore a range of haunted locations for Halloween. Attend a Psychic Supper or spend the night in a Haunted Castle. Follow in the footsteps of witches or sit alone in a haunted cell on the most terrifying night of the year.

Explore a fantastical collection of the 50,000 year old caves in Wookey Hole, Somerset. Creep around the witch’s parlour, the witch’s kitchen and the great hall, all drenched in neon colour and echoing with cackles and the dreary drips of the mysterious river. The Witch of Wookey Hole will be lurking about and will be happy to take you on a tour of her ancient lair.

Take the Exbury Ghost Train through pitch-black tunnels and be spooked senseless by skeletons, scarecrows and other ghastly ghouls on route. Wacky hosts Napoleon Bone-aparte and his sidekick Batty the Vampire will be on board to thrill the whole family with strange stories and terrible jokes. Calm your nerves afterwards by taking a peek at some of Exbury’s most mysterious trees such as the Chinese Coffin Tree, The Devil’s Walking Stick and Ghost Tree.

The Halloween Festival in Stratford-upon-Avon features a mass zombie walk, magic lessons for budding witches and wizards and plenty of ghost stories.

Go on a tour of a haunted 14th-century castle at the Old Wardour Castle in Wiltshire.

Explore the spooky side of West Midland Safari Park in the bat-infested Twilight Cave.

Blists Hill Victorian Town celebrates Halloween in true morbid Victorian style. As dusk falls, the street lamps will cast strange shadows from every corner of this 19th-century town and ghostly figures will replace the friendly shopkeepers and town people.


6. Bangkok

Silom Soi 4, a pedestrian street of bars, restaurants and clubs, is the scene for a massive Halloween street party in Bangkok: although Halloween celebrations abound in Bangkok, this one is the queen. The Bangkok gay population comes out in force and revelers from the world over carry on long past the witching hour.


7. Colombia

Halloween festivities in Colombia are strongly influenced by American culture. Bogota, the capital of Colombia, is the centre of Halloween celebrations in the country. Bogota goes all out to celebrate Halloween with great costumes, parties and festivities.

Every year, during the Moto Halloween Party motorcycling enthusiasts dress up in outfits and ride around Cali to celebrate Halloween.


8. Hong Kong

Hong Kong is known as the Halloween party capital of Asia.

Halloween in Hong Kong has two traditions. The first involves the event called “Yue Lan” (Festival of the Hungry Ghosts). Its emphasis is less on celebration, rather it is an opportunity to give gifts to spirits of the dead to provide comfort and ward them off.

The second and more commercialized event is celebrated by expatriate Americans or Canadians. Hong Kong Disneyland hosts the annual Halloween Bash. Bars in Lan Kwai Fong famously throws Halloween parties every year.

While trick or treating is not as commonly celebrated in Hong Kong, there are events at Tsim Sha Tsui’s Avenue of the Stars that try to mimic the celebration.


Photo courtesy of Kyle Taylor


9. Romania

Where better to celebrate Halloween than the home of Vlad the Impaler, more commonly known as Dracula. Spend the night in a medieval haunted castle in Transylvania.


10. Syria and the Middle East

Eid il-Burbara or Saint Barbara’s Day, is a holiday very similar to Halloween annually celebrated on 4 December among Arab Christians in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian Territories. It is celebrated in honour of the Christian Saint and Martyr Saint Barbara. The general belief among Syrian and Lebanese Christians is that Saint Barbara disguised herself in many different costumes to escape the Romans who were persecuting her.

Many similarities exist between this celebration and the Halloween that is celebrated on 31 October around the world. Children dress up in costumes and go trick or treating, and popular decorations such as carved pumpkins adorn the streets.

Also read: South Africa’s seven most haunted hotels

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