Dark tourism (sometimes also known as “black tourism“ or “grief tourism“) has been defined as tourism involving travel to sites historically associated with death or tragedy.
Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, California, USA
Often just referred to as Alcatraz, the Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary was a maximum high-security Federal prison on Alcatraz Island, 1.25 miles off the coast of San Francisco, California. Operated from 1934 to 1963, Alcatraz was believed to be escape-proof and America’s strongest prison. It housed some 1,576 of America’s most ruthless criminals including infamous gangsters and serial killers. Today the penitentiary is a museum and one of San Francisco’s major tourist spots, attracting some 1.5 million visitors annually.
Island of the Dolls, Mexico
Situated on Lake Teshuilo in Xochimilco near Mexico City, La Isla de la Munecas (The Island of the Dolls) is considered the creepiest tourist attraction of Mexico. The island’s origins lie in tragedy. The story goes that the island’s only inhabitant, Don Julian Santana, found a body of a drowned girl in the canal. He was haunted by her spirit, so he began to get dolls for this little girl, often selling off fruit and vegetables that he had grown, so that he could buy old dolls for her to play with. Apparently, his effort was not good enough for the girl because later on, Santana´s body was found in the canal on the very same spot where the little girl had apparently drowned. Today, hundreds of terrifying, mutilated dolls with severed limbs and decapitated heads scare tourists who dare to visit the island. They are frightening enough during the day but when you get to see them in the night, it is a real nightmare.
The Ridges, Ohio, USA
Formerly called the Athens Lunatic Asylum, the Ridges was a mental hospital operated in Athens, Ohio from 1874 until 1993. Now part of the nearby Ohio University, the hospital is perhaps best known as a site of the infamous lobotomy procedure, as well as various supposed paranormal sightings. In fact, it is listed as the 13th most haunted place in the world, according to the British Society for Psychical Research. There were many creepy stories in the Ridges but the most famous is the one about a woman patient who ran away and was missing for 6 weeks. She was found dead in an unused ward. She had taken off all of her clothes, neatly folded them, and laid down on the concrete where she subsequently died. Through a combination of decomposition and sun exposure, her corpse left a permanent stain on the floor, which is still visible today.
Municipality and village about 25 miles southeast of Zaragoza, Belchite is a ghost village with a disturbing war-torn past. In June 1809, French and Spanish forces in the Peninsular War fought the Battle of María near Belchite. Between August and September 1937, loyalist Spanish Republican and rebel General Franco’s forces in the Spanish Civil War fought the Battle of Belchite in and around the town. After 1939 a new village of Belchite was built adjacent to the ruins of the old, which remain a ghost village as a memorial to the war. The ruins of the old village with the eerie atmosphere became a popular tourist attraction and have been used as filming locations in several movies.
Somme battlefields, France
Located in rural landscape of the region of Picardy and the Departement de la Somme in France, the Somme battlefields were venue of The Battle of the Somme (sometimes also known as the Somme Offensive), a major battle of the First World War fought by the armies of the British and French empires against the German Empire. Taking place between 1 July and 18 November 1916 the battle was one of the largest of World War I, in which more than 1,000,000 men were wounded or killed, making it one of the bloodiest battles in human history. Visitors to the Somme battlefields can visit a number of private and public museums, preserved battle sites and many cemeteries and monuments to those who fought and those who died in action.
Choeung Ek, Cambodia
Situated about 25 miles south of Cambodia´s capital Phnom Penh, Choeung Ek is the site of a former orchard and mass grave of victims of the Khmer Rouge regime killed between 1975 and 1979. Containing almost 9,000 bodies, the site now serves as a memorial, marked by a Buddhist stupa filled with more than 5,000 human skulls. Tourists are encouraged by the Cambodian government to visit Choeung Ek and pay tribute to over 1 million people executed during the outrageous Khmer Rouge regime.
Auschwitz concentration camp, Poland
Located in Oswiecim in South Poland, this Nazi concentration camp is a place where at least 1.1 million prisoners died at, around 90 percent of them Jewish. Living conditions in the camp were extremely brutal, and many of those not killed in the gas chambers died of starvation, forced labor, infectious diseases, individual executions, or inhumane medical experiments. After WWII, the camp became a dominant symbol of the Holocaust and, in 1947, Poland founded a museum in the camp. One of its rooms is piled with thousands of pairs of glasses, another with shoes and the last one with hairs from the victims.
Bran Castle, Romania
Situated almost in the middle of Romania, this mysterious stronghold was, allegedly, a seat of Vlad III – a cruel Romanian ruler from 15th century, also known as Vlad Dracula or Vlad the Impaler. During his lifetime, his reputation for impaling his enemies and excessive cruelty spread abroad, to Germany and elsewhere in Europe. The name of the vampire Count Dracula in Bram Stoker’s 1897 Gothic horror novel Dracula was inspired by Vlad. Consequently, the Bran Castle became one of the most popular tourist sites for horror fans from all over the world.
On March 11, 2011, Fukushima was a place where one of the world´s worst nuclear disasters took place. When hit by a tsunami, the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant began releasing substantial amounts of radioactive material, becoming the largest nuclear incident since the Chernobyl disaster in April 1986. Since many dark tourism fans would like to visit the place, there is a project to make this tragic spot a tourist resort. The project include construction of buildings designed to protect guests from elevated radiation levels, research facilities for renewable energy, restaurants, souvenir shops and a museum dedicated to the nuclear disaster.
Stull Cemetery, Kansas, USA
Located in Stull, a small unincorporated community in Douglas County, Kansas, the cemetery has gained a dubious reputation of being a “gateway to Hell”. The place is supposed to be so unholy, in fact, that some claim Pope John Paul II refused to allow his plane to fly over eastern Kansas, on his way to an appearance in Colorado. The cemetery has become a place of interest for many curious tourists, especially on Halloween, but local police have discouraged curiosity seekers from entering the cemetery – trespassing could bring them a maximum fine of $1,000 and up to six months in jail.
Costa Concordia Shipwreck, Italy
The Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia capsized and sank after striking an underwater obstruction off Isola del Giglio, on 13 January 2012. Although it sank just some 1,300 feet off the island, 32 out of more than 4,000 people aboard died in the accident. Just a few months later, the wreck of the Costa Concordia became a grim tourist attraction with thousands visitors queuing up each day to catch a ferry that passed within just a few feet of the submerged cruise ship. In September 2013, the ship was brought to a vertical position and, in July 2014, having been refloated, she commenced its final journey under tow and a 14 ship escort to be scrapped in Genoa.
Suicide Forest, Japan
Officially called Aokigahara, the Suicide Forest is a 4 square miles forest that lies at the northwest base of Mount Fuji in Japan. Historically associated with demons in Japanese mythology, the forest has such a dense tree distribution that it literally blocks winds, making it exceptionally quiet and eerie place. Despite numerous signs, in Japanese and English, urging people to reconsider their actions, the forest – for some reason – has become a popular spot for suicides. Statistically, about 100 suicides occurred there every year. However, it is suggested that many other corpses have been lying there for years undiscovered.
Located in the Limousin region in west-central France, Oradour-sur-Glane is a little village that was a site of grisly massacre by a German Waffen-SS company in the WWII. In June 1944, after the D-Day invasion of Normandy, Oradour-sur-Glane was sealed off by a German battalion, after rumors had circulated that an SS officer was being held prisoner in the area. As collective punishment, residents of the village were ordered to assemble in the village square, ostensibly to have their identity papers examined, but instead, hundreds of them including women and children were then massacred in a horrific machine gun attack. Former French president Charles de Gaulle later decreed that the village would never be rebuilt, and that it should serve as a museum and permanent memorial to the atrocities that occurred during the German occupation of France.
Babenhausen Barracks, Germany
Located near the city of Hesse in Germany, the Babenhausen Barracks were used to house soldiers for combat in the World War II. After the war, the barracks have fallen into disuse but what makes this building a dark tourism hot spot is the frequent occurrence of paranormal activity – ghosts of German soldiers have been seen in uniforms, lights are known to turn on and off by themselves, voices and German commands are often heard being shouted out in the middle of the night, and disembodied footsteps are a common experience.
Banff Springs Hotel, Alberta, Canada
Built in 1888 as one of Canada’s grand railway hotels, the Banff Springs Hotel is rumored to be one of the most haunted places in the country. Stories suggest a woman dressed in her wedding gown lost her life on the staircase. It all began when the woman’s wedding dress caught on fire due to the candles that adorned the stair case. In a panic she tripped and fell down the stairs, dying from a broken neck. Many people have reported seeing her ghost in full wedding gown, often dancing in the ballroom. The most popular story though, is the one about a family that was murdered in room 873. The door to this room has since been bricked up, but the family that lost their lives in there, are still seen to this day, often in the hallway outside the room.
Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre, Rwanda
Opened in April 2004, the Memorial Centre commemorates the Rwandan genocide. The Rwandan genocide was a mass slaughter of the ethnic groups Tutsi and moderate Hutu in Rwanda by members of the Hutu majority. During a 100-day period from April 1994 to mid-July 1994, an estimated 500,000–1,000,000 Rwandans (as much as 20% of the country’s total population) were killed. One of the most remarkable atrocities of the genocide was a massive and pervasive use of war rape and violence against women. It is suggested that up to half a million women were raped, sexually mutilated and murdered during the genocide. Opened on the tenth anniversary of the start of the genocide, The Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre also serves as a mass grave for the victims and a permanent exhibition for the benefit of survivors.
Located in northern Ukraine, near the border with Belarus, Pripyat is the town where the Chernobyl disaster happened in April 1986. It was the worst nuclear power plant accident in human history, releasing large quantities of radioactive particles into the atmosphere, which spread over much of the western USSR and Europe. During the accident itself, 31 people died, but long-term effects such as cancers and deformities are still being accounted for even today. The estimates differ significantly, but some say that millions of people have been affected by the tragedy. After the disaster, nobody could imagine that the site would one day be touted as a new, exciting tourist attraction but when Ukraine announced that tourists will be allowed to pay short and highly regulated visits to the 30-mile exclusion zone around the exploded reactor, that’s exactly what has happened. An abandoned town, left as it was in the moment of the tragedy, Pripyat looks like the set of a post-apocalypse movie.
Riddle House, Florida, USA
Located in Palm Beach County, Florida, the house was built 1905 to serve as a funeral parlor. By 1920, the house became privately owned by city manager Karl Riddle after whom it got its name. In 1995, the house was dismantled and moved to Yesteryear Village in South Florida. Over the years, there have been many reports of haunting in the house. It was first haunted by the ghost of Buck, a cemetery employee who was killed in the city during an intense argument. These days, the house is purported to be haunted by the spirit of Joseph, one of Riddle’s employees, who committed suicide by hanging himself in the attic. Even during the transportation to Yesteryear Village, the workers reconstructing the building claimed to have experienced paranormal events, including tools and furniture being moved, broken windows and hearing soft voices.
Ground Zero, New York, USA
Generally, the term „Ground Zero“ describes the point on the Earth’s surface closest to a detonation, often associated with nuclear explosions and other large bombs, but sometimes also earthquakes, epidemics and other disasters. However, since 2001, “Ground Zero” is usually understood to mean the site of the World Trade Center in New York, which was destroyed in the September 11 attacks. Launched by the Islamic terrorist group al-Qaeda, the attacks killed almost 3,000 people and caused at least $10 billion in property and infrastructure damage. At the site of the tragedy, The National September 11 Memorial & Museum (also known as the 9/11 Memorial and 9/11 Memorial Museum) were built to commemorate the attacks and pay tribute to the victims.
Pompeii was an ancient Roman town near modern Naples in the Italian region of Campania. Founded in the seventh or sixth century BC, the town was destroyed and buried under up to 20 feet of ash and pumice in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. By the time of its destruction, Pompeii was a flourishing and highly developed town with a complex water system and many other town facilities. The eruption killed many of the town´s 11,000 population and the site was lost for about 1,500 years until it was rediscovered in 1599. The objects that lay beneath the city have been well preserved for centuries because of the lack of air and moisture. During the excavation, plaster was used to fill in the voids between the ash layers that once held human bodies. This allowed one to see the exact position the person was in when he or she died. Today, Pompeii is UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most popular tourist attractions in Italy.
Leap Castle, Ireland
Built by the Irish O’Bannon clan in the 13th century, the Leap Castle has a long and bloody history. There was a brutal fratricide committed in one of the castle chapel now known as the Bloody Chapel. Moreover, many people were held prisoners and executed at the castle. The castle is rumored to be haunted by a vast number of spirits, including a violent, hunched supernatural entity known as the Elemental, most recognizable by the accompanying smell of rotting flesh and sulfur. Also, while renovating the castle, a dungeon accessible only through a ceiling hatch was discovered. It served for killing prisoners and contained three cartloads of human remains and spikes to impale those thrown into its depths.
Sedlec Ossuary, Czech Republic
Located at the suburb of Kutna Hora in central part of The Czech Republic, the Sedlec ossuary is a small Roman Catholic chapel lying beneath the Cemetery Church of All Saints. Estimated to contain skeletons of between 40,000 and 70,000 people, the ossuary attracts over 200,000 visitors every year. The bones have been artistically arranged to form decorations and furnishings for the chapel. Four huge bell-shaped mounds occupy the corners of the chapel. An enormous chandelier of bones, which contains at least one of every bone in the human body, hangs from the center of the nave with garlands of skulls draping the vault. Thanks to its unique spooky look and atmosphere, the ossuary has been also featured in several horror movies.
Okpo Land, South Korea
Okpo Land was an amusement park based in the outskirts of Okpo-dong, South Korea. Although it housed just a few rides, one roller-coaster and several game buildings, the park was popular and profitable in the early years. However, after two fatal accidents, the park was closed in 1999. Both of the victims were young children and it was the second accident during which a young girl was flung from a duck ride cart, what made the owner of the park to close it. It was done overnight, leaving all the rides and buildings as they were. Over the years, the surrounding landscape began to take it over, making it one of the scariest abandoned amusement parks in the world. In 2011, the park was finally demolished and the land offered for sale but so far, there have been no bidders.
La Noria Cemetery, Chile
La Noria used to be a flourishing and profitable mining town but after several heavy blows (including the Great Depression), the business declined and then collapsed. The abandoned ghost town itself is scary enough but it´s the local cemetery what made this town one of the world´s most sought-after dark tourism sites. It is rumored that the dead of the La Noria cemetery rise at night and walk around the town, and ghostly images frequently show up in visitors´ photographs. Apart from the reported paranormal activity, the cemetery contains opened graves where the bodies are fully exposed, leaving you to wonder why.
London Dungeon, England
Opened in 1974 in Central London, the Dungeon is a major London tourist attraction, which recreates various gory and macabre historical events of the city. Featuring 18 shows, 20 actors and 3 rides, the London Dungeon takes visitors on a journey through 1000 years of London’s history where they meet actors performing as some of London’s most infamous characters, including the serial killer Jack the Ripper remembered for the brutal murders of female prostitutes who lived and worked in the city slums. Although not all of the reviews by visitors and travel writers have been positive, the London Dungeon stays as one of the most popular dark tourism sites in the United Kingdom.