October is upon us, and what better month to plan a trip to a destination that's notorious for its haunted history? As a self-described Halloweenie, I am a huge fan of these three cities for their freak-out factor, but a plus for all travelers is that they also feature a wealth of other attractions, from world-class cuisine and museums to hopping nightlife. If you're really adventurous, don't forget to pack a digital camera and recorder to try to capture a truly spooky souvenir of your experience.
London: With the distinction of being the most haunted capital city in the world, London is a year-round destination for fans of the paranormal and macabre. Indeed, you could spend a month here and not have enough time to explore all of its hair-raising hotspots.An excellent way to experience the highlights is with a tour; there are dozens to choose from, but London Walks is the gold-standard original. Its Jack the Ripper tour, offered nightly at 7:30pm, is by far the most popular. If you're lucky, Ripper expert and distinguished crime historian Donald Rumbelow (beware of imitation tours) will be your guide, leading you through the narrow streets where the world's most well-known serial killer brutally murdered his victims during the "Autumn of Terror" in 1888. Finish the tour with a pint at the Ten Bells, a Victorian-style pub where two of the Ripper's victims reportedly spent their last hours.
Another must-do: the Tower of London, which is chock-a-block with spirits, spooks and spine-tingling stories of the horrors that took place there centuries ago. Again, London Walks is a solid bet for exploring and info, but some of the best sources for input are the Tower's guards, called beefeaters, who live on property with their families.
Edinburgh: The setting for Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Tales of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, this captivating city, one of Europe's most beautiful, also has a wickedly sinister side. Get deep into it literally with a vault tour to explore the warren of old stone chambers that run underneath the city. The vaults were used in the 18th century as storage for wealthy shopkeepers' goods and later were rented out as housing for the city's poorest residents. They eventually became a haven for debauchery, with prostitution, gambling rings, and storage of stolen corpses by body-snatchers all part of the appalling conditions of daily life for those unfortunate enough to live there.
The vaults were eventually sealed but excavated in the 1990s and are now a popular destination for several ghost tours, as they are reportedly rife with spiritual activity, including a malevolent entity called "Mr. Boots" and another, friendlier spirit, that of a little boy called Jack, who has been known to tug at participants' clothing and slip his hand into theirs. On my tour (with Mercat Tours), several people (including myself) captured strange orbs in video and digital photography.
New Orleans: The minute you step into this unforgettable city, you can just feel your energy shift as you're enveloped by an atmosphere of jazz, voodoo, and vampire culture (albeit the latter thanks to all those Anne Rice novels). Ghost and voodoo tours abound; by far, the least-gimmicky, and most authentic, are those by Historic New Orleans Tours.
Also be sure to stop by Marie Laveau's House of Voodoo; as touristy as it is, the tiny shop won't fail to creep you out with offerings like shrunken heads and voodoo dolls. The Voodoo Museum is worth a visit, too, as is Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop, a gloriously old, dark tavern lit by candles and reputed to be the oldest continually occupied bar in the country. Rumor has it the founder, swashbuckling pirate Jean Lafitte, has never left.