Top 10 Most Haunted Cities to Spend a Weekend
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Civil War battles, yellow fever outbreaks and centuries of voodoo magic all contribute to making The Big Easy a top contender for the most haunted city in America. In fact, many of the city’s hotels, bars and other sites in the French Quarter alone are haunted, such as Hotel Monteleone, Hotel Provincial, Hotel Villa Convento, Tujaque’s and Muriel’s Jackson Square. Join a ghost tour with Haunted History Tours or Ghost City Tours to learn about these and more, including cemeteries such as St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, where famed voodoo priestess Marie Laveau is buried. Arguably one of the most infamous stops on ghost tours is the LaLaurie Mansion, built by the wealthy LaLaurie family in 1832. During a fire in 1834, seven slaves were discovered chained to a wall in the attic.
There’s plenty of non-spooky fun to be had in New Orleans. Though touristy, Frenchmen Street is packed with restaurants, shops and music venues. In fact, there are dozens of jazz clubs around the city; Preservation Hall opened in 1961 and remains a heavyweight on the scene. The city is also a major foodie heaven, from longtime favorites Café du Monde for its beignets and chicory coffee to Galatoire’s Restaurant for special-occasion French Creole. The newer guard consists of contemporary Creole at Trinity in the French Quarter to Seaworthy, a trendy restaurant known for its oyster bar and cocktails in the Warehouse District. Of course, don’t miss venturing over to the genteel Garden District to gaze at large antebellum mansions and visit boutiques.
It’s believed that Savannah was built on American Indian burial grounds, which goes hand-in-hand with hauntings. It was also the site of Revolutionary and Civil War battles and yellow fever outbreaks. Best-selling novel Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil boosted the city’s spookier side, putting locales like Bonaventure Cemetery (pictured) on the national radar. Locations either mentioned or otherwise connected to the book, such as the Mercer Williams House Museum, are part of some haunted tours. Choose from Haunted Savannah Tours, Ghost City Tours or Blue Orb Tours to learn more.
Or go the DIY route and take your pick of haunted restaurants, like The Pirate’s House or The Olde Pink House. If you’re brave enough, spend the night at a haunted hotel: Room 204 at the 17hundred90 Inn & Restaurant is reportedly visited by a ghost named Anne; she can be heard crying after turning off the lights. The Marshall House was once used as a hospital during the Civil War and yellow fever outbreaks, and tales abound, from ghost children who bite to soldiers carrying severed limbs. Other majorly haunted sites include Moon River Brewing Company, which was the city’s first hotel in 1821, and featured in an episode of Ghost Adventures.
Savannah is markedly less scary by day. River Street is a popular area for restaurants, bars and shopping. There’s more shopping and food to be found on Broughton Street, while City Market is an open-air destination for food, shopping and nightlife in restored warehouses. Plus, there’s no shortage of art galleries, breweries, historic squares and Revolutionary and Civil War landmarks. Speaking of which, don’t miss the Historic District for its Civil War-era mansions, cobblestone streets and horse-drawn carriages. Foodies shouldn’t miss Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room for real-deal Southern cooking. It’s only open three hours a day for lunch during the week, so prepare to wait in line and share a table with strangers. Other musts include gastropub Cotton & Rye, Elizabeth on 37th for upscale Southern and Alligator Soul for Creole and Cajun specialties.
Charleston is no stranger to tragedy since its founding in 1670. As a result, many landmarks are considered haunted, particularly the Old City Jail (pictured), which was featured on Ghost Adventures. Built in 1802 on land that previously housed a hospital and a workhouse for runaway slaves, the jail housed criminals from pirates to Civil War prisoners—some of which are still there if you believe the stories of chains dragging along the floor and doors slamming. Lavinia and John Fisher are among the more notorious prisoners. The couple ran a hotel, and rumors swirled about them poisoning guests.They were eventually convicted of highway robbery and hung for the crime.
Similarly, the Old Exchange & Provost Dungeon imprisoned Revolutionary War criminals who were chained in the dungeon until they were executed; although many never made it out of the dungeon alive. Listen for phantom moans and rattling chains. Elsewhere, grab a bite at Poogan’s Porch Restaurant and keep watch for the regular who refuses to leave. The Battery Carriage House Inn is an upscale bed and breakfast that bills itself as the most romantic in the city; it’s also one of the most haunted. A menacing headless torso is fond of Room 8, the Gentlemen Ghost hangs out in Room 10, while a bevy of spirits occupy Room 3 and are fond of calling cell phones that are turned off. Bulldog Tours and Old Charleston Walking Tours share these stories and more.
Despite the ghostly disturbances, various reader polls often name Charleston as the best city to visit in the U.S. You could attribute this in part to its major food scene, the likes of which rival bigger cities. Celeb chef Sean Brock is commonly associated with the city; don’t miss newer Minero for spicy Mexican or established favorite Husk for inventive Southern. Other musts include FIG, Feathertop, The Darling Oyster Bar and Hominy Grill. True history buffs should catch a ferry to Fort Sumter, best known as where the Civil War started. Or stay within city limits since the walkable city’s historic charm is preserved in its antebellum architecture and cobblestone streets. Historic house museums abound, from the Aiken-Rhett House Museum to the Edmondston-Alston House. For a taste of living in a historic home, rest your head at the Wentworth Mansion or Zero George. Round out your stay by browsing boutiques along King Street.
New York City
So many people love N.Y.C. so much that they never leave, even after death. In fact, there are so many departed spirits that Ghosts of New York Walking Tours offers about 20 different options. Ghosts, Murders and Mayhem Walking Tours and Boroughs of the Dead are popular tours as well. Fans of the Hamilton musical can even search for the ghosts of Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. For example, One if by Land, Two if by Sea is one of the city’s most romantic restaurants. It was also Aaron Burr’s former carriage house, and he’s one of about 20 ghosts who really enjoy the ambience. Burr’s daughter Theodosia is another inhabitant, but be warned she likes to steal earrings. Meanwhile, the Merchant's House Museum (pictured), was home to the Tredwell family for about 100 years, and apparently still is for some. Hauntings include daytime ghost sightings, voices and unexplained smells and noises. Oh, and the museum offers candlelit ghost tours in October.
New York City
Just as there are endless ghost opportunities in New York City, the same goes for things to do. Good luck getting Hamilton tickets, but luckily there are always new additions to the city scene. For example, bypass the Empire State Building in favor of the views from the observatory at One World Trade Center. The Whitney Museum of American Art moved to its new downtown digs last year, while the nearby High Line now extends to Hudson Yards. Noteworthy restaurant openings include Mario Batali’s second Eataly in the city, which just debuted at 4 World Trade Center. Anthony Bourdain’s much-awaited food hall at Pier 57 is still in the works, but keep it on your to-do list for next time.
A yellow fever outbreak in the late 18th century killed as many as 5,000 people, who are undoubtedly among the souls that haunt Philly. But Eastern State Penitentiary (pictured) is one of the most notorious haunted locales. The prison was the first of its kind to impose solitary confinement when it opened in 1829. Some of its most infamous inmates include mafia ringleader Al Capone and bank robber nonpareil Willie Sutton. Since closing in 1971, paranormal activity ranging from shadowy figures to accounts of being grabbed have been reported in cellblocks four, six and 12 especially. Every fall the prison holds its popular Terror Behind the Walls haunted house, and while the odds of an actual encounter are low during this time, it’s the only way to experience the prison at night. Join Ghost Tours of Philadelphia or Grim Philly Tours to visit more haunted spots.
Switch gears by wandering around historic Old City and Society Hill and learning about the city’s non-haunted history. In that regard, the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall and the National Constitution Center are obligatory. And don’t miss Elfreth’s Alley, the oldest residential street in the nation. With your head full of history, peruse the many shops that pepper the city, from hipster Northern Liberties to upscale Rittenhouse Square.
For great food, start with Reading Terminal Market, an indoor food hall with more than 70 vendors, to sample everything from Amish food to Italian pastries. Continue on to some of the city’s 200-plus BYOB (bring your own bottle) restaurants, from old guard Fork and Pumpkin to newer additions Laurel and Helm. Other weekend musts include the Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Barnes Foundation and The Franklin Institute.
At one point, Portland was considered one of the most dangerous port cities in the world thanks to prostitution, gangs, opium dens and gambling rings. One of the most persistent stories from this era is about the Shanghai Tunnels, which are underground tunnels that connected hotel and bar basements to the docks. Originally intended to transport goods from the waterfront, they're rumored to be where hired hands in the 19th century would kidnap, or “shanghai” men to work as slaves on ships bound for Asia. Victims would be dropped into the tunnel via trapdoors found in bars and imprisoned in cells until their ship set sail. Some ghost tours such as Beyond Bizarre Ghost Tour, Haunted Pub Tour, Hawthorne Ghost Tour and Shanghai Tunnels/Portland Underground Tours start at Hobo’s Restaurant, where there’s a basement entrance to the tunnels. Besides hearing screaming and crying, people report seeing Nina, a prostitute who met an untimely end at the bottom of an elevator shaft of what’s now Old Town Pizza.
When you need a break from ghost stories, partake in Portland’s booming craft beer scene, which has become as robust as its coffee shops. Accompany these libations with a food landscape that puts other cities to shame. Southeast Division Street is home to some of the best, from The American Local to Pok Pok PDX.
If you can’t decide, head to Pine Street Market, an upscale food hall. Don’t leave without indulging in food truck paradise, with more than 500 picks all over the city. Eat everything from Burmese and Honduran to vegan baked goods and grilled cheese sandwiches. Another local favorite is the Portland Saturday Market, considered the largest of its kind in the U.S., and, despite its name, is open both Saturday and Sunday. Take advantage of the new bike-sharing program to explore the parks in this outdoor lover’s city. Alternatively, bike around Portland’s diverse neighborhoods, from the upscale Pearl District to hipster Hawthorne.
The lawless gold rush period and the 1906 earthquake, which triggered a fire that killed at least 3,000 people, likely contributed to San Francisco’s haunted present. However, Alcatraz Island is also notoriously haunted. Tales of death, murder and insanity surround the prison that once held mobster Al Capone. The National Park Service doesn’t offer official ghost tours, but you can visit at night for the chance to experience cold spots, whispering in empty cells and sounds of slamming doors. Learn about other haunted sites, from the USS Hornet to Chinatown, with San Francisco Ghost Hunt Walking Tour, Haunted Haight Walking Tour or SF Chinatown Ghost Tours.
Although about an hour from the city, it’s worth detouring to visit the Winchester Mystery House, whose history is just as fascinating as its hauntings. Long story short, a medium advised Mrs. Winchester to never stop building a house in order to prevent ghosts from haunting her. Mr. Winchester took this to heart, and after 38 years of endless construction, the result was 160 rooms with baffling architecture, from doors that open into walls to staircases that don’t lead anywhere. Ironically, despite her efforts, Winchester is most certainly haunted; take a candlelight tour in October and watch out for lights turning on or Mrs. Winchester herself calling your name.
Beyond the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf and Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco, take the time to visit the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, picnic or hike in the Presidio, and wander around the Mission District, Union Square and Haight-Ashbury. It’s easy to fuel your travels since San Fran is at the forefront of a restaurant boom, from In Situ and Mister Jiu’s to The Perennial and Cala. China Live has a much-anticipated 2016 opening; the 30,000-square-foot food hall has been compared to Eataly, except for Chinese food. Semi-secret supper clubs are also a thing; fill out a form and keep your fingers crossed to nab a reservation at Lazy Bear, Naked Kitchen or Canvas Underground. If not, drown your sorrows in the craft cocktail scene, from ABV to Trick Dog.
The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 lasted two days and killed at least 300 people. However, even worse was the 1903 fire at the much-touted fireproof Iroquois Theater, which killed more than 600 people at an afternoon performance. In fact, the alley behind it has been nicknamed “Death Alley,” after those who jumped to their death to escape the fire. It’s also where recovered bodies were temporarily placed. The Oriental Theater (pictured) now resides on the spot, and people have seen ghosts in period dress, heard screams and smelled smoke.
Try your luck by booking a room at the Congress Plaza Hotel, said to be overflowing with ghosts. Room 441 is believed to be among the most haunted, with a woman that shakes the bed, shadowy figures and projectile objects. Even scarier, there’s a sealed shut room with no doornob on the 12th floor. You probably wouldn’t want to spend the night there anyway. Weird Chicago Tours and Chicago Hauntings cover more haunted spots around the city.
Take a break from ghost hunting in the Windy City by exploring Navy Pier, shopping along the Magnificent Mile or visiting the Art Institute of Chicago. Bike along the Chicago Lakefront Trail which borders Lake Michigan, and stroll along the canal-like Riverwalk that cuts through the city. The popular Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise runs through the fall; architecture buffs should also venture to suburban Oak Park to tour the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio. Follow the locals and catch a show at Steppenwolf Theatre Company and poke around the trendy neighborhoods of Wicker Park and Bucktown. For food, visit internationally acclaimed Alinea, which was recently revamped of everything from the décor to the menu. Girl & the Goat from Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard is a must, as is The Angry Crab, Fat Rice and The Purple Pig.
The White House, The National Theatre and Hay-Adams Hotel are among the city’s haunted hot spots. Get the lowdown on its seedy past with Washington DC Ghost Tours, Scary DC or Washington Walks. However, The U.S. Capitol Building (pictured), which was built in the mid-1800s, is filled with spectres, from construction workers to politicians (John Quincy Adams actually died there). In fact, there’s even a “demon cat” that appears right before national tragedies.
Historical hauntings also happen at The Octagon House. Dolley Madison, wife of president James Madison, lived there for a spell, and loved throwing parties; she’s sometimes seen in her party frock. Less happy occurrences in the mansion’s past include rumored murders and unexplained deaths. If you take a self-guided tour of the now museum, don’t be alarmed to feel cold spots on the staircase or hear knocking inside the walls.
Make the most of your DC weekend by visiting some (of the many) free Smithsonian museums, tour the White House (pending advance approval from your local member of congress), or marvel at the Folger Shakespeare Library’s extensive collection. Beyond the numerous historical sites, soak up the city’s zeitgeist while meandering neighborhoods from hipster Logan Circle and genteel Georgetown to upscale Dupont Circle and buzzy Shaw. Chow down at Bad Saint, Kinship or Rose’s Luxury before heading to the U Street Corridor for nightlife.
Quebec’s dark history dates back to when it was New France more than 400 years ago. Join Ghost Tours of Quebec or Les Promenades Fantomes to visit sites such as the Plains of Abraham, which was a former battleground during the Seven Years’ War between the British and French. The worst fighting occurred during the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759, when more than 1,000 soldiers were killed. Venture into the surrounding tunnels, where some have smelled gunpowder and heard cannon shots. The Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac (pictured) is one of the world’s most Instagrammed hotels, and yes, it’s haunted. It was named for Louis de Buade, a former 17th-century governor of Quebec, who died before marrying his fiancée. He roams the halls searching for her, and has been seen everywhere from the hallways to guest rooms.
In spite of all the spirits, Quebec City is incredibly charming with a European vibe. Leisurely stroll Old Quebec, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the oldest walled city north of Mexico. Take the stairs or funicular down to Petit Champlain and peruse its many boutiques; if it’s chilly, pick up a hand-knit wool hat from Charlevoix Pure Laine. Pop by Notre-Dame de Québec Basilica-Cathedral to experience the rare Holy Door event. Don’t limit yourself to Old Quebec though; the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec recently opened the noteworthy Pierre Lassonde Pavilion, which shouldn't be missed for its contemporary Quebec artists and Inuit art.
Explore the trendy neighborhoods of Saint-Jean and Saint-Roch. For food, swing by Marché du Vieux-Port, a year-round farmer’s market with tons of vendors selling everything from fresh produce to ice wine. Don't leave before visiting Chez Ashton or Le Chic Shack for poutine, L'Affaire est Ketchup for updated Quebecois fare, and Panache for farm to table. Oh, and the long lines are worth the wait for crepes at Casse-Crêpe Breton.