With its dark alleyways, ancient dungeons and castles, and chilling history that spans bloodthirsty rulers and the world’s most notorious serial killer, London is often described as one of the world’s most haunted cities. And while visitors can enjoy chills and thrills year-round, October presents an excellent time for a trip, with fewer crowds than summer and a slew of Halloween-centric offerings. Here, a few ways to get into the spooky spirit of the season in London, from adult-themed costume parties to frightful fun for the whole family. Whatever you choose, it’s sure to be a scream.
Several walking tours in London focus on the city’s macabre past, including its most menacing character: serial killer Jack the Ripper, who remains a captivating figure more than a century after his reign. One company has added a haunting new twist to its tours with Ripper Vision: a re-creation of the killer’s terrifying rampage with hard-hitting images shown via a hand projector, including newspapers accounts detailing the gruesome murders and even crime scene photos showing the Ripper’s victims. Tours run daily at 7:30 pm and are likely to sell out in advance, especially in October. (Make sure to wear comfortable shoes, as you’ll be on your feet for nearly two hours.) No time for a tour? Get a taste of Ripper lore with a pint at The Ten Bells, a pub in the East End neighborhood of Spitalfields where two victims, Annie Chapman and Mary Kelly, were rumored at one point to have stopped in for a drink before they met their gruesome end.
Running from Oct. 15-Nov. 7, this film and theater festival promises a freakishly good time for horror lovers, oozing with plenty of on-stage fright thanks to a sizeable expansion in its second year. The 2012 docket, which will be held at two venues, includes performances that span readings to one-person shows to acclaimed plays from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Shows encompass all types of spine-tingling subject matter, from suspense to straight-up gore: The Puppetry of Flesh, featuring live actors and puppets; a series of creepy tales hosted by a Scottish storyteller; and a unique retelling of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Shows run from £5-17 ($8-27), discounts are available for additional performances.
There’s nothing staged about the spookiness at this London landmark: Just 167,000 souls resting for eternity in graves that date back as early as 1839. The cemetery’s 53,000 graves and mausoleums, which house such luminaries as philosopher Karl Marx, make for an afternoon of eerie exploring—especially considering the various rumors of unexplained happenings on the grounds. The most well-known are reports of the Highgate Vampire, a seven-foot-tall figure that was said to roam about the cemetery and sparked a media frenzy in the 1970s.
This sexy little soiree, which takes place on Oct. 27 this year at a venue called Village Underground, has emerged as one of London’s best Halloween bashes as of late. The fete evokes the hedonistic debauchery of 19th-century Paris, with aerialists twirling from the ceiling, silent art films on screen, and, of course, plenty of absinthe flowing. A recent costume theme was "choleric courtesan" for the ladies and "tortured artisan" for the gents (nothing yet specified for this year’s event), but as long as you’re thinking jaunty top hats, tight corsets, or anything that evokes Moulin Rouge, you’re on the right track.
Yes, it’s quirky and creepy, but this free museum—which is definitely not recommended for the squeamish—also offers a fascinating look at the history of surgery. Part of the Royal College of Surgeons, the stately building houses the collection of Sir John Hunter, considered to be the father of scientific surgery. Specimens on display include misshapen skeletons, diseased organs, and preserved monkey heads, which were collected to research disease. The museum is closed on Sundays, Mondays, and bank holidays.
Brompton Bar and Grill
Talk about a bloody good time: This popular watering hole in London’s Knightsbridge neighborhood is proudly offering guests a complimentary "bloodbath" with its Oct. 27 brunch (served from 12-5 pm). Take a stab at creating your own scary-good recipe (while banishing scary hangovers) with build-your-own Bloody Mary stations, complete with ghoulish goodies like "dead-man’s finger sausages." And there’s no need to leave the little devils at home: While parents are enjoying live jazz and DJs, the brasserie offers a crèche area for kids.
The London Bridge Experience and London Tombs
On their own, the London Bridge Experience and London Tombs are seriously scary tourist attractions. Prior opening the Bridge Experience’s opening in 2008, construction workers unearthed dozens of human skeletons in the vaults below London Bridge. Also called the London Tombs, the dank subterranean space is also known as a "plague pit" where countless victims of plagues were thrown centuries ago. During October, the attraction transforms into Phobophobia, with Hollywood wizardry, gorily dressed actors, and special effects creating a hellish experience that’s part house of horrors, part true history of the site: think half-decaying zombies and terrifyingly tight spaces. The London Tombs houses the scariest part of the offering, which is not open for anyone under 11, and staff are on hand to guide out those who are too freaked out to continue.
Ghost geeks and anyone passionate about the paranormal are sure to get their fill of frightening stuff at this Oct. 27 event, which is organized by the London Fortean Society. A daylong itinerary of speakers includes experts in paranormal happenings in London and throughout England, including historians, parapsychologists, and occultists, who will provide insight into the city’s countless ghost stories and tales of the unexplained.
The Royal Museums Greenwich
Little boys and ghouls will delight in two Halloween-centric events at the Royal Museums Greenwich. On Oct. 28, hop aboard the famous ship Cutty Sark (the last surviving tea clipper in the world), where you’ll hear the story of Nannie, the ship’s very own witch. Sing-a-longs, spooky storytelling, and a contest for the best witch or warlock costume are also on the agenda. On Oct. 29 and 31, the fun continues with a spooky shadow puppet show of the poem that gave Cutty Sark her name.
Photo Credits: London’s Best Halloween Happenings Thumbnail: Courtesy of Belle Epoque; Jack the Ripper Tour: The Ten Bells by Pilgrim Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License: London Horror Festival: Courtesy of London Horror Festival; Highgate Cemetery: The Sleeping Angel at Highgate Cemetery by Phil Attribution-NoDerivs License; La Belle Epoque Party Halloween Special: Courtesy of Belle Epoque; Hunterian Museum: Anatomy: Hunterian Museum by Ianan Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License; Bloodshot Brompton Brunch: Brompton Bar & Grill – Tables 2 by Zagat Buzz Attribution License; Phobophobia: Courtesy of The London Bridge Experience And The London Tombs; London Ghost Conference: Niserin | Dreamstime.com; Wicked Witches and Warlocks Dance: Courtesy of The London Bridge Experience And The London Tombs