The best way to appreciate a city might be though meeting its undead residents.
The U.S. may be a relatively young nation, but it’s had no shortage of bloody battles, witchcraft epidemics, or mysterious murders in its short tenure. It should come as no surprise to find that many cities across the country claim to be terribly haunted, and where there are ghosts, there are ghost tours. Some are candlelit, many visit cemeteries, most include light history lessons, and the best ones involve drinks. You may not spot a specter on one of these eerie journeys, but spooks and laughs are guaranteed, and a ghost tour is one of the quirkiest and most adrenaline-inducing ways to explore a new city or get to a know the darker side of an old favorite.
Top Picks for You
Home to the bloodiest battle of the U.S. Civil War, Gettysburg is often cited as one of the most active American hotbeds for paranormal activity. There are endless creepy options here, but don’t miss the ghost train, which actually goes through the legendary battlefield where nearly 50,000 soldiers were slain. It’s a 90-minute haunted history tour that is sure to spook.
Bedecked in Spanish moss eerily drooping from the city’s plentiful live oaks, Savannah is built on Native American burial grounds and has a troubled history that only adds to its creep factor. Antebellum mansions claim plenty of specters you may look for during individual house tours, but the jackpot here is Bonaventure Cemetery, made famous as the titular setting of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Whether you’ll find more good or move evil here is anyone’s guess, but you’re sure to find something among the mourning angels and other monumental gravestones in this garden of the dead.
Largely preserved since its birth in the 1600s, Colonial Williamsburg thrives on the past. By day, school groups tour the 88 original homes and countless others reconstructed in their original locations, but night is when the real fun begins. Williamsburg offers cemetery tours, candlelight tours, and even tours that take you back inside the historic sites after dark to hunt the spirits of those who shaped early America.
A town rich in spiritual history and awfully fond of elaborate cemeteries, New Orleans is home to plenty of haunted streets and homes, but perhaps none is as famous as Royal Street’s LaLaurie Mansion. Here, unspeakable horrors befell many of its mistress’s slaves, even after they were rescued by authorities. In addition to countless themed ghost tour options, New Orleans also boasts a fine selection of vampire tours.
Brooklyn probably isn’t in the front of your mental Rolodex of spook, but it’s home to one of America’s greatest burial grounds. Green-Wood Cemetery was once America’s second-most-visited tourist attraction (behind Niagara Falls) and is home to more than 560,000 buried residents, many of them famous, and some of them in catacombs that are occasionally opened for the cemetery’s moonlight walking tours (they may not call them ghost tours but let’s face it: that’s what they are.)
Founded in 1585, St. Augustine is the oldest city in the U.S. From the Spanish Military Hospital and the old jail to the Huguenot Cemetery, the city has been home to disasters, accidents, and battles for half a millennium. The impressive volume of ghost tours available here is a testament to the scads of spirits still haunting this storied city along Florida’s Atlantic coast.
A New England favorite for ghost tour aficionados, Burlington is populated with haunted homes, colleges, restaurants, cemeteries, and even a covered bridge that is allegedly the eternal un-resting place of a woman who reportedly either hanged herself in despair or was run over by runaway horses. Speaking of horses, Burlington even has a famous ghost steed that may or not be the spirit of Ethan Allen.
Nashville, like many cities, claims to be among the most haunted, but where it ranks on that list is hardly as interesting as one awesome advantage the city offers: hearse tours. Check out the city’s creepiest locales, including Nashville State Prison and Union Station, from the seats of a converted hearse. If that’s too much for your mortal sensibility, buoy yourself with liquid courage on one of the city’s haunted tavern tours instead.
There are plenty of unsavory characters in San Diego’s haunted history, especially in the Old Town neighborhood dating back to 1769, but no spot in this fright-filled town would dare claim to be more haunted than the Whaley House. Consistently noted as one of the most spirited establishments in the nation, it’s more than just a haunted house. It has contained several businesses, San Diego’s first theater (still present), and even a courthouse, but the several spirits still calling the Whaley House home are why it remains such a popular attraction. A ghost tour of the city itself is certainly in order, but no haunted investigation will be complete without a thorough exploration of the Whaley House!
As the first capital of the United States, Philadelphia’s colonial game is strong and many of the nation’s earliest citizens seem to remain active even centuries after their deaths. The most curiously haunted spot in town, though, isn’t a creepy old house, but the Philadelphia Zoo (America’s first), which has even been investigated on an episode of Ghost Hunters. Still, the jewel in Philly’s ghostly crown is Eastern State Penitentiary where ghost sightings have been reported since the 1940s, even before it was abandoned three decades later. It’s now one of the creepiest buildings in the country and a favorite for amateur and pro ghost hunters alike.
If you need to be told why Salem is haunted, you’re probably reading the wrong article, but here’s a refresher: the 1692 Salem witch trials resulted in the execution of 20 innocent colonists accused of trafficking with the devil, and the executions weren’t exactly humane: hanging and drowning were favorite methods, and let’s not forget the only man in American history who was ever legally pressed to death by large rocks. Even without witchery, Salem has plenty of other ghoulish hotspots like Wicked Good Books, where excavated secret tunnels have revealed human remains after years of reported hauntings. And don’t forget The Bunghole, a liquor store that was once home to an underground speakeasy hidden below a funeral parlor.
Home to a prison that contained the infamous Blackbeard, the grave of Edgar Allan Poe’s beloved Annabel Lee, and the jail where America’s first female serial killer was executed, Charleston’s three-century history has apparently left behind scores of unsettled spirits. Tours can take you to Charleston’s haunted houses, inns, plantations, graveyards, and even a dungeon. But do your homework if there’s a specific site you want to skulk through because some operators here have exclusive access to key spots.
While river architecture tours dominate the day in Chicago, ghost tours own the night. The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 claimed nearly 300 lives, the 1915 Eastland Disaster drowned or crushed 844 more on the Chicago River, and Al Capone’s gangsters left behind plenty of souls with unfinished business in this city believed to be crawling with spirits. Consider spending a night at the city’s most haunted hotel, Congress Plaza, where Al Capone once took up residence and online reviews still complain of incessant spectral activity.
From old hotels still inhabited by long-dead owners and guests who never checked out to the infamous network of underground passages known as the Shanghai Tunnels, Portland prides itself on its healthy dose of paranormal intrigue. There’s also a haunted pizza shop/brewery combo that couldn’t sound more Portland if it tried. Ghost tours are plentiful here, but if you ever wanted to test out professional ghost hunting equipment like the gadgets and gear you’ve seen on TV, take the Beyond Bizarre Ghost Tour from Portland Walking Tours.
The ominous name alone should inspire your inner ghost hunter, and Tombstone has an untamed history of Wild West shenanigans that won’t disappoint. This historic town was the site to the O.K. Corral shootout, and its victims are buried nearby at Boothill Graveyard. It s also home to the Bird Cage Theater, once known as the “wickedest” theater in the West, where one performer was killed during her act and more than 120 bullet holes can still be found in the walls. Unusual ghost tour options include Jeep tours along the old stagecoach route and walking tours of other creepy Tombstone sites like the gallows where seven men were hanged for an assortment of sinister deeds.