Forget your princess fantasies, in these castles, you’ll find shrieking ghosts and the literal gateway to hell.
“Straight out of a fairy tale” brings to mind images of tiny bridges, flowering forest floors, and canals carving through villages—but don’t you forget that every fairy tale has a dark side, too. Villains and their evil lairs or headquarters are just as necessary to those stories. After all, what would Sleeping Beauty be without Maleficent’s castle? In this collection of haunted castles, there are dungeons once filled with skeletons, haunted ballrooms, gruesome tales, and even tigers terrorizing a local village: These are the world’s haunted castles, from New Zealand to Romania and beyond.
Leap Castle, Ireland
Built somewhere between the 13th and late 15th centuries, this Irish castle has seen more gruesome deaths than a Game of Thrones wedding. As legend has it, during a struggle for power within the O’Carroll clan (which had a fondness for poisoning dinner guests), one brother plunged a sword into another, a priest, as he was holding mass in the castle’s chapel. The room is now called “The Bloody Chapel,” and the priest is said to haunt the church at night. And the horror doesn’t end there. During castle renovations in the early 1900s, workmen found a secret dungeon in the Bloody Chapel with so many human skeletons, they filled three cartloads when hauled away. The dungeon was designed so that prisoners would fall through a trap door, have their lungs punctured by wooded spikes on the ground, and die a slow, horrific death within earshot of the sinister clan members above.
Chillingham Castle, England
Regarded as Britain’s most haunted castle, the aptly named Chillingham Castle has a horrific history of prisoner-ridden dungeons and well-used torture chambers. Its roll-call of resident spooks include the whimpering “blue boy,” the pantry’s frail “white lady,” and the perpetually lonesome Lady Mary Berkeley. Sign up for a castle-run ghost tour, or spend the night in a self-catering apartment—if you dare.
Burg Eltz, Germany
Burg Eltz dates back to 1157, and the list of myths surrounding the castle is nearly as long. Of the few rooms in the castle open to tourists, supposedly one of the most haunted in the bedroom of Countess Agnes. Her bed, breastplate, and battle-ax remain in the room, and legend has it that she died defending the castle from an “undesirable” suitor and, therefore, still haunts the German castle, found between the towns of Koblenz and Trier, today.
Voergaard Castle, Denmark
In the northeastern Danish town of Dronninglund, Voergaard Castle displays works by Raphael, Goya, and El Greco to the public. But the stately building is as renowned for its dark past. The most famous myth tells the story of Ingeborg Skeel, who acquired the castle in 1578 and drowned its architect in the moat so that he could never design another building as beautiful as Voergaard. People today report seeing Skeel’s tormented ghost wandering through the castle at night, dressed in white. Even if you don’t believe ghost stories, you might still get goosebumps passing by Rosedonten, Voergaard’s most infamous dungeon: The room was designed so that an adult man could neither stand up straight nor lie stretched out, and there are no holes for light or air to enter.
Predjama Castle, Slovenia
Built within a cave in the middle of a towering cliff, Predjama, which dates back to 1274, is imposing by most standards. Add in local legend and you’ll be hard-pressed not to get spooked: Once the residence of knight Erazem Lueger, Predjama has hidden passageways and was reputedly a site of torture and treachery. Lueger was betrayed by his servants and killed in the castle and is said to still haunt it today.
Himeji Castle, Japan
Himeji Castle dates to 1333 and is regarded as one of the greatest remaining examples of Japanese castle architecture. It also has some rather eerie folklore associated with it. The most popular tale tells the story of Okiku, a mythical character from ancient legends who was falsely accused of losing valuable dishes. She was killed and thrown into the well in the castle. Her ghost now haunts the castle at night, counting dishes in a mournful tone; she reaches nine before shrieking and returning to the well.
Larnach Castle, New Zealand
Larnach was built between 1871 and 1887 to serve as the residence of William Larnach, a prominent local politician in New Zealand. Most notable is a 3,000-square-foot ballroom, which Larnach had built as a 21st birthday present for his favorite daughter Kate, who later died of typhoid at age 26, and is said to still haunt the ballroom. Don’t chalk those taps on your shoulder and whispers in your ear as all up to the imagination, though: The building has been visited by paranormal investigators and featured on Ghost Hunters International.
Marsham Castle, Austria
During the Salzburg Witch Trials between 1675 and 1690, Moosham played host to many of the executions, imprisonments, and torturing of hundreds of men and women accused of being witches. Later, in the 1800s, so many deer and cattle within the castle’s proximity were found dead that residents were tried—and killed—for being werewolves. Today, staff and visitors have reported banging sounds, footprints, seeing white mists, and feeling someone breathe on them.