Wands at the ready
Giant’s Causeway, County Antrim, Northern Ireland
Bhangarh Fort, Rajasthan, India
Dubbed the most haunted place in India, 17th-century Bhangarh Fort is shrouded in legend. The most famous story involves a jilted wizard who fell in love with a local princess. Not able to win her affections, the wizard attempted to slip the princess a love potion. However, she saw through his cunning plan and flung the magic brew at a nearby boulder, which dislodged and crushed the ill-fated wizard. It’s said the embittered wizard used his last breath to place a curse on the fort which is now so feared that entry is prohibited after sunset.
Mother Shipton’s Cave & Petrifying Well, Knaresborough, England
Mother Shipton’s Cave is tucked away in storied woodland in Knaresborough along the River Nidd. It’s the supposed birthplace of legendary witch and prophetess Ursula Southhell, or Mother Shipton, who purportedly predicted numerous dark events during her time, including the Great Fire of London. Nearby is the famous Petrifying Well, whose mineral-rich waters can turn objects to stone.
Rose Hall Great House, Montego Bay, Jamaica
The Rose Hall Great House is a grand Jamaican, Georgian-style mansion set within the vast grounds of a former plantation and tourists aren’t the only beings who haunt the stately home. It’s purportedly plagued by the ghost of Annie Palmer, a supposed white witch who killed three of her husbands alongside countless of the enslaved people who worked on the plantation. Legend has it her tomb was supposed to be sealed with an ancient voodoo ritual, but the ritual was left unfinished, leaving Annie’s spirit free to roam the eerie house and grounds today.
St Louis Cemetery No.1, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
Peeling tombs and labyrinthine walkways draw visitors to this NOLA cemetery, or City of the Dead, which is the burial place of legendary voodoo queen Marie Laveau. Laveau, who died in 1881, was famed for her spiritual practices which included healing the sick. Visitors still come to lay offerings at Laveau’s gravesite, and you can usually sense the magic for yourself on a guided tour. Currently, the cemetery is closed due to COVID-19, but do check for updates here.
Tintagel Castle, Cornwall, England
The ruins of Tintagel Castle – perched dramatically on a rugged Cornish peninsula – could be plucked straight from a medieval saga. And they sort of are. According to lore, this is where revered warrior and leader King Arthur was conceived. It’s said that powerful wizard Merlin disguised Arthur’s father, Uther Pendragon, with a spell, so he could make it into the bedchamber of his beloved Igraine, who was married to another man. Now reopen, you’ll need a timed ticket to cross the famed footbridge and explore the castle.
Enchanted River, Hinatuan, the Philippines
Magicum – Berlin Magic Museum, Berlin, Germany
Tucked away in an old blacksmith shop, Magicum is a light-hearted magic museum packed to the rafters with bewitching displays. Weave through the exhibitions, spotting everything from potion books and tarot cards to magicians’ hats and black and white wands. Time your visit for one of the popular weekend magic shows. You’re sure to leave spellbound. Check the museum’s website for the latest opening times.
Dark Hedges, Stranocum, Northern Ireland
You may recognize the Dark Hedges from cult HBO series Game of Thrones, but this twisting tunnel of trees has a legend of its own. The lane is supposedly home to the Grey Lady, an elusive specter who flits between the knotted trees, fading away as she reaches the end of the road. Her identity is unknown, though some think she’s the wandering spirit of a local housemaid, whose mysterious death raised questions centuries ago. Today it’s one of the most photographed places in Northern Ireland – check your snaps for any mysterious shapes…
Camera Obscura & World of Illusions, Edinburgh, Scotland
A treasure trove of illusions, this Edinburgh museum is dedicated to trickery, with the star of the show being the camera obscura itself, which shows visitors a moving image of the city below. Beyond this, visitors can pore over magical mind-benders from a hologram room and a mirror maze, to the dizzying Vortex Tunnel, a whirling passageway that will test your balance. The museum’s website with the latest opening times can be found here and you can discover more about what to do in Edinburgh with our guide too.
Salem, Massachusetts, USA
When it comes to witchcraft, no place on Earth is as infamous as Salem. This small town northeast of Boston is well-known for the witch trials of 1692–93, which saw 19 “convicted” witches be executed. Despite this dark passage in history, Salem wears its magical reputation on its sleeve, with a bonanza of spooktacular events for Halloween. Other attractions keep visitors passing through year-round – look out for the Witch House, former home of trial judge Jonathan Corwin, and the House of Seven Gables (pictured), made famous by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Gothic novel. Check visiting times and the events program before traveling during 2020 however.
Houska Castle, Blatce, Czech Republic
Kyteler’s Inn, Kilkenny, Republic of Ireland
This medieval pub in the Irish town of Kilkenny dates right back to 1263 and has a history bound up with witchcraft. It’s named for Dame Alice Kyteler, the daughter of a banker and the original proprietor of the pub. Alice was married four times and possessed a sizeable fortune, leading bitter locals to brand her a witch. Although she was sentenced to be burned, Alice managed to escape to England in the nick of time. Today a life-sized bronze statue memorializes Dame Alice, while traditional Irish cooking and music keep the crowds pouring in. Check opening arrangements and times here.
Museum of Illusions, Toronto, Canada
Prepare to have your mind boggled at this dinky museum in Toronto. Dedicated to making you doubt your own eyes, the museum hosts a range of bewildering but brilliant displays, from a rotated room and a table that clones you, to the chance to put your own head on a platter. You’re bound to leave puzzled, perplexed and convinced that magic might exist after all. Tickets for timed entry are available here and you can discover what else to check out in Toronto with our city guide too.
Dimmuborgir, near Mývatn, Iceland
A jewel of northern Iceland, Dimmuborgir, meaning dark fortress, is a stark area of lava fields close to Lake Mývatn. Formed by an eruption several millennia ago, and also serving as a location for HBO’s Game of Thrones, the area has legends aplenty. It’s believed that the rock formations are a portal to the underworld and also as the home of the Yule Lads – the 13 tricksy sons of troll Grýla, who come out at Christmastime. Chase the legends on one of several hiking routes that criss-cross the area.
The Brocken, Saxony-Anhalt, Germany
The Brocken is the loftiest peak in Germany’s Harz Mountains range and has long been associated with witchcraft and magic. For starters, it’s the setting for much of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s play Faust, based on the mystical German legend in which a man sells his soul to a demon. It’s also said to be a place where witches perform sacrificial rites. Typically, on Walpurgis Night (30 April), the people of the Harz region put on a witchy celebration involving costumes, fireworks and family fun.
Catemaco, Veracruz, Mexico
Known as the land of the sorcerers, Catemaco has a tradition of witchcraft that harks back for centuries. Curious visitors usually come from all over the world to rub shoulders with brujos, or sorcerers, who perform ancient rituals such as spiritual cleansings, and to explore markets dedicated to the occult. The biggest event of the year, the National Congress of Sorcerers, usually occurs in March and is a huge gathering of practicing witches.
Century Old Balete Tree, Siquijor, Philippines
A quite remarkable sight, this 400-year-old balete tree in the Philippines’ Siquijor province is believed to be enchanted. The true nature of the tree’s magic remains a mystery, but locals tell tales of the mythical creatures which reside here and the sorcery that’s performed. Legends aside, tourists and locals come to dip their toes in the natural springs at its base, which are home to schools of feet-nibbling fish.
La Maison de la Magie Robert-Houdin, Blois, France
Celebrating the legacy of Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin, revered as the father of modern conjuring, this museum is a key attraction in the riverside city of Blois. The venue couples displays on the history of magic and Robert-Houdin himself, with mind-boggling optical illusions and even live magic shows. Look out for the Harry Houdini passageway, dedicated to the life and stunts of the famous escape artist. Check out opening times here.
Pendle Hill, Lancashire, England
England’s answer to Salem, Pendle Hill and the quaint villages that surround it are best known for the infamous witch trials of 1612. Here, 10 people, who have become known as the Pendle witches, were found guilty of witchcraft and hung. Today visitors to this enchanting area of Lancashire can follow the Walking with Witches Trail or get involved with the annual Halloween hilltop gathering (currently still on). You can also spot a host of sculptures hidden between the trees.
Blå Jungfrun, Sweden
Embroiled in legend, the Swedish island of Blå Jungfrun (or Blue Maiden) is a national park in its entirety. The isle’s isolated location has made it the perfect breeding ground for myths and folktales, which purport that the island is home to witches and evil spirits. It’s still believed that witches gather on the island around Easter, in order to perform dark rites. Alongside the rocky beaches and deciduous forest, visitors will stumble across a curious stone labyrinth (pictured) whose origins still remain a mystery.
American Museum of Magic, Marshall, Michigan, USA
Proud to be tipped as “the Smithsonian of American magic”, this Michigan museum is dedicated to magical greats from Harry Houdini
to Harry Blackstone Sr., who spent much of his life in the state. Marvel at the huge store of artifacts, from illusionist posters to memorabilia used by Houdini himself, and see one of the free Saturday magic shows (admission charge still applies). Check the website for the latest opening times and safety protocols. For a scary stay, check out the most haunted hotel in every state.
Loch Ness, Scottish Highlands, Scotland
Loch Ness is famed the world over for the fearsome beast that supposedly plows its waters, and all manner of books and films have been spun from this fabled creature. Nessie isn’t the loch’s only legend, though. It’s said that the shores have been home to witches too. One story says that two quarreling witches lived on either side of the water and during one heated conflict, they began hurling rocks at one another. One striking boulder near Clansman Harbour is said to be a remnant of this fight.
Winchester Mystery House, San Jose, California, USA
At first glance, this building looks like any other stately mansion – but it’s more mysterious than most. It’s famous for the seemingly endless construction, which saw an eight-room farmhouse grow into the gargantuan place we see today, with some 160 rooms, 2,000 doors and 10,000 windows. A common theory is that the widow who owned it, Sarah Winchester, was plagued by spirits and advised by a psychic to extend her home in order to escape them. Today self-guided tours (with safety protocols in place) tell tales of spooks and spirits, and immersive Halloween events usually take place each year.
Triora, Liguria, Italy
Often dubbed as the Salem of Europe or the Village of Witches, Triora is a tiny village in Italy’s northwestern Liguria region. After a bad harvest was blamed on sorcery, witch trials were held here at the end of the 16th century – at least 40 people were accused, many were tortured and others were burned at the stake. Triora doesn’t shy away from this macabre history, though and rather it brings it to the fore with statues, a museum (pictured) and usually a plethora of bewitching events, from Halloween festivities to a summer witchcraft festival.
Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magick, Cleveland, Ohio, USA
This museum was established in 1966 by the late Raymond Buckland, a writer and expert in the occult, and has changed locations numerous times during its decades of history. Today, settled in Cleveland, Ohio, the collection is a shrine to witchcraft, folklore and the supernatural, showcasing everything from orbs and chalices to artifacts relating to the Salem witch trials. Special events include witchery workshops, one-off exhibitions and seances. The museum is open with limited access and advance tickets are required.
Cave of Zugarramurdi, Navarra, Spain
It’s not stalagmites or stalactites that draw tourists to this cave close to Zugarramurdi, which is often billed as the village of witches. Rather, it’s the cavern’s long association with witches and pagan rituals. In fact, the town of Zugarramurdi was purportedly the site for the largest ever witch trial, involving thousands of accused. Today visitors can soak up the magic in the haunting witch museum (open with advance tickets only) or at a traditional annual feast called zikiro jate, held right in the cave itself.
Torghatten, Torget, Norway
This hulking mountain, distinct for the gaping hole at its center, is steeped in folklore. Its story involves a troll, Hestmannen, who was chasing a beautiful woman, Lekamøya. As the path widened between them, Hestmannen became angry and shot an arrow intending to kill Lekamøya. However, the powerful troll king saved the day by throwing a hat into the arrow’s path, saving the girl. The pierced hat purportedly turned into the mountain we see today, arrow hole and all. Typically you can visit the mountain on a moderate hike and even camp in its vicinity.
Hexenmuseum Schweiz, Gränichen, Switzerland
If it’s related to witches, you’ll find it in this enchanting Swiss museum (reopening in October). Through its 1,300-strong collection of artifacts, the museum allows visitors to delve into the worlds of Swiss folklore, divination, magic spells, healing practices and more. It gets bonus points for its killer location in the hilltop Liebegg Castle (Schloss Liebegg) too.
Chocolate Hills, Bohol, Philippines
The Philippines’ conical Chocolate Hills – some of which soar to 394 feet (120m) – are another natural wonder oft explained by magic. One legend involves a pair of squabbling giants, who launched mud and boulders at one another until they were exhausted. Their tiredness led them to forget their bickering and the havoc they’d wrought too. They left behind the towering Chocolate Hills and wandered off into the sunset. Another story claims the hills are the dried tears of an amorous giant, who was mourning the death of his mortal love.
Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, Boscastle, England
This museum proudly touts itself as having the world’s largest collection of objects relating to witchcraft and the occult. Set in the charming Cornish village of Boscastle, the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic (temporarily closed) holds more than 3,000 artifacts chronicling British magical practice from ancient times to the modern day. Explore two levels filled with everything from a mini altar and ritual equipment to a handcrafted ouija board.
Mystery Spot, Santa Cruz, California, USA
There might not be any real sorcery at play at this puzzling spot in Santa Cruz, but it certainly feels as though there is. Explained as a gravitational anomaly in the midst of a redwood forest, California’s Mystery Spot (open as usual) has been baffling visitors for some 80 years. Here, in a strangely-positioned wooden shack, guests appear to defy gravity, leaning to impossible angles. Experience the magic, then reorientate yourself on the peaceful woodland hiking trail that surrounds the spot.
Reynisdrangar, near Vík í Mýrdal, Iceland
Rising out from the ocean, close to the tiny village of Vík í Mýrdal, are the Reynisdrangar – three mighty basalt sea cliffs soaring to 217 feet (66m). According to Icelandic folklore, these jagged rocks are actually the remains of a fated group of trolls. It’s said that the troublesome trolls caught sight of a ship out at sea and decided to pull it to shore under the cover of darkness. However, their dastardly deed took too long. Dawn broke and the trolls were immediately turned to stone. They remain a favored subject for roving photographers.
Rakotzbrücke, Gablenz, Germany
Rakotzbrücke, in eastern Germany’s Kromlauer Park, is one of several bridges in Europe to earn the moniker of the Devil’s Bridge. The legend goes that the bridge, arching in a perfect semi-circle and reflecting in the still water below, is too perfect to have been made by human hands. It’s said that Satan had a hand in its construction, claiming the soul of the first mortal to cross the structure in return. You can’t cross the bridge (which is also currently under construction) but you can admire the devil’s handiwork from afar.
Delve into the most mysterious places on Earth
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