Digging Up Myths, Magic, and Monsters on Your Europe Vacation

People & Culture

Bran Castle at Night with Full Moon, Transylvania, Romania - Cropped

Roaming the centuries-old sites and cities of Europe, we’re constantly reminded of just how much history there is to discover, from Iceland to Istanbul. Where there’s history, there’s mythology, and where there’s mythology, there’s magic and monsters. It would be impossible to list all the great spots for a Halloween-inspired Europe vacation in one article, but here are a few noteworthy sites to get you started and spooked.

Romania

Bran Castle
It would be wrong to start a post about Europe’s legendary monster spots anywhere other than in Transylvania, and sure enough, visitors flock to “Dracula’s Castle.” Demonstrating just how far looks can get you, Bran Castle has claimed that title purely because it’s the only castle in Romania bearing any resemblance to the one described in Bram Stoker’s novel – built on a precipice high above a river that winds through the deep forest gorges. In truth, Stoker never visited Romania, and selectively borrowed from the history of Prince Vladimir III of Wallachia (also known as Vlad “the Impaler” Tepes) to create his now legendary vampire. It’s also highly unlikely the real Vlad Tepes ever considered Bran Castle home, since he was once held prisoner here.

Related Article:
Enjoy the Pastoral Charm of Transylvania on Your Romania Vacation

Poenari Castle
Not too far from Bran, the ruins of this majestic 13th Century castle are all that remain of the true home of Vlad Tepes, and are quite reachable for those on their Europe vacation willing to climb the 1,480 steps. Energetic visitors can then roam the ruins of Poenari Castle by a series of walkways and platforms. Just be sure not to leave food laying around. Careless tourists doing exactly this are thought to be the cause of a short-lived bear infestation that put the ruins off limits throughout the summer of 2017. Whether the bears were vampires in some primal, animal form remains unconfirmed.

Poenari Castle, Romania
Poenari Castle, Romania

France

Pere Lachaise Cemetery, Paris
One usually associates Pere Lachaise with glamorous names like Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, and Jim Morrison. But a keen eye might notice the repeated bat imagery throughout Paris’ most famous cemetery. Indeed, it contains a strong link to creatures of the night, in the Alley of the Dragon. Here lies a chapel containing a prince of Wallachia. All credible resources remain cagey about which Prince it is, so we really can’t assume the man interred here is Vlad Tepes. What is plainly visible above the mausoleum is the royal eagle watching over the entrance, its talons wrapped around a stake and a crucifix, just in case.

Le Musee des Vampires, Paris
Just outside the edge of Paris proper, lies the private house of Jacques Sirgent, a vampire enthusiast and expert whose eccentric collection makes up the Museum of Vampires and Legendary Creatures. You’d be forgiven for missing it, on your Europe vacation, as the museum can only be visited by appointment and must be accessed via a narrow alley and a sinister red door at the house’s rear. Those who accept an invitation will be greeted with a treasure trove of artefacts, artwork, memorabilia, and myth devoted to bloodsuckers of every variety.

Museum of the Beast of Gevaudan, Saugues
France’s most infamous “werewolf” has become such a legend, it now boasts its own museum in the commune of Saugues in southern France. The beast claimed over 100 victims before it was slain by Jean Chastel, who received a monument in La Besseyre-Saint-Mary for his efforts. Was the creature a wolf? An escaped dog? A hound trained by Chastel himself in an elaborate bid for glory? Or is there some truth in the werewolf myth? Explore the 22 dioramas that make up this museum and decide for yourself.

Morning Fog at Pere Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France
Morning fog at Pere Lachaise Cemetery, Paris

England

Highgate Cemetery, London
From dueling magicians to vampire-hunting mobs, the history of Highgate Cemetery sounds like something out of a fantasy novel. Fitting, since this picturesque cemetery in London is the final resting place of science fiction author, Douglas Adams as well as Adam Worth, the infamous criminal who inspired the Sherlock Holmes character, Professor Moriarty. Karl Marx is buried here too, but Highgate’s biggest surge of fame came during the 1970s when it starred in several horror films from Hammer Film Production. Then, things started to get weird. Stories soon emerged of grave robbing, desecration, and vampires, luring night-time mobs, including two magicians who dueled for the dubious honour of becoming Highgate’s first successful “vampire hunter.” Visiting the overgrown western section on your Europe vacation requires booking a guided tour, but the eastern section can be explored independently, if you dare.

Leadenhall Market, London
You won’t find much in the way of spooky lore here (wait until dark and take a ghost tour through the City of London for plenty of that), but it’s the closest you can come to visiting Diagon Alley, the bustling merchant street where witches and wizards buy their wares in the Harry Potter franchise. In fact, it was used for several shots in the Harry Potter films. In reality, Leadenhall Market has been hawking meat and fish since the 14th century, with the spectacular roof being added in 1881. It’s a great spot to step into another world for free, on your Europe vacation, without ever leaving inner city London.

The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, Boscastle
The English haven’t always been so fond of their witches and wizards, despite their supposedly having helped to win the Second World War. That’s just one story you can learn about at the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, which has been forced to move three times due to vandalism. Now established in Boscastle in Cornwall, it enjoys the protection of the Museum of British Folklore and contains one of England’s most extensive collections delving into the mysteries of the occult.

Mausoleums at Highgate Cemetery, London, UK (United Kingdom)
Mausoleums at Highgate Cemetery, London

Spain

Fountain of the Fallen Angel, Madrid
Arguably the world’s most surprising statue, you might not expect a deeply Catholic country like Spain to have a monument to Satan in the middle of its most beloved public park. Yet, inspired by Milton’s Paradise Lost, sculptor Ricardo Bellver imbued this statue of the fallen one with a surprising amount of anguish and empathy. The statue was a gift to Madrid from the Museo del Prado, which is located a short walk away, along with the city’s other two major art museums, the Reina Sofia, and Thyssen-Bornemisza.

Dali Theatre and Museum, Figueres
This is the world’s largest collection devoted to the man who popularized nightmares as art. After you’ve spent a few days roaming the eye-popping creations of Gaudi in Barcelona on your Europe vacation, take the hour’s train right to Figueres and step inside one of the mouth-shaped entrances to this egg-bedecked building to bend your brain just a little more. Opened in 1974, the museum was designed by Salvador Dali himself, which explains a lot, really. Add in a large number of the master’s paintings and a room where the furniture is said to resemble the face of the film star Mae West, and you have a gold mine of creative oddity that you really ought to “come up and see some time.”

Witches Museum, Zugarramurdi
Located a stone’s throw from the popular seaside town of San Sebastian, the unsettling Witches Museum of Zugarramurdi is in fact devoted to the victims of the Inquisition, which swept through town in the 17th century, murdering anyone they suspected of practicing the traditional folk religion. It was the largest witch hunt in history, trying over 7,000 individuals and convicting 53. Unsurprisingly, this persecution served only to cement Zugarramurdi’s reputation for witchcraft, and the town has embraced it ever since. The museum honours both the real history and the legends, which continue playing out to this day at the atmospheric Zugarramurdi Caves, where hundreds flock to light bonfires and celebrate the summer solstice each year. Thankfully, these days, only scores of lamb are roasted by the flames.

Zugarramurdi witches cave in Navarre, Spain
Zugarramurdi (witches) Cave in Navarre, Spain

Germany

St Mary’s Cathedral, Lubeck
Ever wanted to visit a church whose construction had the blessing of the Devil himself? Visit St Mary’s Cathedral in the former Hanseatic capital of Lubeck in Northern Germany. Legend claims that when the horned one visited the construction site, frightened workers claimed the unfinished structure would be a magnificent wine bar, which pleased the Devil no end. When the Devil realized he’d been tricked, he raised a great stone pillar and threatened to destroy the church. Only when promised that a new wine bar would be built nearby did the Devil drop the stone, which remains outside the church to this day, with a very smug looking Devil seated on it, complete with scratch marks, supposedly from his claws. It’s also worth going inside to see the Danse Macabre chapel, and the fallen bells that serve as a reminder of the real world horrors of World War 2.

Saint Mary's Church, Lubeck, Germany
Saint Mary’s Church, Lubeck, Germany

Poland

Rynek Underground, Krakow
This high tech museum below the main square of Krakow’s picturesque old town explores life – and death – in medieval Krakow, including one very unusual ritual, a vampire burial. Specifically, the burial of someone thought likely to return as a vampire. Evidence of similar rituals can be found all over Europe, but the unfortunate specimen at Poland‘s Rynek Underground suffered the indignity of having their hands bound and their head removed after death. Clearly, medieval Krakovians were taking no chances when it came to slowing down the returning dead!

Main square in old town Krakow with St Mary Basilica through arch of Rynek Underground exhibition building, Poland
Main square in old town Krakow with St Mary Basilica through arch of Rynek Underground exhibition building

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