Halloween special: Top locations in Vienna that will give you goosebumps
We should start off by saying that Halloween is not endemic to Vienna. As a recent import from across the Atlantic, it surged in popularity especially among the younger crowd only in the last decade or so. Vienna is not a stranger to its population running around cloaked in a different persona – dressing up and putting on a mask was popularized by Fasching (Carnival, taking place in February). Although in the winter months, young people don the frightful and horrific masks of Krampus. If it may be so bold to make such a statement, Halloween seems to open up the seasons of masking up in a fun way and there will be no shortage of unholy masquerades… err, costume parties in all the popular venues in the Austrian capital.
What is celebrated throughout Austria and in Vienna is All Saints Day on 1st November each year and much like the other countries celebrating this holiday, you will know that it is all about honoring all the saints, known or unknown, as well our dearly departed, on whose tombstones we lay flowers or light candles for. This would be the quiet day following the revels of the more recent and secular Halloween. So whether you choose to partake in the costume parties, spend a quiet day honoring loved ones no longer among us or simply getting into the hibernating mood of mid-autumn, curled up with ghost stories, there is no shortage of getting into the spirit of the holiday.
We are offering a new way of looking at Vienna through the lenses of this holiday, as we explore the macabre, the aesthetic and the ghoulish stories or elements of the locations that are bound to give you goosebumps, but are too Insta-worthy to pass up on. To make things a little more enticing, obvious destinations, such as cemeteries will not be included here.
Whether you are out and about looking for the ideal photo-shoot spot to match the holiday, or you are on a mildly dark tour, or you simply wish to explore a side of Vienna you never knew existed, these locations are bound to offer you a thrilling, shadowy trail to document in photos, for your own albums or for social media. So without further ado, here are our top picks for locations in Vienna that will give you goosebumps.
The Torture Museum
The first museum on this list and worthily so, the Torture Museum in Vienna, located outside the Esterhazy Park, is dedicated to the topic of cruel and grueling forms of corporal punishments from antiquity all the way to early modern times.
From the outside, it looks like a pop-up horror house, with its blackboard announcing in red letters the nature of the attraction. It is a sign trapped in a state of perpetual Halloween, hanging above a dark staircase going into the ground. And it’s probably still not the scariest basement in Austria. Dark humor aside, this underground location dates back to the Second World War, when it used to serve as a bunker. Presently, it hosts an exhibit put together in such a way that its anti-torture stance and mission is clear to the visitors.
The museum boasts well-documented historical methods of torture and with the careful blending of academic texts, illustrations, devices and mannequins, it creates a lurid, yet didactic atmosphere.
Why it will give you goosebumps: the museum exhibition is an anti-cruelty protest, with the mission of not occulting historical artefacts that show mankind’s creative dark side, its capacity for inflicting harm upon its own kin, often disguised under the pretext of punishment. It is an exercise in imagination and revolt against the violent history we should be grateful to have not lived through. It speaks directly to our fears.
The Madhouse Tower (Narrenturm)
It is a fortress-like, five-story circular building located on the outskirts of the Altes AKH (old General Hospital, currently the University of Vienna campus), close to the medical university buildings, that used to be an asylum. Built in 1784, it is continental Europe’s oldest building dedicated to the accommodation of psychiatric patients. It contained 139 individual cells for inmates, each endowed with slit windows, restraining chains and barred doors, perpetuating the criminalization and stigma associated with any form of socially deviant behavior. By the turn of the 18th century, the savage methods of treating the mentally ill had fallen into disrepute and ceased to be used, and the building ceased to be used as a psychiatric asylum as of 1869, taking in until that time only patients deemed incurable.. Presently, the tower hosts the collection of anatomical pathology of the Natural History Museum and has benefited from the renovation of the façade, looming less grimly over the campus grounds.
Why it will give you goosebumps: it feels lonely and desolate, framing the mind of the visitors into empathizing with those nameless inmates ostracized, restrained and unheard.
The medical curiosities contained within shed a new light on the history of medicine and how our understanding of diseases came visually into form… from casts… from real life patients of times gone by. Add to this actual limbs or fetuses preserved in jars and you are bound to get creeped out by the macabre clinical spectacle of it all. Gruesome and morbid.
It a small pedestrian street located in one of the oldest sections first district, connecting Singerstrasse to the Domgasse, housing the famed Mozart House, and is comprised of renovated going back to the Middle Ages. The name presumably derives from the slaughterhouses in the area, which entailed spilled blood running down the streets. Another story relates to the Templar Knights, who were said to occupy a seat at No. 7 Blutgasse and which were massacred in a midnight attack, the street turning red from all the bloodshed. If this was not bloody enough, this alley would allegedly be the last to be glimpsed by those marched all their way to the executioner’s axe.
Why it will give you goosebumps: even if you are unaware of its legend, there is a certain uneasiness permeating the narrow alley flanked by the high walls of medieval buildings. It feels claustrophobic, especially as the dusky darkness encroaches on the light and gives way to shadows, pierced here and there by a greenish light from behind stained-glass windows.
Bonus tip: exit or enter this street through the Domgasse towards St. Stephen’s Cathedral, you will be treated with one of the most ghoulish shop displays Vienna has to offer this season, of the K + K Domgasse Shop.
Remaining in one of the oldest sections of the first district and same our previous entries, dating back to the Middle Ages, this quaint street owes its name, “the beautiful lantern”, to the old house sign at No. 6. The original lantern is no longer there, having been replaced by a copy, but it can still be seen in the Vienna Museum. Its most famous house, No. 7, or the Basilisk Haus, dates back to the 13th century and it is the location associated to a favourite Vienna legend. In 1212, a basilisk was said to live inside the well in the house courtyard; a young baker boy spotted it and wanted to kill the serpent in front of a crowd that had gathered there. He climbed down into the well with a mirror, heeding the warning that should his eyes meet those of the basilisk he would turn to stone instantly. The moment he reached the bottom of the well, he faced the mirror towards the basilisk that was approaching and the monster met its demise by turning to stone. Or so goes the story…
Why it will give you goosebumps: what has been lurking underneath the streets of Vienna in the distant past to inspire the story, one might wonder and shudder. Not only that, but you get a sense of displacement on this street. Would it not be for markers of modernity, such as parked cars or modern shops, it feels as though you are in a Vienna frozen in time – you cannot hear the noise of the city from here and no other landmark is visible from beyond the relatively short buildings. Draped by a nocturnal cover and with sparse visitors, this sense of atemporality becomes more unsettling.
St. Rupert’s Church
Ruprechtskirche is considered the oldest church in Vienna, dating back, according to legend, to the 8th century, but mentioned earliest in a document of the year 1200. In the Middle Ages, it served as the seat of the Salzamt (Salt Office), which oversaw the salt trade. It hosts the oldest church bells in Vienna, from 1280 and the oldest window glass panes, from around 1370. It survived a fire in the 13th century, it saw numerous additions and refurbishments and withstood the damage of World War 2 shellfire.
Why it will give you goosebumps: it is not haunted, nor is it plagued with a dubious reputation, it is a perfectly normal, albeit very old church – it would be a strange consideration for this list. Look closer. It is eerie in its silent stand above the ancient remnant of the former city wall, nestled in ivy and overlooking with a morose, solemn gaze the quiet waters of the Danube Canal. It appears locked in an eternal prayer, murmured through the centuries to the long procession of the forgotten. Its bells echoed through the Black Death, through the Siege of Vienna, through the Napoleonic wars, through the World Wars and through the crumbling and demolition of old Vienna that gave way to the new city we know now. It is a historian that left no scrolls.
St. Stephan’s Cathedral
One of the most iconic landmarks of Vienna, the Stephansdom has a rich, well-documented history dating back to the Middle Ages, when the construction of the first St. Stephen’s church began in 1137 and was completed in the current form we know in 1511. It the largest building of religious significance in Austria and it is holding mass and ecclesiastical concerts. Most visitors today would marvel in humble awe before the towering columns and intricate artwork inside the cathedral, yet they would be less inclined to consider the ground they are walking on. The vault beneath the cathedral contain the respectfully preserved remains of bishops and members of the royal family However, the underground stretches deeper and gives way to an ossuary that extends well underneath the square around the cathedral. Back in the times when the Black Death was claiming the living for its own, the bodies of the plague-stricken would be lowered in droves into the catacombs beneath St. Stephens for their final burial. The normal decomposition process resulted in a pestilential fowl stench choking its way up through the deep catacombs all the way to the cathedral ceilings, disrupting sermons. A most macabre undertaking was underway: to clean up the catacombs, by sending it people to strip the putrid flesh from the bones and to rearrange the bones into piles. This solved the matter of the foul smell and of space, until the burial functions were extended to the Central Cemetery, well outside of the old city gates. Today, you can take a tour of St. Stephens, including the catacombs.
Why it will give you goosebumps: in the catacombs, there is no trace of natural light, a heavy and stale air pervades the atmosphere, befouled by the omnipresent shadow of death. Far beneath the busy steps above and at the mercy of electric lights, you feel a stare behind every hollow pair of skeletal eyes sockets. Even whispers carry a special echo and a certain heaviness to them, when you feel within earshot, yet nobody stands that close to you. Every distant crackle is bound to make you run back up and every shadow will feel empowered to cast itself more menacingly. The heaviness, the feeling that the ceilings would collapse, of getting trapped there… all fears will be animated and run through your mind in seconds. Not for the faint of heart.
This is our Halloween rundown of top locations that will are bound to give you goosebumps. Perhaps they are not the most fear-inducing places you can find in Vienna, not the most cringe-worthy and definitely not the darkest, but they are a part of the city’s history that is gloomy or eerie. The scariness factor need not stem from gargoyles flanking churches, from ghoulish statues, from tombstones or shocking legends, sometimes it is concealed in plain sight.