Happy Halloween! To celebrate the spookiest holiday of the year, we’ve rounded up a few real-life locations that you might recognize from your favorite horror movies and books. Some of these sites inspired famous authors or served as central settings in scary stories, while fans simply associate others with their favorite hair-raising legends. Whatever the nature of their connection, all seven locations will send a chill down your spine.
Explore these terrifying places with us — if you dare.
The Stanley Hotel (Estes Park, Colorado) and Timberline Lodge (Mount Hood, Oregon)
Featured in “The Shining”
Yes, we’ve listed two hotels here. That’s because one of them inspired Stephen King’s horrifying novel, while the other was a significant filming location for the nightmare-inducing movie adaptation.
The Stanley Hotel is one of Colorado’s most beautiful buildings, but it sparked a sinister story in one man’s mind. Stephen King and his wife, Tabitha, were the hotel’s only guests when they stayed there one evening in September 1974. That night, a vivid nightmare woke Stephen up, and within minutes, he had dreamed up the ghostly Overlook Hotel and almost an entire plot line. Less than two and a half years later, “The Shining” hit bookshelves across the world, and it’s been a horror classic ever since.
Venture to the Stanley, and you’re in for a trick and a treat. Given its location in a high-elevation, low-population town outside of Rocky Mountain National Park, you’d be hard-pressed to find better scenery, but the hotel offers more than just gorgeous mountain vistas. People have been telling ghost stories about the Stanley for decades — stories that the hotel actively encourages by leading nightly paranormal tours. If you’re feeling extremely brave, you can even request to stay in room 217 (King’s own room and a central location in the book).
If you’ve seen Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of the tale, you’ll immediately recognize the Timberline Lodge. Unfortunately, Stephen King famously hates the film — but, on the bright side, the Timberline Lodge does provide the perfect backdrop for the story. And although Kubrick shot most of the movie on a soundstage in England, he did film exterior shots of the Lodge, going on to portray the building as the Overlook Hotel. The Timberline management, fearing that guests wouldn’t want to stay in room 217 after the film came out, asked the director to change the famous room number to 237, which he did. Even so, number 217 is still the most requested room in the lodge.
Bran Castle (Bran, Romania) and Poenari Citadel (Arefu, Romania)
Associated with “Dracula”
When Bram Stoker wrote “Dracula,” he probably didn’t model his infamous vampire on Vlad III Dracula (often dubbed Vlad the Impaler). After all, Stoker knew very little about the Impaler, and his vampire didn’t share much in common with the medieval ruler — just a name and a vicious bloodlust. But that hasn’t stopped horror fans from conflating the two, giving legendary status to a few locations in present-day Romania.
So, if you’d like to explore a building that looks like it could have been Count Dracula’s home, Bran Castle is just the place. In fact, with its position on a cliff overlooking a river, it’s the only Transylvanian castle matching Stoker’s description of Dracula’s hideaway. The castle dates back to 1388, and for centuries, it was both a customs house and a defensive fortress. Today, it’s a privately owned museum, but its real claim to fame is the persistent connection that fans draw to Transylvania’s best-known vampire. If you go, pay attention to the eerie atmosphere lingering around the building’s red rooftops and sturdy towers, especially on rainy days.
For an even spookier journey through Vampire Country, head to Poenari Citadel. This remote castle is located high above the Argeș River, and while it doesn’t have any connections to Stoker’s Dracula, it was an official residence of Vlad the Impaler. He restored and built up the old castle, using it to issue orders and weather military attacks. During a Turkish assault in 1462, Vlad fled Poenari Citadel through a secret passageway, and although people continued to occupy the site for several decades, it was completely abandoned by the mid-1500s. Today, the building lies in ruins, but it’s still accessible, as long as you’re willing to climb almost 1,500 stairs to the top. Watch your step — and your neck, just in case!
The Dakota Apartments (New York City, New York)
Featured in “Rosemary’s Baby”
Located outside of Central Park, the Dakota is the best-known residential building in Manhattan’s Upper West Side. With its decorated gables, iconic roofline, and German Renaissance style, the Dakota has attracted architecture-loving sightseers and high-profile residents since it opened in 1884.
But the Dakota is much more than just a stately apartment building — it’s also an important landmark in pop culture, thanks to the 1968 horror film “Rosemary’s Baby.” Although director Roman Polanski filmed most of the movie elsewhere, he used exterior shots of the Dakota to represent Rosemary’s apartment building, the setting of her terrifying ordeals. Even more chilling, Dakota resident and Beatles frontman John Lennon was murdered outside one of the entrances in 1980.
Throughout the decades, many residents and employees have claimed that they’ve witnessed paranormal activity in the building. The most common assertion, which recurs fairly often, is that someone has seen the ghost of a friendly little girl wearing turn-of-the-century clothing. Lennon said he once saw the spirit of a crying woman in the hallway, and his widow Yoko Ono has claimed that she’s seen her husband’s ghost in their apartment. Others say that they’ve encountered a spirit matching the description of Edward Cabot Clark, the building’s original owner. Perhaps most frightening of all, a porter once noticed items moving of their own accord in the basement. He called down a tenant, who didn’t believe the porter’s story until a heavy metal bar propelled itself through the air and landed at his feet.
Whether or not you believe the ghost stories, there’s no way to ignore the Dakota’s importance in pop culture and New York City history. We’ll meet you at the main entrance on West 72nd Street!
Lake Geneva (Switzerland)
Featured in “Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus”
It was a dark and stormy summer when 18-year-old Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin arrived at Lake Geneva. A recent volcanic eruption in Indonesia had altered weather patterns around the globe, and heavy rainfall kept Mary and her friends indoors more often than not. As a result, the group (which included Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron) devoted their time to composing poems and horror stories. And although it’s been more than 200 years since that fateful summer when she began writing “Frankenstein,” Mary’s story remains one of the finest offerings in Gothic literature.
Since Mary found her inspiration on the shores of Lake Geneva, the location became an important setting in her novel. Her main character, Victor Frankenstein, grows up in Geneva and eventually chases his monster back to his hometown. And in fact, Geneva is the setting for two of the monster’s most heinous crimes: the murders of Victor’s brother and bride.
If you decide to retrace Mary’s steps, be sure to explore Cologny (the posh suburb where she stayed) and the Chateau de Chillon (the beautiful castle setting of Byron’s dark poem, “The Prisoner of Chillon”). With any luck, you’ll enjoy sunny weather, but if not, you might want to open a notebook and start writing. After all, something in the chilly air inspires stories about monsters and murders.
M Street Stairs (Washington, D.C.)
Featured in “The Exorcist”
Wedged between two streets in Georgetown sits a narrow staircase that feels inexplicably creepy, despite its mundane surroundings. But we can at least explain away the déjà vu that you’ll experience while climbing the stairs — you’re visiting a filming location from “The Exorcist.”
In the classic horror movie’s final scene, a priest orders a demon to possess him, then jumps through a window and tumbles down an outdoor staircase. In real life, the house is set back from the stairs, so director William Friedkin had to extend the home while shooting. Locals were enthralled with the filming process, and a few Georgetown University students even charged admission for rooftop views of the famous stunt. And in 2015, the mayor turned the steps into a designated D.C. landmark, so it’s safe to say that the local obsession is still alive and well.
If you brave a visit, park at the gas station located where M Street turns into Canal Road, then head into the alley. On your way up the stairs, take a moment to admire the ivy hanging on the wall beside you, but focus on keeping your footing. Trust us — you don’t want to fall!
Did we miss anything? Sound off in the comments to tell us about the real-life haunted houses and terrifying locales you’ve explored.
Cover photo by Steve Enoch