You guys, it’s finally Halloween season! This is hands down my favorite holiday. You can celebrate it literally anywhere and anyhow you want. If you want to get together with family and remember those you’ve lost recently, do it. If you want to stay in with a shit-your-pants scary movie, a bottle of wine to make it bearable, and a massive blanket to keep you safe from monsters under the couch, then go ahead. And if you want to dress up like a Sexy Tax Attorney, get wasted, and sleep with a member of ISIS without getting any dirty looks, you’re golden.
Best of all, you can celebrate it literally anywhere. It’s one of the few truly international holidays. And while nobody goes quite as puppies as America when it comes to Halloween, every country has its superstitions, and for some reason, just about everybody celebrates them right at the end of October. So no matter where you are, there’s something for you out there. Here are the best places in the world to celebrate Halloween.
New York, New York
So I’m gonna come right out and admit my bias here, considering I just moved to New York City and am already head-over-heels obsessed with the place. There’s so much going on. I could be at the best party I’ve ever seen, and the New York Snapchat story would still make me feel like I’m missing out.
Halloween is no exception. In the days leading up to October 31st, there’s everything from a pumpkin patch pop-up in Times Square (although, why the hell would you ever want to go to Times Square?) to a costumed puppy parade. It’s the kind of thing you never knew you needed until you see a corgi dressed as a hot dog and the city loses its collective shit.
And the city only gets weirder from there, with more and more costumes popping up walking the streets until holiday rolls around and the West Village Halloween Parade turns the entire area into one massive freakshow of the best order. Add to that all of the concerts, private parties, and random shenanigans you’ll run into just by walking around, and you’ve got the single best place on Earth to celebrate Halloween.
Los Angeles, California
I’m way enthusiastic about New York’s Halloween because I just moved here and have high expectations, but I can tell you from experience that Los Angeles’ celebrations are one of a kind. It’s the second largest city in the country that loves Halloween the most. It’s over a third Hispanic, which for some reason is the one demographic that is both incredibly superstitious while also being a huge fan of parties. It’s the center of the entertainment industry, which means that it has the enthusiasm for the holiday in particular and the infrastructure to back it up.
The best Halloween night party is up on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood for the Halloween Carnival, where you can see gay bears dressed as actual bears, straight people dressed in drag, and the occasional conservative who didn’t know what they were getting into dressed as somebody terrified for their social values. There’s also Blackout, a theatrical haunted house so intense they make you sign a waiver that you won’t sue them before going in, and HARD Day of the Dead, a rave just out of town. For more family friendly activities, you can check out the Day of the Day celebrations at Hollywood Forever Cemetery or Downtown LA.
New Orleans, Louisiana
We’re gonna get a bit more into Voodoo in a second as we head a bit further south, but if you’re only interested in the aesthetics of the scene without getting all mumbo jumbo about it, then you can’t do better than New Orleans. Anybody who’s seen True Detective can attest for the creepy vibe imbued by the local swamps (although that was also half Matthew McConaughey’s poorly aging face).
Halloween is a bit like Mardi Gras down here – a big party full of white people pretending to adhere to Cajun tradition. You could walk along the French Quarter, especially Bourbon Street, and find parades and parties going on everywhere. For some reason, Mardi Gras beads come out, because that’s the only thing most people know about the area. If you want to try something a little more exotic, check out the Voodoo Experience music festival, which is just about exactly what it sounds like.
Of course, some of us don’t want to spend Halloween like we did last year, which involved a few two many drinks from a man whose leather gimp suit was decidedly not just a costume. And that’s great! Halloween should be celebrated with more than debauchery. A lot of people have actual, important cultural significance to this time of year, and Port-Au-Prince is one of them, celebrating the holiday of Fete Ghede on November 2nd.
Did you know that the original idea of zombies came from Haitian voodoo? Haiti is as steeped in the supernatural as anywhere, so their version of All Saint’s Day is sure to be a little wilder. In Haitian mythology, the Ghede/Loa are rambunctious spirits who do more than rattle windows and close blinds. According to one story, they even mugged the President once. He paid up, which is both the best and the most ridiculous excuse for corrupt money changing I’ve ever heard. On Fete Ghede, people celebrate the spirits with dancing and feasts, and, for some reason, rubbing peppered alcohol on their genitals. That last bit is optional for visitors.
Día de los Muertos is the only Mexican holiday most Americans even know. I mean, it’s the only holiday Americans can name that doesn’t involve immediately shouting “cinco de drinko!” and slamming a game of Louisville Chugger. And this one is a bit more cultural than Cinco de Mayo, with a strong foundation in family even as the aesthetic of the Sugar Skull has permeated just about every incarnation of a Halloween festival, no matter how it’s celebrated. As such, you’ll be able to find a Día de los Muertos celebration going on with every level of boisterousness, especially in Oaxaca, which is the cultural center of the holiday.
While most local families spend the holiday in quiet reflection while decorating the graves of lost loved ones, there are also plenty of public events like carnivals, markets, and dances to attend. Most of these events are centered on the local cemeteries, like San Miguel Cemetery and Xoxo Cemetery, so let’s hope you’re comfortable around the dead, because this ain’t one of those American parties that you can call Halloween just because somebody slapped some fake spider-webs in the corners.
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
Americans treat Halloween as one of the biggest and most involved holidays of the year, especially when it comes to throwing themed events. Mexico is similar with Día de los Muertos, although it’s usually a little less… all out. You won’t be seeing too many slutty cats out there bouncing from one party to the next. However, some towns do throw more involved festivals to celebrate the holiday, and San Miguel de Allende is one of them with it’s La Calaca festival, taking place from the 31st to November 2nd.
La Calaca is a festival making Dia accessible for those who may not be used to the more cultural side of things. It combines the traditional celebrations with more music festival oriented events, so if you’re just a little too afraid of spooky ghosts, let this ease your worries. It’s named after a skeletal figure emblematic of Día de los Muertos, and I swear to God, I’m going to delete any comments that make any reference to “Mr. Skeltal.”
There’s something about demons in early November on this side of the world, and in Puno, there’s a festival called La Diablada that lines up with Halloween-style celebrations around the world. This one takes place from November 1st through to the 5th, so while it’s not technically Halloween, the basic themes are the same, and who doesn’t want to celebrate in an Andean town?
Supposedly, this version has less to do with family spirits and spooky specials on ABC Family than it does with celebrating the departure of the devilish conquistadors that once invaded Peru. Comedy aside, if all these traditions formed separately, then their convergent evolutions is pretty interesting. Here, the locals dress like demons and dance on the shores of Lake Titicaca, also known as the most comedically named location since Blueballs, Pennsylvania. Feel free to join them, and unleash your primal demon.
I’ve mentioned before that Barcelona is one of my favorite cities in all of Europe. Part of that is because of how the city manages to be so modern and yet still so connected to its cultural past. In terms of Halloween, this means that you’re gonna find everything from traditional Día de los Muertos celebrations (and a Chestnut Festival) to bass thumping parties. Just like in America, you can let your demons and vices out of their cage however you’d like.
For the party-goers, clubs like Shôko and Opium throw massive beach parties where the only exorcisms going down are the demons chundered all over the sand by the people who drank too much of the witch’s brew. Just outside of town, Nocturna Festival offers the same sort of thing, while Port Aventura, the massive park, turns into one big Halloween theme park for the duration of the holiday. Many bars in the city turn into big themed parties, so don’t be surprised to find people simply wandering the world while dressed ridiculous, sniffing out another party to hop into.
Considering the fact that England essentially plundered the entire world for the better part of a millenium, it shouldn’t be surprising that the capitol city would become one of the better places to celebrate Halloween. Young Drunk London will pick up any tradition it thinks it can turn into a party. How else would you explain the size of its Chinese New Year traditions? Luckily, London actually fits well with a holiday all about the creepy. I mean, have you seen the Tower of London?
Speaking of the Tower of London, there’s a haunted house theatre tour called Nightwatchers taking place inside its walls on Halloween night. Most big clubs will be throwing parties over the course of the night, and finding one is as simple as walking into a bar and getting poked in the eye by some bird’s unicorn horn. There’s also Day of the Dead celebrations, because we’ve already explained that the English are cultural succubi. While there’s no massive central street celebration like most of the other big cities on this list, there are enough small events going on to qualify.
We get so caught up in how massive Halloween actually is in America that we forget that we didn’t invent the holiday. But that honor belongs to the Celts of what is now Scotland, having originated as a harvest festival called Samhain (which is actually pronounced sow-win, because the English language is an abomination and must be stopped), honoring the transition from Summer to Winter and thus the battle between the demons representing both. Edinburgh keeps that tradition alive.
The biggest event during the holiday is the Samhain Fire Festival, held on the Royal Mile and featuring a pageant to celebrate the holiday as it was before America stole it. La Mascarade is a giant masquerade party to celebrate the holiday as it is since America stole it. You’ll be able to find more to do in between those two extremes – for example, there’s the Edinburgh Dungeon filling the much needed tourist trap role, while the Secret Society of Edinburgh is hosting, um, some kind of event. That one is, obviously, pretty secret. Unless, of course, you have a few quid. But with a few quid, you can buy your way into just about any Halloween party you could possibly want.