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Posts in ‘Holidays & Festivals’

White Nights Festival in St. Petersburg, Russia

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White nights - View of Neva river and raised Palace Bridge

St. Petersburg – the city that never sets. At least not in the summer.

Being located in one of the world’s most northern cities, it means that the city never really gets dark during the months of June and July. You can walk about between 10pm to 5am without ever needing a street light! Talk about an ideal setting for romantic outings! No other European city can rival this experience of walking along the banks of the rivers and canals in broad daylight, no matter what time of the day it is!

White Nights Festival
During this season of the midnight sun, St. Petersburg annually hosts one of the greatest art festivals in the world to honour a rare event: the White Nights (or Belye nochi as the Russians call it). The festival – organised by the Saint Petersburg City Administration – starts at Mariinsky Theatre in May and ends in July (usually from the 2nd half of May till the 2nd half of July); although some performances connected to the festival take place before and after the official dates.

The White Nights Festival starts with the awesome production of “Stars of the White Nights” – a series of several classical ballet, opera and orchestral performances, and music events that include performances by Russian dancers, singers, musicians and actors. There are famous international guest stars too! By day, locals revel in the heat and the outdoors and by twilight or light-washed night, the concerts and partying come to life.

Features of the Festival
There are several features of the festival; with Scarlet Sails being the high point of the White Nights revelry. Scarlet Sails includes spectacular fireworks, concerts, and massive water show. This tradition eventually evolves to being the most popular public annual event that celebrates the end of school year or freedom from “schools and rules”.  

Another prominent feature of the White Nights Festivals is the carnivals that take place in the Peterhof suburb of St. Petersburg where actors dressed in period costumes – times from Peter the Great and Catherine the Great.

Conclusion
So you can see there’s certainly no better time to visit St. Petersburg than during the festival. But be warned though; due to its popularity, tickets are always almost sold out in advance. If you are lucky enough to get tickets on the spot after your arrival, then be prepared to pay an exorbitant amount!

While staying for the whole Festival is a bit impractical, you won’t regret partaking in a few of the events that encapsulate the best of the best performances. Being part of Russia’s biggest celebration will definitely be one of your major highs – an experience to experience!
 

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Top 5 Things To-Do in Finland

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     Hiding in the Northern part of Europe is the beautiful, Nordic country of Finland. Bordered by Sweden to the west, Norway to the North and Russia to the east, Finland has always lied beneath the shadows of its neighboring European countries. Known for it’s snowy climate, excellent education and peaceful economy, Finland is an ideal destination for relaxation and perfection. The following list is a countdown to the Top 5 things to do in Finland!

5. Husky Dog-Sled Safari
     If Cool Runnings is your favorite movie, then the Husky Dog-Sled Safari is for you! The tour begins with a heart warming meeting with you’re friendly husky team. Once acclimated with your crew, begin your journey through the majestic forests and magnificent mountains of Rovaniemi, Finland.

4. Find the North Pole
     Get as close to Santa as possible with a Reindeer Farm Visit and Sleigh Ride in Lapland. Santa might be hard to find at this time of the year, but his trust reindeer are there to lead the way. With a complimentary hot juice or coffee, this sleigh ride is a perfect activity for family and friends.

3. Rauna Wildlife Park
     If reindeer are not exotic enough for you, make sure you check out the Rauna Wildlife Park. Located in Rovaniemi, and is the northernmost zoo in the world, the park is filled with exotic and unique animals that you will not be able to find in the London Zoo!

2. Helsinki
     Opposite of Rovaniemi is the southern city of Helsinki. Filled with breathtaking artwork and the largest maritime fortress in the world, this city is filled with adventure and magic. The Helsinki card grants you access to all major sights and over 50 museums. This card is the best way to immerse yourself in the Finnish culture. 

1. Hunt for the Northern Lights
     You do not want to miss out on the chance to see the greatest light show on earth! Allow the moon to light up your path to the most radiant sky illumination in the world! The Northern Lights is a Finland staple and should not be missed! 

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Munich Attractions

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Munich

Munich is the capital of the German state of Bavaria and located on the beautiful and gentle River Isar. Munich is derived from the word munchen (meaning “near the monks place”). It was the Benedictine monks who founded the city in 1158 and thus the monk image on the city’s coat of arms. By many European standards it is a relatively young city.

For all its youthfulness, the city is a marvellous place to see many of Europe’s architectural masterpieces. What is also amazing, and thankfully so, is how many buildings and monuments survived the ravages of bombing and house-to-house fighting of World War II. Of course many were rebuilt including the city centre. The inner city looks the same as it did during the early 19th century.

Besides the architecture there is much that Munich has retained especially a gentle, warm, friendly and old-world atmosphere. It also has a vibrant and world exciting cultural scene. As a world city Munich is the base for many multi-national companies across a broad range of industries including being a financial and publishing centre. It is also a centre for engineering, research, studies (two universities) and museums. Oh yes! Its staid and proper image disappears during the annual Oktoberfest!

Residence
The Residence was originally a palace and now an important museum. For five hundred years its 130 rooms were the seat of Bavarian kings and dukes. Some of its highlights include the portrait gallery, classic apartments, the Antiquarium: a large and most beautiful Renaissance hall.

The Residence has large sections of unique and fabulous gold works dating from the Middle Ages. There are numerous pieces made from crystal, ivory and precious gems. Two outstanding pieces are a statuette of St. George and the Gisela Cross.

Nymphenburg Palace
Home to the Wittelsbach rulers, this baroque palace has sumptuous interior decorations of which the Gallery of Beauties stands out.  Then there is the banquet hall with its Zimmerman decorated ceiling. The palace is a series of beautifully symmetrical buildings that contain many finely crafted works. It also houses the Marstallmuseum, the Porcelain Museum and a landscaped park and Botanical Gardens.

Badenburg
One of Badenburg’s claims to fame is its heated indoor bathing pool – the first of its kind in the world. The pool and pavilion adjoins a beautiful stucco marble hall built in 1719.

Deutsches Museum
For over a century this has been one of the finest science and technological museums in the world. Covering 50,000 square metres it is also the largest of its kind. It houses an amazing array of sailing ships, models of atoms, windmills, space probes, diesel locomotives, industrial robots, organs, and lifeboats.  The museum also houses all kinds of vehicles – from a Formula 1 car to a bicycle. The Flugwerft section focuses on airplanes.

Around 1.3 million people visit the museum every year.

Marienplatz
In the heart of Munich city is a large open square, the Marienplatz. The square is named after an imposing column that stands at its centre. At the top of the column stands a statute of the Virgin Mary. The square also contains two impressive buildings, the Old and New Town Halls.  Three gates of the medieval fort that once stood there still remain. The square was once the site for jousting tournaments and markets.

BMW Museum
A futuristic bowl, shimmering and shining, the BMW Museum contains exhibits of pioneering technological and engineering achievements. The museum also highlights prototypes of cars, motorcycles and alternative and innovative propulsion methods.

Allianz Arena
The arena dominates Munich’s northern landscape. It is the first stadium that changes colour.  This arena (also known as the inflatable raft) seats about 69,000 spectators.

Oktoberfest
This beer drinking tradition first started as celebrations to mark the end of annual horse races presided over by the Bavarian Royal Family. Today it is a 16 day long orgy of beer-binging, called “die Wiesn” by Munich locals. It has become an integral and world famous part of the Bavarian cultural landscape. The ‘fest’ has been held since 1810. In those 200 it has only been cancelled 24 times – that too because of cholera outbreaks and war!

The 2013 edition will begin on 21st September and run till 6th October.
 

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Holi – The Indian Festival of Colours

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Holi; Credit-WoodlouseThe Hindu festival of Holi is celebrated on the last full moon day (or Poornima) in the Hindu Lunar calendar month of Phalgun. The days and dates vary every year. This year, 2013, the dates are March, 27th (Wednesday) and 28th (Thursday).

The Indian festival of Holi celebrates the arrival of spring, and all things new. It is probably the oldest of Indian festivals. It has ancient agricultural origins rooted in the wish for good and abundant harvests. The festival was inspired by nature’s colours, which covers the land after the grimness of winter; thus, the alternative title of “Festival of Colours.” It also marks the bringing in of the Rabi crop.

Without question it is one of the most colourful festivals in the world and the emphasis is on all things colour. It is a festival that is celebrated right across India – and the vast Diaspora around the world. In most places Holi is celebrated over two days but in some parts (especially the state of Uttar Pradesh) it lasts for over a week.

Celebrations take the form of people smearing coloured powder on each other. The colours are predominantly red, yellow and green. The powders are also mixed with water and thrown or sprayed by pichakaris (water pistols) at each other. On the first night there is also a community bonfire. There is much singing and dancing.

The festival has also taken on religious connotations with various stories associated with its origins. A popular and widespread one revolves around Krishna and his consort Radha.  Krishna had a mischievous nature and often played pranks on people around him. He would drench the village girls, including Radha in coloured water.

The other story is about the legendary demon king, Hiranyakashyap, who tried to kill his son Prahlad. The king got his demoness sister, Holika, to carry Prahlad into a fire. She was reputedly immune to the flames. However, in this instance she died while Prahlad came away unscathed. It is a moral tale of the triumph of good over evil.
 

Image credit: Woodlouse

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Las Fallas – Festival in Valencia

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            In March Valencia is home to one of Spain’s largest celebrations called the Falles, which is a traditional celebration commemorating Saint Joseph. The celebration lasts for 5 days and 5 nights, and is a perfect reason for a vacation. From March 15th-19th the streets and small neighborhoods of Valencia will be filled with people of all ages throwing fireworks and noisemakers into the streets to celebrate the culture and history of Valencia. Known to Spaniards as Las Fallas, there are 6 main events that make up the popular festival that cannot be missed! La Despertà and La Mascletà are events that occur in Valencia’s neighborhoods and are large displays of fireworks, firecrackers and musical celebration. La Despertà happens at 8:00 am but if you are not a morning person La Mascletà is the larger celebration at 2:00 pm.

La Plantà is an event that happens on the first day of Las Fallas and marks the start of the festival. Neighborhood leaders, also known as the Casal Faller, produce a structure known as a Falla, which is eventually burnt down at the end of the festival. A good way to see the Falla's and the neighborhoods is through a walking tour around the city. A walking tour will also show you where the fourth event of Las Fallas is, the L’Ofrena Floral, which is the floral offering given to Saint Mary by the Casal Fallas. This event occurs on March 17th and 18th and is a larger event than described because by the end of March 18th Saint Mary is beautifully covered in flowers and floral arrangements. 

If the firework displays at 8:00 am and 2:00 pm are not enough for you, Els Castells and La Nit del Foc, the night of fire, are nighttime fireworks displays at the old riverbed in Valencia. They occur on the first four nights of Las Falles and each display gets progressively grander. If your looking for something to do in between the multiple fireworks displays, bike and tapas tours are an excellent way to learn about the culture and history of Valencia.

All of these events and information will get you ready and excited for the final event of Falles, which is held around midnight on March 19th, La Cremà. The Falles that were constructed by each neighborhood are burnt in a huge bonfire to symbolize the end of winter and beginning of spring. This tradition started in the Middle Ages when artisans disposed of their winter wood by burning them to celebrate the spring equinox. This ritual evolved over the years into Las Fallas, which is now one of Spain’s largest celebrations. So hurry up & book your trip, celebrate the coming of spring with the people and community of Valencia. 

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Popular Tourist Attractions in Dubai

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Dubai at Dusk

Dubai is a city state and one of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates UAE. It is the second largest in terms of land and the largest in population. Dubai ranks 7th amongst the most visited tourist destinations of the world. It is expected to attract around 15 million visitors in 2015.It has liberal social policies and is the most modern of the emirates.

Just a few hours flying time from Europe and South Asia, it is ideally located for tourists looking for a convenient break. The emirate’s huge construction boom includes many superb hotels, world-renowned buildings and high-end luxury homes. The rulers have deliberately set out to create superb infrastructure and first-class tourist amenities. The goal is to achieve premier status in the tourist and trade sectors.

Dubai has very quickly established a name for itself as a great destination for shopping, partying, fine dining and sporting activities. There are many things to see and do in Dubai.  Some of its attractions are:

Desert Safari
Also known as Dune Bashing, you head out in an SUV/4×4/Hummer driven by specialist drivers.  The drive is an exhilarating roller-coaster off-road expedition over picturesque sand dunes.

Dubai City Sightseeing Tours
One fun way to see this modern city of soaring skyscrapers is to take a bus tour. Drive past or stop at the Dubai Museum, Al Fahidi Fort and the Spice Souk. You will get to see the world’s tallest building – the Burj Dubai, Burj Al Arab and visit the Palm Jumeirah. You could also take a Hop-on-Hop Off Tour of Dubai.

Dubai Fountains
This water feature is the work of the creators of the Fountains of Bellagio, Las Vegas. It spurts water as high as 500 feet and is synchronised to music. The fountains are located on the Burj Khalifa Lake and do their thing every day.

Burj Khalifa
The tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa has an outdoor observation deck on the 124th floor equipped with a telescope. The views of the surrounding desert and city are absolutely stunning.

Burj Al Arab
The Burj Al Arab is the fourth tallest hotel and (arguably) the only seven star luxury hotel in the world. The building resembles the dhow. The building stands on an artificial island just off Jumeirah Beach and opened in December 1999.

Wild Wadi Water Park
The Park is an ultra-modern water activity complex located in the Jumeirah area of Dubai and next to the Burj Al Arab. It has 30 rides including a hot and cool wave pool, water slides, artificial surfing machines and a waterfall. It also has shops, restaurants and snack stands.

Dubai Creek
The original settlement of the city came up around this picturesque creek, which is still the heart and lifeline of the place. You can take a small water taxi (abra) along the creek and see the old historic city and trading wharfs; weave among the dhows that still sail the Arabian Sea as they load and unload goods from India, Africa and other Middle Eastern ports; walk along the shores and get a closer experience of the heritage of this now modern city. You could rent a boat and have dinner whilst cruising up and down the creek.

Palm Island
This icon to luxury and everything fashionable has world famous hotels, shopping malls, spas, pools, gardens and wide selection of fine dining restaurants. There are miles of beach front lined with bars, clubs, theme parks and all forms of entertainment.

Dubai Marina
A recent addition to the Dubai attractions, the marina has great views, boat rides, casual and fine dining restaurants. Stretching along three and a half kilometres, the marina is the largest man-made marina in the world, where you will find the gleaming yachts of the super rich.  In the evening the marina turns into a magical place. The lights and shapes of some of the world’s most iconic buildings add to its allure.

Ski Dubai
Ski Dubai is the third largest indoor ski slope in the world. It has a chair lift and 6,000 tonnes of snow for your skiing pleasure. There are practice jumps, racks and other aids to help you learn the basics. You can also snowboard and toboggan down its slopes. All this snow – all year round!

Other attractions and activities can be accessed at Jumeira Beach and Park, Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo and Dolphin Bay – the world’s largest dolphin habitat.
 

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New Year’s Kiss

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New Year's Kiss A friend once told me that her New Year’s resolution was to be kissed as the clock struck twelve on the first day of the New Year. So here are some great and different places that I would suggest for that magical kiss with that special someone:

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Famous for its Carnival, Rio is also great destination any other time of year. This is one of the few times of the year that the locals join the tourists for a great time! This celebration is on par with their Carnival and the fireworks are absolutely amazing. Dress up in white and share that New Years kiss on the beaches of Rio! And you cannot come all the way to Brazil without experiencing its rainforests, can you?

Venice, Italy

This small city in Italy is perfect for a New Year’s kiss. On the last night of the year, many restaurants in Venice have feasts starting from 9p.m. and lasting until midnight, with great food and cheap wine. Also, in St. Mark’s Square there is a huge celebration with music, fireworks and a huge group kiss at midnight. And nothing spells romantic like a gondola ride through the canals of Venice!

Cape Town, South Africa

Welcome the New Year dancing in Cape Town! Some of the hottest parties and celebrations are held in this seaside city, and you can have your special New Years Kiss while on the beach. You of course will have to try the wine while in South Africa, for it rivals even Italy for quality!

Hong Kong, China

Although the Chinese Lunar New Year does not coincide with December 31st, there are still celebrations held in Hong Kong! You will not be at a loss to find a popping party the night of. Top the Hong Kong experience off with your New Years kiss while LED lights count down the last 60 seconds of the old year! You cannot forget the wonderful beauty outside Hong Kong either, for China is home to some of the most breathtaking sights.

Sydney, Australia

Although not as typically romantic as European cities, Sydney has a lot to offer. Enjoy your New Year’s kiss as some of the first New Year’s fireworks in the world explode in the night sky amid music! The best part of being in Sydney at the end of the year is that it is not wintertime; you will be coming in the height of summer. You can spend your days at the beach, dolphin spotting and enjoying the Australian lifestyle!

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Things to do in Jamaica: Music and Good Vibes.

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Jamaica
Jamaica is known as the home of reggae, Bob Marley and jerk chicken. But there is more to Jamaica that meets the eye. The Jamaica Ocho Rios Jazz Festival celebrates music at its finest and is a definite can’t-miss for music lovers. It occurs during June, giving you a taste of summer in the Caribbean. Quick tip: bring a lot of sunscreen and mosquito repellent!

If you really want to cool down, you can always kayak in the White River Valley! This will give you a nice dunking in fresh water, a thrilling ride through rapids, and you will even get to see a riverside dwelling reminiscent of early inhabitants of Jamaica!  If river kayaking is not your thing, you can try the White River Valley Tubing – a more relaxing way to experience this river. It’s slower paced, giving you more time to appreciate the beauty of Jamaica and take pictures. Another great way to cool down is to take a Jeep Safari to Dunns River Falls. You will get to see a bit of Jamaica as the zebra-striped jeep takes you to some breathtaking sights. And, finally, the famous Dunns River Falls, where you can climb the 600-foot cascades!

Ocho Rios, despite its name, is not all about rivers. If you’re in the mood for something a little less conventional, you can always try Jamaican Dog Sledding. Yes, I know, dog sledding is usually done over snow and Jamaica never has snow. But why should that stop you? You will learn about the adventurous individual who decided to start the whole movement, meet the dogs, and harness them in preparation of your own ride! This is a great and rather unusual way to see Jamaica, and something to brag about to your friends.

If you cannot make it in June for the Jazz festival, or if Jazz just doesn’t tickle you the right way, you can always come down for the Reggae Sumfest in July. Eat some great food and soak in some of those ‘irie vibes’ as you listen to the music. To authenticate the experience even more, you can take the Bob Marley tour. Get the full history of the creator of Reggae and all the places he visited, lived, and is buried.

If you’re all ‘reggae-d out’ by the end of the Sumfest, there are many other things you can do in Montego Bay, like, let’s say, a zip-lining tour. This thrilling tour takes place in the canopy of Jamaica’s forests and will give you a fantastic bird’s eye’s view of the Jamaican rainforest- literally! And if you’d rather keep your feet on the ground, you can always try the ATV Safari in Sandy Bay. Sandy Bay is known as one of the most idyllic parts of this small island and you will get to experience and see some of Jamaica’s rich history while zooming along.

Jamaica is full of rich culture, fantastic music, beautiful sights and friendly people, and is a must-visit for everyone who wants a Caribbean holiday. Yeah mon!

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Christmas Shopping in the Fashion Capitals of the World

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The Christmas season is upon us once again, and you know what that means- shopping! No matter how much you love to shop, at this time of year, it can get tedious. But why not combine travel to a fantastic city with that little bit of pleasure and pain? Here are some great ideas for your Christmas shopping:

Paris: Paris is well known as the city of love and lights, but it is also one of the oldest cities in the world.  In the Antique Shopping tour, you can acquire little pieces of its past! This tour ensures you do not go into Paris to face the many shopping options alone. Your guide will pick a market in Paris for you to visit, where you can either enlist your guide’s help in shopping, or go around on your own. Whether you’re looking for antique furniture, jewellery, or clothing, you’re sure to find it while on this tour. Antique items make a great and unique Christmas present for anyone, and you will be satisfied with the great prices!

Dubai: Dubai is not an ancient city like Paris, but it has been climbing the ranks in one of the most fashionable cities in the world. So why not treat yourself with a shopping tour with an expert guide? This tour will take you to some of the best malls and souks where you can get some amazing bargains! You will not only get to visit the more conventional malls, but also the more traditional markets and really get a feel for the city of Dubai.

Milan: Everyone knows that Milan is the capital of fashion, but Serraville Outlet is the capital of brand names. It’s the first designer outlet in Italy and the largest in Europe, and only 50 minutes outside the fashion capital! It is a huge area with 180 shops and boutiques of the most prestigious brands in a very pleasing surrounding.

London:  I’ve only been in London for a couple of months, but I’ve noticed that Londoners love their markets! The markets are absolutely amazing and provide unique and great presents for family and friends, and at great prices! You also don’t have to brave these London markets on your own; a guide can be with you. What’s even better, the tour is not the same every day, so you can go on the same tour twice, but get two totally different experiences!

New York City: New York City is well known worldwide for being a great destination for tourists, business, food, and of course, shopping. So it is no surprise that there is a Fifth Avenue Shopping Tour! On this tour you get to visit some of the most popular stores in the Big Apple. Not only that, but an expert stylist is your tour guide- so you can get clothes that fit your body and budget! This tour also includes coffee and cake at the famous Trump Tower. No matter what place you decide to visit for your Christmas shopping, you can be guaranteed a great shopping experience, a beautiful city, and great tours besides!

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Halloween Tours

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Edinburgh Ghost WalkAre you ready to embark on some of the creepiest, unnerving, and hair-raising tours around the world? From ghost tours to vampire stories, these cities have exciting tours that will spice up your Halloween! 

Seadog Haunted Chicago cruise

Do something different this Halloween and take a mysterious ghost cruise through Chicago. Listen to creepy tales as told by costumed tour guides as you make your way out to Lake Michigan and the Chicago River. Learn about the ghostly activity at the Hancock building and traumatic events like the Fort Dearborn Massacre. Kids are encouraged to attend in their own costumes, as this tour is just as fun as it is spooky.

Prague Legends and Ghost walking tour

Known as being one of the most haunted cities in all of Europe, Prague has a deep history filled with myths and legends. Learn about the ghosts of urban legends and how they are said to still walk the narrow streets of the city.

Edinburgh Ghosts walking tour

Edinburgh is a beautiful city during the day, but when the moon rises, the dark history comes out.  Take the roads less travelled by tourists and discover the ghosts of Edinburgh Castle, learn the stories of one of the “bloodiest bridges” and listen to the eerie sound of bagpipe music fill the air but find no piper at The Royal Mile.

Vampire Stories walking tour of New Orleans

Customers give this hair-raising tour nothing but excellent reviews. Combining exciting storytelling with research and documentation, visit famous haunted parts of the old French Quarter. Discover why the living dead roam among us, especially in New Orleans.         

Ghosts of London and Jack the Ripper tour

Jack the Ripper and ghosts of London are the perfect formula for a haunted night out.  Visit Theatre Royal Drury Lane where apparitions are often heard, and tremble at the tale of the demon barber of Fleet Street. Walk through the very streets where Jack the Ripper committed his grisly crimes. And if your nerves can take it, end the night in London’s most haunted pub.

Eerie Dublin Combo: Gravediggers Ghost tour and free haunted history tour

Are you brave enough for Dublin’s scariest tour? Follow your tour guide closely as they take you from Kilmainham Jail to the Gravedigger’s Pub. Cringe at the tales of the Plague victims and their gruesome fate and then dodge resident ghosts on your way to your free ‘ghoulish’ drink!

Have some fun and scare yourself silly this Halloween with one of our many eerie walking tours!

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