How is Halloween celebrated around the world?

We know the USA do Halloween in a big way, but other countries are brilliant to visit at this time of year too. Halloween began as a pagan Celtic festival called Samhain, in Ireland. Over the years, it morphed into the modern Halloween we know on 31st October – but remarkably many of the spooky traditions we know and love have lasted thousands of years. So pack your fancy dress outfit, if you dare, and find out where the paranormal parties are happening. Who knows? You could be feeding hungry ghosts in Hong Kong or going trick or treating Swedish-style... Here’s how different countries mark Halloween, or their equivalent festivals.

Republic of Ireland

County Meath is where many Halloween legends were said to have come from. One of the main ancient Celtic sites was the Hill of Ward near Athboy, which druids called sacred. They now hold the Spirits of Meath Halloween Festival, blending some of the old traditions, like torchlight parades with new events. The City of Bones, Derry City and Strabane, put on the biggest Halloween street carnival in Europe along the banks of the River Mourne and River Foyle. The long-weekend celebrations are so good they were named best Halloween destination in the world by newspaper USA Today in 2015. While they might have used turnips instead of pumpkins to make their Jack O'Lantern's (named after an Irish wandering spirit who tried to trick the devil). But they took many more of the traditions, like guising - accepting gifts for singing, jokes and poetry - over to the USA in the 18th century.

When: 31st October - 1st November 
Getting there: Latest Dublin flights

Best Halloween destination - river fireworks on Halloween. Courtesy of Derry City and Strabane District Council

England and Scotland

The good folks of Hinton St George, a village in Somerset, created the early versions of Halloween classics - pumpkin carving and night-time walks. Punkie Night is held there on the last Thursday in October, when they take their lanterns and walk about the village singing the Punkie Song. The Yorkshire coastal town of Whitby has a Bram Stoker Film Weekend and a famous Whitby Goth Weekend around Halloween.  


A whopping 2.5 billion is spent on Halloween costumes every year in America - superheroes currently top the list. It's their second biggest holiday of the year after Christmas. Major events include the New York Parade, which sees 50,000 costumed-clad people make their way along Sixth Avenue on October 31. The West Hollywood Carnival is one of the biggest free events in the world, with more than 500,000 attending its spooky street party.

When: 31st October - 1st November
Getting there: Flights to New York and LA Flights

Courtesy of the West Hollywood Halloween Carnival


They call All Saints Week, Seleenwoche. This is where you pay tribute to loved ones you've lost. The Austrians are a hospitable bunch - they leave water, bread and a lamp lit for the dead for one night. Retzerland is the place to be, though. That's where their annual Pumpkin Festival takes place at the end of October. Try and squash in pumpkin goulash, pancakes and risotto before watching the famous parade with thousands of glowing pumpkins.

When: 31st October - 1st November
Getting there: Flights to Austria

Hong Kong

Hong Kong has perhaps one of the most evocatively titled festivals: "Yue Lan" or "Yulan", aka the Festival of the Hungry Ghosts. The date changes each year - it's September 5th in 2017 - and it's a great time to visit. They have roadside fires where they burn pretend money in tribute and cook food for the peckish spirits. The most famous version is the Yu Lan Ghost Festival of the Hong Kong Chiu Chow Community - which as been a cultural highlight for a hundred years.

When: September 5th 2017
Getting there: Flights to Hong Kong


The Italians get a day off work for Tutti i Santi (All Saints Day) on 1st November. It's an important religious festival when families visit cemeteries and leave fresh flowers for their loved ones. They do the same on All Souls Day when the departed are honoured and children are often given presents. Although they don't really celebrate Halloween, they've got loads of spooky places to visit. Visit the Capella dei Martiri (the chapel of the dead) in Otranto Cathedral - there you'll find more than 800 skulls of martyrs on grisly display beheaded by a Turkish invasion in the 15th century. Or grab a broomstick and go to Benevento near Naples - its known as the City of Witches.

When: 31st October - 1st November 
Getting there: Flights to Italy


You'll see lanterns outside homes to guide spirits home during the Obon Festival. These lanterns are then placed on water (usually a river) so their ancestors can find their away back to the other side. This week-long festival is one of the biggest events in Japan, and this year it takes place around mid July to mid-August. Families visit relatives graves and leave offerings as well as do the bon odori (Obon Dance).

When: Mid July to mid-August
Getting there: Flights to Japan


Latin America, particularly Mexico, and Spain all celebrate All Souls Day - Dia de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead) On the 1st November children who have lost their lives are celebrated – they call it Día de los Inocentes. It's the adults turn on the next day. It's all about getting together as a family and making ofrendas (shrines) to the deceased - with their favourite foods and drinks being left there and on their graves. Marigolds (fresh and paper ones) are known as the "flower of the dead" and you'll see these yellow and orange flowers everywhere. Mexico City hosts one of the biggest carnivals in the world at this time.

When: 31st October - 1st November
Getting there: Flights to Mexico City

Day of the Dead - Mexico City. Image by jazbeck via Flickr Creative Commons

Republic of Korea

Korea's Halloween equivalent is Chuseok and families get together to remember their ancestors over plenty of food and drink.  This is a good time for a visit as you'll get to see plenty of traditional customs and dresses. The Ganggangsullae (Circle dance) sees women dressed in their Hanbok (national dress) - and, well, dancing in a circle. Ssireum is their own version of wrestling and the best fighters can earn a lot of money - they used to take home a calf or cotton as a prize in the old days.

When: September
Getting there: Flights to the Republic of Korea


The largest cemetery in Stockholm, Skogskyrkogården, sees thousands of people arrive to remember their loved ones, often decorating their relatives’ graves with candles and other winter decorations the week before All Saints' Day (Alla Helgons Dag) at the end of October.

The closest traditional event to Halloween is during Easter, when children dress up as påskkärring (witches or hags) on Maundy Thursday and go knocking for treats.

When: 31st October - 1st November
Getting there: Flights to Stockholm


Surprisingly, they don't really celebrate Halloween in Vlad the Impaler's Transylvanian homeland. This medieval monarch is probably best known as the basis for Count Dracula. There's a few places claiming to be Dracula's home - but Bran Castle is probably the best known if you fancy paying homage to the world famous coffin-dweller.

When: 31st October -1st November
Getting there: Romania flights

Ten places with terrifying titles

  1. Tombstone, Arizona, USA
  2. Upper and Lower Slaughter, Cotswolds, England
  3. Hell Hole (various), England
  4. Mystic, Connecticut, USA
  5. Witch Crags, Northumberland, England
  6. Gorebridge, near Edinburgh, Scotland
  7. World's End, Hampshire, England
  8. Sleepy Hollow, New York State, USA
  9. Devil's Dyke, near Brighton, England
  10. Dead Mans Crossing, Indiana, USA

You could also be interested in

Find your perfect destination