The 11 Spookiest Haunted Houses and Ghost Tours in Philly
We sent a brave group of writers out into the night to see what the haunted attractions in and around Philly are all about. They came back with twisted tales of knife-wielding psychos, bodies being bludgeoned by chainsaws and clowns so scary they’d make Stephen King cry — all so you’d know what you’re getting into before making the trek. To lighten the mood, they ranked each one on a scale of 1 to 5 emojis, with five being the scariest. Happy haunted-housing!
Bates Motel and Haunted Hayride
Where: Glen Mills; thebatesmotel.com
The Story: This trio of haunted attractions is based on Arasapha Farm in Glen Mills, which, especially at night, feels like the middle of nowhere. There’s a Haunted Hayride that’s actually not so scary — think of it as a classic fall staple — but the Corn Maze and Bates Motel will give you nightmares for weeks.
Biggest Scare: To get out of that aforementioned Corn Maze, you have to dance your way around a man with a chainsaw. Wear your running shoes.
The Insider Will Tell You: Avoid wearing bright hats or anything flashy unless you want to be a target for the characters. Before you leave, reward yourself with a pumpkin spice cider at the snack bar.
Where: In the Pennsport neighborhood, near Christopher Columbus Boulevard; frightfactory.tv
The Story: Your Uber driver may give you a second look when you tell him to drop you off on this random, dark side street in Pennsport. You’ll have second thoughts, too. While you’re waiting in line, screams from the depths of this abandoned factory are none too welcoming. Once you pass through the gate, get ready to be accosted by gory creatures, lunatic asylum patients and a spinning vortex-like room that leaves you feeling just as insane as some of the characters.
Biggest Scare: The clowns! If you don’t have a fear of them before going on, you will.
The Insider Will Tell You: If you drive, you should be able to find plenty of free parking on the streets surrounding the attraction. This is South Philly, after all.
Where: Middletown, Del.; frightland.com
The Story: Get your night-vision goggles ready, because you’ll need them. Of the eight spooky attractions included in admission, the majority involve wandering aimlessly through total darkness trying not to hit your head and becoming much too friendly with the person in front of you. Sensory overload? Yes. Scary? Debatable. If you can block out the noise of the busy highway nearby, be sure to take in the detailed sets and incredible actors who clearly love to scare.
Biggest Scare: Deciding if you should eat a fried Oreo or funnel cake (or both) before or after taking in the attractions.
The Insider Will Tell You: Go on a weeknight to avoid the 3,000 people who come on the weekend, and be sure to get the $35 tickets which include admission to all eight attractions and a free pass to the adjacent carnival. Don’t miss the hayride, it’s worth the line.
Ghost Tour of Philadelphia
Where: Historical landmarks and cemeteries in Society Hill and Old City; ghosttour.com
The Story: This isn’t a haunted house per se (i.e. you don’t actually go into any houses), but what this candlelit ghost tour lacks in ceilings and roofs it makes up for in stories that make your stomach turn. In-character tour guides will regale you with gory stories of bloody surgeries and public hangings gone awry, unidentified soldiers killed in battle, children stricken with flesh-eating diseases and more.
Biggest Scare: Did you know there’s a mountain of dead bodies buried under Washington Square?
The Insider Will Tell You: When you arrive, don’t worry about the massive crowd of doe-eyed tourists queuing up at Signers Garden: They all won’t be jockeying for elbow room on the same tour. The folks at Philadelphia Ghost Tour send in reinforcements in the form of multiple guides for each time slot (7:30 and 9:30 p.m.) with no more than 25 tour-goers in each group.
Haunted USS Olympia
Where: Independence Seaport Museum, where Spruce Street meets the waterfront; ghosttour.net
Scoop: Do you like subtle psychological thrillers more than in-your-face gory flicks? Then the haunted version of this highly entertaining floating museum is for you. A guide will show you around a hulking ship from the Spanish-American War, while telling you in excruciating detail about the suicides, murders, tragic accidents and other deaths that took place there. In my humble opinion, that’s a lot scarier than tours where “zombies” leap at you in the dark.
Biggest Scare: The dungeon where they once kept misbehaving sailors and prisoners of war.
The Insider Will Tell You: Don’t wear heels. You’ll be climbing a lot of scary, narrow stairways, including one that has railings made of rope.
Laurel Hill Cemetery
Where: East Falls; thelaurelhillcemetery.org
The Story: By day, the 19th-century cemetery is a picturesque sanctuary for the living — but at night, it becomes more of a cryptic resting place for the dead. The autumn-colored gardens in the rural graveyard are beautiful throughout October afternoons, but as soon as the sun goes down, the long, curvy pathways become much spookier. Wandering through 81 acres of these historic grounds, there is no need for a ghost tour or fake zombie attack to send chills up your spine, but if you want the full effect, check out “True Tales from the Tombs: Mischief Night” on October 30th, where actors “return from the dead” to tell their true stories on Halloween weekend.
The Insider Will Tell You: Throughout the tours and performances, they stop to serve snacks and hot cider. Choose the “Spiked Cider” option, which adds a shot of whiskey. You’re probably going to need it.
Night of Terror
Where: Mullica Hill, NJ; nightofterror.com
Scoop: Thousands descend on this South Jersey farm seeking a thrilling time. Six intense attractions will have you screaming at every turn. The haunted hayride (aka Ride of Terror) is no relaxing roll around the farm as an animatronic necromancer thrills while zombies, chainsaw-wielding rednecks and scary clowns jump out from all angles, some hopping right on the flatbed for some in-your-face scares.
Biggest Scare: It’s tough to be scarier than a room full of attacking zombies, but at the haunted Head Hunters you might lose your mind — or your head.
The Insider Will Tell You: Buy tickets online to avoid one line and if money’s no object, the VIP tickets will save you a ton of time. Long lines are the norm but scary actors and funnel cake can help the time go quickly. And don’t leave without some hot apple cider, a bargain at a buck.
Where: Spring City; pennhurstasylum.com
The Story: Situated on the grounds of a former residence for the physically and mentally ill, this century-old, derelict and downright creepy attraction is a high-action, 15-minute
walk mad dash past creepy hospital personnel, insane inmates and way-too-realistic corpses.
Biggest Scare: Being chased from room to room, pinched on the ears, and having your legs and hair caressed from behind.
The Insider Will Tell You: Avoid shivering in line (we waited for nearly three-hours!) by going early on a Thursday or Friday night. Also, print out your E-tickets ahead of time.
Where: Sinking Spring; shocktoberfest.com
The Story: Shocktoberfest is a whole zombie-based theme park with seven attractions that will have you running from the undead and screaming your head off all night. The prison is definitely the worst part, where 10 seconds after walking in you’ll have a gun pointed in your face by an angsty prison guard. He’ll proceed to shoot blanks at your feet, forcing you to begin what will be a twisted, sometimes claustrophobic journey through your worst prison nightmare ever.
Biggest Scare: The torture chamber, where prisoners are hanging upside down from the ceiling and a warden experiments on victims of medical malpractice. The agonizing screams will rattle you to the core.
The Insider Will Tell You: Don’t let them see you cower. The zombie actors smell fear like it’s a dish of brain soufflé, taking it as an invitation to manhandle you or at the very least caress your face.
Terror Behind the Walls
Where: Eastern State Penitentiary; easternstate.org
The Story: Think you’re tough? Terror Behind the Walls wears you down with an assault on the senses — loud music, strobe lights, lots of screaming — so that even the most-jaded haunted house aficionado is vulnerable to big scares by the end. Think of it as a brisk stroll through every zombie-killing video game you’ve ever played. Eastern State’s aura of misery, 200 years in the making, gives the production a feeling of authenticity.
Biggest Scare: The $30 cost of photos of your group with a zombie.
The Insider Will Tell You: You can choose to wear a collar that will let the haunted house’s actors know they can touch you and even kidnap you from the group. That’s the fun way to go.
Valley of Fear
Where: Feasterville; valleyoffear.com
The Story: There are four attractions to experience at this Bucks County scare fest, the best being the Haunted Hayride, which takes you through a sanitarium and ghost town, and puts you face to face with a chainsaw murderer and terrifying clowns. In the Zombie Escape Maze closing your eyes is not an option. You have to feel your way past a rusty-knife-wielding zombie if you want to get out.
Biggest Scare: The scenes that play out before you on the Haunted Hayride are surprisingly realistic. Take for instance the disturbing chainsaw murder, complete with a screaming, flailing blonde girl hanging from a tree who goes limp when her throat gets slashed by her shirtless murderer. Twisted.
The Insider Will Tell You: “Accidentally” hop in the fast-pass lane for the Zombie Escape Maze. On the hayride, sit in the back corner if you want the zombies to pay you extra attention.
Reported by Caralyn Dienstman, Art Etchells, Jonathan Klein, Emily Leaman, Joel Mathis, Lauren McGrath, Josh Middleton, Holly Otterbein, Jessica Smith, Alixie Wiley and Alexa Zizzi