Our guide to UK’s TOP TEN Halloween events, plus the history of this ancient festival.
Although the festival of Halloween may have been taken over by enthusiastic revellers across the pond where it has achieved an odd cult-like status, the festival boasts a somewhat richer history than just costumes and candy, and its origins actually stem from right here in the British Isles.
According to many scholars, Halloween – or All Hallow’s Eve – is a Christianised feast initially influenced by Celtic harvest festivals, with potentially Pagan roots, particularly the Gaelic festival Samhain. The Celts used the day to mark the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter, as well as a time in the liturgical year to remember the dead. A traditional theme of the celebration has long been the idea of using humour and ridicule to confront the fear and power of death.
Over the millennia, Halloween has evolved from a sombre Pagan ritual into a jolly celebration of costumes and chocolate, but many of the typical festivities do date back to its inception, such as trick-or-treating, costumes, carving pumpkins, bonfires, apple bobbing, pranks and more.
Now one of the biggest celebrations in the UK calendar, there are myriad Halloween events all over the country. To help find the perfect one for you, we’ve broken down the options into a definitive, hand-picked TOP TEN:
1. National Trust events all over Scotland, 25-31 October
Hosting Halloween events all over Scotland, the Scottish National Trust will be offering guests the chance to experience a range of ghoulish goings on, including a spirited affair at the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum, where visitors are invited to wander the dark streets of Alloway on a ‘ghostly guides’ tour, and those after further thrills can step inside the auld haunted Kirk.
2. Horrible Histories Halloween Show in Cambridge, 31 Oct
Now touring the country with their newest Horrible Histories show, Horrible Histories: Barmy Britain, the acclaimed Birmingham Stage Company will this year be treating Cambridge to a Horrible Halloween Gala Night. Those attending this spooky spectacular at the Cambridge Arts Theatre are invited to come dressed as their favourite ‘horrible historical’ character, with costume prizes dished out on stage on the night. And various other frightful and free events will be on offer at the theatre from 6pm onwards; the show itself kicks off at 7pm.
3. Halloween at Warwick Castle, 25 Oct-2 Nov
The magnificent setting of Warwick Castle will provide the perfect backdrop for a thrilling Halloween, with lots of imaginative Halloween additions, including a Witches Tower, the Haunted Hollows, a pumpkin trail, a séance (for the bravest adult visitors), and much more. Visitors will encounter plenty of vivid characters, from plague victims and grave diggers, to the hermit of the crypt.
4. London Eye Halloween flights, 25 Oct-1 Nov
While not the eeriest of destinations, the London Eye is giving all other contenders a good run for their money, putting on a pretty impressive show for the occasion. The wheel itself will be transformed into a gruesome grotto complete with spooky forest and bubbling bog and witches and wizards will be on hand to offer tricks and treats as you take in the spellbinding views of London (costumes are encouraged).
5. Burghley House Halloween, until 2 Nov
While Burghley House’s popular Spooky Tours have already sold out, there are still private tours available for exclusive bookings of 25 people or more, charged at £20 per person, as well as ample other entertainment to enjoy – the Burghley Pumpkin Trail will run until Sunday 2 November, with fancy dress encouraged and seasonal treats in store in the Orangery restaurant and Garden Cafe.
6. Halloween at Blenheim Palace, 25 Oct – 2 Nov
Blenheim Palace will also be joining the Halloween festivities, adding a labyrinth, a ‘Which Witch is Which?’ trail, pumpkin carvings, a ghost train to the Pleasure Gardens, a ‘Pottering About’ crafts studio, and plenty of treats to win. Not to mention classic scary stories, including The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and The Canterville Ghost being read aloud in the cinema of the Stables Courtyard.
7. Halloween Steam & Scream, 31 Oct
Starting at either Cheltenham Racecourse or Toddington Station, this year’s Gloucester Warwickshire Railway Halloween special will take visitors on a fabulous steam train ride, with costumed characters on board handing out sweet treats and playing their scary part. Meet the ‘Wicked Witch of Winchcombe’ or the resident Dalek on patrol at Winchcombe, enjoy lots of themed activities at the station and the exciting ‘Imaginarium’, and take part in a ghost hunt. Plus, a prize will be awarded for the best Halloween costume on each train.
8. London, Warwick, Edinburgh and York Dungeons’ Scare Witch Trials, 27-31 Oct
Terrifying enough without it being Halloween, the London, Warwick, Edinburgh and York Dungeons will be hosting an event not for the faint hearted – the Scare Witch Trials, running from 17-31 October. A Scare Witch character will be lurking in the haunted forest, awaiting visitors who will experience the horror of being tried for witchcraft themselves, before witnessing the witch’s hideous revenge.
9. Fright Hike, 25 Oct & 1 Nov
For a really adrenalin-fuelled Halloween, Fright Hikes promise to deliver. Challenging in terms of stamina as well as sheer bravery, these treks are 30km long, setting off at dusk and walking into the pitch blackness of the dark forest. Available in three of Britain’s ghostliest forests, those shrouded in mystery, legend and folklore, hikers can choose between exploring the Forest of Dean, Epping, or Sherwood, and will be able to show their support for charity through raising sponsorship.
10. Titus Andronicus, Untold Stories at The Globe, 28, 30, 31 Oct & 22 Nov
Unveiling their brand-new family offering ‘Shakespeare’s Untold Stories’ as part of the Family Arts Festival, The Globe Theatre will also include a special re-telling of Titus Andronicus for Halloween. Globe storytellers will blend modern language with Shakespeare’s prose to captivate and enchant listeners, making for a memorable (as well as cultural) Halloween.
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