Are these ghosts scary - or just slimy?
When I travel, I love joining walking tours and ghost walks are a favourite of mine. I love the opportunity to learn about history and culture through a spine tingling tale and, for the most part, the ghost walks I've done have been less spooky and scary and more festive and fun.
Having survived several ghost walks around the world, I decided I was brave enough to upgrade to a ghost bus! I was feeling courageous and I was ready to try the Dublin Ghostbus Tour. I figured it couldn't be much different from a walking tour. If anything, it would be easier – no more exerting myself with all that walking! I would just have sit back, enjoy the ride, and see the ghostly sites from the comfort of my seat.
But when I approached the Ghostbus, I have to say my confidence failed me a little bit. It looked like a haunted house! When I saw the skeletons and ghouls on the ground level of the bus, I knew I would have to summon every ounce of my anti-adventurist spirit to survive the ordeal!
Brushing cobwebs aside, I bravely climbed to the top level of the bus, where it was completely black. Groping my way along the seats, I sat near the front and let my eyes adjust to the light. With thick velvet curtains blacking out the street lights, I was cloaked in fear, but not the kind you might imagine. If there’s one rule for me on trains, planes, and automobiles, it’s that I need to look out the window in order to keep my legendary motion sickness at bay. I wasn't counting on not being able to see!
The tour got off to a slow start. Our tour guide was a talented story teller, weaving rich folklore with some dramatic details and the occasional eerie surprise. There were times when he would slink along the bus aisle in the dark, only to give a spooky laugh behind an unsuspecting rider. But good storytelling aside, there was an awful lot of driving around and very little sightseeing for the first hour.
In fact, we only were allowed to open our curtains three times in the first hour and the sights weren't that exciting or ghostly at all. Our guide did a great job of recounting how Bram Stoker was influenced by mysterious tales recounted by his mothers, but it was a bit anti-climactic to open our velvet curtains just to see a plaque on a building where Stoker once worked. We were halfway through the tour and I was feeling rather queasy and hadn't seen anything of Dublin at all.
Fortunately, things did improve considerably in the second half of the tour. I was thrilled when the Ghostbus pulled up to Christchurch Cathedral and we were allowed to get off the bus. As we were escorted into the candle lit sanctuary I was in awe of its beauty and couldn’t believe we were getting such special access. It was an absolute treat to visit this popular attraction in the dead of night, in perfect silence, and be able to take in the beautiful architecture in low lighting.
Once inside, our guide regaled us with dramatic stories of debauchery and depravity of the cathedral’s past, when it rented out space in the crypt to all kinds of devious enterprises. As he was reaching the end of one particularly gruesome tale, an accomplice in costume jumped out at us and ran amuck throughout our group for a few minutes. This was the “scariest” of our ghost encounters and, even for a wimp like me; it was more startling and silly than truly frightening.
We had one more stop to make and it was just as dramatic as Christchurch Cathedral, although in a much different way. We were given exclusive access to St. Kevin’s Park and the crumbling ruins of St. Kevin’s Church. By now, it was nearly 11:00pm and the ruins of the church were eerie against the stillness of the moonlit night. I have to admit, at such an atmospheric location, I was expecting a truly frightening and spectacular ghost story to match the environment. The ghost stories here were middling at best and the appearance of another hired spook was – to pardon the phrase – overkill. It just felt awkward and inappropriate as the masked man mimicked humping and hugging the female tour participants at the scene of a murder in a crumbling church.
I have mixed feelings about the Ghostbus. On the positive side, I appreciated that our guide was a great story teller. I really loved seeing Christchurch Cathedral at night and I also enjoyed the access we had to St. Kevin’s Church. I would never have been able to see these sites on my own in the evening and they showcased a different side to Dublin’s spiritual life.
On the negative side, the encounter with the overly 'touchy feely' ghost was off putting. At first it felt like a silly joke but I soon felt uncomfortable. I was also frustrated that we spent so much time driving around the city in the dark, just listening to the guide, with nothing to see. The high price was also a negative factor. At 28 Euros a ticket, I can’t honestly say that this represents a good value unless you really, really love ghost and haunted house-style experiences. If you simply wanted to hear some ghost stories and have some fun, I would have to recommend a ghost walk. They cost about 13 Euros, saving you 15 Euros to enjoy at the pub.
So how did I fare as an anti-adventurist? While I was originally hesitant about the bus’ haunted house décor and startling surprises, it didn't take long to see through the theatrics and anticipate such antics as someone jumping out at me in a grave yard. Normally I’m terrified of scary movies and horror houses, but the Ghostbus Tour was more moderate. Thrill seekers might be disappointed but in general I found the forced scariness to be a good balance between fun and surprises. This was one anti-adventurist experience I was able to take in stride! But please - no more ghost humping!
As always, I welcome and encourage your comments. What spooky thrills do you seek out when you travel?
If you enjoyed this article, you'll also like:
The Real "Spirit" of Travel: My Ghost Encounter
Travel Value All Stars: Walking Tours
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I was offered a complimentary tour as part of the TBEX Conference in Dublin. This did not affect my reviews and all opinions remain my own.