With enough layers of history to give you goosebumps, is it any wonder that DC is so full of ghost legends and haunted places? Specters of assassinated presidents, horror movie locations, and ethereal inhabitants of centuries-old rowhouses all show up on these DC ghost walks. They’re not for everyone, but for the Halloween-lovers among us, there’s nothing like a moonlit storytelling tour to get in the spooky spirit.
Figures from the city’s history, returned from beyond the grave in costume, lead these tours, telling creepy tales from what are surely some of the most haunted buildings in America: the Capitol, Library of Congress, and Congressional buildings. National Nightmares tour guides take pride that their ghostly tidbits come from research with Hill staff and Capitol Police staff who recounted stories firsthand. Tours on the Hill kick off between 8 and 8:30 PM every Friday and Saturday night, and National Nightmares also runs ghost tours of Lafayette Square and Old Town Alexandria, as well as a daytime walking tour of the monuments. Price: $19, with some proceeds going to charities like So Others Might Eat.
We don’t have to tell you that a cemetery with more than two centuries of history—and the graves of some of Washington’s most illustrious and infamous—may be haunted. Over two weekends in late October, top-hat-and-frock-donning guides tell the tragic tales of the graveyard’s late residents, who include J. Edgar Hoover, dozens of congressmen, and veterans of every war. The tours—rain or shine—start at 6 PM on Fridays and 5 PM on Saturdays from the cemetery’s chapel, where you can enjoy themed cocktails and live music before setting off. Tickets are extremely limited, but the cemetery will release more in late October. Price: $40 for adults, $15 for kids.
DC has its fair share of dimly lit taverns where, if you squint, you might think you’d been transported to the 19th century. A few, like Old Ebbitt Grill and the Round Robin Bar, actually date back to that period, and have the layers of history—and haunting—to match. This tour, which departs three nights a week, encourages you to whet your whistle at those and other historic bars while your guides, dressed in period attire, regale you with stories of the supernatural. There’s also an Alexandria pub crawl and all-ages ghost walk. Price: $29.95
Wielding flickering lamps, the period-costumed guides have been leading this tour through Old Town’s alleys and cemeteries for nearly 40 years. Alexandria’s well-preserved 18th century streets hide secrets like troubled, ghost-stricken houses, and a mass grave of confederate soldiers. Tours, which take place nightly, depart from the Burke & Herbert Bank on King Street on October Fridays and Saturdays, and Halloween. Price: $15 for adults, $10 for kids, $14 for seniors.
When the hulking brick Pension Building, which now houses the National Building Museum, was inaugurated in 1887, General Philip Sherman reportedly said: “too bad the damn thing is fireproof.” But the exemplary renaissance revival structure has long outlived its haters, and it’s accrued many ghost stories along the way. The ghosts of Civil War veterans, whose post-war benefits were managed there, allegedly haunt the cavernous, columnated space. Spooky after-hours history tours, featuring decades’ worth of stories, take place throughout October, starting at 8 PM. Price: $15 to $20, depending on membership and student status.
After nightfall, when the throngs of shoppers are gone, Georgetown feels much like the little 18th-century village it once was. That’s the perfect time to gather for a ghost tour at the Old Stone House, DC’s oldest unchanged building. The Ghosts of Georgetown tour, which takes place nightly, starts there and wends its way through the neighborhood’s haunted backstreets and churchyards, with stops at an N Street house where President Lincoln apparently attended a seance, and at the Exorcist steps, the narrow passageway where director William Friedkin shot the classic 1973 horror movie. Price: $49
Lafayette Square is a microcosm of unexpected DC history, from the exalted to the macabre. The elegant park across the street from the White House is dotted with Revolutionary War statues and has long been the site of grand gatherings and protests— but the same spot had been used as a slave market, a racetrack, a zoo, and a graveyard. AmeriGhost Tours, a Nashville-based company, offers nightly walks around the square with storytelling from the capital’s “darker past.” “We never embellish our paranormal stories,” AmeriGhost’s site says, and in Washington history, truth can be stranger than fiction. Tours take place at 8 PM nightly from March through November. Price: $20 for adults, $15 for kids 12 and under, free for kids 6 and under.