As a self-professed horror, scary story and jump scare nut, October is more of a treat than a trick for me, and arguably the only time when ghosting is OK. Here's a rundown of my favourite Halloween dates to get your freak on with a date (or a mate).
1. Getting operated on, The Old Operating Theatre
Above an outrageously loud bar and the narrowest 52-step wooden spiral staircase lies a hidden attic of curiosity, The Old Operating Theatre. It's the oldest remaining surgical theatre in London, with an adjoining wooden herb garret. By far one of the most unusual dates I've ever been on, we loved scratching off our medical lottery card to find out more about the history of the museum.
We were the only people in the museum brave/stupid enough to openly get involved with the interactive elements, taking countless photos and loudly giggling while running around in bloody aprons, waving around 'surgical saws' and lying full out on the operating table (this is allowed). We grimaced at the amputation tools, row upon row of saws and knives that looked way too small to chop anything bigger than a steak. Speaking of steaks…we made our way straight to Borough Market afterwards, for much needed food.
2. Ogling pickled moles, Grants Museum of Zoology
Nothing says romance like staring into a jar stuffed to the brim with pickled moles. It's as baffling as it sounds and The Grant Museum is not a place for vegans and veggie dates — unless you're deliberately trying to put them off. Wandering round this museum of curiosities — bulging with stuffed, dead animals, skeletons and insects — my date and I traded info on how many siblings we have, our stance on biohacking and whether we'd ever donate our body to science.
I'm not easily grossed out but there's something pretty eerie about looking at rows and rows of floating animals in jars — one even included a pet dog's decapitated head. You'll need a stiff drink after this, possibly at the nearby Resting Hare, which features a taxidermied lepus.
3. Venturing into a creepy pub basement, The Viaduct Tavern
You know you're in a weird place when greeting your date while sitting next to a bullet hole. Admittedly, it's quite easy to miss if you don't know it's there (or if you've had one too many of the Viaduct Tavern's collection of 100 gins) and for context no one actually died from this bullet… a first world war soldier apparently got a little trigger happy after a few too many himself. Explaining this to my date was a good introduction to testing the waters of weirdness but there's no ice breaker like: "let's go to the haunted basement" instead.
After exchanging ghost stories and a fair few pints, we asked the staff to take us down into the basement to see what's often falsely alleged to be the original prison cells of the old Newgate Prison. It's an eerie space nonetheless. The bartender awkwardly looked on and checked his watch while we explored — the novelty has obviously worn off. Downstairs is filled with nooses, candles and ouija boards from previous ghost investigations, which didn't freak my date out (a green flag for me). I don't believe in the paranormal but I did hear a weird female hum in one of the cells which made me jump.
4. Visiting London's "most haunted house", London Dungeon
50 Berkeley Square quickly became known as the most haunted house in London in the 19th century. Though you can't venture into the real one, the London Dungeon has "recreated" the attic room. You know someone is truly into the paranormal when they've heard of this address — and maximum points to my date who had. I don't scare easily, but this attraction really got me. Clowns, torture chambers, haunted dolls... and the most intense jump scare I've ever encountered. There were creepy actors not breaking eye contact and doing what I can only describe as the 'Perv emoji' face whilst monologuing (which was equally intense and unsettling). I was fairly embarrassed at how hard I clasped my date's hand throughout and tried to brush it off with a laugh at the end. While we tried to delve into the more unknown parts of our life and revealed our deeper feelings for each other in the bar, a millennial Miss Havisham and a zombie bride looked on, breathing down our necks. During the most important moment of each conversation, the actors seemed to swoop in and interrupt, making it pretty awkward, but no doubt they eavesdropped on some juicy gossip. Try it for yourself if you dare — and if your date's hand is strong enough.
5. Getting a scarily accurate tarot reading, Merlin Trotter
Located in a canal boat on Broadway Market, tarot reader Merlin Trotter sits peacefully enjoying the sun and smiling at passers by. His phone rings every five minutes with people enquiring about readings, and after the reading he gave me, I'm not surprised he's so highly in demand. Whether you believe this stuff or not, tarot reading is fun and a great way to bond on a date. I'd recommend having readings privately and discussing them afterwards, just in case there are some things you don't want your date overhearing. I've had readings with Merlin before and they've all come true to date; he's the only tarot reader that has ever been able to correctly predict past, present and future situations and the coinciding months. "You will do very well with Pisces this year", he smiled. My date is a Pisces (just saying). Merlin charges only by donation, and with a warm smile, kind eyes and scarily accurate readings, I predict many of you will be tempted to visit.
6. Perusing shrivelled heads, Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities
Amy Winehouse's poo, Russell Brand's pubes and a biscuit gnawed at by (now King) Charles III. Throw in some shrivelled heads, taxidermy and skeletons, and you have yourself one spooky date. Back in 2018 my appendix actually went in this place and the staff had to help me get to hospital. I double checked whether my date had his appendix, and could bear to risk losing it, seeing as there was a high chance something cursed might take his too (he agreed it was worth the risk).
For a museum so small, and a place I've already been to, my date and I spent TWO HOURS looking around — testament to just how many gruesomely fascinating things Viktor Wynd's collected. If you can stomach a basement filled with memorabilia of some of the most twisted, gross (and funny) things you've ever seen, then this is it. We've already booked onto the personal tour led by Viktor Wynd for Christmas.
7. Cavorting with the green fairy, The Absinthe Parlour
This has quickly become my favourite bar. Let me explain why using three words: absinthe, cheese, taxidermy. It's located above Victor Wynd's, and there's nothing like a few absinthe cocktails to make me cackle extra loudly at my date's jokes. Reading the menu under the watchful gaze of countless stuffed animal heads with glazed eyes is an experience in itself. We spent ages trying to choose between the different occult cocktails, all inspired by recipes uncovered from London's apothecaries in 1718. I highly recommend the Sting of Love and Twelve Keys cocktails, with a cheese board. This spooky date definitely felt more special; cosying up under flying carcasses, skulls and moody candlelight, it's definitely more on the intimate side.
8. Learning what it was like to be a Victorian woman, Feminist Jack the Ripper tour
The spookiest thing about this east London tour isn't the Shoreditch hipsters, but the sensitively-handled tales of what it was like to be a woman in the Victorian era — and those horrific, brutal murders that took place in 1888. Look Up London's tour focusses not only on the victims of Jack the Ripper, but the fate of many other women living in some of the poorest and toughest parts of London. Stepping over dead pigeons in the road and alleys smelling of piss, it's very much a sensory tour of London too! What was most scary and hit home is that some things really haven't changed in London today. The tour is a great way to connect and delve into deep and important conversations without glorifying any of the murders at all. My date and I discussed it for a long time afterwards. Would definitely recommend this as an alternative (less romantic) date.
9. Checking out the dodgy mannequins, Clink Prison Museum
There are probably more romantic things to do than wander around a 12th century prison, with screams of victims being tortured playing over the loud speaker. Luckily our conversation was more lively than the dodgy mannequins. "What would you NOT want to be tortured with in here?" I asked, as we walked around surveying the huge amounts of replicated torture devices. The Clink is pretty bleak and the sound effects give you the creeps, recreating the atmosphere of the prison back in the day. "Shall we, erm, get a drink?" he said, as we stared up at the rows of mannequin spikes. My reply was interrupted by a scream from the speaker but I was quick to follow up with a nod.
All images by the author unless otherwise stated.