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Sunny, historic St. Augustine is a favorite vacation destination for those who love a good beach but also like a charming town center for strolling, good nightlife and shopping, and perhaps a ghostly encounter or two. As the oldest continually occupied, European-settled place in the United States, St. Augustine is brimming with history, some of which is quite dark. Where there’s deep, dark history, there are ghost stories, and this destination is no exception — in fact, it’s considered by many paranormal enthusiasts to be one of the most densely haunted cities in North America.
From the St. Augustine Lighthouse, said to be occupied by the restless spirits of several former lighthouse-keepers, as well as three small children, to ghostly pirate prisoners who drag their chains through the Castillo de San Marcos, there are lots of spirits to encounter. The best way to find them all? On a guided ghost tour. Your guides on all of these top-rated tours will show you where to look for ghosts, illuminate their stories, and provide plenty of chills, even if no specters show up for you:
Best Overall: Secrets of St. Augustine Ghost Tours
Led by a professional storyteller, this walking tour deftly combines history and legend in a small-group environment that keeps the ambiance at maximum spookiness. The tour, which lasts approximately 1.5 hours, begins at the Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse, said to be haunted by a forlorn mother, and continues to the nearby old city gates, then to the Huguenot and Tolomato Cemeteries, an ancient funeral parlor, historic Spanish Street, and the St. George Inn, one of St. Augustine’s several haunted inns.
You’ll hear about murders, plagues, massacres, and simple tragedies, and perhaps, particularly if you choose the later-evening tour option (tours leave at 6 and 8 p.m.), see or hear something supernatural. (And even if you don’t think you see any ghosts, be sure to check your pictures after the fact: Travelers report seeing orbs in their cemetery photos, particularly.)
Best Trolley Tour: Haunted Trolley Tour of St. Augustine
A trolley tour is a great choice if you both want to cover a bit more ground and do a bit less walking, and the Ghosts and Gravestones’ Trolley of the Doomed is a particularly grand one. The tour is not fully sedentary like some bus tours, though: the trolley takes you from haunted spot to haunted spot, and you have a chance to walk around and explore each.
Among the stops: the Old Jail, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, where many a man met the hangman’s noose (and some perhaps never left); the circa 1887 Old Drug Store, situated at the edge of the Tolomato Cemetery and plagued by hauntings; and the downright creepy Potter’s Wax Museum, where you’ll watch a recreation of the execution of fearsome pirate Andrew Ranson. You’ll be granted after-hours entrance to the Old Jail and Potter’s, an exclusive perk of this particular tour.
Best Walking Tour: Haunted Stroll Through Old St. Augustine
Gentle enough for families but plenty spooky for those seeking some good ghost stories and other local legends, this walking tour is led by a costumed guide who leads the small group through Old St. Augustine, visiting famous hauntings and lesser-known spots, and breaking up the spookiness with a bit of silliness to keep things light.
Your tour begins and ends at Love Tree Cottage, famous for the intertwining oak and pine trees out front, said to be planted by two star-crossed lovers and bestowing a lifetime of happiness upon those who share a kiss beneath its magical branches.
The 90-minute tour also stops at two cemeteries, the city gates, the grounds of the Old Fort, and more. This tour is wheelchair and stroller accessible and leaves nightly at 8:30 p.m.
Best Boat Tour: BYOB Ghost Boat
St. Augustine is set upon the Matanzas Bay, a natural harbor which has provided a haven for many military, commercial, and personal sailing vessels for hundreds of years, not to mention plenty of pirates. “Matanzas” means “massacre” in Spanish, the bay taking its name from the slaughter of hundreds of French Huguenots by Spanish settlers here in 1565.
From this harbor and its connected inlets and channels, you can see a number of the area’s most famous (and most haunted) sites, including the Nombre de Dios Cemetery at the old Spanish mission, said to be haunted by the ghosts of local indigenous people who’d been forced to convert; the Old Fort with its angry pirate ghost; and the lighthouse, with its playful ghosts of small children.
This 75-minute boat tour is BYOB, and your guides encourage you to enjoy some “spirits with your spirits,” if you’re into that sort of thing. It’s an adults-only tour: 21+, please.
Best Value Tour: Supernatural Walking Tour
If you’re looking for an excellent St. Augustine ghost tour but don’t want to spend a lot of money, try this pet-friendly wheelchair-accessible 60-minute walking tour. The local guides provide a combination of the historical background of the city and its surroundings, along with architectural observations, insight into purported paranormal activity, and personal tales of hauntings and sightings that they have experienced firsthand.
The tour visits Aviles Street, the oldest street in the United States and home to more than one haunted building, the Matanzas Bayfront and the St. Augustine Lighthouse, and the St. Augustine National Cemetery at the St. Francis Barracks, as well as a number of seemingly normal historic homes that have secret stories to tell.
Best Small-Group Tour: Mystery and History Ghost Tour
Capping this tour size at a maximum of seven guests makes for a nimble small group, allowing guests and the tour guide to work together to make it a true ghost hunt. With expertise in both local history and paranormal investigation, the guide knows not only where to look, but how to look for it, and encourages guests to bring along EMF readers and other equipment if they have it. If not, don’t worry — along your route, down tiny, historic roads and through green spaces and cemeteries, near the historic Castillo de San Marcos, you’ll be told which windows to watch and when to be sure to snap pictures for maximum likelihood of catching orbs.
The tour is 90 minutes long, and if time permits, will stop at a local watering hole which happens to be built atop two separate burial grounds: one indigenous, pre-dating European arrival, and the other belonging to a long-gone church. If you feel a chill running down your spine as you sip your beer, try not to be too surprised. This tour is not wheelchair-accessible.
Best Mystery Tour: St. Augustine Mystery Tour
If a ghost tour feels a bit too scary but you still like the idea of experiencing some intrigue while getting the lay of the land, consider this mystery tour. It’s an interactive mystery tour, not unlike an escape room-style puzzle mystery, but taking place throughout the heart of historic downtown St. Augustine. You’ll work with your team to solve clues, ciphers, and riddles that lead you from location to location throughout downtown, ultimately attempting to unlock a mystery box and reveal the secrets within.
It’s an ambiance tour for both first-time visitors to the city and those who have been there many times, and even St. Augustine locals. Though it is a relatively wholesome game, the minimum age for participation is 13 years, and it does begin and end at Isabela’s Bar Cuba, a wine-and-cigar bar.