The best dark web VPN in 2024

The best dark web VPN in 2024

There’s the internet we’re all familiar with, the one that you use on a day-to-day basis for browsing web pages, checking your email, and streaming video. Then there’s the dark web. It’s unregulated, hard to access, and is used mostly by privacy aficionados (for reasons both good and bad)! 

Navigating the dark web safely requires specialist software, but this leaves a huge footprint in your internet traffic logs that tell your ISP you’re accessing the dark web. If you’re interested in keeping your activity truly private, investing in a dark web VPN will keep your ISP in the dark and give you access to some extra security features that make browsing the dark web less of a scary experience. Let’s check out some of the VPNs I’d recommend if you want to browse the dark web.

The 3 best dark web VPNs at a glance

Dark web VPNs – deep dives

The best dark web VPN

TechRadar Editor's Choice award logo

1. NordVPN

An excellent all-round VPN with great security features that’s perfect for the dark web

App support: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux, web browsers, and more | Server locations: 140 | Server countries: 111 | Customer support: 24/7 email support, live chat, and knowledge hub | Simultaneous connections: 10 | Refund period: 30 days

Top-notch security, including a fully audited no-logs policy

Onion over VPN servers

Some of the fastest speeds around

Easy to use, with plenty of additional security tools

Apps aren’t as easy to use as ExpressVPN or Surfshark

More expensive than Surfshark and PIA

The reason NordVPN tops our list of dark web VPNs isn’t just that we consider it the Best VPN overall. Normally, when you connect to Tor over a VPN, you have to download separate software like the Tor Browser or Tails OS to connect to Tor first. That’s not the case with NordVPN. Tor support comes built-in, so all you have to do is select “Specialty Servers” from the server list once you’ve downloaded NordVPN and pick an “Onion over VPN” server. This makes browsing the dark web as easy as possible, as you can’t check out dark web sites without making a connection to the Tor network.

NordVPN running on Windows showing Netherlands and Switzerland as available server regions for Tor over VPN servers

Nord’s Onion over VPN servers are available in Switzerland and the Netherlands. Just click on “Onion over VPN” and you’ll be connected to the fastest one straight away. (Image credit: NordVPN)

Whatever you’re doing on the dark web, privacy is paramount and you need a VPN that you can trust. Some providers just claim they have a no-logging policy but NordVPN can back up its claims. In November 2022, Deloitte conducted a meticulous audit of the company involving a tech deep dive and employee interviews. What Deloitte found backs up NordVPN’s claims – you can be confident that the company isn’t logging your online activity.

If you’re worried about your credentials being leaked on the dark web, NordVPN also runs an identity theft monitor. It continuously scans dark web sites and forums for credentials associated with your email address and lets you know if they appear in a data breach. NordVPN also runs a top-notch antivirus scanner inside the VPN app so if you do accidentally download any malware, NordVPN can identify it instantly.

My only real issue with NordVPN is that it’s not a beginner-friendly VPN. It’s a little overwhelming when you’re presented with all of the different features of NordVPN up-front, whereas a VPN like ExpressVPN allows you to just set up and deploy with a single click. If you can get over the lack of hand-holding though, there’s none better than NordVPN.

These really are minor quibbles though and, for the vast majority of users, NordVPN is an excellent dark web VPN with rock-solid privacy, blistering speeds, and first-class unblocking. Plus, with a 30-day money-back guarantee, you can try our top pick risk-free.

If you want to know more, be sure to check out our NordVPN review.

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The best dark web VPN for beginners

ExpressVPN working on several devices including Apple TV

(Image credit: ExpressVPN)

2. ExpressVPN

Slick and easy to use with rock-solid privacy – but you’ll pay a premium

App support: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux, web browsers, and more | Server locations: 163 | Server countries: 105 | Customer support: 24/7 email support, live chat, and knowledge hub | Simultaneous connections: 8 | Refund period: 30 days

Super simple apps automatically configure everything

Leading the industry for security

Regular audits mean it won’t mess around

Amazing customer support

Double the cost of NordVPN

Light on additional security tools

Half the speed of NordVPN and Surfshark

ExpressVPN is a great choice whether you’re trying to access the dark web or just need an all-around great VPN. While NordVPN offers slightly better value for money, ExpressVPN is close behind and might even be a better choice if you need to unblock niche streams.

That said, we’re here to talk about the dark web. While ExpressVPN doesn’t have the same Tor-native servers that NordVPN does, it does allow you to use the Tor browser to connect to onion sites over its servers. This doubles up on the security you’ll receive from just using the Tor service, as your ISP provider won’t be able to tell you’re using Tor. When combined with ExpressVPN’s obfuscation technology that disguises the VPN protocol too, you’ll be able to use Tor even in countries where ISPs are obligated to block it.

Technically impressive, but that wouldn’t mean anything if ExpressVPN didn’t have an outstanding commitment to privacy. Thankfully, it does. Regular third-party audits show that ExpressVPN doesn’t keep logs of users’ online activities or personal information. This is thanks to TrustedServer, a RAM-only server architecture which wipes all the data stored on ExpressVPN’s servers every time they’re rebooted. There’s no data to store, and nothing to hand over to a law enforcement request.

My only problem with ExpressVPN is the cost. It’s a little more expensive than its competitors without bringing much more to the table unless you’re using it from a jurisdiction with highly restricted internet access. It costs $12.95 per month, but this goes down to $9.99 when you purchase for 6 months or $6.67 when you purchase for 12 months.

While NordVPN just pips it overall, ExpressVPN is a first-class dark web VPN. The colorful, clean apps will be a perfect fit for anyone who loves simple design or has less experience with VPNs, the outstanding and fully audited privacy policy should reassure even the most paranoid dark web user, and all the standard VPN boxes are ticked with aplomb. With a 30-day money-back guarantee, you can sign up and check out this slick VPN with no risk to your wallet.

Want to know more about why it’s worth the premium? Check out our ExpressVPN review.

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The best cheap dark web VPN

Surfshark VPN app running on several devices

3. Surfshark

Cheap, but punches well above its weight

App support: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux, web browsers, and more | Server locations: 143 | Server countries: 100 | Customer support: 24/7 email support, live chat, and knowledge hub | Simultaneous connections: Unlimited | Refund period: 30 days

The fastest VPN around

Unlimited simultaneous devices

Packed with additional privacy features

The Windows kill switch has a rocky history

Unclear virtual server locations

No warning if your connection drops

Surfshark is another provider that’s both a great all-around choice for a VPN and one of the best ways to access the dark web. Tor is supported on all of Surfshark’s servers so you’re not restricted based on your location. However, you’ll need to download the Tor browser before you can connect to Tor. While Surfshark also supports VPN over Tor, I wouldn’t recommend it. It slows your bandwidth to an absolute crawl and the only real security benefit you get is hiding your traffic from the Tor exit node.

Plus, when you sign up for a single Surfshark subscription you’ll be covered for unlimited devices under a single plan. This is ideal if you want to keep an air-gapped device or two specifically for connecting to the dark web without any worry about malware infecting the rest of your devices. Even if you do get burned, Surfshark offers an additional plan called Surfshark One which includes a built-in antivirus solution, as well as dark-web monitoring to alert you if your credentials end up being leaked.

There’s a lot to like about Surfshark as a dark web VPN. It tied NordVPN and Proton VPN in our speed tests at a blistering 950 Mbps, has a fully audited no-logging policy that includes data being stored on RAM servers, offers access to over 3,200 servers in 100 countries, unblocks everything we tried it on and costs just $2.19 per month for a two-year plan. 

As well as the standard 30-day money-back guarantee, Surfshark is one of the few VPNs to offer a 7-day free trial so there’s no excuse not to sign up and check out one of our best dark web VPNs.

To find out more about what makes the best cheap VPN so great, take a look at our Surfshark review.

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The best dark web VPN for guaranteed privacy

Private Internet Access VPN apps running on Windows, MacOS, Android, iOS, and other platforms.

4. Private Internet Access (PIA)

Not the fastest but a very capable dark web VPN with loads of customization options

App support: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux, web browsers, and more | Server locations: 100 | Server countries: 91 | Customer support: 24/7 email support, live chat, and knowledge hub | Simultaneous connections: Unlimited | Refund period: 30 days

Open source with a proven no-logs policy

Lots of control for power users

A full Linux GUI

Overwhelming UI for beginners

Speeds are disappointing compared to market leaders

Like the other VPN providers I’ve recommended so far, PIA allows you to run Tor over your VPN connection. All you have to do is start PIA up, then open your Tor browser and you’re completely covered. Other than that, there’s nothing particularly special about the way PIA handles Tor connections. You won’t be able to connect the other way around by running your VPN connection over Tor unless you connect using the Tails OS, but as it’s an inferior way to connect that absolutely strangles your bandwidth I wouldn’t recommend it anyway.

So, let’s talk about privacy. The reason I’d recommend PIA as a dark web VPN comes down to one simple fact: I know its no-logs privacy policy really works. It’s been audited multiple times by one of the big four auditing companies, Deloitte, to prove that PIA really doesn’t hold logs on its users. This is great, obviously, but the absolute gold standard is that PIA has been taken to court multiple times to provide logs on its customers. PIA’s response? We don’t have any.

On top of that, PIA is just a great all-round VPN. With over 100 locations to choose from, stellar unblocking capabilities, and a Linux VPN app that keeps parity with the rest of the excellent PIA apps on offer, I’d be more than happy to recommend PIA even if you’re not using the dark web. It’s pretty good on price too. Although the monthly plan is a little expensive at $11.95 per month, buying in for three years brings the price all the way down to $1.98 per month with four months free. 

The only real downside is speed. PIA averaged 330 Mbps in our testing, way off the 950 Mbps recorded by NordVPN, Surfshark, and Proton VPN. This is still more than enough to stream content in 4K or run multiple connections off of the same VPN, but it’s not the mega speeds we’re seeing from the top VPN providers. 

You can try PIA risk-free via its 30-day money-back guarantee or there’s a seven-day free trial for mobile users. Either way, sign up and see if PIA hits the right notes for you.

Want to know more about America’s most beloved VPN? Check out our PIA review.

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The best free dark web VPN

Proton VPN interface on various platforms

(Image credit: Proton VPN)

5. Proton VPN

Unlimited data allowance and advocates for digital privacy

App support: Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, and Linux | Server locations: 129 | Server countries: 100 | Customer support: Website, email, live chat | Simultaneous connections: 10 | Refund period: 30

A good free plan with unlimited data

Fully audited no-logs policy

Active privacy advocates

Free users have no choice over server locations

Live chat is only available during weekday business hours

You’ve probably heard about Proton VPN’s fantastic unlimited free plan already, so let me set expectations right out of the gate. Yes, you can use Proton Free forever, there are no bandwidth limits at all. But no, you cannot connect to the Tor network on the free plan

That said, it’s worth the upgrade. Proton offers a set of native Onion over VPN servers that connect you straight to the Tor network without any extra software. This is great if you’re trying to view an Onion site on your phone for example, as Proton takes care of all of the translation for you. In fact, Proton is so committed to supporting the Tor network that it even hosts an Onion site you can access if you want to download or pay for the VPN service anonymously.

Needless to say, you get a much more impressive service on a paid plan. The cheapest option is just slightly above average at $4.99 per month on a two-year plan but that gives you blistering speeds of 950 Mbps, as well as the native Tor support I’ve mentioned and access to servers in 100 countries.

Like all the other providers on our list, ProtonVPN offers a 30-day money-back guarantee so you can see if Proton has what you need without risking a lengthy subscription.

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How to pick a dark web VPN

 There a few key factors to consider when choosing a dark web VPN: 

  • No-logging policy: ideally, a VPN provider should be keeping as little information on you as possible. However, it’s impossible to take any “no-logs” claim at face value so you should check that the VPN is regularly independently audited to make sure it can back up its claims. This is especially important if you’re using the dark web for activities like journalism or whistleblowing.
  • Speed: all VPNs will use a certain amount of your bandwidth for protocol overhead, but a quality one will be engineered to leave as small of a footprint as possible. Wrapping the Tor protocol into your VPN traffic also leaves less bandwidth for your data, so you should pick a VPN provider that offers high speeds to make sure you’re able to browse the Tor network without spending ages staring at your browser window slowly loading.
  • Price: you shouldn’t be tempted to buy into a cheap VPN if it compromises on security or privacy, but you should always ask the question if what you’re buying is value for money. If you just need to access the dark web and don’t need a bunch of extra features, take that into account.
  • Tor Support: you’ll need to be able to access Tor to get into the dark web. If your VPN provider doesn’t offer Tor connections, don’t even consider it. It’s a waste of time.

How we test dark web VPNs

There’s no better way to test a VPN than hands-on experience, so we take every VPN we review for a test run to see how it handles several key areas. 

First, it’s research. Before we even start the VPN up, we get a good idea of the numbers and stats. This is stuff like the number of servers, the locations of those servers, which protocols are supported, and any interesting extra features in the marketing.

Then we take a magnifying glass to the privacy policy and go over all the fine print. It’s here where most VPN providers fall down, so we pay extra attention to anything that might suggest a provider is logging data it shouldn’t.

Once we’ve got a good idea of how a provider handles data, we switch on the VPN. There’s a bunch of bespoke tests we run to highlight things like IP and DNS leaks, whether the kill-switch really works, and how many services the VPN can unblock. Of course, we also run some speed performance tests regularly to get a good idea of how the VPN handles on a day-to-day basis.

Finally, when we know what the VPN does well at and what it fails to accomplish, we start looking through the customer support channels to see if there’s any help offered either online or through its customer service representatives. 

All in all, this gives us a strong idea of what the average customer experience is like while also providing enough information to allow us to write a recommendation (or warning!) from a technical expert standpoint.

How to access the dark web

Before you access the Tor network, take heed. It’s designed to be a protocol that’s entirely decentralized, unregulated, and hard to track by law enforcement. This has its upsides: no censorship, the free trade of ideas, the ability for journalists and whistleblowers to discuss ideas away from the overzealous surveillance of autocratic nations… you get the idea. It’s a lot closer to how the web used to be in the early days of Web 1.0.

However, the flip side is that it’s also a haven for criminals, hackers, and even government agents. Malware is rampant because there’s no meaningful way to enforce the law on the dark web apart from hunting down the hackers responsible in real life. 

Note: be careful. Don’t download anything suspicious, keep to .onion sites you’ve been recommended from the clear net, and do your research. Okay, disclaimer over. Don’t say you weren’t warned!

Anyway, to access the dark web you’ll need software that provides a connection to the Tor network. This is the routing software that encrypts your traffic and allows access to Onion sites, which are websites that can only be accessed from the Tor network. 

If you’re using a VPN like NordVPN that gives you direct access to the Onion network, you can skip this step and use any browser. 

Otherwise, you need to download the Tor Browser. It’s a modified version of Firefox that routes your internet traffic through the Tor network. You can also download and install Tails OS, an operating system that is built to work directly with the Tor network, but for the sake of simplicity, we’ll go with the Tor Browser for now.

So, go to the official Tor Project website and download the Tor Browser for your operating system. When it’s downloaded, just follow the installation instructions for your specific OS.

Once you’ve opened the browser and you’re connected to the Tor network, that’s it. Your portal to the dark web is open. All you have to do is find an Onion URL (it’ll end in .onion) you want to connect to, and enter it into your browser. It’s really that simple.

Dark web FAQs

Should I use a VPN to access the dark web?

Yes. If you download the Tor browser without a VPN, your ISP will have a record of that. If you connect to the Tor network without a VPN, they won’t be able to view the traffic you send, but they will be aware you’re using the Tor network which in some jurisdictions might be enough to trigger an investigation. Using a VPN looks far less suspicious and also hides your IP from the Tor node you’re connecting to. 

Is it legal to access the dark web?

Yes, it’s legal to access the dark web. What you do on the dark web is a different matter. We don’t condone illegal actions, and while there are plenty of legitimate reasons to be concerned with your privacy or host a service on the dark web, you should be careful you don’t end up doing something you shouldn’t. 

Is the dark web the same as the deep web?

No. The deep web is all of the internet that’s “hidden” from the average user, either because it’s behind a paywall, a login page, needs special software to access, or just isn’t indexed by a search engine. Technically, there are several different dark webs, but when most people think of the dark web they’re referring to Onion websites which can only be accessed through the Tor network. 

We test and review VPN services in the context of legal recreational uses. For example: 1. Accessing a service from another country (subject to the terms and conditions of that service). 2. Protecting your online security and strengthening your online privacy when abroad. We do not support or condone the illegal or malicious use of VPN services. Consuming pirated content that is paid-for is neither endorsed nor approved by Future Publishing.