Scotland’s capital city may be overflowing with cosy hotels, tempting restaurants and cheerful locals but like any ancient place, the city has a dark and eerie past.
Walking ghost tours
Perhaps the best way to experience Edinburgh’s grisly history is by joining one of the many walking tours that take place in the Old Town every night. These chilling tours wind through the dark alleys and haunted streets of the city’s underbelly, delving deep into tales of Scotland’s rich and spine-tingling past.
The tours set off at various times throughout the evening, getting progressively scarier as the night goes on. Many of the earlier departures are suitable for younger children, although it’s always best to check first.
There are a number of companies operating tours, most of which depart from the Royal Mile. Bookings are not always necessary but again, it’s best to plan ahead if you’re unsure.
One of the best companies is Mercat Tours, which has a five star rating from the Scottish Tourist Board and offers a variety of different tours to suit every bloodthirsty taste.
Mary King’s Close and the underground vaults
Beneath the Royal Mile lies Edinburgh’s deepest secret – a warren of hidden ‘closes’ or narrow streets where real people lived, worked and died. The network was built over many years ago and has lain forgotten about until recently.
The most infamous is Mary King’s Close, supposedly named after a wealthy landowner’s daughter who lived and died there. In the mid 17th century, city officials attempting to contain the plague blocked off the entrance to the close, trapping many plague victims inside.
The close is often heralded as Scotland’s most haunted site after more than 300 years of reported ghost sightings. One of the most frequent is that of a young girl around five or six years of age, named ‘Annie’ by those who have seen her. Annie’s room is one of the most popular areas of the close, where numerous visitors have left small toys and mementoes for the young spirit.
The Edinburgh Dungeon takes visitors on a gory tour of the city’s darker side. Exhibits include the infamous murderers Burke and Hare, a reconstruction of the cave inhabited by the cannibal Sawney Bean, and a realistic version of Edinburgh’s Old Town during the plague, with dirt, disease and a body cart waiting to take away its victims.
There is also a torture gallery displaying gruesome equipment like headcrushers, thumbscrews and flesh tearers. Entry to the dungeon is around £15 per adult and £11 per child – but keep an eye out for discount offers that are often advertised on the back of city bus tickets.
Top hotels in Edinburgh, Scotland
- Osbourne Hotel – double room starting from €26.5/£24/$35.9
- Herald House Hotel – double room starting from €43/£49/$58
- Cairn Hotel Edinburgh – double room starting from €28.7/£26/$38.9