Did you know Edinburgh is supposedly one of the most haunted cities in the UK?! During the day Edinburgh is a beautiful city, full of amazing architecture and bagpipe playing buskers but when the sun sets the city turns into a haunted city full of tales of folklore, myths and plenty of ghosts.
We recently got back from our trip to Edinburgh and I realised that most things we did there were spooky things! We’re both into horror films and scary things so knowing that Edinburgh has so many haunted places made us quite excited! Except when it started happening where you’re sleeping! I swear I heard some noises in our room on the first night, but that’s for another story!
If you’re into spooky, haunted places like us this list will be perfect for your next trip to Edinburgh!
(Disclaimer – Not for the faint hearted as it includes gruesome tales of murder and bodies)
We’ll start with one of the biggest places, Edinburgh Castle! The castle is thought to be one of the most haunted places in Scotland, and with 900 years of gruesome history, I’m not surprised! You can take a tour of the haunted dungeons which housed witches and once Duke Alexander Stewart of Albany who stabbed the guards to death and then burnt their bodies to escape!
One of the spookiest stories from the castle is of the little piper boy. Several hundred years ago tunnels were discovered going from the castle that seemed to lead to Holyrood Palace, at the other end of the Royal Mile. Everyone wanted to know where the tunnels led but the entrance was only small enough for the young piper boy to slip through. He was instructed to play the bagpipes as loud as he could whilst he walked and the people above ground would listen and follow the sound. It worked well until suddenly the pipes stopped near the Tron Kirk, a well-known landmark and church on the Royal Mile. Rescue attempts were made but the boy had vanished without a trace and so the tunnel was sealed. But rumours say that even now you can hear the sound of his bagpipes underground as you walk around the castle or the Royal Mile! That just sends shivers down my spine!
Make sure to book tickets! Edinburgh Castle
Right on the other side of the Royal Mile is another haunted place. In 1566 David Rizzio was murdered. He was rumoured to be Mary, Queen of Scots’ lover and when her husband found out he ordered Rizzio’s murder. This occurred with Mary watching, in her dining room, as she was 7 months pregnant. The blood stains from his death are said to reappear no matter how many times the floor is cleaned! When we went we could see there was something there on the floor, but whether it’s a bit of a ploy we weren’t sure! There is definitely something spooky about walking around the house, as that isn’t all there is to the grisly tales.
Make sure to book tickets! Holyrood Palace
We absolutely loved this tour! We’ve done the dungeons before in Blackpool and whilst they had their similarities, these were obviously a lot different. They tell you all about the plague, witches, cannibals and even royalty in this funny but still scary tour. There were a lot of special effects in this, not suitable for pregnant women or people with back, neck or heart problems. But there were more effects than in Blackpool and they were really fun! Highly recommend this tour if you’re ever in Edinburgh and want a hands on tour of the spooky side.
Mary King’s Close
Another spooky tour is Mary King’s Close. A close named after Mary King herself, a prominent member of society. In 1645 the people who lived there were struck with the bubonic plague and rumour has it that the close was sealed, with people still alive and suffering inside! When they wanted to reopen the close to house more people they needed to get rid of the bodies. So they hired two brothers to carry them out. But apparently it was too much work so instead they hacked the bodies to pieces! When new people moved into the close there were sightings of apparitions with missing limbs and such! Inhabitants were then evicted in 1753 to make way for The Royal Exchange over the top. It was sealed for over 250 years but now it’s open to the public to take tours down there. I’ve heard the tour is similar to the Dungeons, as you meet characters from way back when and if we’d had more time we would’ve definitely done it!
Ghost Bus Tour
There’s so many different ghost tours in Edinburgh. There’s free ones, ones that specialise in certain places or ghosts but we knew as soon as we saw this one that we wanted to do it! The Ghost Bus Tour picks you up on Waverley Bridge and drives past loads of haunted places in Edinburgh. Lots of them will be mentioned in this list too! But the tour guide is a comedic actor that makes the ride that much more fun! We were also informed that the very bus we were sitting in was used in the mid-1900s as a hearse sort of. The coffins and the bodies were on the bottom deck and the relatives and families were at the top. This gives it another sense of creepiness. It’s not all on the bus either. You also walk through Canongate Kirk which is spooky in itself (first time I’ve ever walked through a graveyard at night!). I loved this tour and would definitely go on it again. Similar to the dungeons in the comedic aspect but I actually learnt a lot on the way!
I didn’t actually realise this until after we went but this graveyard is apparently one of the most haunted in the world! Haunting it is George MacKenzie, also known as the MacKenzie Poltergiest. His final resting place is called the Black Mausoleum and in 1999 a homeless man looking for somewhere to sleep released his spirit and since then the mausoleum has been chained closed. Only tours can enter and only if you dare. Reports say that people get bruised, scratched and apparently 140 people have collapsed! So if you’re into some first hand experiences, definitely check it out.
Another story about this and also many graveyards in Edinburgh is Burke and Hare. In the early 19th Century Edinburgh became one of Europe’s leading centres of anatomical study. For this to continue, obviously they needed bodies. There was not a law in Scotland that stealing a body was illegal, so grave robbing became a thing. You can see in the graveyard today mortsafes which are iron cages surrounding the coffins. But the price for a body was a good one and Dr Knox from the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh was willing to pay, no matter how the bodies were brought. Burke and Hare thought instead of digging up dead bodies, why not just murder people and sell them instead?
Surgeons’ Hall Museum
After 16 murders Burke and Hare were caught and stood trial. Hare pretty much went against Burke and was let off but Burke was charged for murder and hung. Ironically he was taken to the College to be dissected and his skeleton is now preserved at the Surgeons’ Hall Museum, along with words written in the blood from his head and apparently a book said to be bound with his skin! The Museum is a great place to go if you’re into the gory side of things. It’s home to one of the largest and most historic pathology collections in the world, with a reconstructed anatomy theatre and a few human bits preserved in chloroform!
Another spooky graveyard in Edinburgh, home to many names. One was James Douglas, Earl of Drumlanrig. He was locked in his quarters as a young boy for being violently insane. One day when his father was out he escaped and searched the house in hunger. He stumbled upon a young kitchen-boy and proceeded to mount him on a spit and roast him alive! When the servants found him he’d already started to eat parts of the body! His body is now in Canongate Kirkyard and if that isn’t enough to freak you out, I don’t know what will!
A spooky place to walk around in Edinburgh is Grassmarket. Now brightly coloured and filled with shops and pubs it doesn’t look so scary but in the 1600s this was where all public executions used to take place. There’s bound to be something still wandering around! The pubs on Grassmarket tell of all sorts of stories. The White Hart Inn is one of Edinburgh’s oldest pubs with plenty tales of apparitions and noises. There’s also The Last Drop Tavern, named after the last execution in Grassmarket. It’s allegedly haunted by a mischievous little girl in medieval clothing! Not far from Grassmarket is The Banshee Labyrinth, one of the most haunted pubs in Scotland. It’s said to be haunted by a female with no eyes who likes a good cry and scream! Be sure to check out these pubs and don’t forget your camera, the ghouls like to make an appearance!
Princes Street Gardens
Another lovely place to wander around now is Princes Street Gardens, but it wasn’t always this beautiful! It used to be a gross cesspit called the Nor’ Loch, a dumping ground for Edinburgh’s waste. It was the site of plenty violent murders and dodgy goings on and the loch even became instrumental during the witch trials! When they drained the loch in the 1760s they found hundreds of bodies of drowned ‘witches’. If you were thrown into the loch and sank you were innocent but if you floated you were a witch and had to burn at the stake! Doesn’t sound very fair to me! Take a lovely stroll through the gardens now but don’t forget some of the grisly things that happened there in the past!
The last place I want to mention is Edinburgh Vaults. Underneath the city of Edinburgh are these chambers and rooms that were originally built for workspaces for local businesses. Unfortunately they weren’t built very well and so started to flood not long after being built. This meant they were abandoned by their owners. The tunnels then became a place for brothels, criminals, disease and also a place frequented by Burke and Hare, the murdering duo. Apparently they would hide the bodies down there until they were able to sell them to the College. There are plenty of different tours and they all take you down into different parts of the vaults.
This tour takes you down to the Blair Street Underground Vaults.
City of the Dead Tours
This tour takes you down to an area called Damnation Alley.
Auld Reekie Tours
This tour takes you to the South Bridge vaults and you also can see a medieval torture exhibition!
A lot of these groups do guided ghost tours all throughout Edinburgh and I think it would be great to do one! I learned a lot from the tour we did and it was fascinating and even pretty spooky to do it in the dark!
I’ve managed to put some of these things on this map too, they’re all pretty close to each other and within walking distance!
And there is the list of spooky things to do in Edinburgh! When we eventually go back there’s so much more that we want to do and see now so I can’t wait!
Let me know if you’ve ever done any of these things, or if now they’re on your list of grisly and haunted things to do in Edinburgh!