A guide to the best ghost tours of haunted Edinburgh
The best of the spooky and haunted side of the historic Scottish capital
In the words of Robert Louis Stevenson, one of Edinburgh’s most famous literary sons, ‘Only a few inches separate the living from the dead.’ And nowhere is that more true than in the Old Town. From Burke and Hare to Half-Hangit Maggie , the city has more than its fair share of murderers, ghosts, haunted locations and downright scare-you-senseless stories. Explore the spooky city that inspired classics such as The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde from the catacomb of hidden vaults and chambers beneath the South Bridge to Greyfriars Kirkyard, after which you’ll be glad that there are a number of nearby pubs in which to steady your shattered nerves with a stiff drink.
At the Edinburgh Dungeon, 500 years of the capital’s dark history are crammed into one very scary space and delivered by a team of actors and spine-tingling special effects. Aimed at the whole family, the attractions include two heart-in-the-mouth rides: the Drop Ride to Doom and a boat trip into the blood-spattered cave of cannibal Sawney Bean.
Piling on the tales of witches’ persecution, body-snatching and local superstition are Auld Reekie Tours, one of several operating in the Old Town. As well as visiting the vaults under the High Street, this tour has a grisly torture museum, tells tales of the Niddrie Wynd poltergeist and ends up in Nicol Edwards’ pub, reputed to be the most haunted in Scotland – the spirits don’t promise to stay in your glass.
At the Real Mary King’s Close, you’ll see a historically accurate interpretation of life in Edinburgh from the 16th to the 19th centuries, focusing on the closes under the Royal Mile. Visitors are guided by one of the ‘characters’ who lived in this time capsule of four closes with real rooms and streets that date back to the 1600s. Dramatic episodes and extraordinary apparitions from the past are revealed, including hair-raising ghost stories over 300 years old.
Black Hart Entertainment, meanwhile, organises haunted graveyard and underground City of the Dead walks. These give a taste of the history and legends of the capital and lead you into the Covenanters’ Prison and the Black Mausoleum in Greyfriars Cemetery, lair of the Mackenzie Poltergeist, a possible encounter with which is the highlight of the tour. Hundreds claim to have been attacked by this malevolent entity, who is most definitely not to be confused with sweet little Greyfriars Bobby, also buried near the gates, and this tour is not for those of a nervous disposition.
The Cadies and Witchery Tours’ lighthearted look at witchcraft, plague and torture focuses on the Royal Mile’s ghostly goings-on and have been scaring people around the Old Town for two decades. Mercat Tours also organises spooky walking tours that have earned it five stars from the Scottish Tourist Board and feature more ghosts than you can shake a crucifix at.
Be afraid. Be very afraid.
Auld Reekie’s Haunted Underground Experience
Meet at the Tron Kirk, High Street, www.auldreekietours.com
The Cadies & Witchery Tours
84 West Bow, 0131 225 6745, www.witcherytours.com. £7.50 (£5). The book Adam Lyal’s Witchery Tales is included.
City of the Dead Graveyard Tours
From the tour sign outside St Giles’ Cathedral on the Royal Mile, 0131 225 9044, www.blackhart.uk.com. 8.30pm & 10pm (Easter–Halloween), 1hr 15min. £9.50 (£7.50), no unaccompanied children. Limited numbers. Please wear sensible footgear.
The Edinburgh Dungeon
31 Market Street, 0131 240 1001, www.thedungeons.com. £15.50 (£15)
Mary King’s Close
2 Warriston’s Close, High Street, 0845 070 6244, www.realmarykingsclose.com. Open daily (except Christmas Day). £11 (£10) One-hour tours depart every 20 min from 10am. Booking essential
0131 225 5445, www.mercattours.com 1hr 15min. £8 (£6.50)