The Dark Side of Edinburgh (Best Guide and Tours)

Haunted Places in Edinburgh

A complete guide to dark tourism in Edinburgh, Scotland (including the most haunted places and the best ghost tours).

dark tourism edinburgh

With its gruesome past, Edinburgh is one of the most popular destinations for dark tourism in Europe. In fact, the city is home to some of the most haunted places in the Old Continent.

You only need to take a stroll around the capital of Scotland. Even if you don’t see any ghost, I ensure you that you’ll get this haunted feeling.

Maybe it’s because of its medieval buildings and tiny closes. Maybe because of the sinister look of Edinburgh Castle. Or it’s because of the numerous graveyards scattered all over the city. When you add the endless rain to the picture, it becomes quite clear why the city has such a reputation.

Visiting the city for the first time? Then take a look at my Edinburgh 3-day itinerary, that covers all the key places, including the best day trips to take.

Continue reading to find out the most famous haunted places in Edinburg and which are the best ghost tours.

Dark Tourism Edinburgh Guide

To help you plan your spooky vacation, I made this Edinburgh dark tourism guide. Here you’ll find the most haunted places and cemeteries, plus the best ghost tours to take in Edinburgh.


Dark Tourism Edinburgh Guide (most haunted and creepy places)

  • Edinburgh Castle
  • Princes Street Gardens
  • Holyrood Palace
  • Edinburgh Vaults
  • Greyfriars Kirkyard
  • Mary King’s Close
  • Calton Hill
  • West Bow

To be close to all spooky places in Edinburgh, stay at Radisson Blu Hotel. It’s just a few steps away from Mary King’s Close and South Bridge Vaults (some of the most haunted places in the city)! Plus, the location is very central, near all tourist attractions and restaurants.

Booking.com

Best ghost tours in Edinburgh

There are plenty of ghost tours available in Edinburgh. Yet, to make your choice easier, I hand-picked the most popular ones. Also, I’d recommend booking your tour with GetYourGuide (you get a mobile ticket voucher + free cancellation up to 24 hours before the activity).

Ghostly Underground Vaults Tour – this is the best tour to explore the underground haunted vaults of the city. You’ll visit the famous South Bridge Vaults, where the murderers Burke and Hare often hunted for victims.

The Dark Side Walking Tour – discover the dark side of the Royal Mile and Canongate Kirkyard. You’ll hear chilling tales of witch trials and burnings, as well as of real-life cannibals and vampires.

Murder & Mystery Walking Tour – this fun ghost tour, lead by the ghost of Adam Lyal, will take you through the Old Town, revealing the city dark history. You’ll also get a copy of the book Witchery Tales, by Adam Lyal.

Edinburgh Ghost Bus Tour – if you don’t feel like walking, especially if the weather is cold, this is the best option. You’ll discover the dark side of Edinburgh on board a vintage bus while enjoying a comedy horror show.

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle

Every old castle has a ghost or two. Thus, you can imagine the number of ghosts that haunt this nine centuries-old castle. 

The castle stood many sieges (more than 20) and many men fought till death to defend it. In fact, it is the most besieged place in Scotland!

 

Edinburgh Castle was a witness to numerous executions and murders during the centuries. Many captured French and colonial soldiers were tortured in the dungeons under the castle.

Probably the most famous castle’s ghost is the one of a piper boy. When some tunnels under the castle were discovered centuries ago, he was sent to explore them. He was playing on his bagpipe along the way. However, the boy never returned and his body was never found. They say that he still roams in the tunnels and you can hear him playing on his bagpipe.

The castle is the most popular attraction in Edinburgh, so book tickets in advance to skip the lines. Another option to avoid the lines is by booking a guided tour

Princes Street Gardens

Princes Street Gardens

You’d never think that the beautiful park at the foot of the castle could be a haunted place. However, a few centuries ago the picture was quite different.

A lake, called Nor Loch, occupied the place of the current gardens. It was built in the 15th century during the reign of King James III. Its purpose was to strengthen the castle’s defence. During the following centuries, the lake became a popular spot for executions and suicide attempts.

Nor Loch was also used for “witch ducking”. It is a swimming test that identifies if the suspect was practising witchcraft or not. The innocent person would sink like a stone, but witches would bob on the surface. In the 19th century when the lake was drained, they found two skeletons sealed in a barrel.

Holyrood Palace

Holyrood Palace

The Holyrood Palace situated at the foot of Arthur’s Seat looks too lovely to be haunted. Yet it was a scene of a horrible murder during the reign of Mary, Queen of Scots. David Rizzio, the personal secretary of Mary was killed by Lord Darnley and his friends.

 

Lord Darnley was the second husband of Mary. He got jealous of Rizzio having spent so much time with Mary. This led to a terrible murder. Rizzio was stabbed 56 times. You can still see the bloodstain in one of Mary’s chambers.

Edinburgh Vaults

The vaults are a truly horrific place. In fact, they are one of the creepiest attractions in Edinburgh. Hidden under the South Bridge, they represent a labyrinth of spooky chambers.

After the construction of the bridge in 1788, these chambers were used for storehouses. Unfortunately soon the vaults began to flood regularly. They were abandoned and a new era started for them.

The vaults became a home for criminals, murderers and brothels. The evil flourished down here. The famous body snatchers and murderers Burke and Hare often hunted for victims in the Edinburgh Vaults. Then they used to sell the bodies to Doctor Robert Knox for dissections at his anatomy lectures.

The only way to visit the vaults is by taking a guided tour. There are plenty to choose from, but I’d recommend this Ghostly Underground Vaults Tour. It’s not only the most popular one but also the one with the highest rating.

Greyfriars Kirkyard

Greyfriars Kirkyard

The cemetery got its name from a dog, called Greyfriars Bobby. After the death of its owner, the dog guarded his grave day and night until its own death (14 years later). The dog is buried in the cemetery, close to the gates.

Greyfriars Bobby

Greyfriars Kirkyard is known to be haunted by the ghost of Sir George “Bloody” Mackenzie. He got his nickname by torturing and executing prisoners from the Covenant Prison.

The Covenant Prison once was part of the Greyfriars Kirkyard. About 1,200 members of the Scottish Presbyterian movement (called Covenanters) were held captured there. Many of them died because of ill-treatment, others were executed. After his death, Sir George Mackenzie was also buried in the cemetery.

You can explore the cemetery on your own or take this Greyfriars Kirkyard ghost tour, that also includes a visit to the famous South Bridge Vaults.

J. K. Rowling got some of the names she used in her books from the gravestones here. You can find the grave of Tom Riddle (Lord Voldemort). Keep in mind that there are thousands of graves here, so it’s not easy to find it. I almost gave up the searching when it appeared in front of me.

Tom Riddle's grave

Mary King’s Close

Mary King’s Close is one of the most famous haunted places in Edinburgh. The close was named after Mary King, a merchant burgess who once lived on the close that later took her name.

In the 17th century, it was a normally busy street in the heart of the city. During the Great Plague in 1645, the sick were treated in their houses, where they would await the help of the plague doctor George Rae.

In the 18th century, the houses and alleys were sealed. Residents were paid large sums of money to move out so that the Royal Exchange could be built above. New buildings were constructed above the close leaving it in complete darkness for many years.

The only way to visit the close is by taking the Real Mary King’s Close Tour. Note, that it’s not a typical ghost tour. It’s focused more on what was the life in Edinburgh in the 17th century.

The most famous ghost in Mary King’s Close is the little Annie. In the 1990s the site was visited by a Japanese psychic. She could barely step inside for the feelings she sensed – great pain and misery.

The psychic could feel the almost physical presence of people around her, huddled in blankets – sad and ill. As she turned away, she felt a tug on her trouser leg. There, standing in front of the window, was a small girl dressed in rags, with long, dirty, matted hair, crying. The spirit was searching for her mother, who had left her there, during the plague.

The psychic went out and bought the ghost a doll, which comforted the spirit. During your visit, you will see a pile of toys left there for the little ghost, and you are welcomed to leave your own.

Calton Hill

Calton Hill

Calton Hill is not only known as a place where witches were put to death by burning them alive. It was also a spot where pagan rituals have been held for centuries. The Beltane Fire Festival still takes place every year on the 30th of April.

Calton Hill is a popular spot for watching the sunset over the city, too.

West Bow

Victoria Street

Located between Victoria Street and Grassmarket, West Bow once was the home of Major Thomas Weir. He was also known as the Wizard of West Bow. Seemingly Weir was a well-respected member of the society. However, he had a secret life, filled with incest and witchcraft. He worshipped the Devil.

 

In 1670 he confessed about his evil life. Weir was sentenced to death and burned at the stake. The house where he lived was abandoned. No one wanted to live there, as it seemed haunted. Locals regularly reported seeing the windows lit up and shadows walking in the house. West Bow was one of the most haunted houses in Edinburgh at that time.

In 1878 the house was demolished. Yet, later was discovered that its remains were incorporated into a new building on Victoria Street – Quaker Meeting House.


More popular tours
Must buy tickets in advance

Edinburgh Castle – over 5,500 tourists visit the castle every day and lines are long, especially in the summer season. You can book your skip-the-line ticket here.

Another option is to use the Explorer Pass. I highly recommend it, if you’re planning to visit more than 2 castles.

Holyrood Palace – it’s also a popular attraction, so if you’re visiting in the high season, book your Holyroodhouse Palace ticket in advance.


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About the author
Avatar Milena Yordanova
I'm a travel blogger based in Sofia, Bulgaria. Travelling has always been my passion and I love to discover new places and cultures. I want to show you how easy it is to organize your vacation all by yourself.

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2 Replies to “The Dark Side of Edinburgh (Best Guide and Tours)”

  1. The Underground Vaults tour is a must-do! We had a very spooky time and our guide Fred was amazing!

    1. Hi Danny,
      I’m glad you enjoyed the tour! 🙂

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