A complete guide to dark tourism in Edinburgh, Scotland (+ the most haunted places to visit and the best ghost tours).
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 ghosts, 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.
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
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.
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.
Free Ghost Tour – discover the dark side of the Royal Mile and the most famous graveyard in Edinburgh. You’ll hear chilling tales of bodysnatchers and the most vengeful witches.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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 welcome to leave your own.
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.
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.
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.
Holyrood Palace – it’s also a popular attraction, so if you’re visiting in the high season, book your Holyroodhouse Palace ticket in advance.
Edinburgh Dark Tourism sites map
To help you navigate, I created this map with all the spooky sites in Edinburgh.
The sites you can visit are marked in dark pink, the one you can see only outside – in pink.