I’m an avid fan of old cemeteries and Scotland has them in abundance. Edinburgh, Scotland’s compact and hilly capital, is home to incredibly beautiful historical cemeteries you shouldn’t miss during your visit. Such as the world’s most haunted graveyard which inspired the creation of several Harry Potter characters and is known for its connection with one extraordinarily loyal dog.
One of the beautiful things about the venerable graveyards in Edinburgh is the way life is harmoniously mixed in with the death. The weathered headstones, where history is buried underneath, are surrounded by lush green ivy, spring flowers and chirping birds that call these historic sites home.
If you enjoy wandering through graveyards heavy with the memories of those departed while soaking up the macabre atmosphere, you need to add these Edinburgh kirkyards onto your must-visit list.
9 Edinburgh graveyards you shouldn’t miss
Greyfriars Kirkyard is one of the most famous and popular Edinburgh cemeteries. A kirkyard is a churchyard in Scotland which surrounds a kirk (church). This Edinburgh graveyard is so highly acclaimed due to the stories of Greyfriars Bobby, the Skye Terrier who stood guard over his owner’s grave until his own death. There are also fascinating mysteries surrounding the Black Mausoleum of George MacKenzie.
Weather-worn gravestones masked with moss are scattered throughout the hilly grounds of the cemetery. The uneven surface of Greyfriars is caused by that which lies beneath the grass — half a million corpses buried in unmarked graves below create the rugged, unique landscape.
Edinburgh was once well-known for its grave robbers. The infamous Burke and Hare went as far as murdering people to meet the demands for cadavers for nearby universities. Greyfriars took it upon themselves to install mortsafes — iron cages built over graves and kept under lock and key to deter body snatchers.
The Mackenzie Poltergeist and MacKenzie’s Black Mausoleum
What would an old cemetery be without a ghost? Greyfriars has a resident spirit who likes to scratch and push people visiting his Black Mausoleum. Known as the Mackenzie Poltergeist, the spectre is thought to be the ghost of George MacKenzie — a cruel lawyer who oversaw the Edinburgh witch trials and was particularly brutal towards Covenanters (those part of the Scottish Presbyterian movement.)
Harry Potter in Greyfriars
If you’re a Harry Potter fan, be on the lookout for George Heriot’s School which you can see from the cemetery. This school was the inspiration for JK Rowling’s Hogwarts! Plus, you can also see the gravestone for Tom Riddell who inspired the character Voldemort.
Greyfriars Kirkyard tours
The City of the Dead does an incredible Haunted Graveyard Tour which gives you access to the Covenanter’s Prison and the Black Mausoleum. The tour is funny and provides stories detailing the history of the graveyard and its residents. Are you a fan of all things spooky be sure to check out my list of the spookiest places to visit in Edinburgh. Or, if you are planning on exploring all of Scotland you can also check out the Top 10 Seriously Spooky Places in Scotland blog post.
If ghosts aren’t your thing, take a Walking History tour of Greyfriars with City Tours Edinburgh instead.
Getting to Greyfriars Kirkyard
Directions: Greyfriars Kirkyard is located across the street from the National Museum of Scotland (which has free entry!) where you can see the world’s first cloned sheep, Dolly.
You can buy a map from the onsite gift shop, the Creepy Wee Shop in the Graveyard.
St. Cuthbert’s Kirkyard
Located in the midst of the bustling Lothian Road and Princes Street, St. Cuthbert’s Kirkyard offers a solace of peace and tranquillity, away from the surrounding chaos. This is another one of my favourite Edinburgh cemeteries because of its incredible beauty. Tree-lined paths shield you from the world as you walk among the blackened, timeworn mossy tombstones. Edinburgh Castle towers over St. Cuthbert’s from atop Castle Rock and provides stunning views of the cemetery with the impressive fortress looming in the background.
Be sure to visit the Parish Church of St. Cuthbert while exploring the graveyard. The church’s interior features spectacular stained-glass window art with scenes from the Bible, such as a depiction of David going to meet Goliath.
One of the more notable residents of St. Cuthbert’s is John Napier. He’s the mathematician who invented logarithms and is the namesake of Napier University in Edinburgh.
Getting to St. Cuthbert’s Kirkyard
Address: 5 Lothian Road, Edinburgh, Scotland
Directions: You can access St. Cuthbert’s Kirkyard from Princes Street Gardens. Just follow the gardens towards Lothian Road. The kirkyard is on the corner of Princes Street and Lothian Road.
Cemetery for Soldiers’ Dogs
This Edinburgh cemetery was a cute surprise I stumbled upon during my first visit to Edinburgh Castle. Although inaccessible to the general public, you can see the cemetery from above when looking out toward Princes Street from within the castle walls.
The Cemetery for Soldiers’ Dogs is home to several tombstones honouring dogs that belonged to high-ranking soldiers. Be on the lookout for one particular gravestone shaped like a dog house. The graveyard was created to provide soldiers’ dogs with a proper burial and to remember the great importance of the relationship and bond between dogs and their owners. It’s adorable and I love it!
Cemetery for Soldiers’ Dogs tours
Edinburgh Castle offers guided tours as well as audio tours if you want to explore on your own.
Getting to the Cemetery for Soldiers’ Dogs
The cemetery is only accessible through Edinburgh Castle. Edinburgh Castle is open daily 9:30 am – 5 pm and entry costs £18.50.
Address: Castlehill, Edinburgh EH1 2NG, UK
Directions: Edinburgh Castle is located high atop Castle Hill. Walk straight up the Royal Mile and Edinburgh Castle will be your final stop.
Located in the Canongate district on the Royal Mile, the Canongate was a semi-autonomous burgh until it was incorporated into Edinburgh in 1856. Within Canongate, sitting outside the gates of the Canongate Kirk is a bronze statue of Robert Fergusson, a depressed poet known for his hauntingly grim poetry. He’s one of the more famous residents of the cemetery, along with Adam Smith, known as the Father of Economics and author of Wealth of Nations.
If you’re into the macabre, you might be interested to know that Canongate Kirkyard is also home to James Douglas, the Earl of Drumlanrig. Nicknamed the Cannibalistic Idiot, James slaughtered, roasted and ate a young kitchen maid in the Queensbury House, where he was kept locked up for being violently insane.
Canongate Kirkyard tours
You can learn more about the history of Canongate’s most famous residents with Mercat Tours on their Doomed Dead and Buried Tour. The tour lasts nearly two hours, so wear your comfiest walking shoes.
Free Edinburgh cemetery historical tours: Guided tours with a local historian take place every Sunday May-September. Meet outside the church door at 1 pm.
Getting to Canongate Kirkyard
Address: 153 Canongate, Edinburgh EH8 8BN, UK
Directions: Walk down the Royal Mile toward Holyrood Castle and Arthur’s Seat. Canongate Kirkyard will be on the left. When you see the statue of Robert Fergusson you’re at the right place.
Old Calton Burial Ground
Just like Glasgow Necropolis, Old Calton Burial Ground bears a striking resemblance to the famous Père Lachaise in France. The gloomy atmosphere of the cemetery hangs heavy in the air as you wander along small pathways spotted with eccentric tombstones and mausoleums.
Perhaps the most notable piece is the large obelisk that towers over the cemetery. The column is a monument honouring the Political Martyrs’ Movement when five political reformists were imprisoned for campaigning for reform under the ideals of the French Revolution.
There’s another peculiar monument commemorating Abraham Lincoln at the Old Calton Burial Ground. This marker, which features a slave being released from his shackles below Lincoln, is a salute to the Scots who fought alongside the Americans in the American Civil War.
The Edinburgh cemetery is also home to Scottish philosopher David Hume, whose statue is located on the Royal Mile. Philosophy students come from all over the world to touch the toe of the statue, which has resulted in it being gradually worn away. The same fate has been bestowed upon the statue of the dear Greyfriars Bobby near Greyfriars Kirkyard. I really wish people would stop touching these statues — it slowly destroys what are incredible pieces of art and that makes me sad.
Old Calton Burial Ground tours
Edinburgh Cemetery Tours: Private Edinburgh Walking Tours
Getting to the Old Calton Burial Ground
Address: Waterloo Pl, Edinburgh EH8 8BG
Directions: From the steps leading to Calton Hill, walk toward Waterloo Place. The cemetery is just past Waterloo Place on the left.
New Calton Burial Ground
New Calton Burial Ground was created when the Old Calton Burial Ground was starting to overflow. As with many cemeteries in Scotland, body snatching was a huge issue during the construction of the New Calton Burial Ground. In addition to the mortsafes (like the ones built in Greyfriars), a three-storey circular watchtower was built in the upper corner of the cemetery, near the entrance, to protect the burial spots from grave robbers.
The cemetery was built on a steep slope which offers breathtaking views of Holyrood Palace, Arthur’s Seat and the less attractive Scottish Parliament Building.
Getting to New Calton Cemetery
Directions: Just a 9-minute walk from the Old Calton Burial Ground. Go past Calton Hill up Regent Road and New Calton Cemetery will be on your right.
Situated north of the picturesque Dean Village in Edinburgh, the historical Dean Cemetery opened in 1846 and was designed by David Cousin, the same architect responsible for the Warriston Cemetery listed below.
It’s a beautiful cemetery with several Victorian-style monuments and tombstones. The cemetery established itself as a fashionable and secure burial location, two traits that were hugely valuable at the time when grave robbers were prevalent throughout the capital. Because of this, Dean Cemetery is mostly home to the middle- and upper-class. It even has a section called the Lords’ Row which features a pyramid-shaped tomb that reminds me of the tombstone in New Orleans destined to be the future home of Nicolas Cage.
With such an incredibly beautiful layout, Dean Cemetery is truly a work of art and should not be missed!
Dean Cemetery tours
Guided tours of Dean Cemetery are available with the Dean Village Associate and can be booked online.
Getting to Dean Cemetery
Address: 63 Dean Path, Edinburgh EH4 3AT, UK
Directions: Located half a kilometre upstream from Dean Bridge on Dean Path, north of Ravelston Terrace.
Warriston Crematorium & Cemetery
Warriston Cemetery is a hidden gem found on the north side of the Water of Leith in the northern Edinburgh suburb of Warriston. Designed by David Cousin (the same architect responsible for Dean Cemetery) Warriston was the first garden cemetery in Edinburgh and was largely influenced by the Kensal Green Cemetery in London.
The graveyard contains thousands of graves from Victorian and Edwardian times which are being overrun by lush green ivy and overgrown trees due to years of neglect. But, as a big fan of abandoned sites, it makes it that much more beautiful to me.
In an effort to turn things around, the Friends of Warriston Cemetery are now taking care of the grounds and the gardens are slowly but surely fighting back to create a charming, verdant landscape. Be sure to visit the cemetery often to see the restoration progress by the FOWC volunteers.
Special thank you to Graham and Caroline from the Friends of Warriston Cemetery for allowing me to use the image of the cute robin sitting on top of a gravestone within the cemetery.
Getting to Warriston Cemetery & Crematorium
Hours: 9 am – 5 pm weekdays and 10 am – 4 pm on weekends
Bus Directions: You can catch the bus on the mound – number 27 to Silverknowes. Get off at St James Church and Warriston Cemetery will be 900m away. Alternatively, you can catch the number 23 bus toward Trinity and get off at Banghold Avenue. The cemetery is a 7-minute walk away from this spot.
Cramond Kirk is set in the village of Cramond on the outskirts of Edinburgh, just over five miles from Princes Street. It’s home to an incredibly beautiful old church that played a part in the Roman invasion of northern Britain. The Romans built a settlement on the land, which was largely used by the local population after the Romans left Scotland.
Surrounding the kirk is the Cramond Kirkyard, a tremendously peaceful graveyard with an array of gravestones adorned with images of skulls, snakes and other variations of Victorian symbolism.
Bonus: Be sure to check the coinciding tide charts for Cramond Island for when you visit the cemetery so you can combine your time at the graveyard with a trip to Cramond Island. The island is only accessible during low tide via a tidal causeway during low tide.
Getting to Cramond Kirkyard
Bus Directions: Take bus number 41 from Princes Street to Cramond Giebe Road
Dark Tourism Sites
Wandering through cemeteries is a form of dark tourism that can educate and captivate with its history. Learning about the people and their lives in Edinburgh is fascinating. After all, these people and their pasts helped create the Edinburgh we know today.
Edinburgh isn’t the only place in Scotland with fascinating cemeteries. Another one of my personal favourite Scottish cemeteries is the Glasgow Necropolis, with its moss-covered tombstones so badly weathered that the names have been quite literally dissolved by time. Be sure to add it to your list of cemeteries to visit on your adventures in Scotland.
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More Information about Dark Travels and Dark History in Scotland
- Spooky and Haunted Things to do in Edinburgh Scotland
- Top 10 Seriously Spooky Things to do in Scotland
- Witches in Scotland
- Things to do in Edinburgh: Surgeons’ Hall Museum
- Glasgow Necropolis – Exploring the City of the Dead