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Spooky & Haunted Attractions in Edinburgh Scotland

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Edinburgh Skyline at night from Calton Hill - overlooking the city full of spooky, scary and haunted attractions.

The capital of Scotland and Europe’s most haunted city, Edinburgh bears a grim and horrible past just waiting to be discovered. Edinburgh showcases its haunted, scary and spookiest places through gruesome supernatural stories and outright terrifying attractions.

With a history burdened by brutal witch trials, the ghastly plague epidemic and scads of tormenting, fear-inducing serial killers, the city is a dark tourist’s dream destination.

If you are thinking for things to do in Edinburgh that are off the beaten path this list of alternative ideas will help make your experience in Edinburgh unusual and unique. Explore Edinburgh’s underground city tours and learn the history behind the spread of the bubonic plague at Mary King’s Close. Then head down beneath the streets to the Edinburgh Underground Vaults to visit the ghostly residents trapped in the horrendous time when brothels and crime ruled the damp, dark chambers. Don’t forget to join one of the city’s abundant ghost tours and haunted tours which expose grave robbers, famous serial killers, witches, cannibals, and public executions.

There are many spots offering a view of Edinburgh’s frightening past. Some of them fall under the realm of unusual things to do in Edinburgh. Here are a few of my favourite places, scary attractions and some of the best ghost tours in Scotland’s dark capital.

Edinburgh’s Underground City

The Real Mary King’s Close

Plague Doctor in the Spooky Streets of Edinburgh ready to go down to the underground city of Mary King's Close to help plague victims
Plague Doctor

Mary King’s Close is a historic maze of alleyways and hidden passages tucked under the streets of the Royal Mile. Go below the pathways and take an Edinburgh underground city tour to explore the lanes that were once a hub of activity in Edinburgh’s long lost past.

The close (a Scottish name for street) was devastated in 1645 by the dreaded bubonic plague, known as the “Great Plague”, as a result of Edinburgh’s severely unhygienic conditions. Without a proper sewer system, residents of Mary King’s Close were forced to shout out “Gardyloo!” (meaning, “beware of the water”) as a warning, before dumping their waste directly into the streets. The dregs would flow down and collect in the Nor Loch, now Princes Street Gardens. These unsanitary conditions were a breeding ground for all kinds of filth, including flea-ridden rats carrying bubonic plague bacteria.

Check out the Podcast episode about Edinburgh’s Plague Infested Mary King’s Close

The close was sealed up shortly after Scotland was rid of the plague and today it offers an insightful glimpse into the way people lived in Edinburgh centuries ago. One of the close’s highlights is a famous Edinburgh ghost resident, known as Abandoned Annie. She’s a young soul who was deserted by her family and died of the plague. Each tour of the close is led by a guide in period dress who takes on a specific character from the time. You never know who you’ll meet!

Related Post- Discovering the Truth Behind Mary King's Close
Click here for the Related Post: Visiting Mary King’s Close

Related post: Discovering the Truth Behind Mary King’s Close

Located at 2 Warriston’s Close, High Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1PG

Hours: 9:30 am – 9:30 pm, 7 days a week

2019 Prices: Adult: £15.95, Child: £9.75, Student or over 60: £13.95

Book your trip to Mary King’s Close here.

Gilmerton Cove

Inside the tunnels of the Gilmerton Cove in Edinburgh Scotland
credit: scotsman.com

Located in the south end of Edinburgh on Drum Street, Gilmerton Cove is a hand-carved underground city with secret tunnels and chambers buried 10 feet below the city’s streets. If you are looking for different things to do in Edinburgh – a trip to Gilmerton Cove is just what you need. The chambers are home to sandstone furniture, including benches and tables, and there’s also a hand-carved chapel.

Shrewdly hidden from plain sight, the entrance to the tunnels is inside the home of a man who was once a locksmith and who is also believed to be the creator of the passageways.

Although the real purpose of Gilmerton Cove is a mystery, there are many theories surrounding its purpose. Historians suspect the tunnels may have been used as a drinking den, a refuge for the religious Covenanters (a Scottish Presbyterian movement) or as a hideout. Visit and decide for yourself what the underground dwellings were used for.

Located at 16A Drum Street in Edinburgh

Hours: Monday – Friday 11:00 am, 12:00 pm, 2:00 pm and 3:00 pm & Saturday & Sunday 12:00 pm, 2:00 pm and 3:00 pm

2019 Prices: Adult: £7.50, Child: £4, Student or over 60: £6.50

Access to Gilmerton Cove is by appointment only, so be sure to book here: Book your visit to Gilmerton Cove here.

Edinburgh Vaults Tours

Delve far below the city’s streets to discover Edinburgh’s underground vaults. The vaults aren’t streets, but chambers and rooms initially used as workspaces, storage rooms or business locales. But not long after they were built, the vaults began to flood due to not being properly sealed during construction. Severe flooding turned the vaults into a damp, unusable area, resulting in them being abandoned by their owners and users.  

Following their desertion, the dark tunnels were filled with criminals, brothels, illegal pubs and storage spaces for corpses looted by Edinburgh’s infamous murdering duo. Today, the vaults aren’t filled with illicit goings-on, but the dark history and ghost stories remain. See below for the list of the best tours to take you into the vaults.

Mercat Tours

Mercat Tours takes you down below the streets into the Blair Street Underground Vaults. Rediscovered in the 1980s, the vaults have become known as one of Edinburgh’s most famous haunted locations, providing visitors with a fascinating insight into Edinburgh’s underground life. There are many different ghost tours on offer, giving you the chance to venture into the haunted vaults and potentially meet the ghostly residents!

You can really feel the spirits around you as you hear their stories. If you have the opportunity to book a tour with guide Jared, don’t pass it up! He was an amazing storyteller and I still boast about how wonderful my tour was years ago. I managed to snap one quick picture of him when he was doing another tour, so check it out to see who you’re looking for.

A man with a brown beard and glasses stands in a black hooded cloak. He stands in front of a concrete wall speaking to a group of people on a ghost tour.
Tour guide Jared from Mercat Tours

Address: 28 Blair Street, Edinburgh EH1 1QR

Hours: 9:00am-10:00pm, 7 days a week

Book your Mercat Tour here.

Auld Reekie Tours

Auld Reekie takes you on a horrific adventure through the terror and torment of those tortured in the South Bridge Vaults. The tours include seeing a display of various torture devices used in Edinburgh’s past, such as a chastity belt and the “tongue tearer” — a tool used to remove the tongues of traitors.

This section of the vaults is where you’ll see a strange stone circle with mysterious stories as to its origin. You’re allowed to step inside the stone circle (I did!) but the guides don’t recommend it. Take a tour of the South Bridge Vaults and find out why!

Another intriguing section of these vaults was once a witchcraft temple, but, unfortunately, it’s no longer used for this purpose due to safety reasons. Venture down and hear all about the stories that lurk within the shadows of these vaults.

Address: 45 Niddry Street, Edinburgh EH1 1LG

Hours: 10:00 am – 10:00 pm, 7 days a week

Book your Auld Reekie Tour here.

City of the Dead Tours

The City of the Dead Tours takes you to a part of the South Bridge Vaults referred to as Damnation Alley, a spooky place home to a ghastly poltergeist known as the South Bridge Entity. I spent a night there as part of a ghost festival held in Edinburgh when Damnation Alley was first unsealed. Check out this post to read about my spooky experience spending a night in the vaults.

Address: Tree of the Dead (Side of St. Giles’ Cathedral), Royal Mile, Edinburgh, EH1 1RE

Hours: 10:30 am – 10:00 pm, 7 days a week

Book your City of the Dead Tour here.

Related Post: Spending a Night in Edinburgh's Underground Vaults
Related Post: Spending a Night in Edinburgh’s Underground Vaults

City of Edinburgh Tours

City of Edinburgh Tours has several spooky history and paranormal tours that take you through graveyards, Edinburgh’s Old Town and down into the depths of the vaults. The guides are actors who take inspiration from real people from Edinburgh’s past, meaning you could meet Dr. Knox (the doctor who bought corpses) or the Deacon Brodie (respectable tradesman by day, criminal by night). Whoever you get leading your group, having a guide fully take on the persona of a historical character is an incredible experience. One of their best tours is the Extreme Paranormal Ghost Tour which is convincing enough to turn skeptics into believers!

Address: Old Police Box, 9 Hunter Square, Royal Mile, Edinburgh, EH1 1QS

Hours: 11:00 am – 10:30 pm, 7 days a week

Book your City of Edinburgh Vault Tour here.

Edinburgh Ghost Tours

Haunted and Scary Black Mausoleum in Edinburgh Greyfriars Kirkyard
Visit the Haunted Black Mausoleum on one of Edinburgh’s Ghost Tours

Ghosts and Edinburgh go hand in hand. From ghost stories rising up from Edinburgh’s underground vaults and eerie haunted graveyard visits to historical tours of Edinburgh’s Old Town and discovering the best ghost tour in Edinburgh, the city isn’t short of spooky, ghostly and scary Edinburgh ghost attraction sites.

Each of the vaults in the capital has its own lineup of ghostly residents. Whether you’d rather rub shoulders with the friendly cobbler from the Blair Streets vaults or the malevolent South Bridge Entity of Damnation Alley, there are plenty of Edinburgh ghost tours to choose from within the vaults. My personal favourite that I consider to be the best ghost tour in Edinburgh is the one with Mercat Tours.

Best Ghost Tour in Edinburgh

While all the above offer awesome vault tours and ghost tours, I think the best ghost tour in Edinburgh is the Hidden & Haunted Tour. This adventure takes place in the evening and is too scary for anyone under 18! During the tour, you’ll follow a guide through the dark streets of Edinburgh’s Old Town.

Each ghost tour company has its own unique route which leads you down to different parts of the vaults where they’ll tell you their own renditions of the city’s sordid history and the notorious ghost stories that go with them. If you have the time, I recommend taking a tour with each of the companies. They’re all really great, brimming with one-of-a-kind narratives you won’t hear elsewhere while being introduced to new areas you never knew existed. If you have the time for only one, it’s got to be the Hidden & Haunted Tour with Mercat.

If you’ve got a tight budget to stick to, consider the free ghost tour in Edinburgh with City Explorers Tours. You’ll hear all kinds of dark stories about the scary things that happened in Old Town Edinburgh, including public executions and the tortured souls locked away from the public eye in dreary jail cells. You can join a tour at 154 High Street every night at 7:00 pm and 9:30 pm. Book here: Free Ghost Tour

Haunted Cemeteries

Greyfriars Kirkyard

Greyfriar's Cemetery during the day for spooky scary ghost tours

One of the most haunted cemeteries in the world, Greyfriars Kirkyard is an absolute must-visit! Its most famous resident is violent poltergeist George Mackenzie, now better known as the Mackenzie Poltergeist. He’s rumored to have been released by an unsuspecting homeless man who broke into the Black Mausoleum and accidentally disturbed Mackenzie’s spirit.

Mackenzie’s mausoleum is connected to the Covenanters’ Prison, where living conditions were brutal — prisoners were frequently tortured and starved. Several ghostly attacks have been reported by visitors, including bruises, scratches and burning sensations.

There’s more to Greyfriars Kirkyard than its evil history. This dark tourism site is also well known for the heartwarming story of Greyfriars Bobby, a loyal Skye terrier who stood watch over his deceased owner’s grave for 14 years until his own eventual death.

The best ghostly graveyard tour has to be with City of the Dead. If you want to be touched, scratched or feel a general sense of fright, I highly recommend taking the haunted graveyard tour. It’s one of the most paranormally active tours you can take. The tour guides you to the famous Greyfriars Kirkyard which houses the Black Mausoleum, home to the Mackenzie Poltergeist. There have been many stories of the Mackenzie Poltergeist scratching or causing distress to tour patrons, so watch out!

City of the Dead:  Tree of the Dead’ (Side of St. Giles’ Cathedral), Royal Mile, Edinburgh, EH1 1RE

Hours: 10:30 am – 10:00 pm, 7 days a week

Book your Haunted Graveyard Tour here.

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To learn more about Greyfriars and other graveyards to visit in Edinburgh, check out my post on Historical Edinburgh Cemeteries to Explore.

Canongate Graveyard

Canongate Kirk in Edinburgh at night. Bright red doors light up the large building on the Royal Mile.
Canongate Kirk – the graveyard is behind the fence near the kirk to the right.

Mercat Tours offers a graveyard tour which visits Canongate graveyard. The cloaked guide will escort you along the streets toward Canongate, recounting various historical and spooky tales from Edinburgh’s Old Town on the way to your final destination in Canongate Graveyard. Canongate is known for the awful story of a man who ate his kitchen maid. Learn more about him and the other famous residents who now call Canongate Graveyard home.

Address: 28 Blair Street, Edinburgh EH1 1QR

Hours: 9:00 am – 10:00 pm, 7 days a week

Book your Mercat Tours – Gallows to Graveyard Tour here.

Haunted Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle at night - spooky, scary and haunted in Edinburgh

With over 900 years of history, Edinburgh Castle (originally built as a royal fortress), is a hotspot for ghostly activity. Once home to royals such as Mary Queen of Scots, the castle was also used as a military barracks and contained prison vaults for holding captured prisoners of war.

Visitors to the castle have reported witnessing apparitions, shadowy figures, drastic temperature changes, and ghostly sounds. Spectral residents include a young bagpiper boy who was sent to investigate the tunnels beneath the castle. He was instructed to play the bagpipes as loud as possible so those above ground could trace the network of tunnels. He was dutifully completing his task when the sound of bagpipes suddenly stopped as the boy reached the area below the Tron Kirk on the Royal Mile.

Rescue teams marched into the tunnels in search of the boy, but he was never found. The tunnels were subsequently sealed off and today people claim to hear the faint sounds of bagpipes coming from beneath the castle. Who wouldn’t want to visit a real-life haunted castle?

Edinburgh Castle: Castlehill, Edinburgh EH1 2NG, UK

Hours: 9:30 am – 6:00 pm, 7 days a week

Book your Edinburgh Castle tickets here.

The Edinburgh Dungeon

The entrance to the spooky and scary Edinburgh Dungeon.

The Edinburgh Dungeons are located just off of Princes Street and offer 12 interactive experiences. During your visit, you’ll get to hang out with live actors and take a spooky step back in time to some of Edinburgh’s most appalling periods of history.

Actors regularly call visitors out, accusing those on the tour of witchcraft or describing in great detail the ways they’re going to torture you, so prepare yourself! Real historical events are turned into stories in the Dungeons. You’ll get to meet Agnes Finnie, a real witch accused of witchcraft, survive a brush with the cannibal Sawney Bean and experience being dropped from the gallows on a free-fall drop ride.

A visit to the Edinburgh Dungeons is a funny, over-the-top experience that will give you a bit of fright while educating you on some of Edinburgh’s dark history.

Located at 31 Market Street, Edinburgh EH1 1DF

Hours: 10:00 am – 5:00 pm every day, except Saturday is 10:00am-6:00pm

Book your ticket to the Edinburgh Dungeon’s here.

The Ghost Bus Tours

The Edinburgh Ghost Bus - A Spooky and Scary Ghost Tour Bus

If you’re in the mood for a theatrical show while traveling around Edinburgh and visiting the spine-tingling spooky sites on the ultimate Edinburgh Ghost tour, be sure to hop onto the 1960’s black double-decker bus known as Ghost Bus Tours.

The bus will take you to sites like Greyfriars Kirk, Holyrood Palace and all the way up to Calton Hill on a tour led by an eerie conductor who’ll leave you in fits of giggles while treating you to a frightful night of comedy horror.

The bus leaves from Waverley Bridge next to Princes Street Gardens.

Hours: Sunday-Thursday 7:30 pm & 9:00 pm, Friday and Saturday: 6:00 pm, 7:30 pm & 9:00 pm

Book your Comedy Horror Show: The Ghost Bus Tours here.

Holyrood Palace

Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh

The official residence of Queen Elizabeth II while in Edinburgh, Holyrood Palace was once home to Mary Queen of Scots. Mary had a personal secretary named David Rizzio, who was an Italian musician. She was originally looking for a bass to sing in a quartet of French singers and offered Rizzio a job when he caught her eye.

Although she fell in love with Lord Darnley, married him and was pregnant by him, Mary always remained very close to Rizzio and he soon became her private secretary.

Lord Darnley, who led a life littered with alcohol and brothels, demanded Mary give him the crown matrimonial so he could become the King of Scotland. She refused and Lord Darnley grew incredibly jealous of her close relationship with Rizzio. Some even believed that the child Mary was carrying wasn’t Lord Darnley’s, but instead Rizzio’s.

Darnley and his men plotted against Rizzio and ended his life by stabbing him 56 times in front of the pregnant Mary Queen of Scots.

You can visit the room in Holyrood Palace where this dreadful event occurred and see the plaque dedicated to David Rizzio. Some say you can even spot Rizzio’s blood stains splattered on wooden planks there.

The royal secretary was buried in the Canongate Kirkyard just up the Royal Mile. Read more about Edinburgh’s cemeteries and the history behind them here.

Another interesting building located at Holyrood Palace is Mary Queen of Scots’ bath house — a small cottage-like place where Mary would bathe in sweet white wine. You can find the bathhouse on the west side of the palace grounds and you can see it from the outside without going into the palace itself.

Queen Mary's Bath House near Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh
Queen Mary’s Bath House

Holyrood Palace Address: Canongate, Edinburgh, EH8 8DX (Across the street from the parliament building and adjacent to Arthur’s Seat)

Hours: 9:30 am – 6:00 pm, 7 days a week

Book your ticket to Holyrood Palace here.

Queen Mary’s Bath House: 3 Abbeyhill, Edinburgh, EH8 8DY

Witches in Scotland

Witches in the Forest

Witch accusations were common in Edinburgh during the 16th century. As witchcraft was a crime in the city punishable by death, hundreds of accused witches met their terrible fate and were burned at the stake. The burnings took place on the castle esplanade at Castlehill, which is where the Witches’ Well and the Witchery by the Castle stands today.

Check out the Podcast – Witches in Scotland

The Witches’ Well is a bronze plaque depicting images of witches’ heads tangled up with a snake that also functions as a fountain. It commemorates the women who lost their lives when they were accused of witchcraft, before being persecuted, tortured, dunked in Nor’ Loch (now home to Princes Street Gardens) and ultimately burned at the stake. Some suspected witches were burned to death on Edinburgh’s historic Calton Hill.

Visiting Witches’ Well: As you walk up the Royal Mile towards Edinburgh Castle, take a right just as you pass the shop “The Tartan Weaving Mill” and you can’t miss it.

The Witchery by the Castle: 352 Castlehill, Edinburgh, EH1 2NF (Restaurant and hotel)

Book The Witches of Ediburgh Tour here.

To learn more about witches and witchcraft in Scotland, check out my post on where to find witches in Scotland.

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Click here to go to the related post: Witchcraft in Scotland

Arthur’s Seat – Coffin Dolls

Tiny wooden coffins containing tiny dolls made of wood.

Dominating Edinburgh’s skies is the extinct volcano known as Arthur’s Seat. At Holyrood Park, just 15 minutes away from the Royal Mile, this natural wonder is the main peak of a spectacular group of hills blanketed with heather and wildflowers to the east of Salisbury Crags. It’s a fairly easy climb to the top, from where your trek will be rewarded with stunning panoramic views of Edinburgh and beyond.

Arthur’s Seat has its own dose of dark history and there are some peculiar mysteries surrounding it.

Check out the Podcast – The Coffin Dolls of Edinburgh Scotland

In 1836, some schoolboys from Edinburgh discovered 17 miniature coffins housing tiny wooden dolls in custom-made clothing. The coffins were laid out in two rows of eight, with the final coffin resting on the top.

The coffin dolls have remained a mystery in Scotland ever since they were discovered. Several theories involving possible ties to witchcraft, ancient customs honoring those who died abroad and Christian burials for sailors who died at sea surfaced, but none really fall in line with Scottish history.

In the 1990s, University of Edinburgh Professor, Samuel Menefee, and former National Museums of Scotland curator, Dr. Allen Simpson, theorized that the dolls were connected to the 17 individuals who were murdered by Edinburgh’s infamous Burke and Hare.

Simpson and Menefee state that the clothes the dolls were wearing were from fabric dated around 1830, which was just two years after the infamous murders. They also noted that the coffins and dolls were likely carved by a shoemaker, due to the use of a hooked knife. This ties William Burke to the dolls, as he was a shoemaker by profession.

Arthur's Seat lined with people climbing in Edinburgh, Scotland

The Burke and Hare theory seems to be the most plausible. But there are some discrepancies which discredit it. Most of the Burke and Hare victims were women, but the dolls were found wearing men’s clothing. They were also carved with their eyes open, a trait generally reserved for the living and not the dead.

Could the dolls have been carved by William Burke as an offer to help honour his victims and give them a proper Christian burial? Or were the dolls created for another reason that remains unknown? Whatever their origin, the dolls are still incredibly mysterious and intriguing!

Many of the dolls were damaged and destroyed, but the eight remaining dolls that survived are on display at the National Museum of Scotland.

Arthur’s Seat: At the bottom of the Royal Mile, next to Holyrood Palace

National Museum of Scotland: Chambers Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1JF (Across the street from Greyfriars Kirkyard).

Hours: 10:00 am – 5:00 pm, 7 days a week

Price: Free

Haunted Edinburgh Pubs

The White Hart Inn

The White Hart Inn in the Grassmarket in Edinburgh

At just over 500 years old, The White Hart Inn is one of Edinburgh’s oldest pubs. Found in the lively Grassmarket, just below Edinburgh Castle, the pub has a history of paranormal activity, including the sounds of doors being slammed and disembodied footsteps, the sensation of hair pulling and visions of the Edinburgh ghost in the form of dark shadows moving around the pub.

As well as the ghost stories, White Hart Inn is rumored to be one of the spots where Burke and Hare would persuade pub patrons to stay at their home, offering them food, drinks, and a restful sleep before killing them and selling their bodies to the Edinburgh Medical School.

Address: 34 Grassmarket, Edinburgh EH1 2JU

Hours: Friday and Saturday: 11:00 am – 1:00 am, Sunday-Thursday: 11:00 am – 12:00 am

Banshee Labyrinth

Banshee Labyrinth Pub - Scotlands Most Haunted Pub

Known as Scotland’s most haunted pub, the Banshee Labyrinth is a must for any ghost hunter! The Banshee is a public house that also displays half of the Niddry Street vaults, originally part of the underground vaults.

If you want a taste of the vaults but are too scared to join an Edinburgh underground tour deep beneath the city streets, the Banshee Labyrinth provides a milder vault experience.

The vaults were once a place where criminals and thieves, as well as the poor and innocent, met their grisly ends. The front half of the club formerly belonged to one of Edinburgh’s richest men, Lord Nicol Edwards, who was rumoured to have a basement dungeon where he would torture suspected witches before their trials.

The horrible history of the place makes a visit here a truly haunting experience. Many spirits are said to walk around the area, including a Banshee who takes pub patrons’ drinks and smashes them against the walls!

Address: 29-35 Niddry Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1LG

Hours: Friday-Sunday: 5:00 pm – 3:00 am, Monday-Thursday: 7:00 pm – 3:00 am

The Last Drop

The Haunted Last Drop Pub in Edinburgh Scotland

The Last Drop Tavern is situated next to the gallows in Edinburgh’s Grassmarket. Now a trendy area full of lively pubs, the Grassmarket was once the place where many public hangings were carried out.

Where now stands a pub was once a large group of tenement buildings for the very poor. The current structure was rebuilt using the original tone from the former tenements, which is why pub patrons suspect the tavern is haunted.

You might think the name the Last Drop is a play on words referring to drinking. But the pub is actually named after the last hanging that took place in the Grassmarket. 

Address: 74-78 Grassmarket, Edinburgh, EH1 2JR

Hours: Tuesday-Saturday: 12:00 pm – 2:00 am, Sunday: 12:00 pm – 11:00 pm, Monday 2:00 pm – 2:00 am

Related Post - 10 Seriously Spooky Places to Visit in Scotland
Related Post – 10 Seriously Spooky Places to Visit in Scotland

Burke and Hare – Edinburgh’s Infamous Body Snatchers

In the early 1800s, Edinburgh’s medical science technology was incredibly advanced. However, during this time, surgeons and medical students could practice on and study just one executed criminal’s body per year.

Bodies were needed in the medical field for dissection to further understand the anatomy of human beings. As the demand for them grew increasingly higher, due to more and more students attending medical schools, criminals soon found a profitable solution. Body snatching became the new money-making scheme since doctors and medical schools would pay hefty sums for cadavers to work on.

William Burke and William Hare accidentally stumbled into the world of body snatching and murder after selling the body of one of their deceased tenants from Hare’s lodging house to Dr. Robert Knox, a lecturer, and anatomist who ran an anatomy school in Edinburgh.

As body snatching was such a prevalent problem, graveyards and families of the recently deceased did everything they could to prevent “resurrectionists” from stealing bodies. Prevention methods included using mortsafes, nailing bodies to the inside of coffins and keeping bodies elsewhere until they were decomposed enough to be useless to the medical community. People believed that bodies which had been dissected would not make it to the afterlife, so keeping them in one piece was incredibly important.

Fueled by greed, and with the prevention methods making grave robbing a challenging task, Burke and Hare turned to murder. The duo would lure people to Hare’s lodging from local pubs (like the White Hart Inn) where they’d murder their victims by suffocating them.

It was at this time the word “burking” was coined, referring to the act of killing someone through suffocation, leaving the body as pristine and mark-free as possible.

There are also rumours that Burke and Hare would commit murder and store bodies within the chambers of the South Bridge vaults before selling them to Dr. Knox.

In total, Burke and Hare murdered 16 people before being arrested. 17 bodies were sold to Dr. Knox, but the first death was as a result of natural causes. Hare testified against Burke and was granted immunity for the murders. Burke, however, was charged with the murders and hanged for his crimes. His body ended up being dissected at the University of Edinburgh.

William Burke was hanged in Edinburgh’s Lawnmarket and you can find actual pieces of him throughout the city. You can see his death mask and a book with a cover made of his skin at the Surgeons’ Hall Museum in Edinburgh. Burke’s skeleton, which was preserved after his dissection, can be found at the Anatomical Museum at the University of Edinburgh.

Surgeons’ Hall Museum: Nicolson Street, Edinburgh, EH8 9DW

Hours: 10:00am-5:00pm 7 days a week

2019 Prices: Adult: £7.50, Child (under 5): Free, Student or over 60: £4 (Pay on arrival)

The Anatomical Museum, The University of Edinburgh: Old College South Bridge Teviot Place, Doorway 3, Medical School, Teviot Place, Edinburgh, EH8 9AG

Hours: Open on the last Saturday of every month.

Prices: Free

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Deacon Brodies Tavern in Edinburgh - The Scary Double Life

Deacon Brodie was a craftsman and city councilor in Edinburgh, well respected by his peers and the townsfolk. However, Brodie had a dark secret and used his cabinet-making and locksmith skills for evil. Having access to the houses of the rich, Brodie would make duplicate copies of keys so he could go back in the night and burgle them.

He soon became a member of the Cape, a tavern in Fleshmarket Close that fuelled his gambling addiction. As well as this financial drain, Brodie also had to support his two mistresses and five children.

To cover his ever-increasing costs, he turned to additional crimes which finally caught up with him, resulting in a public hanging at the Tolbooth Gallows. These gallows were located just outside of St. Giles Cathedral and are now marked by the Heart of the Midlothian.

Rumour has it that the respectable tradesman and his double life of crime was an inspiration for Edinburgh author Robert Louis Stevenson when he was writing the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Another place worth visiting is Brodie’s Close, the former workshop and home of William Brodie. Like any other area with such a macabre history attached, people have claimed to see the spirit of Brodie and a demonic horse that travels with him in this spot.

Visit Deacon Brodie’s Tavern: 435 Lawnmarket , Edinburgh, EH1 2NT

Hours: Sunday-Thursday: 12:00pm-12:00am, Friday and Saturday: 11:00am-1:00am

Brodie’s Close: 304 Lawnmarket, Edinburgh, EH1 2PS (Next to Deacon’s House Café)

The Wizard of West Bow

Victoria Street, Edinburgh - Wizard of West Bow's Apartments

West Bow is an arched street connecting Grassmarket with Castlehill. Today you can access it via Victoria Street towards the Upper Bow. This historical street was once home to a man who lived a life full of secrets.

Thomas Weir was a respected former high ranking soldier who was tried as a witch. When he fell ill, he decided to confess to being the servant of the Devil, while also implicating his sister, Grizel, claiming they had an incestuous relationship.

Grizel confirmed her brother’s confessions and the two of them were sent to trial. Both were hanged and burned to death. Several neighbours claimed to witness strange sights and sounds at the Weir household following the dreadful event, sparking fear in all who lived in the area.

Eventually, the Weir house was converted into the Quaker Meeting House, but its gruesome history cannot be forgotten and there are reports of similar ghostly sightings and strange shadows lurking within the revitalized building today.

Address of the Quaker Meeting House: 7 Victoria Street, Edinburgh, EH1 2JL

This is used as a venue for Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival held every August.

Surgeons’ Hall Museum

Exterior of Surgeons' Hall Museum in Edinburgh

If you’ve ever wanted to see amputated fingers, surgically removed organs or diseased brains and skulls in jars, the Surgeons’ Hall Museum is your place. Surgeons’ Hall Museum is one of the more unique things to do in Edinburgh and is definitely a hidden gem for seekers of the alternative sites to see. The exhibitions are split up into pathology, dental and surgery, so you can discover how various different medical practices worked in the past.

I look at the museum as one of the best educational things to do in Edinburgh, Scotland, as it provides you with loads of fascinating information about the human body. The museum also guards the death mask (a plaster cast of a person’s face following their death) and a book said to be made of the skin of the infamous William Burke — half of the body snatchers duo Burke and Hare. The museum also features a section dedicated to Dr. Knox who purchased the corpses from the serial killing pair.

Surgeons’ Hall Museum: Nicolson Street, Edinburgh, EH8 9DW

Hours: 10:00am-5:00pm 7 days a week

2019 Prices: Adult: £7.50, Child (under 5): Free, Student or over 60: £4 (Pay on arrival)

Dark Tourism in Scotland

Visiting graveyards, seeing where witches met their grisly fates and spending evenings in the underground vaults where criminals once ran rampant are just some of the dark tourism activities you can experience in Scotland. If you want to visit more dark tourist or spooky sites in Scotland (and around the world!) check out my pages on either Dark Tourism or Spooky Travel.

The Ultimate List of Spooky, Haunted and Scary Edinburgh Attractions
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Comments 30

  1. This is perfect! Heading to Edinburgh soon and can’t wait to check all of these things out!

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      Thanks Kylee! It’s an amazing city! I hope you have a great time! Be sure to check out Arthurs Seat as well.

  2. Very cool! I’ve never been to Edinburgh but I can’t wait to make it there. It’s even on the short list of cities my partner and I are considering moving to in the UK. I’ve always wanted to go on a ghost tour or a haunted tour and it sounds like Edinburgh may be the place to do it!

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      Oh! Edinburgh is such a great city to live in! I moved there for 2 years for a “working holiday” and it was the best decision of my life. I recommend definitely move it closer to the top of the list! The ghost and haunted tours in Edinburgh are all really good. I hope you love it whenever you decide to visit.

  3. We’re hoping to go on a British Isles cruise with a port stop in Edinburgh. Thanks for the recommendation of touring with Jared from Mercat Tours. That sounds like a great excursion!

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      Oh! You will have a great time! Edinburgh is an amazing city. Jared was such an incredible tour guide – I really hope you get a chance to take one of his tours. Thanks for your comment!

  4. I love Edinburgh. The Mary King Close is one of my favourite tours, so much so I’ve done it twice. There’s a few more here for when I’m back next. Thanks for the inspiration

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      Same! I swear I have been to Mary Kings Close so often I could recite the tour by heart, haha. Hope you enjoy your spooky adventures on your next visit!

      1. Thank you. I shall indeed. If you get to Dublin I recommend St Michans Church. There is a crypt with mummies and a really creepy tour guide

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          I was planning on heading to Ireland next year when I visit Scotland again. I will be sure to check this place out! Thank you for the recommendation!

  5. Great post Crystal! I’ve never been to Edinburgh but really want to. Love these off the beaten track recommendations too. My sister is an avid ghost hunter so I might try and sell the idea of a trip to her! 🙂

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      Thank you Sheree! I really hope you make it up to Scotland this year! Bring your sister along for some really fun ghost related tours and adventures. You will both have an incredible time. Plus, Edinburgh is beautiful so you really can’t lose.

  6. Oooooooh. This is an interesting list. I’d love to visit the Edinburgh Castle. Have you had any spooky experiences from any of the places listed above? Would love to hear about them!

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      I think the spookiest experience I had during one of my visits to these places was one of the tours I took with mercat tours in the south bridge vaults. The tour guide was talking about the history of the vaults and he appeared to be visibly spooked and uncomfortable.

      He kept looking in the corner with genuine fear. He didn’t mention it at all – just looked like he was trying to calm himself down. The fact that he tried to act normal and play it off made me feel like whatever was scaring him was real. Otherwise, nothing incredibly scary has happened to me personally on one of these tours.

      Oh, another tour I was on a girl fainted and said she wasn’t feeling well (which seems like a common theme for some people). I did do an overnight vault visit that I wrote a blog about. I am either posting it tomorrow or next week so please check back if you are interested in hearing about spooky experiences! Thanks for you comment!

  7. Hi Crystal
    This was an excellent blog, so much information. The part about Burkes skin made into a book cover was pretty gross. I wonder if J.K. Rowling got any of her inspiration from any of these events. There is so much scary history in Scotland. If I go there someday I for sure want to go on some of these tours. Thanks for posting such great blogs and I’m not saying that because we are related. Haha.

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      Thanks! I know – the book doesn’t really look like it’s made of skin (at least what I would picture a book of skin looking like) but it does look like leather so it could be! Yeah – JK Rowling definitely got inspiration from various parts of Edinburgh so she may have had some inspiration from the Burke & Hare story!

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  8. I loved this post Crystal.. I think we are gonna do the Holyrood Palace and the ghost bus tour for sure .. What was your favorite as we have only 3 days in Edinburgh?

    Thanks,
    Zarina

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      Thank you so much, Zarina! So, I really love Mary King’s Close – it is a bit creepy but barely. They take you down to a real street that existed so long ago. It’s a really cool historic experience! Otherwise, I think the Palace and the Ghost Bus Tour will be amazing! Just be sure to walk around the Royal Mile, maybe head down to the Grassmarket for a drink! I can’t wait for you to visit Scotland!

  9. Those Vaults seem extra creepy to me. Besides that they flooded as you said, there must be some wild things that happened there. They almost look like Coudenberg Palace in Brussels, at least from the picture. Nothing that crazy happened there–just a different street level now that was built over the burnt little palace.

    A haunted pub or two sound awesome to me! I know what I am doing when I visit.

    I also just wanted to say how much I love your New Orleans spooky travel guide page. That’s awesome. I can tell how hard you’ve been working on your blog, and it looks amazing.

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      I know! That’s why you shouldn’t cut corners when it comes to construction! I definitely need to look up Coudenberg Palace! Even if it’s not creepy, I still enjoy seeing below the streets. Offers some sort of history. Edinburgh has some pretty incredible pubs! Haunted or not. Thank you so much for your compliment on my spooky city guide! I hope that Google likes it as it’s a page rather than a blog post! It took me a full 2 days, working well into the evening to get it looking the way it does. I am trying to add some pins to it but it is refusing to save after I make the change. I will try again!

      1. The Coudenberg is amazing. It’s one of my favourite spots in Brussels. Also, I second Christine: your spooky travel guide is AMAZING and it shows that you put an absurd amount of work in!

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          Okay, you both have convinced me to look into The Coudenberg! I mean I am already completely in love with Belgium but things like that add even more excitement! And thank you so much!

  10. So many great places on this list! You’re really making me want to go back to Edinburgh! I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Scotland, but mostly in the Highlands. My time in Edinburgh was brief. I was there for the Fringe Festival one year, and even then, only for a day before headed to the Highlands. So suffice it to say, I didn’t do enough exploring. And I definitely didn’t get to see any of these. So you’re making us wonder when we can pencil Edinburgh into our schedules.

    I have to say my favourite is probably the Jekyll and Hyde. Not because I’m a big drinker, but just because I like silly wordplay, literary allusions and horror classics. Plus the history behind it is quite interesting.

    Oh, and that coffin doll story is pretty damn creepy!

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      Yes! Edinburgh is such a great place full of so much dark history. There was another pub in Edinburgh called Jekyll and Hyde that you would have loved! It’s no longer around but similar to the other pub – the bathrooms were hidden behind a wall. It was so cool! If you get a chance you should also take a trip to the museum to see the coffin dolls. I really wonder what the true story behind their existence is!

  11. I took pictures in the vaults in Edinburgh when I visited with my sister a couple years ago. When I got home with my phone pictures in hand my husband and I looked thru them. As I was about to delete the bad pictures he noticed something in one of the pictures. We look and I lightened up the image we had no explanation on what we saw. I would love to share the photos.

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      I would love to see them! Feel free to send them my way via social media or email them to me at crystal (@) wanderingcrystal.com. Which vaults were you visiting during your stay? Hope to hear from you!

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