The Most Haunted Places in Edinburgh’s Old Town
Scotland’s international horror film festival, Dead by Dawn, is creeping up on us and will take place at Edinburgh’s Filmhouse on April 21st to 24th. It is the UK’s longest running horror film festival with 22 previous editions and definitely worth a visit if you’re in town. With Edinburgh being renowned for its ghostly sightings, it’s hard to imagine a better city for a festival like this. In honour of Dead by Dawn we thought it would be interesting to take a look at some of the most haunted locations in the historical Old Town.
With a history of more than 2,000 years and having been the site of torture and many a battle, it’s no wonder that Edinburgh’s most iconic landmark is said to be haunted. If you visit the castle listen carefully and you might hear the sound of drums, music or mysterious knocking sounds. Or perhaps witness strange lights or shadowy figures. Or even worse: get the feeling of being touched, pulled or a sudden intense feeling of dread and despair.
The most famous of Edinburgh Castle’s ghosts is the piper who was sent down to explore the tunnels beneath the castle a few hundred years ago. He played his pipes as he went but halfway down the Royal Mile the music suddenly stopped. The piper was never found, but is said to still be walking the Royal Mile to this day.
You might be interested to know that some paranormal investigations were carried out as part of the International Science Festival in 2001 and the results did reinforce the ghost stories…
The South Bridge Vaults
Hidden under one of Edinburgh’s busiest streets is South Bridge with its 19 stone arches holding a large number of vaulted chambers within them. The bridge was completed in 1788 and was used by local businesses as workspaces, storage or to house taverns. Business flourished and to accommodate the expanding shops, tenement houses were built on both sides of 18 of the arches, leaving only the Cowgate arch visible.
The bridge was built on such a low budget that it had never been waterproofed, leading to the vaults becoming increasingly damp and eventually starting to flood. The businesses abandoned them and the city’s poorest moved in and brothels and pubs started to emerge too. As you can imagine, this was a place where crime and murder flourished. The famous serial killers Burke and Hare who sold corpses to medical schools are said to have hunted for their victims in the crowded South Bridge vaults.
There are many guided tours that venture into the haunted chambers and tell you a ghost story or two. If you want to take it to the next level you can book a Vaults Vigil tour with Mercat Tours and spend the night underground!
The Banshee Labyrinth
This Old Town rock and metal bar claims to be Scotland’s most haunted pub – and we don’t find it hard to believe as it is partially located in some of the subterranean South Bridge vaults mentioned in the last paragraph. The bar is made up of seven rooms and a cinema occupying one of the vaults. Must be the scariest cinema in town!
The bar gets the latter part of its name from its greenlit corridors joining the seven rooms – which can be a bit of a maze as you can imagine. The former part stems from the stories of the pub allegedly being occupied by a banshee: a female spirit whose wailing warns of a death in a house. There is a story of a group of workmen who heard a spine-tingling scream followed by a call about the death of one of the workmen’s family member moments later…
Incidents where drinks fly off tables and are thrown against the wall by an invisible force have been reported as well. The bar is also an Edinburgh Festival venue with three performing spaces. Just remember to hold on to your drink if you visit!
Mary King’s Close
If we were to go back 400 years Mary King’s Close would have been a normal busy street in Edinburgh’s Old Town, open to the skies like any other. Today the close that is named after a prominent businesswoman from the 1630’s is hidden underground and home to several unnerving urban legends. It is actually not just one close, but a warren of narrow streets.
Since the 17th century there have been reports of supernatural sightings and paranormal activity in Mary King’s Close. During the great plague in 1645, victims were supposedly quarantined and left to die in the street, which was then covered up and abandoned for many years to come.
The close was reopened to the public in 2003 and is now one of Edinburgh’s most popular tourist attractions, open seven days a week with tours taking place every 15 minutes. It’s a great way of learning about what life in Edinburgh was like between the 16th and 19th centuries – and perhaps even see a ghostly figure from that time!
The West Bow house of horrors
You might not have heard of this one but the West Bow house was once recognised as Edinburgh’s most haunted house. It was the home of Major Thomas Weir – also called the Wizard of West Bow.
The major was executed in 1670 after having confessed crimes that included bestiality, incest and communicating with the dead. The empty house became haunted and locals reported seeing windows being lit up with strange shadows moving around and hearing eerie music being played in the house.
The major’s house was believed to have been demolished in 1878 but it was recently discovered that it is actually partly incorporated within another house –which is today the Quaker Meeting House on Victoria Terrace. One of the staff at the Quaker House claims to have seen Mr Weir walk through the wall…
Being one of the most haunted spots in Britain, Greyfriars Kirkyard is not for the faint-hearted. Designated as a graveyard by Mary Queen of Scots in 1562, the Kirkyard is where many notable residents were buried, such as James Hutton, Robert Adam, Mary Erskine and Henry Mackenzie – as well as the famous furry resident known as Greyfriar’s Bobby.
The graveyard has been the home of many ghost stories over the centuries, but in recent years it’s the Mackenzie Poltergeist who’s become the main star of the show. The story goes that it was a homeless man seeking shelter in the Mackenzie mausoleum who disturbed and infuriated the poltergeist.
Over the years there have been countless reports of scratches, bruises and burns on witnesses’ bodies – not to mention people collapsing for no obvious reason. There are several tours available if you’re keen to get to know Mackenzie yourself…
Stay in the beautiful Old Town
If you’re visiting Edinburgh to attend the horror film festival make sure to check out the haunted places we described above – they’re all conveniently located within walking distance from each other. If you want to stay in the midst of it all, take a look at our gorgeous Old Town apartments. (We can assure you that none of them are haunted!)