If you’ve been to Edinburgh once, chances are, you’re dying to go back again. It’s a city brimming with fantasy and history, and one stroll down the Royal Mile will have you conjuring whimsical images of ghosts, kings, and other pieces of Scottish lore. After all, Edinburgh is the birthplace of Harry Potter and countless haunting tales, so why wouldn’t you let your imagination run a little wild?
Although the concept of joining a ghost tour might sound a bit touristy, it’s actually one of the most recommended activities to participate in while visiting the old center of Edinburgh. Several tour companies have staked themselves outside of St. Giles, and they’re more than happy to reveal the wicked, deadly underbelly of this mystical city’s history.
Before signing up to tag along on a guided adventure of Edinburgh’s creepy side, here are a few things you should know.
1. Edinburgh really does have a dark, fearsome history.
While walking through the cobbled streets of this Scottish capital, anyone can sense that it is a place rooted in centuries from long ago, especially in Old Town. There might be plenty of tourist shops and fun performers lining its roads, but deep down, Edinburgh holds a past that would chill anyone’s blood.
Located beneath the streets trafficked by so many visitors lie Edinburgh’s Vaults. These were created during the 18th century in an effort to house more citizens and open up available space for business owners, but they eventually devolved into a lair of dark, illegal activities. Scientific experiments, body snatching, prostitution, homelessness, murder; you name it, it probably happened down there. That’s why tours of The Vaults are so popular today. Their horrific past makes them a perfect location for ghost tours rooted in truth.
To this day, hundreds of visitors (and locals) claim to have encountered ghosts in various parts of Old Town, including Greyfriars Kirkyard, Mary King’s Close, and many other well-known places. There’s also a Surgeons’ Hall Museum in the city that displays the macabre, terrifying beginnings of anatomical research back in the day, which led to the unlawful deaths of many.
As you walk along the Royal Mile, you’ll probably notice a stone heart on the ground. Despite the fact that so many naive tourists will probably pose with it, thinking it’s some cute decoration, the truth is much more sinister. In reality, The Heart of Midlothian marks the entrance to an old prison where horrifying torture was a normal occurrence.
No matter where you turn in this city, you’ll be reminded of its gruesome past, so it only makes sense to embrace it a little.
2. These tours aren’t for the faint of heart.
If you’re the kind of traveler that avoids unsettling activities, then you might want to skip out on this event in favor of warming yourself in a friendly pub or whiskey distillery. These tours are more than a little chilling, and based on the number of stories you’ll find online, most participants are haunted by the experience long after they return to their lodgings.
Additionally, if you are claustrophobic in any way, I would seriously advise against joining a tour down into the city’s underground levels. The Vaults are fairly small at points, in addition to being dark and cold. Even the bravest person will feel a bit of a chill running down their spine as they stand in a place where depravity and danger once reigned.
Still, if you can muster the courage, I’d recommend giving some kind of tour a shot. Most only last an hour or two, so hopefully you’ll come out on the other side in one piece.
3. Do your research beforehand.
With so many different ghost tours available at your fingertips, it can be challenging to pick the one that’s best-suited for your budget and personality. Some of the free ghost tours might be enough to satisfy your lust for the unsettling, but I would advise purchasing tickets with one of the following well-reviewed, professional companies if you really want to feel simultaneously spooked and educated.
City of the Dead Tours has been voted by many as the best of all the ghost tours, and it’s easy to see why. The tour guides expertly mesh historically accurate details with morbid stories of days long past, and they never come across as cheesy. You can choose to tour a graveyard if you’d like to stay above ground, but if you’re really seeking a thrill, take the unforgettable journey into the hidden vaults beneath the city streets. Trust me, you’ll walk out of there with your hair standing straight up.
Mercat Tours also offer underground vault visits, and their storytelling will have you hooked on every word. Not only will you learn your fair share about Edinburgh’s complicated history, but you’ll also leave feeling perfectly creeped out. Because it’s a family-run business, you can rest assured that they’ll treat you warmly and fairly.
These aren’t the only good choices for those seeking a ghostly encounter. Hop on the internet to do your research beforehand to figure out which tour interests you. Whatever you do, don’t just pay for a tour because some figure on the street encourages you to. Researching the activity in advance will certainly pay off.
Remember, when traveling the world, it’s always a good idea to immerse yourself in the area’s culture. For Edinburgh, its dark history is a key part of the cultural center it has become today. Hopping on a ghost tour isn’t just giving into a tourist trap; it’s a fantastic way to learn a little more about this one-of-a-kind city while giving yourself an adrenaline rush.