1. The Real May King’s Close: Edinburgh’s Notorious Underground
A trip down memory lane into the seedy underbelly of our ancient city is one of our favourite tourist attractions in Edinburgh. But before you get too carried away by stories of haunted happenings in dank, dark streets beneath the city, let’s start by debunking an old Edinburgh myth. Technically, there is no “underground city”. But there are spookily fantastical underground elements of Edinburgh’s Old Town.
Mary King’s Close, together with Alan’s, Pearson’s and Stewart’s Closes make up an intricate underground network beneath the old Royal Exchange. But before being buried (quite literally) beneath Scottish politics, these ancient Edinburgh closes were home to hundreds of Edinburgh citizens. Today, they are home to streets and buildings that have not seen the light of day for some 250 years. It is what makes them such great Edinburgh attractions. To explore the murky past of these underground streets, The Real Mary King’s Close will take you on a journey of political turmoil, horrifying disease and events that shaped the course of Edinburgh history.
Visitor Tip: After a guided tour down some of Edinburgh’s hidden streets, you will never see Edinburgh the same way again.
2. St Giles Cathedral: At The Centre of Scottish History
From hidden underground streets to ancient cobbled closes, Edinburgh is a labyrinth of things to do and places to see for tourists and locals alike. So for anyone enjoying a pilgrimage down the Royal Mile, your path will undoubtedly cross one of the most important symbols in Scotland’s long and bloodthirsty fight for religious and political freedom – St Giles Cathedral.
The crowning jewel in Edinburgh’s famous Royal Mile, St Giles Cathedral has been a place of worship and wonder since 1124. Not a cathedral at all (as no bishops live here), St Giles is in fact the High Kirk of Scotland. For centuries, it has been at the centre of religious reform, freedom of speech and the fight for independence. Years of religious and civil wars had left the cathedral bare. Fully refurbished for a country reformed, today the cathedral is home to an endless supply of fascinating nooks and historically significant crannies.
Visitor Tip: Just as you enter the cathedral, you will see a small bronze stool that is often overlooked. The stool is a monument commemorating the brave Jenny Geddes, who threw her stool at a preaching minister’s head in defiance of the King in the Prayer Book Riot of 1637. This set in motion the rise of the Covenanters and the War of the Three Kingdoms, which included the English Civil War, the Scottish Civil War, and the Irish Confederate Wars.
3. The Covenanters Prison: One Of The Most Haunted Edinburgh Attractions
In the midst of the religious turmoil that shook the country during the 1600s, one of the most haunted Edinburgh attractions would be born. Often overlooked as the home of the lovable and loyal Skye Terrier, Greyfriars Bobby, Greyfriars Kirk is also home to the Covenanters Prison. Here some 400 Covenanters were captured and tortured in a time in history we Scots call “The Killing Time”. Under the watchful eye of George “Bloody” McKenzie, the Covenanters Prison would become a blueprint for modern European concentration camps.
Today, Greyfriars Kirk is one of the most interesting (albeit macabre) places to visit in Edinburgh. Thousands of people visit the Kirk each year to see where Greyfriars Bobby slept beside his owner’s grave. Or to find the grave of Thomas Ridell, the inspiration for J.K. Rowling’s Lord Voldemort. But of all the Edinburgh attractions you could find in the Kirk, there is one that will make your skin crawl. The Black Mausoleum, the final resting place of ol’ Bloody McKenzie, is one of the most haunted places on Earth. And for those brave enough to venture into the realm of the McKenzie Poltergeist, you can go into the belly of the beast on a City of the Dead Tour.
Visitor Tip: If you are planning on visiting Greyfriars Kirk, we recommend proceeding with care. Hundreds of people have reported being bitten, scratched, kicked, pushed, feeling sick or emerging with burn marks. The Kirk is reportedly so haunted, the Edinburgh City Council closed it up for a number of years. You have been warned.
To find out more about Edinburgh’s many fascinating attractions, things to do and places to see, take a look at our Edinburgh Sightseeing Tours and Haunted Edinburgh Tours. Or speak to us about a Discover Edinburgh Package – perfect for people looking to spend a little more time in our beautiful city.