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Hidden Edinburgh: Going Underground

Discover Edinburgh’s Underground City

Hidden beneath the streets and bridges of Edinburgh, are several underground closes and chambers. Closed off to the public for hundreds of years, these places remained frozen in time, just waiting to be rediscovered. Today, some of them have been excavated and re-opened. And there are many tours you can go on, to explore Edinburgh’s underground city for yourself. From historical Edinburgh walking tours to spooky ghost tours, let’s take a look at some of our favourites.

The Edinburgh Vaults

Edinburgh’s South Bridge is an 18th century road bridge within the city centre. When it was built, a series of chambers were created under the street, within the arches of the structure. Originally, local businesses used them as storage. But the chambers were dark and damp and became unsuitable. So, over time, criminals began to use them for illegal activities such as gambling and making alcohol. There were even rumours that the notorious serial killers, Burke and Hare, may have hidden bodies there. Many Edinburgh ghost stories are set down here in the chambers of South Bridge. And today, you can visit these arches under the bridge yourself.

Mercat Tours run several Edinburgh vault tours, where you can discover the history of this fascinating place. Or, be scared silly on a ghost tour. Whichever tour you choose, this is a unique experience, and a chance to see a very different side to Edinburgh.

Mary King’s Close

Mary King was an affluent merchant who lived in Edinburgh in the 1600s. She was so prominent in the community, that they named a street after her – Mary King’s Close. And it was on this street that she and others lived and worked. In those days, the streets were narrow and winding and the buildings were very tall. Then, in the 18th century, developers destroyed much of the area to make way for new streets. They used one end of Mary King’s Close, along with a small network of other streets, as foundations for the new Royal Exchange Building on the Royal Mile. They forced the residents out of their homes and sealed the closes off. As the year’s passed, stories of ghosts, disease and crime surrounded the area.

Around 250 years later, archaeologists excavated these underground streets and eventually it opened to the public as a visitor attraction called The Real Mary King’s Close. Today, you can step back in time on a fascinating walking tour of the closes. Learn about the past residents and how they lived. And hear a couple of ghost stories along the way.

Gilmerton Cove

Hop on the number 29 bus towards Gorebridge from the city centre, get off at Gilmerton Cross Roads, and you’re just around the corner from Gilmerton Cove. You must make an appointment in advance to tour these mysterious caves, which were hand-carved underground hundreds of years ago. 

You enter Gilmerton Cove through the Visitor Centre, an old mining cottage on Drum Street. You’re then led down into a labyrinth of passageways and chambers. No-one knows for sure when, how and why they came to exist. However, there are many theories, dating back between 300 and 2000 years. Some of them are explored in this video.

Innocent Railway Tunnel

This disused railway tunnel, hidden beneath Holyrood Park, was part of the Edinburgh and Dalkeith Railway, which opened in 1831. This was the first railway tunnel in the UK. There are a few possible reasons for the name. Perhaps it’s because, in the days of the steam train, it continued to use old-fashioned horse-drawn carriages, reminiscent of a simpler and more innocent time. Or maybe it was down to its excellent safety record, with less accidents and fatalities than on steam train routes.

The railway line has been closed since 1968, but a section of the tunnel is now open as a walking and cycle path. The entrance is quite tricky to find, but there are some excellent instructions here on the Stuff Edinburgh website. 

Edinburgh Underground City Breaks

Here at Parliament House Hotel in Edinburgh, we have a fantastic deal that combines central hotel accommodation with tickets for one of these brilliant tours of Edinburgh’s underground city. Book a 2-night Underground City Break with us and receive 2 tickets to a scary Mercat Tours Edinburgh ghost tour or the historic Real Mary King’s Close tour. The choice is yours!

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