Edinburgh is definitely one of the most haunted cities I’ve ever visited. A dark past of plague outbreaks, serial killers and bodysnatchers has cast a permanent shadow upon this modern metropolis – one that is visible come rain or come shine…
Now, it doesn’t take much to scare me. I once watched ‘Blair Witch Project’ at a friend’s birthday party and haven’t been able to watch a single horror film without needing a tissue and a hug. Yes, that includes the whole ‘Scary Movie’ franchise and ‘Shaun of the Dead’.
But from paranormal activity experts to bearded Harley Davidson bikers, everyone seems to have a chilling story about their stay in Edinburgh. That is why I decided to be brave and actively search for the scariest things to do in the seemingly-innocent Scottish capital.
This spooky Halloween guide to Edinburgh is more accessible than you might think as the attractions listed are available all year round. So if you can’t make it this October don’t worry – Halloween can wait till June. Although you might need to rethink that costume…
Full Scottish Breakfast
I’d recommend starting your day off with a hearty full Scottish breakfast. Not only is it delicious and hearty – it’s also quite a gory feast. Why? Well, it includes both black pudding – a thick blood sausage – and haggis, which is a gooey mess containing sheep’s heart, liver and lungs among other things. Both taste surprisingly good but are also sufficiently Halloween-themed!
I stayed at the Bruntsfield Hotel which was not only incredibly lovely, but also had a delicious full Scottish on the breakfast menu. Their room service menu proved equally pleasing, especially the burger I’m hungrily staring at in the photo above. The Bruntsfield is also just a 20-minute walk from the city centre – a very picturesque walk at that – which makes it a great base for a stay in Edinburgh.
Edinburgh’s Camera Obscura and World of Illusions is the ideal first stop on our Halloween adventure. It’s more trippy than spooky but that makes it a great warm up activity. I don’t know about you – I definitely need a little build up before going underground and listening to people talk about ghosts.
This is what the place has in store for you: three floors packed with mind-bending optical illusions and light tricks, and the camera obscura itself – a cross between a giant pinhole camera and a periscope – at the very top. You will get a 360 degree view of Edinburgh, fun commentary and… I won’t spoil the rest for you!
The Real Mary King’s Close
If your head is spinning from all those bright flashing lights, don’t worry. Where we’re going we will only be followed by flickering candles. The Real Mary King’s Close is a treat for anyone who likes chilling storytelling and real stories served up with a dollop of panache.
You’ll be given a historically accurate introduction to life in Edinburgh between the 16th and 19th centuries from one of the characters who live there. Ours was a wine merchant called Stephen Boyd who sounded like he just stepped out of a time machine – although he revealed himself to be a Northern Irish student at the University of Edinburgh at the end which made me feel so many conflicting emotions.
All kidding aside, the Real Mary King’s Close was one of the coolest tours I’ve ever been on and I’d highly recommend you check it out while you’re in the city!
Before you continue your spooky adventures grab a little bite to eat somewhere, would you? I ventured beyond the Royal Mile and ended up in Soba, a small Asian fusion restaurant. The food was ah-mah-zing and the portions huge – plus I got two meals for the price of one with my Tastecard. Win.
Right next to Soba – about a 12 minute walk from the Royal Mile – is a vegetarian restaurant called Hendersons which is affordable, healthy and delicious. They have a vegan one just around the corner, too. It’s not exactly Halloween-themed, but if you’re a devout meat-eater the idea of going to a vegan place might prove pretty terrifying.
There are many nice restaurants on the Royal Mile itself, too – ‘Angels with Bagpipes’ and ‘The Witchery by the Castle’ are both supposed to be great.
Edinburgh Castle is shrouded in numerous ghostly (and ghastly) rumours and it’s no wonder – its history dates back more than 2,000 years. This impressive structure atop a volcanic rock is a great vantage point to see the city from, but don’t neglect what lies within…
Aside from throngs of tourists, the castle is supposedly populated by a number of ghosts. Keep your eye out for a headless drummer, phantom piper, some French and American prisoners and a small dog roaming around its walls.
Scotch Whisky Experience
No trip to Scotland can be complete without a wee dram of local whisky and there is no place in the which has more of it than the Scotch Whisky Experience. The place might not distill its own, but it’s home to the largest Scotch whisky collection in the world!
I’d recommend buying the Gold ticket because it also gives you the option to sample four different kinds of whisky at the end of the tour. That means that a) you’ll be sampling a single malt from each of Scotland’s four most famous whisky-producing regions (Lowlands, Highlands, Speyside and Islay) and b) you will be preparing yourself for the horror that awaits…
Hidden and Haunted Ghost Tour
The level of horror you will experience depends on how much of a scaredy cat you are, how much you believe in ghosts and, yes, how much whisky you’ve drunk – hence the previous step.
I went on the Hidden and Haunted Mercat Tour which runs daily at 9pm and 9.30pm in the Blair Street underground vaults to which they have exclusive access. There are no children allowed so you are guaranteed a generous portion of seriously terrifying story-telling.
I’d tell you more but I’m still trying to forget some of the tales we heard that day. If you’re brave enough (and if I am, everybody is) go find out for yourself…
There are many other scary places you could visit. Why not have a little dander through Greyfriars Kirkyard, the home of the Mackenzie Poltergeist which is one of the most well-documented paranormal phenomena in the world.
The Banshee Labyrinth and The White Hart Inn are supposedly both haunted, so if you’re not too tired, put on a terrifying costume and go get your ghoul on in the pub. And if you have a hangover to get rid of the next day – or just want to stretch your legs – walk up Arthur’s Seat for spectacular views of the entire city.
Have you ever been to Edinburgh? What do you think of my spooky guide to the city? What’s the scariest place you have ever been to? Let me know!
Disclaimer: Some of the activities on this list were provided by the respective companies and Visit Scotland. Photos from The Real Mary King’s Close and Mercat Tours were provided directly by the tours, the rest are all mine.