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10 Haunting Edinburgh Legends & Spooky Locations

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Had a pint in Maggie Dickson’s in the Grassmarket and thought nothing of it? Stepped over the last gallows on the Royal Mile without noticing them? Think Greyfriars Kirk is just known for the loyal dog, Bobby? Our guide to haunting legends and Edinburgh’s spookiest locations is guaranteed to teach you thing or two about the city’s dark side. Keep reading, if you dare!

Visiting for spooky season? Don’t miss our guide to Edinburgh in autumn , things to do for Hallowe’en and Edinburgh’s historic hotels .

Spooky Legends of Edinburgh

There are so many ghosts, ghouls, murderers, and witches associated with Edinburgh, but the most famous is what most of the legends of the city are based on.

1. Burke and Hare

Burke and Hare are the notorious body snatchers of Edinburgh.

This pair of miscreants took advantage of the money offered by medical schools in Edinburgh who needed fresh bodies to dissect in anatomy classes.

Scotland’s capital was the leading European city for anatomical study at that time in the late 1820’s. Regardless of this, surgeons were only allowed one body per year which made medical progression and education quite difficult as in reality they needed over 500 per month. To help solve this problem, a policy was introduced which saw the bodies of those executed donated to science.

Since Scotland was a religious country which focused on the afterlife, those in power hoped this would deter some from committing crime.

Here is a picture of where gallows stood on the Royal Mile.

Gallows Royal Mile Edinburgh

Another decision was made – those who died in poor houses would be donated to science as well as anyone who died homeless but this just pushed locals underneath the city to the dark underground which you can visit during this tour!

Not content with these offerings, surgeons began to advertise for fresh, dead bodies in exchange for cash and thus grave digging in Edinburgh began.

Rewards ranged from £2 to £10. It was not an easy job! Grave diggers had to work out where the freshest of bodies were buried and dig 6 feet with a wooden shovel in the dark of the night to avoid getting caught. Then they had to move the body and get it to the medical school in one piece. Family members who wanted to their loved one to make it to the afterlife would stand guard over graves or use mortsafes (image below) to protect them.

Mortsafe Greyfriars Kirk Edinburgh Tour

Irish labourers, William Burke and William Hare fell into selling bodies to the medical school when their Union Canal digging work dried up. Hare rented rooms at his lodger house and one of his tenants died in arrears. He asked his friend Burke what he should do. The pair decided to claim the money back by selling the dead lodger’s body to Edinburgh University. The body was sold to Dr. Robert Knox on Surgeon’s Square (image below). They received £7 10s and were told to return.

Surgeon Square Garden Edinburgh Tours

A second lodger fell sick in Hare’s house, this is when Burke and Hare progressed from body snatchers to murderers. They ended the sick lodgers life early and sold the corpse once again to Dr. Knox for money. In the space of ten months it is said that Burke and Hare killed 16 people, although historians say it could be as many as 30.

The murderers would pile their victims with alcohol and then smother and suffocate them.

Often the body was delivered in a tea chest and Dr. Knox would comment on the warmth of the corpse but didn’t question how the victim died.

Imagine walking through the dark, misty streets of Edinburgh and bumping into this pair.

You might just do so on this tour!

Burke and Hare were said to source their victims down in Edinburgh’s infamous Vaults which you will discover on the tour so keep your friends close…

The pair were finally caught when lodgers discovered one of their victims, Margaret Docherty, and reported them.

Hare was provided immunity after making a grave for his good friend, Burke. Burke was charged with murder and executed. His body was given to science.

You can see Burke’s death mask in the Surgeons’ Hall Museum.

This infamous pair make an appearance in every ghost tour in Edinburgh which is one of the top things to do in Edinburgh.

One of their victims caused a stir for Dr. Knox when his students had grown suspicious after the disappearance of a much loved homeless man known as ‘Daft Jamie’.

However, Dr. Knox was never committed for his involvement in any of the murders.

→  You may also like | Halloween in Edinburgh: 14 Spooky Things to Do

Greyfriars Kirk Graveyard Edinburgh. Harry Potter

2. Maggie Dickson

Maggie Dickson was the victim of a misogynistic society.

Her crime? Her husband abandoned her and she was forced to move from Edinburgh to the Scottish Borders.

Here she fell pregnant by the innkeeper’s son where she worked. She gave the baby away, yet it was discovered and she was brought back to Edinburgh to face a trial under the concealment of a pregnancy act.

Yes, this was a thing!

Found guilty, she was hanged in the Grassmarket. Her body was then sent on its way to Musselburgh, where she was to be buried. Along the way, those taking her to Musselburgh heard knocking and banging coming from her coffin.

They opened the lid and found Maggie alive! She was then pardoned as they decided in the eyes of God, she was acquitted.

Just goes to show, nothing can keep a strong woman down! Maggie went by the name Half Hangit Maggie for the rest of her life.

You can visit Maggie Dickson’s pub at Edinburgh’s Grassmarket. For more on Old Town pubs read this guide .

Maggie Dicksons Pub Grassmarket Edinburgh

Watch your back when you head down to the Grassmarket as the Wizard of West Bow and his glowing walking stick are said to haunt his old home at Victoria Street Major Thomas Weir is one of the capital’s Jekyll and Hyde stories.

Once a respectable commander of the Town Guard, in his seventies he admitted to lifelong incestuous relations with his sister and a pact he made with the devil.

This revelation resulted in imprisonment near Calton Hill, a former leper colony, and then execution by garroting (strangulation) at Gallow Lea near Leith . His body was then burned while his walking stick danced in the flames, as legend goes…

His former home, which is now part of the Quakers Building on Victoria Terrace, was said to be haunted with many refusing to enter long after his death.

Victoria Terrace Edinburgh Old Town

3. Deacon Brodie

Deacon Brodie is yet another one of Edinburgh’s Jekyll and Hyde legends! He was a respected member of Edinburgh’s society in the 1700s, is another villain hiding in plain sight.

As head of the town council, he was looked up to by the gentlefolk of the time.

Unbeknownst to these upstanding people, Brodie was not only a gambler and philanderer who had several mistresses and children, but he was also the head of a gang of burglars!

He had to pay for his wife, two mistresses and five children somehow.

His daytime job as someone who repairs locks and locking mechanisms was the perfect cover for him.

He made duplicates of the keys which allowed him and his gang to enter into these trusting people’s houses to pillage at their leisure.

His downfall came when he planned an armed raid on His Majesty’s Excise Office in Chessel’s Court, on the Canongate.

Things didn’t go as planned. Part of his gang was caught. Brodie himself fled to the Netherlands.

Those caught gave evidence against him and, when he was arrested in Amsterdam, he was sent back to face a trial.

He was to be hanged but came up with a cunning plan to escape once again.

He bribed the hangman to ignore the steel collar that he had fashioned to save his neck.

However, he was caught out by one of his own inventions.

The gallows used to hang Brodie were a gibbet, an invention that he boasted was the most efficient of its kind.

They certainly did the job as when his body was removed to be revived, he was dead. His steel collar had not worked!

Does his ghostly apparition still haunt the streets of Edinburgh?

Are you brave enough to find out?

There is a popular pub named after him on The Royal Mile. Check out both sides of the sign hanging from the pub corner!

The Scottish novelist, Robert Louis Stevenson is said to be inspired by this story and wrote a play on it which later influenced his famous book Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

You can see a memorial to Robert Louis Stevenson in Princes Street Gardens .

Deacon Brodiies Bar Pub Old Town Edinburgh

4. Creepy Edinburgh Cemeteries

There are many cemeteries that Edinburgh ghost tours take you too. What is the attraction to these? Greyfriars Kirkyard is one such cemetery with a notorious reputation.

This graveyard is where Greyfriars Bobby’s master is buried.

However, it has a particularly nasty entity: the ghost of George MacKenzie.

He was a brutal judge who presided over the trials of the Presbyterian Covenanters in the 1670s and is said to haunt here.

He imprisoned 1,200 covenanters in a field next to the graveyard where they awaited their trials.

They had little food or water and 100s died from lack of nutrition and disease, in addition to those who were executed.

MacKenzie was buried in the black mausoleum and his violent spirit lives on, attacking people with scratches and burns. Lean more about the MacKenzie during this tour of Edinburgh’s most haunted cemetery. If you dare!

Greyfriars Kirk Conveynors Tour in Edinburgh

Greyfriar’s Kirk is where you will find the names that inspired some of the Harry Potter characters including Potter himself and his nemesis, Voldemort.

For grave locations, follow our guide to Harry Potter locations .

Riddel Gravestone Voldemort Greyfriars Kirk Edinburgh Harry Potter

Did you know Princes Street Gardens used to be cesspit for sewage?

It was previously filled with water and called The Nor’ Loch. You can see a painting of it here . Nor Loch was the setting for witch drowning. If you survived, you were deemed a witch and killed, if you drowned, you were dead. Over 200 skeletons were discovered when they drained the world’s biggest open sewer in Auld Reekie. St John’s Church graveyard, at the end of Princes Street Garden near Lothian Road, is said to be haunted by a young girl who cries and tugs your clothing!

Ghost Bus parked on Royal Mile cobble streets in Edinburgh

It is also home to the graves of poets, surgeons, lords and has the city’s only known grave of a born enslaved person. Malvina Wells was born in Carriacou and served the McLean family. She is buried next to them in St John’s Cemetery. For more, check out the Black History Walking Tour in Edinburgh.

St Johns Graveyard and Edinburgh Castle_

Abandoned Places in Edinburgh

For the more adventurous among you, the idea of exploring and creating your own Halloween adventure appeals.

There are several abandoned buildings and tunnels in Edinburgh where you can wander and give yourself your own Edinburgh spooky tour.

5. Colinton Tunnel

The Colinton Tunnel is an abandoned railway tunnel which has now been transformed with graffiti and street art.

Running along the water of Leith, this 140m tunnel tells the story from the poem, From a Railway Carriage.

Will you be the one to bring back evidence of the paranormal or just a photo of the street art?!

Colinton Tunnel Murals Rainbow Edinburgh

6. The Wild West

The Wild West. Yes, you read that right. Edinburgh has its own wild west street with abandoned buildings.

Hidden away in West Morningside and built in the 1990s (allegedly by a former Disney employee), this unusual street will have you wondering if you’ve stepped straight into a spaghetti western!

A great way to spend Halloween, exploring this spooky area and seeing if you can find any ghosts!

Wild West Morningside Jail Cantina in Edinburgh

Spooky Pubs and Restaurants

Now that you have spent your day exploring and frightening yourself and your friends, you need to visit one of Edinburgh’s many spooky eateries and pubs.

7. Frankenstein’s Pub

This establishment is situated in a 19th-century church in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town.

The pub embodies – yes, pun intended – Mary Shelly’s book Frankenstein.

With horror-themed decorations and monster-themed shows, you’ll have a great time relaxing after your busy Halloween.

Address: 26 George IV Bridge, EH1 1EN

8. The Banshee Labyrinth

If you haven’t tired of the spooks and ghouls you’ve encountered so far, then take a wander to Scotland’s most haunted pub: The Banshee Labyrinth.

With claims of drinks being thrown by unknown forces and the sounds of a banshee wailing, dare you make a stop here?

Address: 29-35 Niddry St, EH1 1LG

Banshee Labyrinth pub Halloween decor images

9. The White Hart Inn

The White Hart Inn on the Grassmarket. This pub has a reputation for ghostly sightings and poltergeist activity.

With paranormal hunters setting up investigations here and tales of specters pulling hair and pushing people along with photographic evidence of apparitions, you need to be a brave soul to have a meal here!

Address: 32 Grassmarket, EH1 2JU

White Heart Inn Grassmarket Edinburgh Pub

10. The Cauldron

For the adult Harry Potter fans among you, The Cauldron on Frederick Street is the place to go.

Check out these Harry Potter locations in Edinburgh

As you descend the steps into this dark cavern, you are immediately transported to what you can only imagine The Leaky Cauldron to look like.

You are met at the door by a potions wizard who takes you through a wand-choosing process. Led to your seat, you will be mesmerized by the magical interior.

Herbology greenhouses, squashy sofas delight your eyes and then you are given your cloak and wand.

The drinks menu is filled with potions and, when they are brought to your table, the theatre is spellbinding!

You can book potions classes here – it’s on my to-do list. I can thoroughly recommend the Dragon’s Breath shot.

Be warned, they are definitely one, two, three, floor!

Potion Drink Harry Potter Cocktail

Our Autumn Guides

  • Scariest ghost tours in Edinburgh
  • Underground vaults review
  • Hallowe’en in Edinburgh
  • Things to do in in Edinburgh this autumn
  • The city’s most haunting characters and locations
  • Bonfire Night in Edinburgh and story of Guy Fawkes
  • Historic hotels in Edinburgh

Final Words

Edinburgh is full of legends and stories that are enough to chill your blood. Throw Halloween in the mix and you have got a great day out.

I have experienced some of the paranormal activity in the vaults under the streets of the city.

From ghostly footsteps to scratches, burns, and even the breath being squeezed out of my brother as we explored these underground areas.

I can assure you that even the most skeptical will find Edinburgh spooky.

Go on, I dare you!

Looking for the most haunted places in Edinburgh? Learn about the haunting local legends that walk the Old Town streets and meet the spooky locations that scream death and despair. It’s Edinburgh so can’t not talk about the wizard boy, Harry Potter too! Click to find out more.

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About the author: Hi, I am Ruth. A Highlander living in Fife longing for the mountains of home but I can’t give up the delights of the big city!

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The Wizard of West Bow: the dark secrets of Edinburgh’s haunted house of horrors

West Bow

Today, the area surrounding  Edinburgh ‘s West Bow is one of the city’s most picturesque locations, with pretty cobbled streets, colourful shops, and welcoming cafes.

But the West Bow is also hiding one of the Old Town’s darkest secrets.

The street was once home to a real life ‘haunted house of horrors’ – reminders of which can still be seen today.

An upstanding citizen with a dark secret

West Bow resident, Major Thomas Weir was a Covenanter soldier and strict Presbyterian, who was a well-respected member of Edinburgh society.

Weir regularly held prayer sessions which would attract religious crowds from the local area, and in 1650 he was appointed commander of the Edinburgh Town Guard.

By all accounts, he seemed like an upstanding citizen.

But things began to change when Weir fell ill in 1670 and began acting strangely.

Dealings with the Devil

From his sickbed, the then 70 year old Weir confessed to a secret life of sin and evil as an occultist.

He admitted to committing various terrible offences, including bestiality, incest, necromancy and witchcraft.

The authorities, including the Lord Provost, were so surprised by the claims that they initially refused to believe them.

But Weir’s confessions continued, and were also backed up by admissions from his sister, Jean.

A post shared by sadieadye (@sadieadye) on Sep 24, 2017 at 11:59am PDT

Jean claimed that Weir had once been picked up from the house on West Bow by a demonic stranger in a fiery coach, and was taken to Dalkeith, where he was given “supernatural intelligence” by another of Satan’s minions.

She declared that Weir got his powers from his walking stick, which was topped with a carved human head and was a gift from the Devil himself.

Eventually, the pair’s claims were taken seriously, and they were interrogated in the Edinburgh Tolbooth.

Sentenced to death

Found guilty of committing a long list of sinful acts, both Weir and his sister were sentenced to death.

“I have lived as a beast, and I must die as a beast.” Major Thomas Weir

Weir was garrotted and burned alive (along with his demonic walking stick) at Gallowlee, approximately where Leith’s abandoned Shrubhill tram depot sits today.

Rather than begging for forgiveness, Weir’s last words reportedly were: “Let me alone. I have lived as a beast, and I must die as a beast”.

Jean suffered a similar fate, and was hanged in the Grassmarket.

Both of their bodies were buried at the base of the gallows at Shrubhill.

The cursed house

After the executions, the Weir house on West Bow lay empty for over a century.

Locals nicknamed Weir the Wizard of West Bow, and gossiped about what might have happened inside the house.

No one wanted to live in a place where such evil things had taken place, especially as it was thought to be haunted.

A couple purchased the house in the late 1700s, but the story goes that they managed only one night in the property before they were driven out by mysterious happenings and demonic apparitions.

Looking down on Victoria St. Dodging Potter freaks ?#edinburgh #latergram A post shared by Conservengineer (@conservengineer) on Sep 8, 2017 at 12:11pm PDT

The pair claimed to see a ghostly calf sitting in their bedroom, staring at them from the foot of the bed.

Over the years, there were many more reports of strange noises and music coming from the building, windows being lit up at night, and shadows moving around the rooms.

Some Edinburgh residents even claimed to have seen the mysterious coach, pulled by six fiery horses, outside the house several times.

Ghostly sightings

It was widely believed that the Weir house was demolished some time during the 19th century to get rid of the stigma attached to the building.

Sir Walter Scott, writing in 1830, noted that Weir’s house was in the process of being torn down, and other reports claim the final demolition took place in 1878.

But, in reality, the house was never destroyed.

west bow thomas weir house

As recently as 2014, it was discovered that – rather than being torn down completely – parts of Weir’s house were instead incorporated into a new building, which is now a Quaker Meeting House.

It is thought that the main part of Weir’s house is located where the Quaker Meeting House’s toilets now are.

If you visit, you may even still be able to catch a glimpse of the Wizard of West Bow in his former home.

Staff members at the Quaker Meeting House have reported seeing Weir’s ghostly figure walking through walls, more than 300 years after his death.

More from i Edinburgh: From mushroom farming to wartime air raids: the hidden tunnel underneath Edinburgh’s New Town streets Edinburgh’s little-known Confederate memorial – and why it shouldn’t be taken down 8 of Edinburgh’s most bizarre traditions explained

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Six of the most haunted places to visit in Edinburgh

With its long history of bloodthirsty monarchs, grisly grave-robbers and political upheaval, it's no surprise that Edinburgh is regularly named as one of the UK’s most haunted locations. Whether you’re a paranormal enthusiast or a non-believer, try some of these haunts and see if you spot anything that goes bump in the night... The Banshee Labyrinth Partially located within some of the city’s many underground vaults, the Banshee Labyrinth describes itself as Scotland’s most haunted pub. It is reportedly occupied by a banshee – a group of workmen once heard a bloodcurdling scream and a few hours later one of them received a call about the death of a family member. There are also said to be occurrences of drinks flying off tables and smashing into walls. The White Hart Inn, Grassmarket It’s claimed to be central Edinburgh’s oldest pub (parts of the building date back to 1516) and with almost 500 years of history, it’s no surprise it’s gained some ghostly tales. Stories of shadowy forms, unexplained bangs and slamming doors led to it being named most haunted pub in 2005. Greyfriars Kirkyard First designated as a graveyard by Mary Queen of Scots in 1562, Greyfriars Kirkyard is the final resting place of a number of notable Edinburgh residents including poets, historians, architects and inventors (not forgetting the famous Greyfriars Bobby). But in recent years it’s gained a reputation for being haunted by a poltergeist, with some visitors leaving with bruises, scratches and cuts. The hauntings are said to have started in the late 1990s when a homeless man broke into the tomb of Sir George Mackenzie, who led the persecution of the Covenanters in the 17th century. The Vaults A number of ghost tours take place in the city’s underground vaults and there have been a variety of reports of paranormal activity. TV show Most Haunted hosted a live investigation in the vaults in 2006, and according to some reports Burke and Hare stored the bodies of their victims in the site before selling them to the medical school.

The Scotsman Hotel Even the five-star Scotsman Hotel is said to have some ghosts. The Edwardian building was formerly the offices of the Edinburgh Evening News and is reputedly the home of a phantom printer. By which we mean a person who did the printing, not some possessed Laserjet. Edinburgh Castle It has a history dating back more than 2,000 years and has been the site of numerous battles and sieges so it’s no wonder there are reports of ghostly goings on at the city’s most iconic landmark. The sound of drums, unexplained knocking sounds and mysterious orbs have all been reported. In 2001, a team of scientists carried out an investigation into the paranormal experiences at the castle as part of the Edinburgh International Science Festival and said the results appeared to support the stories. Find more things to do in Edinburgh with Time Out .

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Wandering Crystal

Spooky Things to do in Edinburgh Scotland

Looking for haunted and spooky things to do in Edinburgh, Scotland? The capital of Scotland and Europe’s most haunted city, Edinburgh bears a grim and horrible past just waiting to be discovered. Edinburgh showcases its haunted, scary and spookiest places through gruesome supernatural stories and outright terrifying attractions.

With a history burdened by brutal witch trials , the ghastly plague epidemic and scads of tormenting, fear-inducing serial killers, the city is a dark tourist’s dream destination.

If you are looking for Spooky & Haunted Attractions in Edinburgh and things to do that are off the beaten path, this list of alternative ideas will help make your experience in Edinburgh unusual and unique.

Edinburgh Skyline at night from Calton Hill - overlooking the city full of spooky, scary and haunted attractions.

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Please see my  Privacy Policy  for more information.

18 Spooky Things to do in Edinburgh Scotland

Explore Edinburgh’s underground city tours and learn the history behind the spread of the bubonic plague at Mary King’s Close . Then head down beneath the streets to the Edinburgh Underground Vaults to visit the ghostly residents trapped in the horrendous time when brothels and crime ruled the damp, dark chambers.

Don’t forget to join one of the city’s abundant ghost tours and haunted tours that expose grave robbers, famous serial killers, witches, cannibals, and public executions.

There are many spots offering a view of Edinburgh’s frightening past. Some of them fall under the realm of unusual things to do in Edinburgh . Here are a few of my favourite places, scary attractions and some of the best ghost tours in Scotland’s dark capital.

Edinburgh’s Underground City

The real mary king’s close.

Plague Doctor in the Spooky Streets of Edinburgh ready to go down to the underground city of Mary King's Close to help plague victims

Mary King’s Close  is a historic maze of alleyways and hidden passages tucked under the streets of the Royal Mile. Go below the pathways, and see why it’s one of the best places on the list of spooky things to do in Edinburgh. Take an Edinburgh underground city tour to explore the lanes that were once a hub of activity in Edinburgh’s long lost past.

The close (a Scottish name for street) was devastated in 1645 by the dreaded bubonic plague, known as the “Great Plague”, due to Edinburgh’s severely unhygienic conditions.

Without a proper sewer system, residents of Mary King’s Close were forced to shout out “Gardyloo!” (meaning, “beware of the water”) as a warning before dumping their waste directly into the streets. The dregs would flow down and collect in the Nor Loch, now Princes Street Gardens.

These unsanitary conditions were a breeding ground for all kinds of filth, including flea-ridden rats carrying bubonic plague bacteria.

Check out the Podcast episode about Edinburgh’s Plague Infested Mary King’s Close

The close was sealed up shortly after Scotland was rid of the plague, and today it offers an insightful glimpse into the way people lived in Edinburgh centuries ago. One of the close’s highlights is a famous Edinburgh ghost resident known as Abandoned Annie.

She’s a young soul who was deserted by her family and died of the plague. Each tour of the close is led by a guide in period dress who takes on a specific character from the time. You never know who you’ll meet!

Edinburgh Vaults Tours

edinburgh haunted house

Delve far below the city’s streets to discover Edinburgh’s underground vaults. The vaults aren’t streets, but chambers and rooms initially used as workspaces, storage rooms or business locales.

But not long after they were built, the vaults began to flood due to not being properly sealed during construction. Severe flooding turned the vaults into a damp, unusable area, resulting in them being abandoned by their owners and users.  

Following their desertion, the dark tunnels were filled with criminals, brothels, illegal pubs and storage spaces for corpses looted by Edinburgh’s infamous murdering duo.

Today, the vaults aren’t filled with illicit goings-on, but the dark history and ghost stories remain. See below for the list of the best tours to take you into the vaults. Taking a trip to the vaults is the perfect way to spend Halloween in Edinburgh .

I also recommend checking out The 17 Best Edinburgh Underground Vaults Tours to find the perfect tour for you.

Mercat Tours

Mercat Tours takes you down below the streets into the Blair Street Underground Vaults. Rediscovered in the 1980s, the vaults have become known as one of Edinburgh’s most famous haunted locations, providing visitors with a fascinating insight into Edinburgh’s underground life.

There are many different ghost tours on offer, giving you the chance to venture into the haunted vaults and potentially meet the ghostly residents!

You can really feel the spirits around you as you hear their stories. If you have the opportunity to book a tour with guide Jared, don’t pass it up! He was an amazing storyteller and I still boast about how wonderful my tour was years ago.

I managed to snap one quick picture of him when he was doing another tour, so check it out to see who you’re looking for.

A man with a brown beard and glasses stands in a black hooded cloak. He stands in front of a concrete wall speaking to a group of people on a ghost tour.

Book your Mercat Tour here.

Auld Reekie Tours

Auld Reekie takes you on a horrific adventure through the terror and torment of those tortured in the South Bridge Vaults. The tours include seeing a display of various torture devices used in Edinburgh’s past, such as a chastity belt and the “tongue tearer” — a tool used to remove the tongues of traitors.

This section of the vault is where you’ll see a strange stone circle with mysterious stories about its origin. You’re allowed to step inside the stone circle (I did!) but the guides don’t recommend it. Take a tour of the South Bridge Vaults and find out why!

Another intriguing section of these vaults was once a witchcraft temple, but, unfortunately, it’s no longer used for this purpose due to safety reasons. Venture down and hear all about the stories that lurk within the shadows of these vaults.

Book your Auld Reekie Tour here.

City of the Dead Tours

The City of the Dead Tours takes you to a part of the South Bridge Vaults referred to as Damnation Alley, a spooky place home to a ghastly poltergeist known as the South Bridge Entity.

I spent a night there as part of a ghost festival held in Edinburgh when Damnation Alley was first unsealed. Check out this post to read about my spooky experience spending a night in the vaults.

Book your City of the Dead Tour here .

City of Edinburgh Tours

City of Edinburgh Tours has several spooky history and paranormal tours that take you through graveyards, Edinburgh’s Old Town and down into the depths of the vaults.

The guides are actors who take inspiration from real people from Edinburgh’s past, meaning you could meet Dr. Knox (the doctor who bought corpses) or Deacon Brodie (respectable tradesman by day, criminal by night).

Whoever you get leading your group, having a guide fully take on the persona of a historical character is an incredible experience. One of their best tours is the Extreme Paranormal Ghost Tour which is convincing enough to turn skeptics into believers!

Book your City of Edinburgh Vault Tour here.

Edinburgh Ghost Tours

Haunted and Scary Black Mausoleum in Edinburgh Greyfriars Kirkyard

Ghosts and Edinburgh go hand in hand. From ghost stories rising up from Edinburgh’s underground vaults and eerie haunted graveyard visits to historical tours of Edinburgh’s Old Town and discovering the best ghost tour in Edinburgh, the city isn’t short of spooky, ghostly and scary Edinburgh ghost attraction sites.

Each of the vaults in the capital has its own lineup of ghostly residents. Whether you’d rather rub shoulders with the friendly cobbler from the Blair Streets vaults or the malevolent South Bridge Entity of Damnation Alley, there are plenty of Edinburgh ghost tours to choose from within the vaults. My personal favourite that I consider to be the best ghost tour in Edinburgh is the one with Mercat Tours.

The Best Ghost Tour in Edinburgh

While all the above offer awesome vault tours and ghost tours, you must check out the best ghost tours in Edinburgh ! It features great ghost tours which include an awesome tour from Mercat Tours that takes place in the evening and is too scary for anyone under 18! During the tour, you’ll follow a guide through the dark streets of Edinburgh’s Old Town.

Each ghost tour company has its own unique route which leads you down to different parts of the vaults where they’ll tell you their own renditions of the city’s sordid history and the notorious ghost stories that go with them.

If you have the time, I recommend taking a tour with each of the companies. They’re all really great, brimming with one-of-a-kind narratives you won’t hear elsewhere while being introduced to new areas you never knew existed. If you have the time for only one, it’s got to be the Hidden & Haunted Tour with Mercat.

If you’ve got a tight budget to stick to, consider the free ghost tour in Edinburgh with City Explorers Tours.

You’ll hear all kinds of dark stories about the scary things that happened in Old Town Edinburgh, including public executions and the tortured souls locked away from the public eye in dreary jail cells. You can join a tour at 154 High Street every night at 7:00 pm and 9:30 pm. Book here: Free Ghost Tour

Haunted Cemeteries

Greyfriars kirkyard.

Greyfriar's Cemetery during the day for spooky scary ghost tours

One of the most haunted cemeteries in the world, Greyfriars Kirkyard is an absolute must-visit! A visit to the graveyard is one of the best spooky things to do in Edinburgh.

Its most famous resident is violent poltergeist George Mackenzie, now better known as the Mackenzie Poltergeist.

He’s rumoured to have been released by an unsuspecting homeless man who broke into George Mackenzie’s Mausoleum and accidentally disturbed Mackenzie’s spirit.

Mackenzie’s mausoleum is connected to the Covenanters’ Prison, where living conditions were brutal — prisoners were frequently tortured and starved. Several ghostly attacks have been reported by visitors, including bruises, scratches and burning sensations.

There’s more to Greyfriars Kirkyard than its evil history. This dark tourism site is also well known for the heartwarming story of Greyfriars Bobby, a loyal Skye terrier who stood watch over his deceased owner’s grave for 14 years until his own eventual death.

Take a Ghost Tour in Greyfriars Kirkyard

The best ghostly graveyard tour has to be with the City of the Dead. If you want to be touched, scratched or feel a general sense of fright, I highly recommend taking the haunted graveyard tour. It’s one of the most paranormal active tours you can take.

The tour guides you to the famous Greyfriars Kirkyard, which houses the haunted Mausoleum, home to the Mackenzie Poltergeist. Some people refer to this as the haunted Black Mausoleum – but that is actually in the nearby Covenanter’s Prison.

There have been many stories of the Mackenzie Poltergeist scratching or causing distress to tour patrons, so watch out!

Book your Haunted Graveyard Tour here.

Canongate Graveyard

Canongate Kirk in Edinburgh at night. Bright red doors light up the large building on the Royal Mile.

Mercat Tours offers spooky things to do in Edinburgh with a graveyard tour which visits Canongate graveyard. The cloaked guide will escort you along the streets toward Canongate, recounting various historical and spooky tales from Edinburgh’s Old Town on the way to your final destination in Canongate Graveyard.

Canongate is known for the awful story of a man who ate his kitchen maid. Learn more about him and the other famous residents who now call Canongate Graveyard home. If you love visiting graveyards be sure to check out historic graveyards to visit in Edinburgh .

Haunted Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle at night - spooky, scary and haunted in Edinburgh

With over 900 years of history,  Edinburgh Castle (originally built as a royal fortress) is a hotspot for ghostly activity. Once home to royals such as Mary Queen of Scots, the castle was also used as a military barracks and contained prison vaults for holding captured prisoners of war.

Visitors to the castle have reported witnessing apparitions, shadowy figures, drastic temperature changes, and ghostly sounds. Spectral residents include a young bagpiper boy who was sent to investigate the tunnels beneath the castle.

He was instructed to play the bagpipes as loud as possible, so those above ground could trace the network of tunnels. He was dutifully completing his task when the sound of bagpipes suddenly stopped as the boy reached the area below the Tron Kirk on the Royal Mile.

Rescue teams marched into the tunnels in search of the boy, but he was never found. The tunnels were subsequently sealed off, and today people claim to hear the faint sounds of bagpipes coming from beneath the castle. Who wouldn’t want to visit a real-life haunted castle?

Find out more about the Edinburgh Castle Ghosts here.

Book your Edinburgh Castle tickets here.

Have a Drink with Half-Hangit Maggie

Have you heard the story about Maggie Dickson? She is known as Half Hangit Maggie as she survived a hanging in 1724. Now, under the shadow of the gibbet in Edinburgh’s Grassmarket, Maggie Dickson’s Pub honours the memory of the woman who returned from the dead.

Read more about Half Hangit Maggie here .

Gilmerton Cove

Inside the tunnels of the Gilmerton Cove in Edinburgh Scotland

Located in the south end of Edinburgh on Drum Street, Gilmerton Cove is a hand-carved underground city with secret tunnels and chambers buried 10 feet below the city’s streets.

If you are looking for different things to do in Edinburgh – a trip to Gilmerton Cove is just what you need. The Cove is a great place if you are looking for spooky things to do in Edinburgh. The chambers are home to sandstone furniture, including benches and tables, and there’s also a hand-carved chapel.

Shrewdly hidden from plain sight, the entrance to the tunnels is inside the home of a man who was once a locksmith and who is also believed to be the creator of the passageways.

Although the real purpose of Gilmerton Cove is a mystery, there are many theories surrounding its purpose. Historians suspect the tunnels may have been used as a drinking den, a refuge for the religious Covenanters (a Scottish Presbyterian movement) or as a hideout. Visit and decide for yourself what the underground dwellings were used for.

The Edinburgh Dungeon

The entrance to the spooky and scary Edinburgh Dungeon.

The Edinburgh Dungeons are located just off of Princes Street and offer 12 interactive experiences. During your visit, you’ll get to hang out with live actors and take a spooky step back in time to some of Edinburgh’s most appalling periods of history.

Actors regularly call visitors out, accusing those on the tour of witchcraft or describing in great detail how they will torture you, so prepare yourself!

Real historical events are turned into stories in the Dungeons. You’ll get to meet Agnes Finnie, a real witch accused of witchcraft, survive a brush with the cannibal Sawney Bean and experience being dropped from the gallows on a free-fall drop ride.

A visit to the Edinburgh Dungeons is one of the spooky things to do in Edinburgh. It offers a funny, over-the-top experience that will give you a bit of fright while educating you on some of Edinburgh’s dark history.

The Ghost Bus Tours

The Edinburgh Ghost Bus - A Spooky and Scary Ghost Tour Bus

If you’re in the mood for a theatrical show while travelling around Edinburgh and visiting the spine-tingling spooky sites on the ultimate Edinburgh Ghost tour, be sure to hop onto the 1960s black double-decker bus known as Ghost Bus Tours.

Looking for spooky things to do in Edinburgh? The bus will take you to sites like Greyfriars Kirk, Holyrood Palace and all the way up to Calton Hill on a tour led by an eerie conductor who’ll leave you in fits of giggles while treating you to a frightful night of comedy horror.

Book your Comedy Horror Show: The Ghost Bus Tours here.

Holyrood Palace

Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh

The official residence of Queen Elizabeth II while in Edinburgh, Holyrood Palace was once home to Mary Queen of Scots. Mary had a personal secretary named David Rizzio, who was an Italian musician. She was originally looking for a bass to sing in a quartet of French singers and offered Rizzio a job when he caught her eye.

Although she fell in love with Lord Darnley, married him and was pregnant by him, Mary always remained very close to Rizzio and he soon became her private secretary.

Lord Darnley, who led a life littered with alcohol and brothels, demanded Mary give him the crown matrimonial so he could become the King of Scotland. She refused and Lord Darnley grew incredibly jealous of her close relationship with Rizzio. Some even believed that the child Mary was carrying wasn’t Lord Darnley’s, but instead Rizzio’s.

Darnley and his men plotted against Rizzio and ended his life by stabbing him 56 times in front of the pregnant Mary Queen of Scots.

If you want to add to the list of spooky things to do in Edinburgh, you can visit the room in Holyrood Palace where this dreadful event occurred and see the plaque dedicated to David Rizzio. Some say you can even spot Rizzio’s blood stains splattered on wooden planks there.

The royal secretary was buried in the Canongate Kirkyard just up the Royal Mile. Read more about Edinburgh’s cemeteries and the history behind them here.

Mary Queen of Scots Bath House

Another interesting building located at Holyrood Palace is Mary Queen of Scots’ bathhouse — a small cottage-like place where Mary would bathe in sweet white wine. You can find the bathhouse on the west side of the palace grounds and you can see it from the outside without going into the palace itself.

Queen Mary's Bath House near Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh

Book your ticket to Holyrood Palace here.

  • Witches in Scotland

Witches in the Forest

Witch accusations were common in Edinburgh during the 16 th  century. As witchcraft was a crime in the city punishable by death, hundreds of accused witches met their terrible fate and were burned at the stake. The burnings took place on the castle esplanade at Castlehill, which is where the Witches’ Well and the Witchery by the Castle stand today.

Check out the Podcast – Witches in Scotland

The Witches’ Well is a bronze plaque depicting images of witches’ heads tangled up with a snake that also functions as a fountain.

It commemorates the women who lost their lives when they were accused of witchcraft before being persecuted, tortured, dunked in Nor’ Loch (now home to Princes Street Gardens) and ultimately burned at the stake.

Some suspected witches were burned to death on Edinburgh’s historic Calton Hill. If you are looking for spooky things to do in Edinburgh, take a witch tour in Edinburgh!

Visiting Witches’ Well:  As you walk up the Royal Mile towards Edinburgh Castle, take a right just as you pass the shop “The Tartan Weaving Mill” and you can’t miss it.

Book The Witches of Edinburgh Tour here.

Arthur’s Seat – Coffin Dolls

Tiny wooden coffins containing tiny dolls made of wood.

Dominating Edinburgh’s skies is the extinct volcano known as Arthur’s Seat. At Holyrood Park, just 15 minutes away from the Royal Mile, this natural wonder is the main peak of a spectacular group of hills blanketed with heather and wildflowers to the east of Salisbury Crags.

It’s a fairly easy climb to the top, from where your trek will be rewarded with stunning panoramic views of Edinburgh and beyond.

Arthur’s Seat has its own dose of dark history, and there are some peculiar mysteries surrounding it.

In 1836, some schoolboys from Edinburgh discovered 17 miniature coffins housing tiny wooden dolls in custom-made clothing. The coffins were laid out in two rows of eight, with the final coffin resting on the top.

The coffin dolls have remained a mystery in Scotland ever since they were discovered. Several theories involving possible ties to witchcraft, ancient customs honouring those who died abroad and Christian burials for sailors who died at sea surfaced, but none really fall in line with Scottish history.

Theories about the Coffin Dolls

In the 1990s, University of Edinburgh Professor, Samuel Menefee, and former National Museums of Scotland curator, Dr. Allen Simpson, theorized that the dolls were connected to the 17 individuals who were murdered by Edinburgh’s infamous Burke and Hare.

Simpson and Menefee state that the clothes the dolls were wearing were from fabric dated around 1830, which was just two years after the infamous murders. They also noted that the coffins and dolls were likely carved by a shoemaker, due to the use of a hooked knife. This ties William Burke to the dolls, as he was a shoemaker by profession.

Arthur's Seat lined with people climbing in Edinburgh, Scotland

The Burke and Hare theory seems to be the most plausible. But there are some discrepancies that discredit it. Most of the Burke and Hare victims were women, but the dolls were found wearing men’s clothing. They were also carved with their eyes open, a trait generally reserved for the living and not the dead.

Could the dolls have been carved by William Burke as an offer to help honour his victims and give them a proper Christian burial? Or were the dolls created for another reason that remains unknown? Whatever their origin, the dolls are still incredibly mysterious and intriguing!

Many of the dolls were damaged and destroyed, but the eight remaining dolls that survived are on display at the National Museum of Scotland. It’s eerie to think about the real reason behind the creation of these dolls and a visit to see these dolls in real life is definitely on the list of spooky things to do in Edinburgh.

Haunted Edinburgh Pubs

The white hart inn.

The White Hart Inn in the Grassmarket in Edinburgh

At just over 500 years old, The White Hart Inn is one of Edinburgh’s oldest pubs.

Found in the lively Grassmarket, just below Edinburgh Castle, the pub has a history of paranormal activity, including the sounds of doors being slammed and disembodied footsteps, the sensation of hair pulling and visions of the Edinburgh ghost in the form of dark shadows moving around the pub.

As well as the ghost stories, White Hart Inn is rumoured to be one of the spots where Burke and Hare would persuade pub patrons to stay at their home, offering them food, drinks, and a restful sleep before killing them and selling their bodies to the Edinburgh Medical School.

With dark history and possible ghost sightings, an evening spent drinking at the White Hart Inn is one of the best spooky things to do in Edinburgh.

Banshee Labyrinth

Banshee Labyrinth Pub - Scotlands Most Haunted Pub

Known as Scotland’s most haunted pub, the  Banshee Labyrinth  is a must for any ghost hunter! The Banshee is a public house that also displays half of the Niddry Street vaults, originally part of the underground vaults.

If you want a taste of the vaults but are too scared to join an Edinburgh underground tour deep beneath the city streets, the Banshee Labyrinth provides a milder vault experience. Even though it’s not deep within the vaults, visiting the pub is one of the spooky things to do in Edinburgh.

The vaults were once a place where criminals and thieves, as well as the poor and innocent, met their grisly ends. The front half of the club formerly belonged to one of Edinburgh’s richest men, Lord Nicol Edwards, who was rumoured to have a basement dungeon where he would torture suspected witches before their trials.

The horrible history of the place makes a visit here a truly haunting experience. Many spirits are said to walk around the area, including a Banshee who takes pub patrons’ drinks and smashes them against the walls!

The Last Drop

The Haunted Last Drop Pub in Edinburgh Scotland

The Last Drop Tavern is situated next to the gallows in Edinburgh’s Grassmarket. Now a trendy area full of lively pubs, the Grassmarket was once the place where many public hangings were carried out.

Where now stands a pub was once a large group of tenement buildings for the very poor. The current structure was rebuilt using the original tone from the former tenements, which is why pub patrons suspect the tavern is haunted.

You might think the name the Last Drop is a play on words referring to drinking. But the pub is actually named after the last hanging that took place in the Grassmarket. 

Burke and Hare – Edinburgh’s Infamous Body Snatchers

In the early 1800s, Edinburgh’s medical science technology was incredibly advanced. However, during this time, surgeons and medical students could practice and study just one executed criminal’s body per year.

Edinburgh is still a city full of medical technology, but with the gruesome past associated with it, it now makes studying medical history one of the spooky things to do in Edinburgh.

Bodies were needed in the medical field for dissection to further understand the anatomy of human beings. As the demand for them grew increasingly higher due to more and more students attending medical schools, criminals soon found a profitable solution.

Body snatching became the new money-making scheme since doctors and medical schools would pay hefty sums for cadavers to work on.

Burke and Hare & Dr. Knox’s Connection

William Burke and William Hare accidentally stumbled into the world of body snatching and murder after selling the body of one of their deceased tenants from Hare’s lodging house to Dr. Robert Knox, a lecturer, and anatomist who ran an anatomy school in Edinburgh.

As body-snatching was such a prevalent problem, graveyards and families of the recently deceased did everything they could to prevent “resurrectionists” from stealing bodies.

Prevention methods included using mortsafes, nailing bodies to the inside of coffins and keeping bodies elsewhere until they were decomposed enough to be useless to the medical community. People believed that bodies that had been dissected would not make it to the afterlife, so keeping them in one piece was incredibly important.

Fueled by greed, and with the prevention methods making grave robbing a challenging task, Burke and Hare turned to murder. The duo would lure people to Hare’s lodging from local pubs (like the White Hart Inn) where they’d murder their victims by suffocating them.

It was at this time the word “burking” was coined, referring to the act of killing someone through suffocation, leaving the body as pristine and mark-free as possible.

Corpses in the South Bridge Vaults

There are also rumours that Burke and Hare would commit murder and store bodies within the chambers of the South Bridge vaults before selling them to Dr. Knox.

In total, Burke and Hare murdered 16 people before being arrested. 17 bodies were sold to Dr. Knox, but the first death resulted from natural causes.

Hare testified against Burke and was granted immunity for the murders. Burke, however, was charged with the murders and hanged for his crimes. His body ended up being dissected at the University of Edinburgh.

William Burke was hanged in Edinburgh’s Lawnmarket, and you can find actual pieces of him throughout the city.

You can see his death mask and a book with a cover made of his skin at the Surgeons’ Hall Museum in Edinburgh.

If you are looking for other spooky things to do in Edinburgh, Burke’s skeleton, which was preserved after his dissection, can be found at the Anatomical Museum at the University of Edinburgh.

Take a self-guided Burke and Hare Tour in Edinburgh here.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Deacon Brodies Tavern in Edinburgh - The Scary Double Life

Deacon Brodie was a craftsman and city councillor in Edinburgh, well respected by his peers and the townsfolk. However, Brodie had a dark secret and used his cabinet-making and locksmith skills for evil.

Having access to the houses of the rich, Brodie would make duplicate copies of keys so he could go back in the night and burgle them.

He soon became a member of the Cape, a tavern in Fleshmarket Close that fuelled his gambling addiction. As well as this financial drain, Brodie also had to support his two mistresses and five children.

To cover his ever-increasing costs, he turned to additional crimes that finally caught up with him, resulting in a public hanging at the Tolbooth Gallows. These gallows were located just outside of St. Giles Cathedral and are now marked by the Heart of the Midlothian.

Rumour has it that the respectable tradesman and his double life of crime was an inspiration for Edinburgh author Robert Louis Stevenson when he was writing the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Another place worth visiting is Brodie’s Close, the former workshop and home of William Brodie. Like any other area with such a macabre history attached, people have claimed to see the spirit of Brodie and a demonic horse that travels with him in this spot.

A visit to both Deacon Brodie’s Tavern and Brodie’s Close is one of the best places to visit for spooky things to do in Edinburgh.

The Wizard of West Bow

Victoria Street, Edinburgh - Wizard of West Bow's Apartments

West Bow is an arched street connecting Grassmarket with Castlehill. Today you can access it via Victoria Street towards the Upper Bow. This historical street was once home to a man who lived a life full of secrets. It definitely goes on the list as one of the spooky things to do in Edinburgh

Thomas Weir was a respected former high ranking soldier who was tried as a witch. When he fell ill, he decided to confess to being the servant of the Devil, while also implicating his sister, Grizel, claiming they had an incestuous relationship.

Grizel confirmed her brother’s confessions, and they were sent to trial. Both were hanged and burned to death. Several neighbours claimed to witness strange sights and sounds at the Weir household following the dreadful event, sparking fear in all who lived in the area.

Eventually, the Weir house was converted into the Quaker Meeting House, but its gruesome history cannot be forgotten, and there are reports of similar ghostly sightings and strange shadows lurking within the revitalized building today.

Surgeons’ Hall Museum

Exterior of Surgeons' Hall Museum in Edinburgh

If you’ve ever wanted to see amputated fingers, surgically removed organs or diseased brains and skulls in jars, the  Surgeons’ Hall Museum  is your place.

Surgeons’ Hall Museum, one of the best places for spooky things to do in Edinburgh, is definitely a hidden gem for seekers of alternative sites to see. The exhibitions are split up into pathology, dental and surgery, so you can discover how various different medical practices worked in the past.

I see the museum as one of the best educational things to do in Edinburgh, Scotland, as it provides you with loads of fascinating information about the human body.

The museum guards the death mask, which is a plaster cast of a person’s face following their death). And a book said to be made of the skin of the infamous William Burke — half of the body snatchers duo Burke and Hare. The museum also features a section dedicated to Dr. Knox, who purchased the corpses from the serial killing pair.

Dark Tourism in Scotland

Visiting graveyards, seeing where witches met their grisly fates and spending evenings in the underground vaults where criminals once ran rampant are just some of the dark tourism activities you can experience in Scotland.

If you want to visit more dark tourist or spooky sites in Scotland (and around the world!) check out my pages on Dark & Spooky Travel .

If you love this post, please share it on Pinterest with the pins below!

Explore the Dark Travels and Spooky Sites in Edinburgh Scotland

More Information about Dark Travels and Dark History in Scotland

  • Top 10 Seriously Spooky Things to do in Scotland
  • Historic Edinburgh Cemeteries to Explore
  • Things to do in Edinburgh: Surgeons’ Hall Museum
  • Books Set in Scotland
  • The Dark History of Half Hangit Maggie

You May Also Like

  • Haunted Hotels in Scotland
  • Spending the night inside the Edinburgh Vaults
  • The Best Ghost Tours in London, England
  • The 8 Best Dublin Ghost Tours

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UK Travel Planning

9 Best Edinburgh Ghost Tours

By: Author Tracy Collins

Posted on Last updated: April 5, 2023

Don’t miss adding an Edinburgh ghost tour to your itinerary! Discover the spookiest and most fun Edinburgh ghost tours with our complete guide.

Recognised as one of the most haunted cities in the world if taking a ghost tour of Edinburgh is a must-have inclusion during your visit to the Scottish capital (it was for my husband who enjoyed a Vaults Tour while I explored the Old City above ground) you will find our comparison guide to the best tours invaluable for choosing the best one for you.

We have included the best ghost walks in Edinburgh, ghost tours of Edinburgh vaults, a spooky tour suitable for kids and even an Edinburgh ghost tour bus option!

Edinburgh Ghost Tours take you round graveyards like this one in the image.

👻 Best Edinburgh Ghost Tours – Quick Picks

Edinburgh vaults: ghost tour, edinburgh ghosts & gore walking tour, terror walking tour in edinburgh, comedy horror edinburgh ghost bus tour, dark secrets of the old town ghost walking tour.

  • Small Group Ghost Tour incl. Underground Vaults & free drinks in Megget's Cellar

Underground Vaults & Graveyard Evening Tour

Treasures of edinburgh: ghosts, myths & legends private tour.

  • Old Edinburgh's Gory Stories: Kids Underground Tour

👻 Which Edinburgh ghost tour do you dare to take?

👻 best spooky tours & ghost walks in edinburgh.

  • Access to Edinburgh Vaults
  • Live tour guide

Enter the famous underground vaults (reputedly one of the most haunted places on earth) during this one-hour tour. Listen to tales of gruesome goings-on including witches, murders and even hangings in the oldest part of the city.

Learn about the history of the vaults and the ghosts that haunt it!

CLICK TO BOOK THIS TOUR

Edinburgh's Underground Vaults.

  • Qualified Ghostly Guide
  • Copy of the best-selling “Witchery Tales” book by Adam Lyal (deceased).

A popular ghost tour taken by award-winning Cadies & Witchery Tours the Edinburgh Ghosts and Gore Walking Tour receives rave reviews for their fun family-friendly tour.

Edinburgh graveyard.

  • Professional guide
  • 90 minute tour

Enjoy a 90 minute terror walking tour of Edinburgh’s ancient Old Town with a guide. Visit hidden underground vaults under cover of darkness and learn of famous landmarks from past and present such as Tolbooth Prison and St Giles’ Cathedral.

The Scott Monument in Edinburgh shrouded in the mist.

  • Admission fees

If you fancy a laugh whilst ghost hunting this is the tour for you! Enjoy a one-hour bus tour of the Old and New City of Edinburgh and be entertained as you explore some of the spookiest destinations (including a chilling walk through one of Edinburgh’s spookiest graveyards)

Ghost bus tour in Edinburgh.

  • Walking tour

Discover Scotland’s mythical sites. Walk around the city of Edinburgh passing graveyards, aged houses, and the sites where witches and warlocks were burnt on this sinister yet insightful walking tour.

Edinburgh graveyard.

Small Group Ghost Tour incl. Underground Vaults & free drinks in Megget’s Cellar

  • Award-winning local storytellers
  • Small group experience
  • Exclusive access to Blair Street Underground Vaults
  • TourTalk radio receiver to enjoy immersive storytelling
  • Alcoholic Beverage

During this evening tour visit the eerie Blair Street Underground Vaults, follow in the footsteps of the infamous Edinburgh Mob, and then settle your nerves with a dram of Scotch whisky in Megget’s Cellar!

Edinburgh's Underground Vaults.

  • Radio receiver (to hear the guide)
  • Entry to Blair Street Underground Vaults

Descend the underground vaults under cover of darkness before following your guide through the narrow streets to Canongate graveyard where many famous Edinburgh residents are interred.

Edinburgh's Underground Vaults.

  • Local Guide
  • Private Tour

Learn about Edinburgh’s ghosts, myths and legends and why they are such a unique part of the city’s character on this exclusive private tour.

The grave of Tom Riddle in Edinburgh.

Old Edinburgh’s Gory Stories: Kids Underground Tour

  • TourTalk radio receiver to enjoy live storytelling

This personal small group family-friendly tour is perfect for kids aged 5 and over. Learn about life for children in 19th century Edinburgh and explore some of the city’s spookiest haunts

Edinburgh's Underground Vaults.

Enjoy your ghost tour of Edinburgh – hope it is not too scary!

You can read more about planning your perfect trip to Edinburgh in the following posts:

  • Things to do in Edinburgh (+ Itinerary Guide)
  • Top tips for first time visitors to Edinburgh
  • Where to stay in Edinburgh
  • Best day trips from edimburgh
  • How to get from London to Edinburgh (and vice versa!)

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The Best Ghost Tours in Edinburgh

A black and white photo of the historic architecture of Edinburgh

When it comes to spooky cities, Edinburgh takes the cake. It’s often considered one of the most haunted cities in the entire world — and anyone who has been will be hard-pressed to argue.

When I was there a few years ago, I took part in some of the city’s many ghost tours. Regardless of whether you believe in ghosts or not, these tours take you on an adventure that not only teaches you a part of Edinburgh’s history but also leaves you feeling just a little “weird.”

Or, if you are like me, scared shitless.

While I hate horror movies because I always find them too unbelievable, as Alfred Hitchcock said, a good fright comes from what people don’t see or know.

When I finished my ghost tours, I was so spooked that I refused to sleep with the light off that night. The only other time I felt such unease was after I saw The Blair Witch Project .

Whether you’re looking for a fright or just want to learn about this historic city’s spooky past, you’ll definitely want to take a ghost tour during your visit. Here are the best ghost tours in Edinburgh to help you make the most out of your next visit:  

1. City of the Dead

City of the Dead is one of the top-rated ghost tours in Edinburgh. This tour takes you through the underground vaults that were used as storage space and workshops for businesses in the 1780s. The vaults were then abandoned in 1795 and became slums, turning into a red-light district with countless brothels and pubs.

Moving through the vaults in the dark, with your mind in overdrive, creates an atmosphere of unease that you want on a ghost tour.

There are 4 different tours available daily at 3:30pm, 8pm, 8:30pm, 9pm, 9:30pm and 10pm (hours vary in the winter, check the website for availability). Tours last 1 hour and 20 minutes to 1 hour and 45 minutes and are not suitable for children under 12. Tickets are 16-19 GBP per person.

2. Mercat Tours

Mercat Tours offers 5 different ghost tours. They have tours in the haunted vaults and the graveyard as well as through the Old Town of the city.

This is the only company in the city that offers vault tours during the day , which is a good way to beat the crowds. (They also have tours available in French and German too.)

Tours last 1-2 hours and run daily from 11am-9:30pm. Tickets start at 20 GBP per person.

3. Auld Reekie Tours

Like Mercat, Auld Reekie Tours offers a few different tour choices for anyone looking for a fright. They have vault and graveyard tours, as well as an adult-only tour for anyone looking for an extra scare. If you’re looking for a frightening tour, check out their nightly Terror Tour . It’s only suitable for 18+ and will definitely leave you wishing you had a nightlight when you get home!

Not only do they have the standard vaults tour but you can actually book out the vaults for an overnight stay if you’re feeling like an extra scare (it’s not cheap, but it would definitely be a memorable experience!).

Tours operate daily from 10:30am-10pm and last 1-2 hours. Tickets start at 18 GBP.

4. Free Ghost Tour

When it comes to free haunted walking tours, this is your best choice in the city. Free Ghost Tours offers daily tours that depart from the Royal Mile, covering all the major sites and stories of the city such as the real Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the haunted graveyard, witch trials, and the Westport Murderers.

If you’re not looking for a terrifying experience, this is a good tour for you as it’s suitable for children. Just be sure to tip your guides at the end (the entire tour runs on tips, so be generous!).

Tours run nightly at 7pm and last 90 minutes. Admission is free — just be sure to tip your guide!

5. The Ghost Bus

The Ghost Bus is a ghost tour on wheels, providing a spooky ghost tour with a comedic touch. You’ll be whisked around the city in a black double-decker bus from the 1960s while being informed and entertained along the way. The tour guides are all trained actors, giving this tour a much more theatrical touch.

The buses are decorated too, making it a fully immersive experience. If you’re looking for something more unique than a standard walking tour, this is it!

Tours offered daily at 6pm, 7:30pm and 9pm and last 75 minutes. Tickets are 19 GBP.

No matter which tour you choose or whether or not you believe in ghosts, like all good ghost tours, haunted houses, and Halloween exhibits, these tours do a great job of making you feel uncomfortable by playing on your innate fear of the unknown.

Are these places really haunted or is your mind just playing tricks on you?

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter — what matters is that you had fun and learned something about Edinburgh and it’s spooky past in the process.

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Book Your Accommodation You can book your hostel with Hostelworld as they have the biggest inventory and best deals. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels.

My favorite place to stay in the city is Castle Rock Hostel .

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Meet the Ghosts of Edinburgh

February 7, 2016 By Ron 1 Comment

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Dalry House

Dalry is an area of Edinburgh near the famous Haymarket. One of the buildings on Orwell Place known as the Dalry House is believed to be haunted by one of the most famous Edinburgh ghost: the Johnny One Arm. The story goes that Johnny One Arm’s real name was John Chiesly, an Edinburgh citizen some time in the 17th century. According to the legend he was ordered to pay a substantial annual alimony to his ex-wife after their divorce. However, being angered by the decision and unwilling to pay the money, one day he set off and murdered the magistrate who gave the order. He was soon captured, tortured and his right arm was cut off. He was hanged and his body was left on the gallows as a warning. However, the body disappeared. Many believed that it was taken by his friends for burial, although shortly after a reports of a one armed ghost begun to emerge. In 1965 a 300 years old skeleton with only one arm was found beneath the Dalry House.

Lady Christian of Corstorphine

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The Death Coach of the Royal Mile

A Death Coach is a horse driven carriage traveling around the city collecting souls of the departed. Edinburgh has its very own Death Coach, usually traveling around the Royal Mile in the Old Town. It is described by those who had seen it as a glowing, ghostly carriage drawn by black horses. Sightings of the Death Coach on Royal Mile are believed to signal an imminent disaster in the city.

George Streets Jane

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Liberton House Ghost

Liberton House ghost is one of the few ghosts of Edinburgh that were actually photographed. The house is haunted by a girl of whom we don’t know much. One thing is for sure, one of the ways she manifests herself is through causing disturbance in workings of electrical equipment which often malfunctions for no obvious reason.

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Discover the true ghost stories from Edinburgh’s darkest side and join a “Edinburgh Ghost Tour”, you can do this both day and night! For more info on Ghost Tours and to book visit this page , if you dare!

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February 8, 2016 at 10:22 am

Fascinating ghost stories around Edinburgh! I was expecting to see the morn relating to the Covenanters prison and Edinburgh castle but I’m pleasantly surprised! Thanks for posting this stories would be good to see more or even a few pictures to go along with their locations.

Many thanks, ross k. Ps found your blog on Twitter.

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Spooky sightings at Edinburgh Castle and the ghosts that are claimed to haunt the halls

From dogs buried long ago to vengeful 16th century women, there's many ghostly tales surrounding Edinburgh Castle - but what are their origin stories and who should we watch out for?

  • 15:11, 21 OCT 2022
  • Updated 16:03, 29 OCT 2022

Edinburgh Castle is supposedly home to many spirits (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Dating back to the 12th century, it’s no surprise that Edinburgh Castle has many grisly tales and legends surrounding it.

The fortress has been the site of many deaths, tortures and executions in its time - some of which are said to have led to the spirits that walk the grounds to this day. Many visitors to the castle have claimed to have got more than they bargained for when they bought a ticket, but who exactly are people bumping into?

It’s said that Edinburgh Castle is one of the most haunted locations in Scotland, and if we’re to believe some of these stories then it must be true. From feeling unwelcome presences to seeing shadowy beings, the reports are endless.

READ MORE - 12 Edinburgh ghost sightings to make your blood curdle ahead of Halloween

Here are just some of the creepy characters that visitors have had an unwanted experience with.

The Grey Lady

Said to roam the halls of the castle in a mournful fashion, the Grey Lady is thought by some to be Janet Douglas. Otherwise known as Lady Glamis, she was accused of witchcraft by King James V.

The King hated her brother, Archibald Douglas, who had imprisoned James in his younger years. After his release, he took his anger out on the whole family.

He accused Lady Glamis of treason and witchcraft, claims that everyone around them knew were baseless. Regardless, she was burned at the stake on the grounds of the castle in July 1537 - in front of her 16-year-old son.

If that doesn’t justify her haunting the castle, what does.

Others claim the Grey Lady could be Marie de Guide, the Catholic mother and regent of Mary Queen of Scots. She found herself on the losing side of the Scottish Reformation, and died in June 1560.

Her corpse was kept at Edinburgh Castle for months, and supposedly walks the halls to this day.

The Unluckiest Prisoner

Sometimes labelled the Dung Man, one prisoner of Edinburgh Castle's dungeons met a very unfortunate end.

Imprisoned in the castle’s dark and rat infested dungeons, he made an attempt to escape by crawling into a wheelbarrow full of muck hoping to be carried from the castle and emptied out with a soft landing. Unfortunately for him, the wheelbarrow was thrown from the battlements instead, and he broke his neck on Castle Rock.

Several visitors to the castle have claimed to see a ghostly man, who smells of manure and attempts to push people off the battlements to meet the same end that he did. Talk about being bitter.

As legend has it, there was an underground tunnel into the castle that was discovered in the depths of the fortress. A regimental bagpiper was sent down into the tunnel, playing his pipes as he went.

His comrades heard the instrument for some time, until it stopped. They went down to try to find him, but he was nowhere to be found.

The tunnels were sealed, and the faint sound of bagpipes underneath the Old Town are supposedly heard to this day.

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The Drummer

Another military apparition seen on the grounds of the castle are that of a headless drummer.

First seen in 1650, it was thought to be a warning sign after Oliver Cromwell attacked the castle soon after. Ever since, the sight of the headless drummer is considered a signal of danger.

The Black Dog

On the grounds of Edinburgh Castle sits a pet cemetery, apparently not unlike Stephen King’s version.

Regimental mascots or distinguished soldiers' pets were buried there, and according to some visitors one little pup wanders around above ground. Several have spotted a scruffy black dog trotting around, with a ghostly look.

As spirits go, this one wouldn’t be too bad to bump into.

The Leather Apron Man

One of the lesser seen apparitions, this one was spotted by a group of volunteers in 2001.

Working for a research project, 240 volunteers headed into the depths of Edinburgh Castle to see what experiences they may encounter. Several reported feeling a burning sensation on their arm, and feeling as if they were being watched.

They claimed to see a man in a leather apron walk through one of the doorways.

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6 Creepy Stories from Edinburgh to Freak You Out

Edinburgh horror stories.

Edinburgh has a long and macabre history. Ghost hunters and psychics often tout the Scottish capital as a one of the most haunted places in the world, and learning the tales and legends is a fun (and sometimes scary) way to understand more about the city.

Taking part in a walking tour is one of the best ways to find out about the gruesome tales that have been passed down the generations. In truth, most of them are more myths than hard facts, but they all set the scene in Edinburgh ’s Old Town and the Royal Mile. In the depths of a dark winter’s night, these spooky tales can send shivers down your spine.

The ghosts of Edinburgh Castle

edinburgh haunted house

Looming over the city from the top of The Royal Mile, the cold gray granite walls of Edinburgh Castle contain countless ghost stories. A young piper who disappeared without a trace hundreds of years ago can still be heard today, the faint, haunting sound of a lost soul.

As well as the story of the vanished piper, head down to the dungeons to hear tales of a headless drummer boy and a gaggle of French prisoners captured during the Seven Years War who are regularly sighted in and around the castle. Other spooky goings-on include misty figures, things pulling at your clothes and sudden drops in temperature – could there be a rational explanation or is it the sign of something paranormal? You can try to find out by staying in one of the hotels near the castle .

Location: Castlehill, Edinburgh EH1 2NG, UK

Greyfriars Bobby, the phantom dog

edinburgh haunted house

If you hear the bark of a dog in Edinburgh’s Old Town yet there’s nothing near, it could be Bobby, a phantom Skye terrier that is known to all in the city. The faithful hound spent 14 years guarding his master’s grave until he finally passed away in 1872 and was buried in Greyfriars Kirkland, near to his owner. People still hear his little bark near to his grave.

A small statue of Greyfriars Bobby is a popular landmark on the corner of Candlemaker Row. Some people claim it's good luck to rub Bobby’s nose, but others say it's just a tall tale created by tour guides in the city. Regardless, this tale of canine loyalty is so famous it was even turned into a Disney movie back in the 1960s.

Location: Candlemaker Row, Edinburgh EH1 2QQ, UK

edinburgh haunted house

Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh

edinburgh haunted house

Gilmerton Cove in Edinburgh

edinburgh haunted house

Holyrood Park in Edinburgh

Hundreds of witches burned at the stake.

edinburgh haunted house

King James VI was so concerned about witchcraft, he created a frenzy throughout Edinburgh in the 17th century. Old women suffering from mental illnesses and even females with knowledge of science were labeled as witches and senselessly murdered.

Many of these women – reports claim between 300 and 500 – were dragged to a market place on the Royal Mile and burned alive. This terrible period in British history thankfully stopped hundreds of years ago, but you can still visit the spot that was regularly used to burn the poor ladies.

Location: The Royal Mile, Edinburgh, UK

The horrors of the underground vaults

edinburgh haunted house

Beneath Edinburgh’s Old City, there’s a collection of underground passageways that used to be home to the very poorest people, as well as vagrants, thieves and other undesirables. With very little ventilation, these dark, dank tunnels were very unpleasant.

You can still visit parts of this underground labyrinth at the base of the Royal Mile. Fans of ghost stories will enjoy visiting Abandoned Annie, the ghost of a little girl who is said to reach out and grab your hand in the darkness. There is now a makeshift alter to little Annie, with thousands of dolls, toys and even money left for her by visitors. The money is collected by the council every year and donated to help sick children.

Location: The Real Mary King’s Close, The Royal Mile, Edinburgh, UK

photo by Helen Simonsson ( CC BY-SA 2.0 ) modified

The most haunted graveyard in Scotland

edinburgh haunted house

Greyfriars Krikyard is a graveyard that dates back to the 16th century. It’s the resting place of several infamous characters, but the most gruesome story here is that of Bloody MacKenzie – a sort of olden-day super villain. This wealthy lord was tasked with punishing hundreds of prisoners who refused to change their religion. It’s said that he had a hand in thousands of deaths.

Locals believe that the ghost of Bloody MacKenzie haunts the graveyard after his tomb was disturbed by a homeless man who broke into the graveyard at night. As soon as he laid hands on the tomb of Bloody MacKenzie, the floor opened up beneath him and he dropped into a shallow grave containing plague victims.

Since then, many other freaky episodes have taken place nearby. A woman was found unconscious with bruises around her neck and many claim that it was MacKenzie’s poltergeist, continuing his evil deeds in death as he did in life.

Location: 26A Candlemaker Row, Edinburgh EH1 2QE, UK

‘Earmarked’ thieves in the Old Market Square

edinburgh haunted house

This gruesome tale is a good lesson for would-be thieves. Anyone caught stealing repeatedly from the Old Market in Edinburgh would be taken to the stocks and have their ear nailed to the wood. The thief would be forced to rip their own ear off the nail, which would be a lifelong sign that they cannot be trusted. It’s been said that this ancient punishment – known as ‘cropping’ – is where the term ‘earmarked’ comes from. We’re quite sure it wouldn’t look pretty. To learn more of Edinburgh’s gruesome tales, take a guided walking tour around the Royal Mile and reserve your stay in Old Town to round off the experience.

Location: Grassmarket, Edinburgh, UK

This article includes opinions of the Go Guides editorial team. Hotels.com compensates authors for their writing appearing on this site; such compensation may include travel and other costs.

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The 4 Most Haunted Hotels in Edinburgh

If you’re looking to book a haunted hotel in Edinburgh then you’re in for a treat. Read on below to see what haunted hotels in Edinburgh we, at Haunted Rooms recommend to give you a truly ghostly experience.

Here are the four most haunted hotels in Edinburgh.

1. Borthwick Castle, Gorebridge

Borthwick Castle Haunted Hotel

Borthwick Castle was built almost 600 years ago and has a gruesome history with some interesting resident ghosts. It has 12 large bed chambers and three grand reception rooms, so it is popular for weddings.

With so much history, it is hard to avoid a supernatural connection. There have been several famous guests, including Mary Queen of Scots. She sought sanctuary there in 1567, and although she and her husband were found out, they escaped through a window with her dressed as a page boy. Many people believe she comes back to visit and has been seen walking through the halls. A boyish spectre who walks between the churchyard and castle is believed to be her ghost.

People have also experienced voices, noises, apparitions, light anomalies and waves of nausea. The Red Room is of special note because according to legend, a servant or peasant girl, Ann Grant, gave birth to an illegitimate Borthwick lord’s son in that room and both were killed after being held in the room for months. It is also said that their remains were put into the walls and covered up. Some women who stay in the room have been awakened by the feeling of being pulled out of bed while the men sleep through the night. This may be Ann trying to communicate with those who may sympathize with her lost child.

A Borthwick family chancellor, who was discovered to be embezzling money, also used this room and when found out, he was burned to death. The ghosts of both of these people are believed to haunt the spiral staircases.

2. The Witchery By the Castle, Castle Hill, Edinburgh

The Witchery By The Castle Edinburgh

While not a castle itself, The Witchery By The Castle is literally by Edinburgh Castle. The Witchery is a restaurant that also provides accommodations as a bed and breakfast. Even though the restaurant did not open until 1979, the building itself is from the 16th century and believed to be haunted by some old ghosts. In the 15th and 16th century, about 1000 people were burned on Castlehill for witchcraft. It is believed that at least one of these victims haunts The Witchery.

It is also believed that more witches were killed during James VI’s reign than anywhere else in Scotland. The Witchery occupies Boswell’s Court, a sixteenth-century building. There are nine luxurious and theatrical suites for those looking to stay. These rooms have gothic character and come with a four-poster bed and velvet sheets.

The Secret Garden Restaurant was built on an abandoned schoolyard. If you eat there at night, you will eat by candlelight, which adds to the spooky ambience while eating your fancy food.

3. Dalhousie Castle Hotel & Spa, Edinburgh

Dalhousie Castle

This hotel is luxurious and traditional but has many period features. There are 29 luxury bedrooms with period furniture and antique rugs. There are an additional 9 standard bedrooms also. It dates back to the 13th century and has been rumoured to be haunted by many ghosts.

Being one of the most haunted places in Scotland , ghost tours at Dalhousie castle are regularly given. People have experienced unexplained noises, footsteps and objects being moved around.

The most famous spirit is Sir Alexander Ramsay, who was starved to death in Hermitage Castle. His spirit has been seen walking the grounds and hall of the hotel. There is also 16-year-old Lady Catherine, known as the “Grey Lady,” who you may see in the dungeon or by the turrets. She died in the castle in 1720 of a broken heart. Her father would not let her marry the stable hand she was discovered with and was banished to the castle tower. She tends to appear at weddings, so you may have a surprise guest if you are interested in getting married in this castle. Try not to get too frightened when she walks through walls.

4. The Scotsman Hotel

Haunted Scotsman Hotel Edinburgh

The Scotsman Hotel is a stunning 5 star hotel in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town on North Bridge. It once served as the city’s newspaper headquarters, for the Scotsman (hence the name), and Edinburgh Evening News.

Some of the buildings’ past employees are still believed to haunt the builiding to this day, going about their daily work life.

The apparition of a phantom printer, who fell to his death has been seen walking the corridors and the halls, and there’s been several occurrences of disembodied footsteps, and phantom voices heard thorughout.

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THE MOST HAUNTED PUBS IN EDINBURGH

Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital is home to a rich array of ghostly goings-on. Paupers, peasants and nobility rub paranormal shoulders with each other on these intriguing streets.

South Bridge Vaults which are hidden under the city’s bustling streets were originally storage areas for local businesses but following a series of floods, the vaults were taken over by some of the area’s poorest residents as pubs, brothels and even slum housing. The vaults became synonymous with some of the city’s worst crimes, including murder. The famous bodysnatchers, Burke and Hare are said to have trawled the vaults for victims of these crimes and would sell the bodies to schools of medicine.

There is said to be a demon trapped within one of the chambers and this eerie destination is one of the most popular spots for ghost hunting in Edinburgh .

Edinburgh Castle does not escape ghostly phenomenon either. Ghostly bagpipes have been reported by visitors and one prisoner, who escaped in a wheelbarrow of dung, is sniffed out by many of those who venture down to the dungeons.

Mary King’s Close, situated just off of the Royal Mile, was used as a quarantine area for plague victims. At some point, the street was built over, but when residents eventually returned to the close, many incidents of paranormal activity was reported and still is today by those who visit, including ghostly sightings and voices.

One of Edinburgh’s best-known hauntings is that of Greyfriars Bobby, the dog that is said to have never left his masters’ side and following his owner’s death, the dog remained by his graveside until Bobby, himself passed away. There is a monument to Bobby but some visitors claim to see his ghost in Greyfriars Kirkyard to this day.

The Banshee Labyrinth claims to be Edinburgh’s most haunted pub where workman heard a woman screaming and drinkers have reported their glasses flying off the tables, hurtling through the air and hitting the wall.

Once you’ve located your ideal haunted hotel, Edinburgh offers a wealth of fantastic museums, monuments and experiences to make your stay one that you’ll never forget.

In addition, Edinburgh offers wonderful eateries, the most ancient and quirky of pubs – check out The Devil’s Advocate, situated down an ancient medieval close opposite St. Giles Church or the jaw-dropping grandeur of The Dome.

Easily accessible by major motorways and rail links Edinburgh should be on every ghost hunter’s bucket list.

We feature just some of the most haunted hotels in Edinburgh. If you know of a haunted hotel in Edinburgh that we’ve missed, we’d welcome your suggestion. Just click on the ‘Contact Us’ link in the footer at the bottom of the website.

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J. V. Stalin

The Right Danger in the C.P.S.U.(B.)

Speech delivered at the plenum of the moscow committee and moscow control commission of the c.p.s.u.(b.) october 19, 1928.

Source: Works , Vol. 11, January, 1928 to March, 1929 Publisher: Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1954 Transcription/Markup: Salil Sen for MIA, 2008 Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2008). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit "Marxists Internet Archive" as your source.

I think, comrades, that we must first rid our minds of trivialities, of personal matters, and so forth, in order to settle the question which interests us, that of the Right deviation.

Is there a Right, opportunist danger in our Party? Do there exist objective conditions favourable to the development of such a danger? How should this danger be fought? These are the questions that now confront us.

But we shall not settle this question of the Right deviation unless we purge it of all the trivialities and adventitious elements which have surrounded it and which prevent us from understanding its essence.

Zapolsky is wrong in thinking that the question of the Right deviation is an accidental one. He asserts that it is all not a matter of a Right deviation, but of petty squabbles, personal intrigues, etc. Let us assume for a moment that petty squabbles and personal intrigues do play some part here, as in all struggles. But to explain everything by petty squabbles and to fail to see the essence of the question behind the squabbles, is to depart from the correct, Marxist path.

A large, united organisation of long standing, such as the Moscow organisation undoubtedly is, could not be stirred up from top to bottom and set into motion by the efforts of a few squabblers or intriguers. No, comrades, such miracles do not happen. That is apart from the fact that the strength and power of the Moscow organisation cannot be estimated so lightly. Obviously, more profound causes have been at work here causes which have nothing to do with either petty squabbles or intrigues.

Fruntov is also wrong; for although he admits the existence of a Right danger, he does not think it worth while for serious, busy people to concern themselves with it seriously. In his opinion, the question of the Right deviation is a subject for noise-makers, not for serious people. I quite understand Fruntov: he is so absorbed in the day-to-day practical work that he has no time to think about the prospects of our development. But that does not mean that we must convert the narrow, practical empiricism of certain of our Party workers into a dogma of our work of construction. A healthy practicalism is a good thing; but if it loses sight of the prospects in the work and fails to subordinate the work to the basic line of the Party, it becomes a drawback. And yet it should not be difficult to understand that the question of the Right deviation is a question of the basic line of our Party; it is the question as to whether the prospects of development outlined by our Party at the Fifteenth Congress are correct or incorrect.

Those comrades who in discussing the problem of the Right deviation concentrate on the question of the individuals representing the Right deviation are also wrong. Show us who are the Rights and the conciliators, they say, name them, so that we can deal with them accordingly. That is not the correct way of presenting the question. Individuals, of course, play some part. Nevertheless, the question is not one of individuals, but of the conditions, of the situation, giving rise to the Right danger in the Party. Individuals can be kept out, but that does not mean that we have thereby cut the roots of the Right danger in our Party. Hence, the question of individuals does not settle the matter, although it is undoubtedly of interest.

In this connection I cannot help recalling an incident which occurred in Odessa at the end of 1919 and the beginning of 1920, when our forces, having driven Denikin's forces out of the Ukraine, were crushing the last remnants of his armies in the area of Odessa. One group of Red Army men searched high and low for the "Entente" in Odessa, convinced that if they could only capture it—the Entente—the war would be over. ( General laughter. ) It is conceivable that our Red Army men might have captured some representatives of the Entente in Odessa, but that, of course, would not have settled the question of the Entente, for the roots of the Entente did not lie in Odessa, although Odessa at that time was the Denikinites' last terrain, but in world capitalism.

The same can be said of certain of our comrades, who in the question of the Right deviation concentrate on the individuals representing that deviation, and forget about the conditions that give rise to it.

That is why we must first of all elucidate here the conditions that give rise to the Right, and also to the "Left" (Trotskyite), deviation from the Leninist line.

Under capitalist conditions the Right deviation in communism signifies a tendency, an inclination that has not yet taken shape, it is true, and is perhaps not yet consciously realised, but nevertheless a tendency of a section of the Communists to depart from the revolutionary line of Marxism in the direction of Social-Democracy. When certain groups of Communists deny the expediency of the slogan "Class against class" in election campaigns (France), or are opposed to the Communist Party nominating its own candidates (Britain), or are disinclined to make a sharp issue of the fight against "Left" Social-Democracy (Germany), etc., etc., it means that there are people in the Communist Parties who are striving to adapt communism to Social-Democratism.

A victory of the Right deviation in the Communist Parties of the capitalist countries would mean the ideological rout of the Communist Parties and an enormous strengthening of Social-Democratism. And what does an enormous strengthening of Social-Democratism mean? It means the strengthening and consolidation of capitalism, for Social-Democracy is the main support of capitalism in the working class.

Consequently, a victory of the Right deviation in the Communist Parties of the capitalist countries would lead to a development of the conditions necessary for the preservation of capitalism.

Under the conditions of Soviet development, when capitalism has already been overthrown, but its roots have not yet been torn out, the Right deviation in communism signifies a tendency, an inclination that has not yet taken shape, it is true, and is perhaps not yet consciously realised, but nevertheless a tendency of a section of the Communists to depart from the general line of our Party in the direction of bourgeois ideology. When certain circles of our Communists strive to drag the Party back from the decisions of the Fifteenth Congress, by denying the need for an offensive against the capitalist elements in the countryside; or demand a contraction of our industry, in the belief that its present rapid rate of development is fatal for the country; or deny the expediency of subsidies to the collective farms and state farms, in the belief that such subsidies are money thrown to the winds; or deny the expediency of fighting against bureaucracy by methods of self-criticism, in the belief that self-criticism undermines our apparatus; or demand that the monopoly of foreign trade be relaxed, etc., etc., it means that there are people in the ranks of our Party who are striving, perhaps without themselves realising it, to adapt our socialist construction to the tastes and requirements of the "Soviet" bourgeoisie.

A victory of the Right deviation in our Party would mean an enormous strengthening of the capitalist elements in our country. And what does the strengthening of the capitalist elements in our country mean? It means weakening the proletarian dictatorship and increasing the chances of the restoration of capitalism.

Consequently, a victory of the Right deviation in our Party would mean a development of the conditions necessary for the restoration of capitalism in our country.

Have we in our Soviet country any of the conditions that would make the restoration of capitalism possible? Yes, we have. That, comrades, may appear strange, but it is a fact. We have overthrown capitalism, we have established the dictatorship of the proletariat, we are developing our socialist industry at a rapid pace and are linking peasant economy with it. But we have not yet torn out the roots of capitalism. Where are these roots imbedded? They are imbedded in commodity production, in small production in the towns and, especially, the countryside.

As Lenin says, the strength of capitalism lies "in the strength of small production. For, unfortunately, small production is still very, very widespread in the world, and small production engenders capitalism and the bourgeoisie continuously, daily, hourly, spontaneously, and on a mass scale" (see Vol. XXV, p. 173).

It is clear that, since small production bears a mass, and even a predominant character in our country, and since it engenders capitalism and the bourgeoisie continuously and on a mass scale, particularly under the conditions of NEP, we have in our country conditions which make the restoration of capitalism possible.

Have we in our Soviet country the necessary means and forces to abolish, to eliminate the possibility of the restoration of capitalism? Yes, we have. And it is this fact that proves the correctness of Lenin's thesis on the possibility of building a complete socialist society in the U.S.S.R. For this purpose it is necessary to consolidate the dictatorship of the proletariat strengthen the alliance between the working class and peasantry, develop our key positions from the standpoint of industrialising the country, develop industry at a rapid rate, electrify the country, place the whole of our national economy on a new technical basis, organise the peasantry into co-operatives on a mass scale and increase the yield of its farms gradually unite the individual peasant farms into socially conducted, collective farms, develop state farms, restrict and overcome the capitalist elements in town and country, etc., etc. Here is what Lenin says on this subject:

"As long as we live in a small-peasant country, there is a surer economic basis for capitalism in Russia than for communism. This must be borne in mind. Anyone who has carefully observed life in the countryside, as compared with life in the towns, knows that we have not torn out the roots of capitalism and have not undermined the foundation, the basis of the internal enemy. The latter depends on small-scale production, and there is only one way of undermining it, namely, to place the economy of the country, including agriculture, on a new technical basis, the technical basis of modern large-scale production. And it is only electricity that is such a basis. Communism is Soviet power plus the electrification of the whole country. Otherwise, the country will remain a small-peasant country, and we have got to understand that clearly. We are weaker than capitalism, not only on a world scale, but also within the country. Everybody knows this. We are conscious of it, and we shall see to it that our economic base is transformed from a small-peasant base into a large-scale industrial base. Only when the country has been electrified, only when our industry, our agriculture, our transport system have been placed upon the technical basis of modern large-scale industry shall we achieve final victory" (Vol. XXVI, pp. 46-47).

It follows, firstly, that as long as we live in a small-peasant country, as long as we have not torn out the roots of capitalism, there is a surer economic basis for capitalism than for communism. It may happen that you cut down a tree but fail to tear out the roots; your strength does not suffice for this. Hence the possibility of the restoration of capitalism in our country.

Secondly, it follows that besides the possibility of the restoration of capitalism there is also the possibility of the victory of socialism in our country, because we can destroy the possibility of the restoration of capitalism, we can tear out the roots of capitalism and achieve final victory over capitalism in our country, if we intensify the work of electrifying the country, if we place our industry, agriculture and transport on the technical basis of modern, large-scale industry. Hence the possibility of the victory of socialism in our country.

Lastly, it follows that we cannot build socialism in industry alone and leave agriculture to the mercy of spontaneous development on the assumption that the countryside will "move by itself" following the lead of the towns. The existence of socialist industry in the towns is the principal factor in the socialist transformation of the countryside. But it does not mean that that factor is quite sufficient. If the socialist towns are to take the lead of the peasant countryside all the way, it is essential, as Lenin says, "to place the economy of the country, including agriculture,* on a new technical basis, the technical basis of modern large-scale production."

Does this quotation from Lenin contradict another of his statements, to the effect that "NEP fully ensures us the possibility * of laying the foundation of a socialist economy"? No, it does not. On the contrary, the two statements fully coincide. Lenin by no means says that NEP gives us socialism ready-made. Lenin merely says that NEP ensures us the possibility of laying the foundation of a socialist economy. There is a great difference between the possibility of building socialism and the actual building of socialism. Possibility and actuality must not be confused. It is precisely for the purpose of transforming possibility into actuality that Lenin proposes the electrification of the country and the placing of industry, agriculture and transport on the technical basis of modern large-scale production as a condition for the final victory of socialism in our country.

But this condition for the building of socialism cannot be fulfilled in one or two years. It is impossible in one or two years to industrialise the country, build up a powerful industry, organise the vast masses of the peasantry into co-operatives, place agriculture on a new technical basis, unite the individual peasant farms into large collective farms, develop state farms, and restrict and overcome the capitalist elements in town and country. Years and years of intense constructive work by the proletarian dictatorship will be needed for this. And until that is accomplished—and it can not be accomplished all at once—we shall remain a small peasant country, where small production engenders capitalism and the bourgeoisie continuously and on a mass scale, and where the danger of the restoration of capitalism remains.

And since our proletariat does not live in a vacuum, but in the midst of the most actual and real life with all its variety of forms, the bourgeois elements arising on the basis of small production "encircle the proletariat on every side with petty bourgeois elemental forces, by means of which they permeate and corrupt the proletariat and continually cause relapses among the proletariat into petty-bourgeois spinelessness, disunity, individualism, and alternate moods of exaltation and dejection" (Lenin, Vol. XXV, p. 189), thereby introducing into the ranks of the proletariat and of its Party a certain amount of vacillation, a certain amount of wavering.

There you have the root and the basis of all sorts of vacillations and deviations from the Leninist line in the ranks of our Party.

That is why the Right and "Left" deviations in our Party cannot be regarded as a trifling matter.

Where does the danger of the Right, frankly opportunist, deviation in our Party lie? In the fact that it underestimates the strength of our enemies, the strength of capitalism: it does not see the danger of the restoration of capitalism; it does not understand the mechanism of the class struggle under the dictatorship of the proletariat and therefore so readily agrees to make concessions to capitalism, demanding a slowing down of the rate of development of our industry, demanding concessions for the capitalist elements in town and country, demanding that the question of collective farms and state farms be relegated to the background, demanding that the monopoly of foreign trade be relaxed, etc., etc.

There is no doubt that the triumph of the Right deviation in our Party would unleash the forces of capitalism, undermine the revolutionary positions of the proletariat and increase the chances of the restoration of capitalism in our country.

Where does the danger of the "Left" (Trotskyite) deviation in our Party lie? In the fact that it overestimates the strength of our enemies, the strength of capitalism; it sees only the possibility of the restoration of capitalism, but cannot see the possibility of building socialism by the efforts of our country; it gives way to despair and is obliged to console itself with chatter about Thermidor tendencies in our Party.

From the words of Lenin that "as long as we live in a small peasant country, there is a surer economic basis for capitalism in Russia than for communism," the "Left" deviation draws the false conclusion that it is impossible to build socialism in the U.S.S.R. at all; that we cannot get anywhere with the peasantry; that the idea of an alliance between the working class and the peasantry is an obsolete idea; that unless a victorious revolution in the West comes to our aid the dictatorship of the proletariat in the U.S.S.R. must fall or degenerate; that unless we adopt the fantastic plan of super-industrialisation, even at the cost of a split with the peasantry, the cause of socialism in the U.S.S.R. must be regarded as doomed.

Hence the adventurism in the policy of the "Left" deviation. Hence its "superhuman" leaps in the sphere of policy.

There is no doubt that the triumph of the "Left" deviation in our Party would lead to the working class being separated from its peasant base, to the vanguard of the working class being separated from the rest of the working-class masses, and, consequently, to the defeat of the proletariat and to facilitating conditions for the restoration of capitalism.

You see, therefore, that both these dangers, the "Left" and the Right, both these deviations from the Leninist line, the Right and the "Left," lead to the same result, although from different directions.

Which of these dangers is worse? In my opinion one is as bad as the other.

The difference between these deviations from the point of view of successfully combating them consists in the fact that the danger of the "Left" deviation is at the present moment more obvious to the Party than the danger of the Right deviation. The fact that an intense struggle has been waged against the "Left" deviation for several years now has, of course, not been without its value for the Party. It is clear that the Party has learned a great deal in the years of the fight against the "Left," Trotskyite deviation and cannot now be easily deceived by "Left" phrases.

As for the Right danger, which existed before, but which has now become more prominent because of the growth of the petty-bourgeois elemental forces resulting from last year's grain-procurement crisis, I think it is not quite so obvious to certain sections of our Party. That is why our task must be—while not in the least relaxing the fight against the "Left," Trotskyite danger—to lay the emphasis on the fight against the Right deviation and to take all measures to make the danger of this deviation as obvious to the Party as the Trotskyite danger.

The question of the Right deviation would not, perhaps, be as acute as it is now, were it not for the fact that it is connected with the difficulties accompanying our development. But the whole point is that the existence of the Right deviation complicates the difficulties accompanying our development and hinders our efforts to overcome these difficulties. And for the very reason that the Right danger hinders the efforts to overcome the difficulties, the question of overcoming the Right danger has assumed particularly great importance for us.

A few words about the nature of our difficulties. It should be borne in mind that our difficulties should by no means be regarded as difficulties of stagnation or decline. There are difficulties that arise at a time of economic decline or stagnation, and in such cases efforts are made to render the stagnation less painful, or the decline less profound. Our difficulties have nothing in common with difficulties of that kind. The characteristic feature of our difficulties is that they are difficulties of expansion, difficulties of growth. When we speak about difficulties we usually mean by what percentage industry ought to be expanded, by what percentage the crop area ought to be enlarged, by how many poods the crop yield ought to be increased, etc., etc. And because our difficulties are those of expansion, and not of decline or stagnation, they should not be anything particularly dangerous for the Party.

But difficulties are difficulties, nevertheless. And since in order to overcome difficulties it is necessary to exert all efforts, to display firmness and endurance, and since not everybody possesses sufficient firmness and endurance—perhaps as a result of fatigue and overstrain, or because of a preference for a quiet life, free from struggle and commotion—it is just here that vacillations and waverings begin to take place, tendencies to adopt the line of least resistance, talk about slowing down the rate of industrial development, about making concessions to the capitalist elements, about rejecting collective farms and state farms and, in general, everything that goes beyond the calm and familiar conditions of the daily routine.

But unless we overcome the difficulties in our path we shall make no progress. And in order to overcome the difficulties we must first defeat the Right danger, we must first overcome the Right deviation, which is hindering the fight against the difficulties and is trying to undermine our Party's will to fight and overcome the difficulties.

I am speaking, of course, of a real fight against the Right deviation, not a verbal, paper fight. There are people in our Party who, to soothe their conscience, are quite willing to proclaim a fight against the Right danger in the same way as priests sometimes cry, "Hallelujah! Hallelujah!" But they will not undertake any practical measures at all to organise the fight against the Right deviation on a firm basis, and to overcome this deviation in actual fact. We call this tendency a conciliatory tendency towards the Right, frankly opportunist, deviation. It is not difficult to understand that the fight against this conciliatory tendency is an integral part of the general fight against the Right deviation, against the Right danger. For it is impossible to overcome the Right, opportunist deviation without waging a systematic fight against the conciliatory tendency, which takes the opportunists under its wing.

The question who are the exponents of the Right deviation is undoubtedly of interest, although it is not of decisive importance. We came across exponents of the Right danger in our lower Party organisations during the grain-procurement crisis last year, when a number of Communists in the volosts and villages opposed the Party's policy and worked towards forming a bond with kulak elements. As you know, such people were cleared out of the Party last spring, a matter specially referred to in the document of the Central Committee of our Party in February this year.

But it would be wrong to say that there are no such people left in our Party. If we go higher up, to the uyezd and gubernia Party organisations, or if we dig deeper into the Soviet and co-operative apparatus, we could without difficulty find exponents of the Right danger and conciliation towards it. We know of "letters," "declarations," and other documents written by a number of functionaries in our Party and Soviet apparatus, in which the drift towards the Right deviation is quite distinctly expressed. You know that these letters and documents were referred to in the verbatim report of the July plenum of the Central Committee.

If we go higher still, and ask about the members of the Central Committee, we shall have to admit that within the Central Committee, too, there are certain elements, very insignificant it is true, of a conciliatory attitude towards the Right danger. The verbatim report of the July plenum of the Central Committee provides direct proof of this.

Well, and what about the Political Bureau? Are there any deviations in the Political Bureau? In the Political Bureau there are neither Right nor "Left" deviations nor conciliators towards those deviations. This must be said quite categorically. It is time to put a stop to the tittle-tattle spread by enemies of the Party and by the oppositionists of all kinds about there being a Right deviation, or a conciliatory attitude towards the Right deviation, in the Political Bureau of our Central Committee.

Were there vacillations and waverings in the Moscow organisation, or in its top leadership, the Moscow Committee? Yes, there were. It would be absurd to assert now that there were no waverings, no vacillations there. The candid speech made by Penkov is direct proof of this. Penkov is by no means the least important person in the Moscow organisation and in the Moscow Committee. You heard him plainly and frankly admit that he had been wrong on a number of important questions of our Party policy. That does not mean, of course, that the Moscow Committee as a whole was subject to vacillation. No, it does not mean that. A document like the appeal of the Moscow Committee to the members of the Moscow organisation in October of this year undoubtedly shows that the Moscow Committee has succeeded in overcoming the vacillations of certain of its members. I have no doubt that the leading core of the Moscow Committee will be able completely to straighten out the situation.

Certain comrades are dissatisfied with the fact that the district organisations interfered in this matter and demanded that an end be put to the mistakes and vacillations of certain leaders of the Moscow organisation. I do not see how this dissatisfaction can be justified. What is there wrong about district activists of the Moscow organisation raising the demand that an end be put to mistakes and vacillations? Does not our work proceed under the slogan of self-criticism from below? Is it not a fact that self-criticism increases the activity of the Party rank and file and of the proletarian rank and file in general? What is there wrong or dangerous in the fact that the district activists proved equal to the situation?

Did the Central Committee act rightly in interfering in this matter? I think that it did. Berzin thinks that the Central Committee acted too drastically in demanding the removal of one of the district leaders to whom the district organisation was opposed. That is absolutely wrong. Let me remind Berzin of certain incidents in 1919 or 1920, when some members of the Central Committee who were guilty of certain, in my opinion, not very serious errors in respect of the Party line were, on Lenin's suggestion, subjected to exemplary punishment, one of them being sent to Turkestan, and the other almost paying the penalty of expulsion from the Central Committee.

Was Lenin right in acting as he did? I think he was quite right. The situation in the Central Committee then was not what it is now. Half the members of the Central Committee followed Trotsky, and the situation in the Central Committee was not a stable one. The Central Committee today is acting much more mildly. Why? Is it, perhaps, because we want to be more gentle than Lenin? No, that is not the point. The point is that the position of the Central Committee is more stable now than it was then, and the Central Committee can afford to act more mildly.

Nor is Sakharov right in asserting that the intervention of the Central Committee was belated. Sakharov is wrong because he evidently does not know that, properly speaking, the intervention of the Central Committee began in February of this year. Sakharov can convince himself of that if he desires. It is true that the intervention of the Central Committee did not immediately yield required results. But it would be strange to blame the Central Committee for that.

Conclusions:

1) the Right danger is a serious danger in our Party, for it is rooted in the social and economic situation in our country;

2) the danger of the Right deviation is aggravated by the existence of difficulties which cannot be overcome unless the Right deviation and conciliation towards it are overcome;

3) in the Moscow organisation there were vacillations and waverings, there were elements of instability;

4) the core of the Moscow Committee, with the help of the Central Committee and the district activists, took all measures to put an end to these vacillations;

5) there can be no doubt that the Moscow Committee will succeed in overcoming the mistakes which began to take shape in the past;

6) our task is to put a stop to the internal struggle, to unite the Moscow organisation into a single whole, and to carry through the elections in the Party units successfully on the basis of fully developed self-criticism. ( Applause. )

Pravda, No. 247, October 23, 1928

* My italics.—J. Stalin

Collected Works Index | Volume 11 Index Works by Decade | J. V. Stalin Archive

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