Halloween is this month, and while the Brits may not celebrate the scary holiday as intensely as the Yanks, there are still plenty of frights to be had in Edinburgh. Here are the highlights of my guide to having a devilishly good time in the land of Scots (okay enough with the bad puns). Download the guide at our Edinburgh site at NileGuide.
Greyfriars Kirk and the City of the Dead tour
Greyfriars Kirk (Church) sits just outside the Old City near the Grassmarket. It is one of the oldest surviving buildings from the 1600s, and is famous for two legends associated with its kirkyard (graveyard): Greyfriars Bobby, a Skye terrier from the 19th century that supposedly sat loyally next to its master’s grave for 14 years, and the infamous Mackenzie poltergeist. George Mackenzie was a Scottish lawyer from the 17th century, who brutally murdered approximately 18,000 covenanters – individuals who revolted against the English monarchy’s interference in the Church of Scotland. When he died, Mackenzie was buried in a black mausoleum in Greyfriars Kirkyard.
In 1998, a homeless man broke into Mackenzie’s tomb to find shelter during a storm and supposedly disturbed the malicious lawyers’ remains. Since the incident, violent paranormal activity is said to have occurred in the graveyard and visitors have reported being bruised, scratched, cut and even knocked out by some unseen force either near Mackenzie’s mausoleum or in the Covenanters’ Prison, an area of the kirkyard where Mackenzie is said to have tortured and killed his victims.
Tourists can try their luck with the poltergeist by joining the City of the Dead – Edinburgh’s scariest walking tour. It lasts approximately 1.5 hours long and also explores the gruesome past of Edinburgh’s Old Town. It meets in front of St. Giles Cathedral on Royal Mile at 8:30pm and 10:00pm from Easter to Halloween, and at 8:30pm from Halloween to Easter. The tour costs £9.50 or £7.50 concession.
WARNING: The Mackenzie Poltergeist can cause genuine physical and mental distress. Join the tour at your own risk. Visit the City of the Dead website to read accounts of actual/alleged attacks by the poltergeist.
Watch this video for a history of the kirk and its evil ghost – it’ll get you in the mood for your horrifying tour:
Mercat Tours: The South Bridge Vaults
Perhaps the second scariest tour in Edinburgh, join Mercat Tours on a journey through the dark narrow closes of the Old Town of Edinburgh and prepare to be terrified by tales of the city’s ghostly and gory past. Descend into the Vaults beneath the South Bridge and hear stories of those who once occupied these dark chambers and perhaps still do. You’ll even get to see where a local witch coven holds their ceremonies! Tours run from noon till midnight and tickets can be bought online, at the Mercat Tours office, or at the Mercat Cross in the Royal Mile.
The Real Mary King’s Close
Edinburgh’s gruesome and brutal past is celebrated at the Edinburgh Dungeon. Torture and sadistic methods of punishment are documented here in a macabre display of bleeding wax models, authentic pungent smells and disturbing sounds. Witness one of the Edinburgh Dungeon trials acted out by the dungeon guides and see the array of instruments for extracting confessions. Located near the main train station Edinburgh Dungeon is a great if gory start to your Edinburgh visit.