Have you had a terrifying time in Edinburgh lately? If so, you’re not alone. Dark tourism is on the rise in the Scottish capital as locals dream up more and more imaginative methods of spooking you. Kirstie Pelling from the Family Adventure Project suggests ten ways to freak out on an atmospheric weekend break…
Are you sitting uncomfortably? Then I’ll begin. But where? At World’s End Close? In a vault with The Watcher? In Edinburgh you are spoilt for choice. From dimly lit alleyways to crypts and dungeons, there’s barely an inch of this historic city that hasn’t been mined for stories, myths and legends. So whether you prefer to hang out with the dead or the undead, here are my top ten suggestions for a delightfully scary visit.
1. Ghosts, ghouls, and damned drams
There are all manner of spooky tours and trails in Edinburgh. One of the Mercat Tours ends with a ghost story over a wee dram. But don’t imagine this Evening of Ghosts and Ghouls is cosy. After a mock flogging in the street, you’ll go deep into the Blair Street underground vaults. Beware of the moment when your guide blows out the candle and The Watcher touches the hairs on the back of your neck. Or is that just the wind?
2: Harry Potter Trail for Muggles
The Potter Trails are all above ground. And full of colour and life. We each picked a wand and tried to stop the traffic with it as we wandered through J.K.Rowling’s Edinburgh and checked out her haunts. This free tour for Muggles is led by a witch or potion’s master, and takes you to the café’s and hotel where the author wrote, and the places where she drew inspiration for her character’s names.
3: Sneaky souvenir shopping
If you want to buy yourself a few nasty souvenirs (not snow globes and fridge magnets – I am referring to spooky props) get yourself down to Victoria Street. Thought to be the inspiration for Diagon Alley, this colourful street has a darker side. You can pop into Context and buy a wand. The disgustingly sneaky Aha Ha Ha joke shop has tricks galore. Or take a tour from The Witchery.
4: Graves for the brave
What do Adam Smith and Scrooge have in common. You might think it’s money but no, they are both buried in the same cemetery – Canongate Kirkyard. Well, not exactly Scrooge, but Scroggie the Scottish merchant who inspired Dickens to create his famous miserly character. You can take a guided tour but if you are watching your wallet (of course you are if you’ve come to visit Scrooge!) you can make your own excursion. Or head off to Greyfriars Kirkyard where JK Rowling borrowed the name for He Who Must Not Be Named.
5: Underground city
The Real Mary King’s Close isn’t technically a ghost tour. But it does take place in the pitch black. And it does feel a bit on the spooky side as you tour an empty labyrinth that was once one of the most bustling parts of the city. As your costumed guide weaves tales of the real people that lived in this close, you’ll find out why it came to be sealed off – a cold, dark and entertaining history lesson.
6: Dare to do the Dungeon
In Edinburgh Dungeon a wide range of characters lead you into the past by spinning, spitting, spewing and scaring. But it’s all done with a large helping of fun, humour and interaction. If you are lucky you’ll be accused of being a witch, made to sign a confession, locked in a cage, sent off on a ghost boat and pinned against a wall on plague alley.
7: Prison break
Some tourists go for the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. Others prefer the sparkle of the Scottish Crown Jewels at Edinburgh Castle. We went in search of the darker stories of this ancient treasure trove on the hill. Wandering the vaults and the prison museum we heard about the squalid conditions of the prisoners of war and absorbed the atmosphere in the gloom. Take a free tour or look out for events where characters re-enact the lives of prisoners.
8: A ghoulish night bus
You’ll see this signature black vehicle all over town, trundling around like a hop on, hop off bus to hell. Don’t expect an open top though, you are trapped in once you’ve signed a pact with the conductor. But while he may be a ghost don’t expect him to let you off the ticket price. Expect gruesome tales, lots of fun and a ride that goes bump in the night.
9: Greetings from Gandalf
You can’t walk anywhere in Edinburgh without being given a leaflet for something theatrical or historic. Equally you aren’t allowed to go shopping or stroll the Golden Mile without meeting a human statue or a street artist doing their thing. We met Gandalf, a fallen angel, Yoda and the Grim Reaper. Oh and an owl. Only the owl said hello.
10: Horrible Histories in your ears
One for the little ones; tour the main sites of Edinburgh with some fun and fearsome stories while you are hopping on and off at attractions. Choose the City Sightseeing tour from Waverley and select Terry Deary’s Horrible Histories in your headphones. While listening hard to all the grim and grotty tales, just make sure you don’t miss your stop and end up in 17th century Edinburgh. I hear it was a totally horrible place.
Picture credits: Stuart Wickes, The Family Adventure Project