It’s no secret that the Scottish capital is home to more than a few paranormal mysteries. Widely considered to be one of the world’s most haunted cities, it’s bursting at the seams with great ghost stories of every variety. Edinburgh is a city that comes with a long and grizzly history that’s lent itself to a shocking amount of bone-chilling mysteries and paranormal thrills. Whether you’re a local looking for some Halloween spooks, plan to visit the capital city of Scotland or are simply curious about Edinburgh’s strange set of poltergeists, I’ve got you covered. Here are the most haunted places to visit in Edinburgh.
The first and perhaps the most famous site on this list is none other than Edinburgh Castle. Perched high atop the hill at the west end of the royal mile it’s visible from several spots throughout the city and is the gem of the Edinburgh skyline. Castle Rock, the hill on which the castle sits, has been inhabited long before the rise of Edinburgh Castle. Traces of settlements are dated back to 850 BC making it occupied for nearly 3,000 years.
In these 3,000 years, quite a bit has happened and lots of tortures, executions and murderous raids have taken place throughout the castle’s walls. The castle is known for plenty of ghosts and paranormal occurrences such as a headless drummer boy and group of French prisoners captured during the Seven Years War. Not to mention the hundreds of witches burned at the stake. But the most popular, and most sighted, is the piper.
The legend behind the piper is not as gory but equally bone-chilling. The story goes that a young piper was sent into the tunnels beneath the castle to play tunes. The idea was that those above ground would trace how far he went into the tunnel to map its exact location. He was playing and playing until he just… stopped. The men standing watch immediately rushed in the tunnel to check if he was okay, but the piper was nowhere to be found. To this day people report sightings of a young piper dressed in old clothes and hear sounds of faint tunes through the air.
The Underground Vaults
Tucked deep beneath the perfect cobblestone streets of Edinburgh’s Old Town, there’s a series of underground tunnels. They served as storage for cobblers, taverns and other merchants for a short time but were eventually abandoned due to the lack of light and ventilation. Sadly, though, this didn’t deter Edinburgh’s most desperate residents. The vaults quickly became a makeshift shelter for the poorest of the poor with sometimes upwards of 15 people in a single vault. Sadly, this led to the deaths of dozens of women, men and children who fell victim to disease in the damp, unaired spaces.
Not only were these people often quickly forgotten by the public, but many were also often easy targets of murder and rape. That said, it should come as no surprise that the majority of the spirits encountered here are less than friendly. There’ve been several accounts of people winding up with mysterious scratches and bruises along with misty apparitions and bodiless voices.
The Black Mausoleum
Greyfriar’s Kirkyard is a treat for any paranormal junkie visiting Edinburgh. After all, it’s touted as the most haunted place in the city and one of the most haunted sites in the world. From phantom dogs to countless reports of ghost sightings, it’s no surprise that Greyfriar’s Kirkyard is busting with mysterious energy. By far the most famous and most mysterious of these accounts is that of the Black Mausoleum.
The Black Mausoleum houses the remains of the infamous “bloody” George Mackenzie known now as simply the Mackenzie Poltergeist. Mackenzie was much more than your average villainous leader. To give an idea of just how vicious Mackenzie was, in his day as Lord Advocate to Charles II of England, his body count went upwards of 18,000. It earned him the nickname “bloody Mackenzie” and a reputation as one of the most brutal men of 17th century Scotland. It’s not hard to see why you wouldn’t want a spirit out and about that belonged to a man like Mackenzie. But at the Black Mausoleum, that’s just what you’ll find.
The Mackenzie Poltergeist is an example of the age-old “don’t disturb the dead”
The Mackenzie Poltergeist is a classic tale of don’t disturb the dead, and it starts in 1999 with a homeless man. Desperate for shelter, he broke into the mausoleum and fell through the floor, finding himself among the long decayed remains. According to legend, this is what “woke” Mackenzie and is the cause of all the spooky goings-on that can be seen today. Looking back at Mackenzie’s violent life, it’s safe to say he isn’t a friendly ghost. He is famous for leaving visitors with unexplained bruises, burns and gashes. It’s even said that some have become overwhelmed with nausea and experience fainting. The Black Mausoleum is just one of the many oddities that make Greyfriars Kirkyard one of most haunted cemeteries worldwide. Accounts of the Mackenzie poltergeist can be found all over and are accepted by even the toughest sceptics as something truly mystical.
The White Hart Inn
The White Hart Inn is tucked away in the historic Grassmarket area and is Edinburgh’s oldest hotel. It is famous for hosting guests such as Robert Burns and being a stone’s throw from gallows. Robert Burns isn’t the only notable guest related to The White Hart Inn, though.
This cosy Inn also played host to notorious serial killers Burke and Hare. The pair had a knack for killing and used their murderous skill to sell bodies for anatomy research. Together they took the lives of 16 people before handing them over to educators to use for anatomy lectures. They lured their victims to The White Hart Inn to be murdered leading to brutal crimes within the walls. It’s no surprise that Burke and Hare are largely responsible for the strange events which take place there today. A “malevolent presence” is reported here regularly, likely one of the Burke and Hare victims that suffered a gory fate.
Curious about Burke and Hare’s grizzly legacy and how they lent a hand to some of the most haunted places in Edinburgh? Learn more here.
Mary Kings Close
Mary Kings Close has been tormenting people for nearly 400 years. It’s also one of the most well documented haunted sites in the UK. This historic alleyway discreetly winds off the Royal Mile and, to put it mildly, was a horrid place.
In the 1640s Edinburgh was ravaged by the plague leading to an overrun and unprepared city flooded with illness. During this time, countless people slinked off to this alleyway to suffer out their final moments. As the bodies piled up, the area only became more riddled with disease. It was eventually coined a breeding ground for the Black Death. Centuries later, it boasts some of the most intriguing and bone-chilling paranormal activity imaginable. The first ghost sightings can be traced all the way back to 1685 when the abbey dawned as a haunted site.
Quaker Meeting House on The West Bow
You wouldn’t guess by looking but the candy-coloured street of West Bow, is home to some truly horrific events. What functions now as the Quaker Meeting House once was the residence of the wicked Thomas Weir. Major Thomas Weir was to most an upstanding citizen who played by the rules and held regular prayer meetings. Little did anyone know that he’d later be linked to some of the cities most horrific occult crimes. Among the worst being bestiality, incest and necromancy.
After years of moonlighting as a vicious sadist, he came clean in a weird twist of conscience. Weir confessed that he’d made a pact with the devil and lived an abhorrent life full of violent sexual immoralities. It was only a matter of time before he was to be burned at the Gallow Lea. Seeming resentful, Weir fully accepted his fate and refused to beg God for forgiveness in his final moments. ‘Let me alone, I have lived as a beast, and I shall die as a beast.’ Were his final words.
The house of horrors laid empty for over a century before anyone was brave enough to move in. Quickly after the couple was petrified by apparitions and “demonic energies” and fled just after. A few hundred years later it is still incredibly haunted and remains one of the most haunted places in Edinburgh. If for nothing else than the horrific acts committed here.
Looking to Wet Your Whistle? Pop by Banshee Labyrinth Pub
Fancy a few pints with local ghouls inside one of Edinburgh’s most haunted places? Banshee Labyrinth Pub has you covered. This pub is said to be one of the most haunted in Edinburgh and that’s saying something. Four hundred year later the original resident of the building, Lord Nicol Edwards, still roams the pub’s grounds. Edwards was Lord at during Scotland’s witch panic and was notorious for brutally torturing women he suspected were practising magic. Nowadays the “banshee screams” can be heard throughout the pub’s walls. Moreover, drinks are sometimes slid off tables for no apparent reason and glasses seem to fly on their own.
I hope you enjoyed this round-up of the most haunted places in Edinburgh! It’s one of my favourite cities and is so rich in history and lore. I’d love to know if you’ve visited Scotland and if you enjoy paranormal sites in the comments below!