Edinburgh is famous for its many haunted locations and ghost walks that guide tourists through spooky backdrops as they listen to scary stories. The unsettling atmosphere of the underground streets at Mary Kings Close, for example, sees visitors walk through the Blair Street Vaults in the eerie quiet which can leave anyone feeling jumpy.
While it's fun to tease and mock these tours and their tales, many have been passed down through generations and their unsolved mysteries reflect a much more sinister, bloodier Edinburgh. Indeed, past the Instagram-worthy cobbled streets and Georgian architecture we see today lie dark secrets that reflect Edinburgh’s grisly past.
Here are 13 creepy facts about Edinburgh that you (probably) didn’t know.
1. Princes Street Gardens was once a lake used to dump bodies into
James III ordered the creation of Nor' Loch in 1460 as a way to fortify Edinburgh Castle's defences, however it was really just the city's cesspool. It was used as a site for execution where people were sentenced to death by drowning in the filthy waters with some even being locked in chests where they sank to the bottom to perish. On one single day in 1624 eleven women drowned there. Nowadays, this location goes by Princes Street Gardens as the loch was filled during the creation of the New Town. Photo: JByard via Canva Pro / John Slezer via Wikimedia Commons
2. Half a million corpses are buried at Greyfriars Kirkyard
Greyfriars Kirkyard is home to 500,000 dead bodies. Due to the sheer amount of death in Edinburgh's history as well as the city's limited space for proper burials, massive piles of dead bodies accrued in some areas. Greyfriars may appear like a grassy hill, but beneath the thin layer of soil is an enormous pile of corpses with bones reportedly popping out of the hill occasionally. Photo: Magnus Hagdorn via Wikimedia Commons
3. Edinburgh has caged coffins because it was the body-snatching capital of the world
In the nineteenth century Edinburgh was one of Europe's most important locations for medical research. Therefore, anatomists needed corpses to dissect and often turned to body snatchers to fulfil this role. These grave robbers would go to places like Greyfriars Kirkyard and dig up fresh bodies at night, which is why caged coffins were invented to stop them. Photo: Postdlf via Wikimedia Commons
4. Edinburgh was once at the epicentre for witch trials
During the 1600's more accused Witches were burnt at the stake in Edinburgh than any other location in Scotland. At Edinburgh Castle's esplanade you can find the Witches' Well which was erected to commemorate the Scottish women who were executed across the centuries due to witchcraft accusations. Modern estimates suggest that between the 16th and 17th century as many as 4,000 people accused of witchcraft were executed. Photo: King James via Wikimedia Commons