South Bridge Vaults
Hidden under one of Edinburgh’s busiest streets, the South Bridge Vaults are a series of more than a hundred spooky subterranean chambers, housed inside the closed off arches of the South Bridge viaduct. After opening in 1788, the vaults were originally used by local businesses as workshops or for storage, but were abandoned less than ten years later when the chambers began to flood.
Soon after, the empty vaults became home to several illicit brothels and pubs, as well as slum housing for some of the city’s poorer residents. Crime was rife below street level, with robbery and murder becoming common. Infamous Edinburgh bodysnatchers Burke and Hare reportedly hunted for victims in the vaults, whose corpses the pair would go on to sell to local medical schools.
Unsurprisingly, this eerie place has more than a few ghost stories and tour groups regularly visit the vaults in the hope of witnessing some paranormal activity. From the spirits of those who may have lost their lives in the Great Fire of Edinburgh while trapped in the vaults to the evil demon supposedly trapped inside the stone circle in one of the chambers, the South Bridge vaults could well be the most haunted place in Edinburgh.
The Edinburgh Playhouse opened more than 80 year ago as a cinema and is now the UK’s largest working theatre. Rather fittingly, the Playhouse is said to have its very own mysterious ghost, known as Albert. Staff have reported sightings of a man wearing grey on the sixth floor of the theatre, whose appearances are apparently accompanied by a blast of cold air. Albert’s living identity is unknown, though he is thought to be the ghost of a stage hand who died in an accident, or a night watchman who killed himself.
Edinburgh’s most famous landmark has been a royal castle since the 12th century and has seen its fair share of conflict, so it’s no real shock that the castle is rumoured to be haunted.
Perhaps the most famous of Edinburgh Castle’s spooks is the ghostly piper, who was supposedly sent into the tunnels under the castle a few hundred years ago to explore but never returned. There have been multiple reports of bagpipes being heard below the castle and the Royal Mile ever since.
The castle dungeons are also said to house a few supernatural entities who were tortured and perished while imprisoned there many years ago. One prisoner, who attempted to escape in a wheelbarrow full of dung, supposedly haunts the battlements and tries to push visitors down Castle Rock. Several have claimed that the spirit’s lingering bad smell gives him away every time.
Mary King’s Close
Now a popular tourist attraction, Mary King’s Close off the Royal Mile is home to several disturbing urban legends. Plague victims were quarantined and left to die in the street, which was built over and abandoned for years afterwards. When Edinburgh residents eventually returned to the close the eyewitness accounts of supernatural sightings and paranormal occurrences came thick and fast, and even today visitors to the underground street claim to see ghostly figures and hear eerie voices while there.
Greyfriar’s Kirkyard might be best known for a former four-legged and furry resident known as Bobby, but the graveyard could also be home to a much more sinister inhabitant. There were always spooky stories linked to Greyfriar’s, but specific references to the Mackenzie Poltergeist began in the late 1990s.
The story goes that the poltergeist was disturbed after a homeless man seeking shelter broke into the Mackenzie mausoleum within Greyfriar’s Kirkyard, prompting a series of regular and violent ghostly attacks on innocent passers by. More than 350 people reported being attacked in this area of the graveyard between 1990 and 2006, but ghost tours still visit Mackenzie’s mausoleum. Visitors often mention a strong feeling of unease, as well as unexplained cuts, bruises and scratches.
The West Bow between Victoria Street and the Grassmarket was once the site of one of Edinburgh’s most feared houses, home to Major Thomas Weir – the so-called Wizard of West Bow. The upstanding Weir was executed in 1670 after being found guilty of various offences, including bestiality, incest and communicating with the dead.
Weir’s house lay empty after his death, but locals swore the windows were lit up at night, with unexplained shadows flashing past and strange music playing inside. Apparently a ghostly coach pulled by six fiery horses was also spotted outside the abandoned building from time to time.
Though the house was thought to have been demolished in 1878, it was recently discovered that some parts of the structure still remain intact as part of a Quaker meeting house on Victoria Terrace. For this reason, future hauntings in the West Bow can’t be ruled out.