Old Edinburgh Ghost Stories and History Tour

From US$485 privately
Book a Tour
Tour Details
3 hours
Product Type
  • Edinburgh Castle
  • Greyfriars Tolbooth and Highland Kirk
  • High Kirk of St Giles
  • National Museum of Scotland
Photos & Highlights
Select a date
Tour Description
Edinburgh is haunted. Few cities boast such an entanglement with ghosts, the macabre, and the supernatural. The birthplace of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, in Edinburgh, as literary son Robert Louis Stevenson once said, “Only a few inches separate the living from the dead.” In fact, an 1842 article boasted that Scotland was "more infested with ghosts than any other part of Europe," adding that these ghosts were uglier, rowdier, and all-round more horrible than ghosts from any other nation. This Edinburgh Ghost Tour explores the rich history of Scottish ghost stories, using Edinburgh’s Old Town as a backdrop. Not only will we explore this history of the supernatural in Scotland, but we'll learn a bit more about Scottish identity and history, using the critical lens of ghost stories as a means of better understanding this fascinating city.

  • Insider's view of Edinburgh's Dark History
  • Visits Greyfriar Kirkyard, St. Giles’ Cathedral, and the National Museum
  • Edinburgh Ghost Tour led by a historian

Edinburgh Ghost Tour

We’ll begin our eerie exploration at St Giles’ Cathedral, the religious and philosophical center of Edinburgh. Here our guide will set the scene by bringing us back to the dramatic period of the Reformation, when Scotland abandoned Catholicism in favor of Calvinism and Presbyterianism, and ghosts were declared unorthodox in the wake of the new religion. As we view the Cathedral we’ll discuss several key ghost stories and how they connect with religion. We’ll also learn how, uniquely, a century later there was a move towards rehabilitating ghosts. We will discuss why this happened, and how ghosts could be used as tools of religious propaganda. Our explorations will also take us to nearby Mary King’s Close, an old 17th-century alleyway famous for ghosts, many of which were recorded in 1685 by the natural philosopher George Sinclair.

An Enlightened Fascination with Ghosts

From here, our journey will take us along the Royal Mile, an area of the city covered on our Old Town Edinburgh Tour. However, in this case, our focus will be on the path to Edinburgh Castle and the notable stops along the way famous for executions. As we walk along, our guide will introduce us to the work of the philosopher David Hume and the Scottish Enlightenment, and how this golden period in Scottish history impacted supernatural belief causing ghosts to go out of fashion again.

Once on the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle, using original texts and drawings, we’ll explore how, in the 18th and 19th centuries, ghosts started becoming linked to a specific place. We’ll tell the first known tale of a ghost haunting a Scottish castle, and how the iconography of ghosts changed from zombie-like revenants to the more familiar “white sheet” ghost.

The Evolution of Ghost Stories

Through a selection of stories, we will trace how ghosts have evolved from violent walking corpses to ethereal spirits. We will also reflect a little on Scotland’s broader supernatural history, particularly the sorry story of the early modern witch-hunts. After this chronological overview, we will visit some sites that are associated with particular ghost stories. In the Grassmarket we will learn about Major Thomas Weir and his sister Jean, who were accused of incest and witchcraft and were said to haunt the area after their executions. If we’re lucky, we may even meet the Major and Jean.

Greyfriars Kirkyard

In Greyfriars Kirkyard we will view the grave of the physician Archibald Pitcairne, a noted scholar and physician known for both his anatomical studies and ghostly companion. We will also see the mausoleum of George Mackenzie. Hated in his time for persecuting the Scottish Covenanters, he remained a local celebrity after his death because of the eerie stories about his tomb.

National Museum of Scotland

Lastly, we will pay a visit to the National Museum of Scotland. Here we will look at a few artifacts that reflect on the history of the supernatural, including the ‘witch’s bridle,’ folk charms, and the mysterious Arthur’s Seat coffins, perhaps made to appease the ghosts of Burke and Hare’s victims. There will be time along the way to sit down, have a cup of tea, and talk in more depth about the role ghosts have played in Scottish culture. We'll emerge from this tour with a better understanding of Scotland's supernatural past and some fascinating stories about some of the most notable local ghosts.

Where You'll Start
(4.9) 31 Reviews

Reviews can only be left by Context customers after they have completed a tour. For more information about our reviews, please see our FAQ.

Amazing tour! Irene was extremely knowledgeable and engaging. It was a highlight of our trip to Edinburgh.
Gains did a fabulous job! We learned so much and saw so many wonderful sights and interesting places. Great stories!
Jenny was extremely informative and entertaining. We were very tired and would not have made it thru the three hours if her personality and energy weren’t so wonderful. Thanks for a great informative tour.

Discover Edinburgh with Context

Get to know one of the historians leading this tour

Meet Jenny