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The Dark Side of Edinburgh

Beyond the famous castle and other well-known sights lies a rather darker side to Edinburgh.

The city's history is caught up with all manner of spooky tales of body snatchers and ghostly apparitions, and there are some lingering reminders of these intriguing mysteries that can still be seen in its more unusual attractions.

Mary King's Close

Right in the heart of Edinburgh lies Mary King's Close, beneath the Royal Exchange (or City Chambers). Once the most important shopping street in the city, the traditional narrow streets and tall tenements of the close were then built over in 1753 and used (but kept in tact) as lower foundations for the Exchange.

It remains surprisingly well-preserved and guided tours are now offered through the dark - and decidedly eerie - streets. Tours cost a reasonable £7 and mix history, science and myth to bring to life a realistic (if unsavory) vision of 16th century Edinburgh.

Greyfriars Kirkyard

Featuring a late Gothic church as well as suitably gloomy tombstones and crypts, Greyfriars is the subject of a creepy tale involving grave robbing.
Legend has it that one young lady was laid out in the family crypt, only to be rudely disturbed by grave robbers when they found a ring particularly hard to remove. They began to saw off her finger which quite literally startled the woman awake!

The robbers were terrified at this turn of events but it seems to have been a happy ending for the victim seeing as she hadn't been dead at all…

St. Cuthbert's Kirkyard

In the western shadow of Edinburgh Castle sits another churchyard at St. Cuthbert's, which is also supposed to have been the setting for such immoral behavior and holds a suitably ominous air today.

The large number of students and anatomists who lived in Edinburgh years ago created a high demand for corpses that could be studied. The end result was that many of the graves were robbed, like at Greyfriars - only this time it was the bodies themselves which were of value!

The Surgeons' Hall Museum

Alongside the more popular galleries and museums, Edinburgh also has a slightly macabre but excellently original exhibition detailing the history of surgery and anatomy.

Part of the museum at the Royal College of Surgeons focuses on two of the city's most notorious criminals, Burke and Hare. Recognizing the potential market for corpses, the pair went one step further than the body snatchers at St Cuthbert's and actually began to murder fresh victims.

This is not a museum for the faint-hearted, however, and it comes with an official warning that some displays may be "unsettling"!

Ghostly Dining

The Last Drop Tavern (74-78 Grassmarket) serves affordable pub food and decent pints to the student and traveler crowd typical of the Grassmarket area, but with an added twist for enthusiasts of Edinburgh's darker history.

The 'drop' in its name refers to the city gallows which used to be positioned just outside - a fact which is further driven home by the red exterior paintwork.

Where to Stay

To really experience this mysterious side of Edinburgh and the still atmospheric streets, visitors may want to stay overnight in the city. In addition to the city's numerous more expensive hotels, there are plenty of Edinburgh hostels which budget travelers and backpackers can take advantage of.