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  • Writer's pictureDesirae-Haunted Traverse

Why is Edinburgh Scotland and its Vaults Haunted ?

Why is haunted Edinburgh and its vaults known to be one of the most paranormal active locations throughout Europe? I had the honor of adventuring to Haunted Edinburgh Scotland to answer this very question!

For myself, I feel that Edinburgh is like no other location in the world when it comes to the paranormal. I believe that this is due to a variety of historical events that fuel the haunting of Edinburgh Scotland including the Black Death, Serial Killers, and tragic passings. Edinburgh Scotland has all of this and more!

Read on because beyond the scenic beauty, rich history, and thriving culture, there lies paranormal activity driving the haunting of Edinburgh Scotland. This calls to paranormal enthusiasts around the world to come visit and explore haunted Edinburgh Scotland.

Edinburgh Castle at night lit up
Explore Haunted Edinburgh Scotland

The History of Haunted Edinburgh, Scotland & its Vaults

Edinburgh, the capital city of Scotland, is steeped in history and culture, its roots tracing back to the early Middle Ages. Founded by King David I, the city’s prominence grew during the 12th century, becoming a significant center of education, culture, and politics.

Edinburgh became one of Scotland's earliest royal boroughs with the construction of Edinburgh Castle on Castle Rock and the establishment of the Royal Mile as the city's spine contributed to its strategic importance.

An interesting way of imagining the layout of the city would be to look at the streets like one would fish bones. The head of the fish would be Edinburgh Castle. The spine would be the Royal Mile Street. If you're curious about where the tail of the fish is, that would be the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the official residence of the Monarch of Scotland. The streets that intersect the Royal Mile would be called 'closes." Some of the closes would be named after residents or the type of trade operating in that particular area.

Map of Edinburgh that looks like the bones of a fish.
Map of Edinburgh Scotland

However, the most famous close is no longer used as a street and is known as Mary King's Close. Now one must book a tour and go down under the bustling streets of the Royal Mile to explore the tunnels and rooms that were built under the bridge. Read on to learn more about how plague victims and the former residents of the close are now unfolding a significant haunting.

By the 15th century, Edinburgh was firmly established as Scotland's capital, playing a pivotal role during the Scottish Reformation and the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. The city's Old Town, with its narrow alleyways and towering tenements, dates back to this period and retains much of its medieval character.

Cemetery iconography on tombstones
Are the spirits haunting Edinburgh plague victims?

The History of the Plague/Black Death in Edinburgh

The plague, a devastating disease, struck Edinburgh multiple times, starting in 1350 and with the most severe outbreaks occurring in the 16th and 17th centuries. The 1645 outbreak was particularly catastrophic, wiping out nearly half of the city's population. Edinburgh, with its dense and unsanitary living conditions, was a prime breeding ground for the plague, which spread rapidly through the cramped and narrow closes of the Old Town.

Efforts to control the disease were primitive and often brutal. Quarantine measures were enforced strictly, with infected houses marked and their inhabitants forcibly confined. This era saw the establishment of plague pits, which were mass burial sites designed to dispose of the bodies of plague victims quickly and reduce the risk of further contamination.

Plague Pits in Edinburgh

Formation and Location of Plague Pits

Plague pits were created out of necessity during outbreaks to handle the sheer number of deceased. These pits were often hastily dug in fields or other open spaces, sometimes within the city itself but more commonly on its outskirts to mitigate the spread of disease.

In Edinburgh, several notable locations served as plague pits:

  • Greyfriars Kirkyard: One of the most famous burial grounds in Edinburgh, Greyfriars Kirkyard, was used as a plague pit during the 1645 outbreak. This site is now a historical cemetery and a popular spot for ghost tours.

  • Leith Links: The large open space of Leith Links also served as a burial ground for plague victims. This area was chosen due to its distance from the densely populated parts of the city.

  • Holyrood Park: This royal park, near the Palace of Holyroodhouse, is believed to have been another site where plague victims were buried.

Grey, old Tomb in Greyfriars  Kirkyard
Tomb in Greyfriars Kirkyard

Ghost Stories Linked to Significant Historical Sites

The Plague Pits

The tragic history of the plague pits has given rise to numerous ghost stories and legends in Edinburgh, adding to the city's reputation as one of the most haunted places in the world.

Some of the more gruesome hauntings tell of plague victims still being alive and buried on the way out to the plague pits outside the fortified walls of the city. Others infected by the plague would be walled up in their homes, never to see the light of day again.

The MacKenzie Poltergeist

One of the most famous ghost stories is that of the MacKenzie Poltergeist, associated with Greyfriars Kirkyard. Sir George MacKenzie, also known as "Bloody MacKenzie" for his persecution of the Covenanters ( a Scottish Presbyterian movement in the 17th century), is said to haunt the graveyard. Visitors have reported strange occurrences, such as sudden drops in temperature, unexplained scratches, and even physical attacks, especially near the Black Mausoleum, where MacKenzie is buried.

It is told that a homeless vagrant so desperate for money broke into Mackenzie's tomb to pillage the coffins of anything of value. The floor of the tomb collapsed and the graverobber plummeted into a plague pit full of bones. To this day, it is estimated that there are over 100,000 people are buried at Greyfriars, and some so shallow that bones can be seen protruding from the soil.

The Phantom Piper of Edinburgh Castle

Another ghostly tale involves Edinburgh Castle, where a phantom piper is said to haunt the underground passages. According to legend, a piper was sent to explore the tunnels beneath the castle during the plague era. He never returned, and his eerie music is occasionally heard echoing through the castle, especially at night.

Ghost Tour Guide standing in the vaults of Edinburgh Scotland
Mercat Tour of the Edinburgh Vaults

The History of Mary King’s Close and the Vault

Mary King's Close was named after Mary King, a prominent merchant who lived and traded in the area during the 17th century. The close was once a bustling neighborhood, home to a mix of wealthy merchants and poor laborers. Its narrow, winding streets were lined with multi-story tenements that teemed with life.

However, in 1645, the close became infamous as the plague swept through Edinburgh. The series of underground streets and houses were sealed off during a plague outbreak to contain the disease.

When this location was sealed off, it became a vault between the arches of the street above that houses the poorest of Edinburgh's residents. The living conditions were unbearable and included dark, damp, moldy conditions exasperated by a lack of plumbing and lighting and cobbler, smelters, and milliners workshops.

The disease spread rapidly in the densely populated close, leading to horrific scenes of suffering and death. Contrary to popular legend, which suggests the close was entirely sealed off to contain the plague, historical records indicate that specific houses were quarantined.

The area remained inhabited for several more decades before being partially demolished and built over during the construction of the Royal Exchange in the 18th century, leaving parts of the close buried and forgotten.

The Plague Victims of Mary King's Close and Its Vault

Mary King's Close is now a popular tourist attraction where visitors can explore the preserved labyrinth of rooms and halls to learn about life in these isolated rooms underground.

Numerous ghost sightings have been reported here, including that of a young girl named Annie, who is said to have died of the plague and whose spirit is believed to linger in the close. During your ghost tour, there is an opportunity to explore Annie's room.

The Disembodied Voices & Strange Smells

Visitors and tour guides frequently report hearing faint, disembodied voices echoing through the narrow streets and rooms of Mary King’s Close. These voices are often indistinct, making it impossible to determine what is being said. Some believe these are the residual sounds of the close’s former residents, going about their daily lives.

Smells often are experienced by visitors in the vaults. The only lighting during its use was whale oil lamps. So many guests say they can experience the smells of lamps that are no longer burning.

The Phantom Plague Doctor

Another common ghostly figure associated with Mary King’s Close is that of a plague doctor. These doctors, wearing long coats and the iconic beaked masks, were a common sight during the plague years.

Witnesses claim to have seen the apparition of a plague doctor moving through the close, particularly in the areas that were hardest hit by the disease. This figure is often seen as a residual haunting, a spectral replay of the tragic events that took place.

Mr. Boots Room

Mr. Boots also known as the watcher is a tall, unkempt man who haunts the deeper sections of the vault. Visitors who explore these more remote rooms tell of heavily-booted footsteps that approach them. This spectral figure has been captured in videos and photos taken of the vault throughout the years the vault has been open to the public.

The Woman in Black

There have been numerous sightings of a mysterious woman in black within Mary King’s Close. This apparition is often seen gliding silently through the underground streets and rooms. Some stories suggest she is searching for her lost family, while others believe she may be a former resident who met a tragic end. Witnesses often describe a feeling of intense cold and unease when she appears.


Edinburgh's rich history is intertwined with stories of resilience and tragedy, particularly during the times of the plague. The plague pits of Edinburgh, born out of necessity, now stand as somber reminders of the city’s past hardships. Today, these sites not only attract historians and archaeologists but also ghost enthusiasts drawn by the chilling tales of restless spirits. Whether you're interested in history or the supernatural, Edinburgh offers a compelling glimpse into a city shaped by its storied past.


What is the plague?

The plague, often referred to as the Black Death, was a devastating pandemic that swept through Europe, Asia, and North Africa in the 14th century, peaking in Europe between 1347 and 1351. Caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, the disease manifested in three forms: bubonic, septicemic, and pneumonic, with the bubonic being the most common. The plague spread rapidly, carried by fleas that infested rats, which were common in urban areas. Symptoms included swollen and painful lymph nodes (buboes), fever, chills, headache, and fatigue. The mortality rate was exceptionally high, wiping out an estimated 25-60% of Europe's population. The recurrent outbreaks in subsequent centuries, including those in the 16th and 17th centuries, continued to cause significant mortality and social disruption, leaving lasting impacts on the societies they ravaged.

Can you visit the Edinburgh Vaults, and what can you expect there?

Yes, the Edinburgh Vaults are open to the public through guided tours only. Visitors can expect to explore the dark and eerie underground chambers that were once used for storage and illicit activities. The vaults are infamous for ghostly encounters, including sightings of a sinister male presence known as "Mr. Boots" and other shadowy figures.

What makes Edinburgh Castle one of the most haunted castles in Scotland?

Edinburgh Castle is reputedly haunted due to its long and turbulent history, dating back over a thousand years. Reported paranormal activities include sightings of a headless drummer, the ghost of a piper who vanished in the tunnels, and spectral soldiers. The castle’s dungeons, where many prisoners suffered and died, are particularly known for their ghostly encounters.

What is a residual haunting?

A residual haunting is the capturing of a moment in time. We believe this to be paranormal in nature because there is not explanation as to why people experience the event. This haunting is not something that interacts with its environment, but is more along the lines of a remnant of an action that came before and now is echoing through time presenting to those that observe it to this day.

How do I get started on visiting Haunted Edinburgh Scotland?

Haunted Traverse Tour Company designs tours based on history, the paranormal, and travel adventures internationally and through the United States. Click here for more information on the upcoming Ghost Trip. Be part of your paranormal adventure and please fill out our Ghost Trip questionnaire by clicking here.

Here are some ghost tours operating in Edinburgh Scotland

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