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Mary King’s Close: Scotland’s Haunted Underground Street in Edinburgh


Descend into the shadowy depths of Edinburgh’s historic Old Town and you’ll find yourself transported to a forgotten world: Mary King’s Close. This hidden network of underground streets, once a bustling hub of life, now whispers with tales of disease, poverty, and perhaps even ghostly encounters. The name itself evokes a sense of mystery and intrigue, drawing visitors from around the world to experience its chilling history.

This blog post delves into the fascinating story of Mary King’s Close, exploring its origins, its tragic decline, and the legends that continue to shroud it in an aura of the supernatural. Whether you’re a history buff, a ghost hunter, or simply curious about the hidden stories beneath Edinburgh’s streets, join us as we uncover the secrets of this captivating underground world.

Table of Contents

The History of Mary King’s Close

Mary King’s Close, named after the prominent merchant family who once resided there, was a vibrant and bustling street in the heart of Edinburgh during the 17th century. Its narrow, winding alleys housed a diverse community of merchants, artisans, and commoners, with houses stacked closely together, creating a labyrinthine atmosphere. The street was a center of trade, and its residents lived, worked, and socialized within its confines.

However, the story of Mary King’s Close took a tragic turn with the arrival of the Black Death in the 1640s. The plague ravaged Edinburgh, claiming countless lives and plunging the city into chaos. To contain the spread of the disease, the authorities ordered the closure of the street, effectively sealing its inhabitants within their homes. This drastic measure, though intended to protect the city, inadvertently led to the slow demise of Mary King’s Close.

The sealed houses were left to decay, becoming forgotten relics of a lost era. As time went on, the streets above evolved, and the underground levels became inaccessible, swallowed by the layers of time and new construction. The once vibrant hub of life transformed into a silent and enigmatic world, shrouded in mystery and whispers of the past.

Exploring the Secrets of Mary King’s Close

Today, visitors can experience the haunting beauty of Mary King’s Close on a guided tour. This immersive experience takes you deep into the underground, using a combination of storytelling, historical details, and sensory elements to recreate the atmosphere of life in the 17th century.

The Tour Experience

As you descend into the darkened passages of Mary King’s Close, you’ll be enveloped in a carefully crafted ambiance. Soft lighting, haunting music, and the whispers of costumed characters transport you back in time. You’ll hear tales of families struggling to survive amidst the plague, and of the tragic fate of those who were sealed within their homes.

Along the tour route, you’ll encounter a variety of interesting locations, each with its own story to tell:

Notable Locations:

  • The Well House: This dimly lit chamber housed a well that provided water to the residents of Mary King’s Close. Its presence speaks to the challenges of life in a cramped, underground world, where access to basic necessities was limited.
  • The Coffin: This small, cramped room, rumored to be a coffin maker’s workshop, holds a chilling legend. Visitors have reported feeling an unsettling presence within the room, and some believe it is haunted by the spirit of a young child who died within its walls.
  • Other Notable Places: The tour also highlights other areas of interest, such as the “Cisterns”, where water was collected and stored, and the “School Room”, providing a glimpse into the education of children in 17th century Edinburgh.

The Haunted History of Mary King’s Close

While the historical significance of Mary King’s Close is undeniable, it’s the legends and folklore surrounding its haunting that truly captures the imagination. The stories passed down through generations whisper of tragic events, restless spirits, and a sense of unease that lingers in the underground passageways.

Folklore and Legend:

  • The “Grey Lady”: This ghostly figure is perhaps the most famous resident of Mary King’s Close. Legend has it that she is the spirit of a young woman who died tragically in the street, and she can be seen roaming the corridors, her form shrouded in a pale grey gown.
  • The Children of Mary King’s Close: Many stories surround the children who lived and died in the street. It’s said that their innocent spirits still linger, and visitors have reported feeling their presence in the form of cold spots, whispers, or even fleeting glimpses of figures.
  • The Influence of History: It’s possible that the stories of haunting are rooted in real historical events. The plague, the sudden closure of the street, and the tragic deaths of many residents could have left a lasting impact on the energy of the place.

Paranormal Investigations:

While the stories of Mary King’s Close are certainly captivating, it’s important to distinguish between folklore and factual evidence. Over the years, there have been several paranormal investigations conducted within the underground. Some investigations have reported unusual activity, such as temperature fluctuations, unexplained noises, and even EVPs (electronic voice phenomena). However, these findings are often subjective and difficult to verify.

Visiting Mary King’s Close

Whether you’re intrigued by its haunted history or captivated by its historical significance, a visit to Mary King’s Close is a must for any visitor to Edinburgh. The tour offers a unique and immersive experience that allows you to step back in time and connect with the city’s forgotten past.

Practical Information:

  • Location: Mary King’s Close is located beneath the Royal Mile in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town.
  • Tour Timings: Tours operate throughout the day, and it’s advisable to book tickets in advance, especially during peak season.
  • Accessibility: The tour is wheelchair accessible, but there are some areas that may be challenging to navigate.
  • Duration: The tour typically lasts around an hour.
  • Nearby Attractions: After your tour, you can explore the Royal Mile, Edinburgh Castle, and other attractions in the surrounding area.

Tips for First-Time Visitors:

  • Best Time to Visit: The atmosphere of Mary King’s Close is enhanced by the low lighting and dramatic storytelling, so a visit during the evening or on a cloudy day can enhance the experience.
  • Photography: While you are allowed to take photos, flash photography is prohibited as it can disrupt the ambiance of the tour.
  • What to Expect: The tour involves walking through narrow, winding passageways, and some areas may be dimly lit. Wear comfortable shoes and be prepared for the cool temperatures underground.


Is Mary King’s Close truly haunted?

The question of whether Mary King’s Close is truly haunted is a complex one. While there is no definitive proof of paranormal activity, the stories and legends associated with the street are deeply rooted in its history. The tragic events that unfolded within its walls, coupled with the eerie atmosphere of the underground passages, have led to numerous accounts of unexplained phenomena. However, it’s important to remember that these stories are often based on folklore and personal experiences, which can be subjective and open to interpretation.

Are there age restrictions for the tour?

The tour of Mary King’s Close is recommended for children aged 8 and above. While the tour is not explicitly “scary,” some of the themes and stories discussed may be unsettling for younger children. It’s important to consider your child’s individual maturity level and sensitivity when deciding whether or not to take them on the tour.

How much does the tour cost?

The price of the Mary King’s Close tour varies depending on the time of year and any special offers available. You can find the latest pricing information on the official website.

Is there a dress code for visiting Mary King’s Close?

There is no specific dress code for visiting Mary King’s Close. However, as the tour involves walking through underground passageways, it’s advisable to wear comfortable shoes and clothing appropriate for the cool temperatures underground.

What are the best places to eat near Mary King’s Close?

There are several excellent restaurants and cafes located near Mary King’s Close, offering a variety of cuisines and dining experiences. Here are a few popular choices:

  • The Salt Horse: This cozy pub serves traditional Scottish fare and has a lively atmosphere.
  • The Sheep Held Inn: This historic pub boasts a stunning view of Edinburgh Castle and offers a wide selection of beers and spirits.
  • Cafe Royal: This iconic Edinburgh cafe offers classic cafe dishes and a charming setting.


Mary King’s Close stands as a powerful reminder of Edinburgh’s rich and often tragic history. The hidden world beneath the streets offers a unique glimpse into the past, inviting visitors to step back in time and engage with the stories of those who once lived and worked within its confines. Whether you’re drawn by its haunting legends or fascinated by its historical significance, a visit to Mary King’s Close is sure to leave a lasting impression. As you explore the dimly lit passages and hear the whispers of the past, you’ll realize that even the most forgotten corners of a city can hold secrets waiting to be uncovered.