10 Halloween Activities To Try In Edinburgh
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We're not exactly sure how many people purposefully book holidays around Halloween, but if we had to recommend one place to suit the season, it'd be Edinburgh. In the Scottish capital two essential elements combine to make the spookiest time of the year a viable excuse for a city break.
Firstly, as a city that has harboured and inspired great writers from Burns and Stevenson to Rankin and Rowling, Edinburgh has the storytelling credentials upon which great Halloween celebrations rely. These qualities are manifest in this list's final recommendation.
Secondly, Edinburgh just plain looks the part. Its Gothic Old Town is home to tours, festivals and even themed bars dedicated to the macabre. See which ones suit you and get planning a Halloween your group won't forget.
1) Edinburgh Dungeon:
- Where? - 31 Market Street | Learn More.
The Edinburgh Dungeon is a fiendishly exciting visitor attraction located right in the heart of the Scottish capital near Waverley Bridge. Descend into the depths with a brave group of friends and take an interactive tour of Gothic city's dark past.
You'll get to meet infamous characters such as Burke & Hare, test whether you can stomach Dr Knox's Anatomy Theatre, and be... I mean, sit down to dinner with the Bean Family! The Edinburgh Dungeon won best Scotland visitor attraction in 2014, and as the city's self-proclaimed 'Home of Halloween' it regularly launches new shows to coincide with the last week of October.
Edinburgh Dungeon - The city's Home of Halloween.
2) Feel Your Skin Crawl On the Ghost Bus Tour:
- Where? - Waverley Bridge | Learn More.
Gothic Edinburgh is famous for its tales of ghosts and ghouls, but besides a Mercat walking tour the experience we'd most recommend is the Edinburgh Ghost Bus Tour. It blends dark storytelling and real-life facts with a healthy dose of comedy and twilight sightseeing. We took the tour in December 2015 (and survived!); you can read our thoughts on it here.
Edinburgh Ghost Bus Tour.
3) Escape Edinburgh:
- Where? - St Colme Street, New Town | Learn More.
There's nothing like an escape room experience to test the wits and camaraderie of a group of friends, and Edinburgh certainly isn't short of such attractions. The one that caught our eye was 'Escape Edinburgh' on St Colme Street. At least three of its games would perfectly suit a fun Halloween night out: Darker Side of Edinburgh, Area 51 and Contagion.
Try an Edinburgh Escape Room this Halloween.
4) Mercat Hidden & Haunted Late Night Walking Tour:
- Where? - Mercat Cross, Royal Mile | Learn More.
Edinburgh's famed purveyor of ghost-themed walking tours is a shoe-in for any Halloween based itinerary. The one we'd most recommend for the scariest time of the year is their 'Hidden & Haunted' late night walking tour. At Mercat Cross on the Royal Mile you'll meet up with a professional local guide who'll beckon you and your group down the capital's legendary closes. Here you'll learn about the dark myths and legends that give Edinburgh its reputation as Scotland's most haunted city.
The second half of this 1-hour tour features a descent in the underground Blair Street Vaults, where the tales get grimmer and scares lurk around every corner. Please note that due to nature of its content the Hidden & Haunted tour is only suitable for adults.
There is, however, a kid friendly alternative. The Ghosts, Gore & Grime tour is perfect for a family-friendly Halloween trip to Edinburgh.
Mercat Hidden & Haunted Tour in the Blair Street Vaults.
5) The Real Mark King's Close Guided Tour:
- Where? - 2 Warriston's Close | Learn More.
With a history forever blackened by plague, murder and poverty, The Real Mary King's Close rivals the aforementioned Dungeon as Edinburgh's Halloween poster child. This real-life street existed above ground until the 18th century, when it was levelled and new structures built atop. Pushed underground it became a place a squalor and ill-repute, so much so that it was eventually sealed to the public and not reopened until the early 21st century, when it became a leading historical attraction.
Now operated as 'The Real Mary King's Close', guided tours run every 15 minutes from 10:00 until 21:00.
The Real Mary King's Close costumed guides.
6) Visit The Revamped Surgeon's Hall Museum:
- Where? - Nicolson Street | Learn More.
There's body museums, and then there's Surgeon's Hall Museum. This fascinating attraction displays thousands of anatomical specimens, and after a 4 million pound refurbishment in September 2015 it's ready to captivate a whole new generation of visitors.
While not ideal for the squeamish, it'll blow away anyone harbouring an interest in science, biology and their histories. Popular exhibits include a book made from the bound skin of William Burke, the dental collection (including artworks), and the hypertelorism displays.
Surgeons' Hall Museums.
7) Witness Samhuinn Fire Festival:
- Where? - West Parliament Square | Learn More.
Release that Celtic pagan buried deep inside you by attending Edinburgh's Samhuinn Fire Festival, a spectacular commemoration of ancient traditions featuring fire dancing, music and costumed performance. Its origins lie in age-old Gaelic rituals signifying the death of summer and the rise of winter, an occurrence that marked the coming of the Celtic New Year.
This modern festival is organised by the Beltane Fire Society and takes place every year on October 31st. Tickets are not required to attend but you are urged to provide a donation. Revellers are asked to gather on the Royal Mile for a set time (usually 21:00), at which point a torch-lit procession sets out towards West Parliament Square.
See the video below to get a visual idea of what Samhuinn Fire Festival is all about:
8) Dine At Frankenstein's:
- Where? - 26 George IV Bridge | Learn More.
Edinburgh's go-to Gothic gastropub on George IV Bridge has been delighting fans the macabre for years. As the name implies its theme is based on Mary Shelley's seminal 1818 horror novel and its countless reimaginings. That said, the decor takes particular inspiration from Universal Studios' 1931 film adaption, with candelabras, Tesla coils and test tubes all setting the atmosphere.
By day Frankenstein's serves good, hearty pub grub, then as the sun sets it transforms into a wonderfully quirky nightlife spot. Be sure to keep an eye out for special events during the summer months, as it also serves as a venue for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. If you're intent on visiting for Halloween, be sure to make your reservations well in advance for obvious reasons.
An ideal Halloween tipple. | Credit: Frankenstein Pub Edinburgh.
9) Pick Your Poison At The Banshee Labyrinth:
- Where? - 29-35 Niddry Street | Learn More.
The Banshee Labyrinth on Niddry Street is something of an Edinburgh institution. Located between the bustling Cowgate and Hive Nightclub it beckons visitors of every conceivable kind. The theme is unequivocally Gothic, with a ground-level lounge that quickly gives way to descending flights of stairs and a warren-like network of bars, seating areas and live music rooms. These underground spaces were fashioned out of sections of the city's famous subterranean vaults, something that probably helped foster its reputation as Scotland's most haunted pub.
Drink in an Edinburgh underground vault. | Credit: The Banshee Labyrinth.
10) Edinburgh Horror Festival:
- Where? - Various Venues | Learn More.
Taking place on none other than All Hallows' Eve (and the preceding 4 days), the Edinburgh Horror Festival is a delectable celebration of art forms that shouldn't be let out during a full moon. Theatre, film, stand-up comedy and more grace a variety of citywide venues including The Tron, CC Blooms and the aforementioned Banshee Labyrinth.
Visit Edinburgh this Halloween for the Horror Festival.