Looking for things to do at Halloween in Edinburgh? Check out my complete guide!
Why spend Halloween in Edinburgh?
Why spend Halloween in Edinburgh? Well, the question is really: why wouldn’t you spend Halloween in Edinburgh? Edinburgh is pretty incredible at any time of year, but with such a rich haunted history going on October 31 really does seem like the perfect time to soak it up in style.
You may have heard some tales of Edinburgh’s ghostly goings-on already. There’s a LOT. Gloomy underground vaults, tucked under the arches of South Bridge. An entire underground street, the real Mary King’s Close, preserved from the 17th century and believed to be one of the most haunted places in Scotland. Grisly tales of the body snatchers Burke and Hare, who dug up graves and sold the corpses for money in the 18th century.
And that’s just for starters. You can see everything from body parts in jars, mysterious skulls and crossbones in graveyards, and even witness the otherworldliness of the fire festival in Edinburgh at Halloween.
After all that you may need a stiff drink, or a sit down. For that reason, I’ve also included a list of shops, pubs and restaurants that also have a spooky theme. Although saying that, one of them is rumoured to be haunted by a banshee, so it might not be the place to rest easy. Whatever you happen to get up too on Halloween in Edinburgh, I hope you have a spook-tacular time!
Now let’s get started on this haunted Halloween guide to Edinburgh…
The best things to do in Edinburgh at Halloween
Let me just put it out there: one of my most prominent memories of the fire festival in Edinburgh is randomly getting my face licked by one of the performers as they danced past. What can I say? I got the full immersive experience! Don’t let that put you off though.
The fire festival is actually a really cool and exhilarating event made up of fire play, performance art and drumming that’s grounded in ancient Celtic ritual. The event is set on top of the scenic Calton Hill in the city, which is just to the right of Princes Street in the city centre.
You’ll have to pardon my ignorance as I didn’t actually realise that there are TWO fire festivals in Edinburgh each year. The one I’ve been to is the Beltane Fire Festival, which in April and marks the transition from winter to summer. The Samhuinn Fire Festival is the opposite. It marks the move from summer to winter and is set on the night of Halloween, which seems perfect to tap into that mystical, ritualistic, not quite of this world vibe.
So you might be wondering what actually happens at a fire festival? Well, it’s essentially an outdoor theatre performance made up of hundreds of performers in coloured body paint and amazing costumes. Expect a visual extravaganza of dancing, acrobatics, and fire – all accompanied by the rhythmic beat of drums as the performers tell the story of the battle between the Summer and Winter Kings.
It starts at the National Monument on Calton Hill – known as the acropolis – and then continues around the path at the top of Calton Hill. I’d highly recommend going along and experiencing what the fire festival is like!
Halloween in Edinburgh wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the vaults. I’ve done the vaults a few times and the best time I went was when I was 13 or 14 on a trip with the Guides. It maybe sounds like something a little odd to do with a bunch of young girls but, honestly, it was brilliant. We all worked ourselves up, convinced ourselves we could see ghosts in every corner and jumped out of our skin at every shadow. As someone who was really into horror movies at that time – the scarier the better – I couldn’t imagine anything more thrilling!
But whatever age you are, I couldn’t write a list of spooky things to do in the capital without talking about the Edinburgh Vaults. Let’s take a deeper dive into their history. The entrance is nestled under the arches of the South Bridge in Edinburgh, which was completed in 1788. The vaults used to house taverns, workshops for cobblers and other tradesman, and also operated as a storage facility for merchants. According to the legend the vaults were later used for illegal gambling, brewing moonshine, and even possibly a storage spot for corpses for the legendary body snatchers Burke and Hare – although there’s no proof of the latter.
The tour guides at the Edinburgh Vaults are a real font of knowledge and great at what they do. If you think it’s just a fright fest you’d be wrong. Whether you’re a history buff or just want to know a little more about the city then you’ll also really enjoy this experience.
If you’re talking about spooky things to do in Edinburgh then no list would be complete without mentioning Mary King’s Close. I’ve only visited this attraction once but I’d definitely like to do it again as soon as I possibly can. Located on the Royal Mile, it’s your chance to experience Edinburgh’s only 17th century preserved street, which is pretty exciting stuff! You’ll learn about the city’s dark past as you explore the dimly lit underground spaces – and meet some of the former residents along the way. It’s after that that you’ll venture into the close itself. Thought to be one of the most haunted places in Scotland, the close still atmospherically has washing hung from wall to wall on either side, as it would have done when people actually lived there. Just make sure you jump if you hear ‘gardy loo’!
My only criticism of Mary King’s Close is that it feels a little too light and bright during the earlier parts of the tour – for me, I felt like I wanted more shadow and grime and atmosphere to really get the adrenaline pumping. For the tour of the close itself that’s certainly not the case. Another thing you might be wondering is: how long is the Mary King’s Close tour? Well, fear not, the tour is only one hour, so not too long if you’re a creeped out at the idea of being stuck underground for hours at a time.
Just to give you one last fright… Mary King’s Close prices are a little bit of the expensive side for me, at £17.95 per ticket for adults. What can I say, Edinburgh isn’t exactly known for being a cheap city to visit. So is Mary King’s Close worth it? I think it is. It’s probably not as scary as some of the other things you can do in Edinburgh at Halloween but if you want to really get a sense of the city and get – literally – under the surface, this is it.
One thing I’m absolutely desperate to do once lockdown is over is to visit Gilmerton Cove. This is a completely new find for me and I actually didn’t even know it existed until a few short months ago. Let me tell you everything I know about it. It’s not in Edinburgh per se, it’s actually a little bit outside of the city. However, fear not, it’s actually easily accessible by public transport (or car) and will take you around 30 minutes to get there.
So what actually is Gilmerton Cove? Well, according to their website it’s a series of hand-carved chambers and passageways underground that have been around for around 300 years. However, their origin is a mystery. Why are they there? What were they used for? Nobody really knows, but you can take a tour of the dimly-lit passageways and try to figure it out for yourself!
How do you get to Gilmerton Cove? Take the number 3 bus from North Bridge to Mayfield which will take around 26 minutes. From there you’ll have a short walk to the cove.
You’ve probably heard the story of Greyfriars Bobby, right? The heart-warming tale is part of the fabric of Scottish mythology and tells the true story of how a dedicated Skye Terrier called Bobby spent 14 years guarding the grave of his owner, until he himself passed away in 1872. Dogs are just better than people, right? The statue of Greyfriars Bobby is on George IV Bridge in Edinburgh, and apparently it’s good luck to rub his nose.
However, we’re talking about spooky things to do in Edinburgh, and that’s why you should head into Greyfriars Kirkyard, located just behind the statue. When I walked into the graveyard I was thinking that we’d just see Greyfriars Bobby’s final resting place and then have a wander around a charming but fairly nondescript cemetery in the evening gloom. That wasn’t the case at all! There were loads of skull and cross bone carvings dotted all around the graveyard, that were actually pretty sinister!
If you want to find out more about the real meaning of the skull and crossbones you can take a tour of the cemetery. Or, if you just need a stiff drink after all that spookiness then head down the road to Greyfriars Bobby’s Bar on Candlemaker Row.
If pickled body parts are up your street then you’ll enjoy visiting Surgeons Hall museum in Edinburgh. Located on Nicholson Street just a few minutes walk from North Bridge, the museum is a medical lover’s playground, with jar upon jar of organs, bones, and human parts on display.
But that’s not all it is, of course, it also tells the story of Edinburgh’s contribution to surgical practices, and does it very well indeed. You can expect to see everything from an interactive dissection table to a book that is said to be made out of the skin of famous body snatcher William Burke. Yikes! What can I say, it’s not for the faint-hearted. The only big decision you have to make is when is the best time to eat lunch: before looking at all the body parts… or afterwards? I’ll leave that to you to ponder.
If you’d like a bit of fresh air to go with your medical history then you can also join in the museum’s charmingly titled Blood and Guts walking tour. Held every Saturday and Sunday at 2pm, the tour will take you around the twists and turns of Edinburgh’s medical history in the heart of the old town. Sounds like a great way to spend halloween in Edinburgh to me!
I love an escape room. As with many things, including blogging lol, I was very late to the party on escape rooms and didn’t think they would be something I would enjoy for ages. However, after doing one as part of a hen party in Newcastle and then on a night out in Dundee I’m a firm convert to the fun of an escape room. If you’re looking from something a little different to do for Halloween in Edinburgh then this could be a great scary option.
If you’re looking for something with a horror twist I would recommend the Asylum room at Escape Reality escape rooms. The concept is you’ve broken into a derelict asylum and are desperate to get out before whoever – or whatever – it is that’s lingering there catches up with you. Creepy!
These escape rooms are in the Fountainbridge area of Edinburgh which is on the west side of town, but you’re only a 10 minute walk from Lothian Road and all the pubs and bars that are there. Kickstart your halloween in Edinburgh in style!
A confession: I haven’t actually been to the Edinburgh Dungeon. I have, however, been to the Amsterdam Dungeon a few years ago and so I know the format. My biggest memory is of trying to hide away in the crowds and the shadows. Why? Well, at least in some of the shows, it’s a little bit interactive and they like to include the audience in the show. For some people – probably the kind of people that love to sit in the front row of a comedy show – that’s all good fun. For others it’s maybe not their cup of tea, so that’s definitely something to keep in my when you’re thinking about visiting. I’m far too shy to want to stand in front of a crowd!
However, there are lots of other immersive experiences as part of the Edinburgh Dungeon, which are less about public humiliation. The Galloway Boat Ride is one, and involves taking a boat through pitch darkness with a fair ol’ chance of getting wet. Risk it if you dare!
The Edinburgh Dungeon perfectly located right next to Waverley Station so you can either make a quick getaway back to normality or go first thing if you’re visiting for the day – at least that way it means that it might still be daylight when you emerge!
If you’re looking for something to do at night in Edinburgh then a ghost bus tour could be it. It’s another thing I’m queueing up to do as soon as we get out of lockdown! The ghost bus tours in Edinburgh are described as a comedy horror tour, with the experience expertly combining laughs with some spine-chilling stories from Edinburgh’s history.
The tours only run in the evening so you’ll be able to see a number of famous locations in the city, including the Grassmarket, Edinburgh Castle and Greyfriar’s Kirkyard, under the cloak of darkness. There’s also an option to wander through a graveyard half way through the tour if you’re brave enough.
Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the past few years you’ll know that JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter when she lived in Edinburgh. Precisely where she wrote it is still up for debate. I swear when I lived in Edinburgh there were three or four cafes on the George IV Bridge area all claiming that they were the café where she wrote the first draft at. Perhaps if you go on this tour they’ll be able to clear all of that up.
Anyway, it promises to deliver a whole host of wonderful wizardry as part of the tour, including the school that was the inspiration for Hogwarts, where Diagon Alley came to life, and Lord Voldemort’s final resting place.
It’s also worth noting that there’s also a Harry Potter shop in Edinburgh that you might be interested in visiting too. It’s on Victoria Street, which is just off the Grassmarket in the old town.
The ghost walks in Edinburgh are also something I’ve done more than once and Halloween in Edinburgh wouldn’t be complete without it! Again, it’s something that works both for people who are interested in wigging themselves out on the spooky tales from Edinburgh’s past, and those who are looking for a deeper dive into Edinburgh’s rich history.
So what does an Edinburgh haunted tour look like? Well, when I did it you met with a tour guide in the gloom of evening who was, of course, dressed in a long black cape. They’ill take you around the haunted locations in Edinburgh, mostly around the Royal Mile area, and tell you some spine-chilling tales from the city’s history. You can also go in the day time if you wish, and you can choose from a whole range of options for your tour…
Go for the ghostly Edinburgh tour, choose to include the underground vaults in your tour, or go for a tour that’s more focused on history – rather than all the blood and guts stuff I enjoy.
One of my funny memories of doing one of the haunted Edinburgh tours was being asked by the tour guide to participate in some tiny way… and of course I refused. Classic me! What can I say, that long black cloak and all those ghost stories were creeping me out!
Spooky pubs in Edinburgh
Looking for a themed bar served up with a big slice of horror? Frankenstein’s is it. Subtle it’s not, which you’ll probably realise by the time you clock the giant Frankenstein’s monster at the entrance. It’s set in an old 19th century church on George IV Bridge, which lights up in a ghoulish shade of green on the outside, and the theatrics continue on the inside too. Check out the posters, props, and the black and white Frankenstein movies playing on big screens above the bar, along with laboratory style cocktails.
As far as the actual vibe… admittedly, Frankenstein’s is quite touristy. When I’ve been there it’s been very much students, large groups and tourists, and I think they get a lot of stag and hen do’s in as well. So just in case you think it’s going to be this quiet little nook, it’s really not.
However, it’s located in the heart of the Old Town of Edinburgh, which means it’s the perfect pitstop after you’ve toured Greyfriar’s Kirkyard or emerged from the vaults still in one piece.
If you love history, literature or ghost stories then you simply have to stop by for a drink in Deacon Brodies on the Royal Mile. Why? Well, the real-life Deacon Brodie actually inspired the character for Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous novel Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
According to 18th century history, Deacon Brodie lived a double live: respected public figure by day and thief and murderer by night. He was eventually caught and hanged – by his own design too. What I mean by that is that he’d invented a new type of gallows and he hung from his own invention. Yup. His final resting place is marked by a plaque just outside.
Inside, you can expect a traditional Scottish pub with lots of period charm, cosy tartan carpets, hearty food, and a well-stocked bar. Make yourself comfortable!
Looking for a magical twist on your usual cocktail making experience? The Cauldron in the New Town could be exactly what you’re looking for. Head along for a potion making masterclass where you’ll be kitted out with a cape, a magic wand, and instructions on how to brew up the perfect potion.
I am so here for everything here – to me, cocktail making always sounds a bit pants… but put a magical spin on it and I love it. Just in case you don’t fancy it, there is another option. In the winter months you can channel everyone’s favourite creepy fairy tale, Hansel & Gretel, and do some gingerbread house decorating, which sounds AMAZING!
Another one for the history fans. The Last Drop is located in the Grassmarket area of Edinburgh and to anyone walking part just looks like a charming and cosy pub. Let’s talk about the name though. The Last Drop doesn’t, as you might think, refer to last orders of alcohol at the end of the night – although I did see it used to this effect on the news as we went into lockdown earlier this year. No, the pub is located right in front of where they used to do all the public hangings in 18th century Edinburgh, and so the last drop actually refers to that. Pretty ghoulish, right?
If you can get over that it’s a pretty lovely place to enjoy a pint… although they do say that the ghost of a young girl still haunts the place. Spooky stuff!
The Banshee Labyrinth is a bar and club located on Niddry Street on the Cowgate, and at least part of it used to be part of underground vaults I mentioned earlier. So there’s a whole lot of history going on. As the legend goes, when the venue was being refurbished the workmen heard a terrifying scream that seemed to come out of nowhere and that’s when the story of the banshee in the labyrinth was born.
I’ve been to the Banshee many times and when they call it a labyrinth they mean it – there are a whole seven rooms inside the labyrinth, including a 50-seat cinema. I know it as more of an alternative music venue than anything else, so if you like your rock music definitely go here, creep yourself out, and enjoy some alcoholic spirits along with the ghostly ones.
This is another bar located close to the underground vaults and it was actually one of my favourite haunts when I was a student at Edinburgh University. I didn’t actually know that it was haunted but that kind of makes it even cooler. According to legend, they actually have two mysterious spirits here – a mischievous imp who sneakily moves things around, and a more elusive spirit who is known as “The Watcher”. This spirit has been spotted by both staff and customers alike and is said to have black hair and to be wearing 17th century clothing. Is he connected to the people who used to occupy the vaults? Who knows?
Even if you’re over all the ghost and ghouls stuff by now Whistlebinkies is a cool place to have a drink or two along with some live music. Basically, it’s a great place to spend halloween in Edinburgh, but you could pretty much go anytime and have a great night!
This one is another pub located in the Grassmarket in the Old Town, and is reportedly one of the oldest – if not the oldest – pubs in Edinburgh. It’s most closely associated with the history of infamous Edinburgh bodysnatchers Burke and Hare, who are said to have killed 16 people in the 18th century. According to the legend they’d entice their fellow patrons at the White Hart Inn back to their lodgings nearby and then murder them… before selling the bodies to the medical school at the University of Edinburgh.
As if that wasn’t enough, the pub is said to be haunted as well, with a whole series of seemingly unexplained incidents taking place over the years – such as barrels moving and even people having their hair pulled.
It’s not all ghostly goings on though. If you like your history you may be interested to know the Scottish poet Robert Burns is said to have stayed there with his lover.
Spooky restaurants in Edinburgh
This one is less about the ghosts and the ghouls and more just about a little bit of magic. If you’re looking for atmosphere, theatre, and a sense of occasion then the Witchery is it. Tucked away in a series of historic buildings just footsteps away from the castle this place is rich with history and utterly gorgeous. Expect oak panelled walls, baroque décor, and more period features than you can shake a stick at, with sumptuous food to boot.
Just for the heads up – the Witchery leans on the expensive side, at least if you come for dinner. Saying that, they do have a very affordable lunch/pre-theatre menu which is just over £20 per person. So if you want to do Halloween in Edinburgh in serious style this is the place to come!
Spooky shops in Edinburgh
Sample a taste of the occult with a trip to the Wyrd Shop, one of the spookiest shops in Edinburgh. If you’re looking for weird, wonderful or witchy souvenirs to take home with you then this is the place to come. It’s a real treasure trove of goodies, and is crammed full of everything you could hope to find in an occult shop, including candles, incense, crystals, jewellery, books, tarot cards… oh, and even hand-crafted wands.
If you have an interest in folklore, paganism, or mythology then you’ll love this place. It’s located at the bottom of the Royal Mile in the Canongate so not too off the beaten track – definitely pop by if you’re spending Halloween in Edinburgh!