Gloom & Doom All Around
If you’re among those who prefer their history served with a tinge of terror and a dash of the macabre, the Auld Reekie Terror Tour is just the thing for you. The city of Edinburgh is famous for its underground vaults, corridors, and buildings, and this tour highlights the places where torture, witchcraft, and crimes most foul were the norm.
Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland once known as Auld Reekie (the name translates as “old smoky” and referred to the smoke billowing out of coal chimneys), is rich with history going back to the prehistoric Stone Age settlements on the craggy hills that loom over the town. Not all of Edinburgh’s history, however, has been a tale of fair maidens and gallant knights. This is the home of Major Weir, who with his sister was executed for witchcraft in 1670. It’s also the town that inspired Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, based on the actual life of local socialite criminal Deacon Brodie.
There are a number of tours available, including the Ghost and Torture Tour, which takes visitors to a reputed witchcraft temple still in use today. Tours last about 75 minutes and are available during the day and into the night. Guides on the Terror Tour regale visitors with stories from the Black Plague, which swept across Scotland in the 14th century and caused many of Edinburgh’s citizens to be quarantined in horrific squalor. The tour, which is lit primarily by candles to heighten the effect, leads visitors through rooms and corridors where ghostly paranormal activity is reportedly high. If that doesn’t scare you, the grisly Torture Museum might; it features implements used to extract confessions from witches, warlocks, prisoners, and other undesirables.
The tour might not be for everyone—some visitors have referred to it as crowded and campy, with a none-too-frightening spook tacked on to the end, and the pub at the tour’s end is generally considered a tourist trap. But touristy or not, after reliving the tales of plague victims, witches, and murderers, you may need a drink.
Auld Reekie Terror Tour, 45 Niddry St. ( 44/131/557-4700; www.auldreekietours.com).
When to Go: Year-round.
$$ Malmaison, 1 Tower Place ( 44/131/68-5000; www.malmaison.com). $$$ The Witchery by the Castle, The Royal Mile ( 44/131/225-5613; www.thewitchery.com).