Edinburgh Vaults Tour Underground: The 2 Not to Miss!

edinburgh-vaults-tour

Edinburgh is one of my favourite cities! So much history, so much character, and so much to do when you visit! I have now been there several times and there are always different things on offer. This trip I decided to do something I had never done before – explore Edinburgh underground by taking the 2 most popular Edinburgh Vaults Tour Options.

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View over Edinburgh

Edinburgh as a city used to be literally just the royal mile area or what is now the Old Town Edinburgh. The city is built on hills so when it began to fill up the only way to accommodate people was to go up and down! Streets known as Closes began to be filled with houses literally on top of each other. And thus began the creation of a city under Edinburgh.

As those who could afford it moved out of the centre of Edinburgh to the new town roads were built between the royal mile and the new town – literally over this populated underground city in Edinburgh Scotland. To support the bridges arches were created underneath – which led to the creation of underground vaults and the Edinburgh underground streets which became the centre of life for many of the poor of the city. 

Edinburgh is also home to some fantastic boutique hotels! Click here to find out some fantastic places to stay in Edinburgh.

Edinburgh Vaults Tour – Lost and Then Found

Alas, disease broke out in the Edinburgh old city underground which led to an evacuation of this underground village Edinburgh and the vaults being sealed. The underground hidden city Edinburgh was then forgotten – until a pub owner discovered a vault in the 1980s.

The Edinburgh Scotland underground vaults were excavated and have now been turned into a major tourist activity as well as function rooms etc. Underground Edinburgh is also renowned for apparently having many ghosts………….and now just as many Edinburgh ghost tours!

edinburgh-vaults
The backstreets of Edinburgh

Hidden Edinburgh Tours: The Options

There are several ways to explore Edinburgh Underground City. The Edinburgh vaults have been essentially divided up amongst tour companies, tour guides, pubs and other interested organisations. Most have some type of exclusivity around their vault – and I believe there are circa 120 vaults or rooms in the Edinburgh city underground.

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There are 5 key ways to see the Edinburgh vaults depending on what time of year you are in Edinburgh:

1. Edinburgh Vaults Ghost Adventures Tours

The underground ghost tour is one of the best-known uses of the vaults. There are many stories of ghosts – and some dreadful stories around what life was like living in the Edinburgh vaults – and the fate of some of its inhabitants. These Edinburgh tours underground are generally held as an evening tour – adds some atmosphere! Click here for some Ghost Tour options.

2. Edinburgh Underground Tour or Edinburgh Vaults Tours

These are the subject of this post. The two best known are the Mercat and Mary King’s Close. Read further on for my reviews of both!

3. Pubs and/or a Pub Crawl

Several pubs in the centre of Edinburgh have vault rooms. These include the Banshee Labyrinth (apparently Scotland’s most haunted pub!), The Jazz Bar or Cabaret Voltaire.

Or why not go on a pub crawl specifically designed to visit multiple pubs in Edinburgh with vault rooms in the one session?

edinburgh tours

4. Private Function

The south bridge vaults of Edinburgh old have an area that hosts weddings, live music, private dining and the occasional club night. Check out the Unusual Venues Edinburgh website if this is of interest.

5. Edinburgh Festival

The Edinburgh Festival is one of the biggest arts festivals in the world and is held every August. During this time the vaults that are currently used just for private functions, as well as several unused vaults, are turned into venues for Edinburgh Festival events.

Heading to Edinburgh for just one day? Make sure you don’t miss anything by reading this great One Day in Edinburgh Guide

Edinburgh Underground Tour: Mercat Tours Edinburgh

Mercat Tours offer a range of ghost walk Edinburgh, 18th-century history and private tours of Edinburgh. One of their most well known, and the tour that I took, was the Historic Edinburgh Underground City Tour. This tour has exclusive access to the Blair Street Underground Vaults – the largest system of underground caverns in Edinburgh.

Click here to book your Edinburgh historic vaults walking tour

vault-tours-edinburgh
Vaults staircase

The ghostly underground vaults tour Edinburgh begins outside – at the Mercat Cross (see planning & logistics further down). I had a brilliant French guide! An unexpected nationality but she was fabulous and super knowledgeable. She provides all of the backgrounds on what was happening in Scotland in the 18th century that led to the creation of the vaults. There are lots of fantastically gross and icky stories about Edinburgh Scotland!

edinburgh-underground

After an overview overground we walked a short distance to the Blair Street Underground Vaults and headed for our underground vaults tour! Mercat Tours have done a great job at keeping these ghostly underground vaults authentic. They are pretty much untouched and lit by candles. Only the most necessary safety measures have been put in when it comes to modernisation.

edinburgh-underground-city

The guide on this Edinburgh tour did a brilliant job bringing the era – and especially its smells! – to life! I could almost hear the roaring of voices in the tavern vault – and smell the excessive amount of Claret being drunk!

edinburgh-underground-vaults

I had two favourite stories. One involved Judge Newton and his unique approach to contemplating judgments. The second is that for the first time I now actually understand what a body snatcher is and how that term came about. I also realise that it was a fabulously lucrative occupation at the time! I won’t ruin your tour by telling you anything more…………..

edinburgh-underground-streets

The Mercat tour finishes in the Discovery Room which features a mix of different types of exhibits with various levels of interactivity.

edinburgh underground streets

I really enjoyed this Edinburgh south bridge vaults tour. The stories were enthralling and the telling was done particularly well. My only comment would be that it could be quite a bit to ask a kid to pay attention over this time duration.

Mercat Tours Edinburgh Planning & Logistics

I booked online the day before but if you are in Edinburgh during the summer – particularly August – I would suggest booking at least one week ahead.

November-March there are 2 tours a day: 2pm and 4pm

April-October there are 4 tours a day: 11am, 12pm, 2pm & 4pm

The tour starts at The Mercat Cross which is in front of St Giles Cathedral and literally just off the Royal Mile.

About Mercat – this tour company was started by a history teacher which makes a lot of sense after you have completed the tour. Tours are conducted in English. Click here for a Mercat tours promo code.

mercat tours edinburgh

The tour finishes not far away at the Blair Street Underground Vaults.

The tour runs for about one hour and 15 minutes

Edinburgh Underground City Tour: The Real Mary King’s Close

The Real Mary King’s Close is perhaps the most famous Edinburgh underground Tour. The Real Mary King’s Close tour is quite a different type of tour to the Mercat Tour. It is far more interactive and theatrical.

A key thing to know: You cannot take photos on this tour (you can on the Mercat Tour)

edinburgh underground streets

Your Mary Kings Close tour will be led by a character guide who has been based on a real person who lived in Edinburgh’s Closes in the 17th century – it could be the maid, the merchant, the plague cleaner or the doctor! He or she will be dressed in keeping with the time and provide their own perspective on the goings on in the close.

You will move through different rooms and areas within the close and see recreations. These vary from rather realistic looking miserable statues of people in bed with the plague to some pretty cool video projection within mirrors.

tours in edinburgh scotland

This tour very much brings the time to life and has some memorable moments.

If you are taking the tour with your family (kids 5 years and over can go on the tour), I would definitely recommend the Mary King’s Close tour ahead of Mercat. However, the Mercat Tour offers a more in-depth understanding of the time of the vaults, how life in the vaults worked and why life in the vaults ended.

Mary King’s Close Tour Planning & Logistics

As above, I booked online the day before but if you are in Edinburgh during the summer – particularly August – I would suggest booking at least one week ahead.

Mary King’s Close is open every day apart from Christmas Days, with tours tending to run every 15 minutes. Opening Hours are:

December-March
Sun-Thu: 10am-5pm
Fri-Sat: 10am-9pm

April-October
Mon-Sun: 10am-9pm

November
Sun: 930am – 6:30pm
Mon-Thu: 9am – 5:30pm
Fri-Sat: 9:30am – 9:00pm

edinburgh underground tour

Mary King’s Close is located on the Royal Mile – next door to the City Chambers and opposite St Giles’ Cathedral – literally steps away from the Mercat Cross where the Mercat tour meets.

Top Tip: If you are really interested in Underground Edinburgh it is quite easy to do both tours virtually in a row – which is what I did. They are very different experiences and I am quite glad that I did both. If I had of had more time I also would have probably added in an underground vaults pub tour! Hmm, I am starting to wonder if I have a bit of an underground infatuation????

And check out Auld Reekie Tours for some more Edinburgh ghost tours and some that also include the Edinburgh vaults stone circle.

edinburgh underground city tour

Getting to Edinburgh

Search here for Cheap Flights to Edinburgh. 

A quick and cheap way to get from the airport to the centre of Edinburgh is to take Edinburgh Airport to City Centre Bus Transfer

Edinburgh Ghost Tour

If the Edinburgh Vaults Tour has left you wanting more you might enjoy taking one of Edinburgh’s ghost tours. Hop on the Ghost Bus Tour of Edinburgh and you’ll get a sightseeing tour of Edinburgh as well as some amusing ghostly tales.

Keep up the perky mood with a visit to the Edinburgh Dungeon! Buy your Edinburgh dungeon ticket here.

And don’t leave Edinburgh without visiting Edinburgh castle ticket.

Don’t Miss When You’re in Edinburgh

I must confess the only thing I knew about the Royal Yacht Britannia before I visited was what I had seen of it in The Crown! However, this produced enough interest for me (as tv tends to do!) to get me to visit. I am so glad that I did! Visiting the Royal Yacht Britannia is a very unique and special experience.

royal yacht britannia bell

I started my visit to the Royal Yacht Britannia with afternoon tea! Many choose to end with this but I was starving so I kicked off by enjoying some delicious sandwiches and even more delicious scones in the lovely lovely tea room. The tea room has floor to ceiling windows overlooking the water which is just lovely.

And then on to the Royal Yacht tour! You will receive an audio guide which is particularly well done. They have really got that balance between too much and too little information correct.

royal yacht britannia dining room

After taking the tour I really felt like I had a sense of what life was like on the Royal Yacht Britannia. I most enjoyed being able to see and in some cases walk through the private areas of the royal family. It felt so special being, in one case, in a room where most of the major players of the 20th century had visited at least once!

How to find the Royal Yacht Britannia

The Royal Yacht Britannia is located as part of the Ocean Terminal shopping centre in the Leith area of Edinburgh. If you are driving there is free parking in the shopping centre and it is very well signed. Once you’ve parked head into the shopping centre and follow the directions.

Book Your Royal Yacht Britannia Tickets Here!

Great Deals for those visiting Scotland from outside the UK

Visit Great Britain has some fantastic offers that are just for those who live outside the UK. It is possible to make significant savings if you book certain things before you travel – not to mention how much easier it is to already have tickets for things when you arrive!

If you have just moved to the UK you can buy these passes in your first six months of residency.

Transport

There are a number of Brit Rail passes available. Rail is a brilliant way to get around the UK – the train services are generally pretty good and there are good timetables. The most important thing to check is what kind of pass you need. The best way to determine this is to start by checking this map against where you are planning to visit.

There are two options available for Scotland.

The BritRail Central Scotland Pass covers the key central cities in Scotland – Edinburgh, Glasgow, Stirling and Fife Station.

If you’re planning on exploring the Highlands and the islands of Scotland then a better option is the BritRail Scottish Freedom Pass. This covers all rail within Scotland and even some of the ferries to the islands.

If you’re planning on travelling around England and Scotland then the best option is to buy the BritRail GB Pass. This covers all train journeys across all of the United Kingdom.

All of the above take the form of paper tickets that will be mailed to your home address.

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There is a new BritRail MPass which has an eticket that can be downloaded onto a mobile. However, it has one key restriction which is that the travel must be taken on consecutive days so make sure you check if this suits your plans before purchasing.

Book Your BritRail Passes Here

If you prefer travelling via a bus to train then check out the skimmer pass national express coach. National Express travels to over 1000 locations and has free wifi, usb and power sockets, onboard entertainment, air conditioning and reclining leather seats!

Minicabs can be a great way to get around the UK. Minicabit taxi booking covers 300 UK towns and cities and can be booked as far as one year out. These can be particularly good for getting from a train station to hotels/b&Bs.

Attractions

One of the best value offers for overseas visitors are National Trust passes. These passes cover entry to a large number of major attractions and stately homes within the UK. If you will be visiting a few of their properties these passes very quickly become amazing value.

The Historic Scotland Explorer Pass covers more than 75 properties including Edinburgh and Stirling Castles, Urquhart Castle at Lochness and many more.

The Scottish Heritage Pass covers over 120 properties but can only be used between April 1 and October 31.

Click Here to see All Deals on UK Sightseeing passes 

UK Travel Essentials

Grab a WorldSIM PrePaid Global SIM Card to stay in touch at reasonable prices. Access WIFI at local rates with the mobile wi fi rental wireless internet anywhere you go in britainThis in your pocket wifi can be picked up at Heathrow or Paddington Station. 

The Best Place to Stay – and Eat – in Edinburgh

I rather fell in love with 21212 – a restaurant with Rooms! 21212 is a wonderful boutique hotel in a wonderfully central yet quiet part of Edinburgh.

21212 edinburgh

The hotel is literally 4 rooms. Oh, but what rooms they are! Wonderfully stylish, incredibly comfortable, beautifully designed – I could wax lyrical for quite some time! I even had a mini corner couch in my room at 21212 – love a corner couch! And such a comfortable bed! I slept incredibly well. And the sloe gin in the room was a particularly nice touch.

The room was magnificent. And then there was the food at 21212. Wow wow wow! The restaurant is named 21212 because of the structure of the menu. There are 3 choices for a starter. Then there is 1 soup. 3 Choices for main. 1 cheese. 3 choices for dessert. And an amuse bouche to begin.

Click here to check Prices and Availability for staying at Hotel 21212

I started with the “Haggis it’s Risotto” which featured aubergine and onion. It was amazing. If haggis always tasted like this I would never stop eating it. The soup sounded simple – spring vegetable. It was a taste sensation. It felt wrong to call it a soup as it was so much more flavourful and complex than any soup I have ever eaten.

21212 edinburgh

I can’t resist a surf and turf on a menu so I had the Piatto a base di Carne Pesce as my main. The beef was just ridiculously good. My eyes closed involuntarily with each bite as I so so enjoyed it. And wow the scallops – amazing!

21212 edinburgh

I then finished off with the “Ooh Bee Hive” (did I mention everything at 21212 Edinburgh has a fabulous name?) which featured honey, chocolate and mango. And a tiny shot of banana smoothie which was multi-layered and really I don’t know exactly what it was but gosh it was so so so good.

21212 edinburgh

21212 is a really special, wonderful, unique place to visit and I highly recommend at minimum eating here – but gosh so nice when you just have to walk up the stairs to go to bed – in a luxe super-stylish boutique hotel!!!

Top tip: Work off some of that Michelin star food with a walk up Calton Hill – it is literally less than 100 metres from the hotel to the start of the path. You will also be rewarded with stunning views over Edinburgh.

calton hill

More things to Read about Scotland

I do love Scotland! And I like to write about it on this blog! Here are a few other posts on Scotland you might enjoy reading:

The Best Things to do in the Scottish Highlands

Scottish Highlands Tour Itinerary – 10 nights

Climbing Ben Nevis: A Complete Guide

If you’re going to spend some time in Glasgow check out my post on the 19 Best Glasow Tours and Day Trips

nelson column edinburgh

Edinburgh Underground City Tour Map

Like this post? Why Not Pin It?

Looking for memorable Edinburgh Tours? Don’t miss the Underground Streets of Edinburgh! This is your complete guide to the Best 2 Edinburgh Vaults Tour Options & all you need to know to plan your tour visits. #edinburgh #scotland #edinburghtours #scotlandtours #edinburghtravel #scotlandtravel #edinburghthingstodoin #scotlandthingstodoin #edinburghphotography #scotlandphotography #scotlandculture #edinburghculture #edinburghroyalmile #edinburgholdtown #edinburghprincesst #edinburghhotels

Looking for % memorable Edinburgh Tours? Don’t miss an Edinburgh Underground Tour! This is your complete guide to the Best 2 Edinburgh Vaults Tour Options & all you need to know to plan your tour visits

If you click through on some of the links in this post and make a purchase I will receive a small commission. Just wanted to make sure you knew.

Thanks very much to Luxury Scotland for helping me to plan and sponsoring my trip to fabulous Scotland. 

 


Also published on Medium.

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Edinburgh Vaults Tour Underground: The 2 Not to Miss!
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Edinburgh Vaults Tour Underground: The 2 Not to Miss!
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Looking for memorable Edinburgh Tours? Don’t miss the Edinburgh Underground Streets! This is your complete guide to the Best 2 Edinburgh Vaults Tour Options & all you need to know to plan your tour visits.
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43 Comments

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  • I always wanted to visit England for Harry Potter location attraction. Maybe I can spend some time here. This does look wonderful, I do want to visit for just plain roaming and wonderful locations which can be photographed.Except for Ghost Tours, I will visit almost everything.

  • Your post was so detailed I felt like I was there! The views are beautiful, the tours look fun and the resturants decor is amazing. Great info.

  • I never knew that underground vaults even existed in Edinburgh. I plan to visit Scotland sometime in the near future. Good to know what options are available.

  • I absolutely love overseas underground tours!! I did a few in Rome and they were my favorite part. I bet Edinburgh’s are amazing – all of this looks awesome – it is a city with a rich history.

  • such vaults or underground ways n everything just give me those treasure at the end feelings. i love reading such stories too. would definitely want to visit a few places like these…

  • This looks so cool! I have never been on this tour before, but it looks really interesting. I’d love to do it one day. Thanks for sharing!

  • An underground vault?! Wow that is something very quaint and secured I guess. I think not all would want to go down and store (or rob?) anything down there. But this would be a great place to visit for tourism purpose.

  • I never knew that there were vaults under Edinburgh. These tours sound creepy but I think the pub crawl one would make me brave LOL.

  • I have a cousin who lives there. I will have to ask him if he has visited these vaults. I would assume he did already. He’s been living and working there for the past 15 years. These vaults are really interesting. If I get a chance to visit my cousin, I’d ask him to take me there.

  • I did the vaults tour when I was in Edinburgh earlier this year and it was so interesting. You managed to capture some much better photos than I did though x

  • Been here for a long time and I bet there are more changes since I last visited. Will definitely check this out and let me add it to my schedule on places that I must revisit.

  • I’d love a ghost tour around the vaults in Edinburgh. I’ve always loved it spooky so definitely, some adventure around would be welcome.

  • This looks like so much fun! I love ghost tours and this would be an incredible experience. I really would love to do this with my husband.

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