Greyfriars Kirk, located in Edinburgh, is a prominent historical and cultural site. It was established in 1620 and is named after the earlier Franciscan friary on the site, which was dissolved in 1559. The term ‘kirk’ is the Scottish word for a church, hence the name.
The architecture of Greyfriars Kirk is a beautiful blend of Gothic and classical styles. The church is famous for its stunning stained glass windows and the historic Greyfriars Bobby’s Statue which is located nearby.
|Opening Hours:||Opening hours of the kirk vary throughout the year. Visit https://greyfriarskirk.com/ for details.|
The kirkyard is open 24 hours.
|Admission Price:||Free entry|
|Parking:||No on-site parking. Paid car parking spaces in Chambers Street.|
|Facilities:||Disabled access and toilets, shop, museum, guided tours|
No visit to Edinburgh can be complete without a visit to Greyfriars Kirk, home of the famous Greyfriars Bobby – the wee Skye Terrier that kept a 14-year vigil on his master’s grave in the 19th century.
Greyfriars has an interesting history that goes far beyond the legend of Bobby and a visit to the kirk and its surrounding graveyard is a must-do for any visitor to the city.
The kirk (Scots word for church) is in one of the prime tourist-attraction areas of Edinburgh, directly opposite the tower entrance of the National Museum of Scotland and just a few yards up from Candlemaker Row.
The site of Greyfriars isn’t particularly big but there are hundreds of gravestones to view (if that’s your thing) while the ochre-coloured kirk is a traditional style that’s attractive enough but isn’t a patch on the Gothic masterpiece St. Giles Cathedral that you’ll find on the Royal Mile.
You could spend a good hour wandering around the gravestones and the interior of the kirk is worth peeking your head into as well as it has lots of interesting original features from the 1600s.
If you’d like to delve into the history of it all a little deeper you’ll find guided tours are available most days.
Greyfriars is hundreds of years old and the old kirk oozes with atmosphere, so if you’re a keen photographer you’ll find plenty to shoot. If history and selfies aren’t your thing you probably won’t spend much more than half an hour there.
That being said, the kirk’s association with Harry Potter and Bobby the dog makes it worth a visit for most people and the fact that it’s one of the oldest surviving buildings outside of Edinburgh’s Old Town is the icing on the proverbial cake.
1: Greyfriars Kirk is a fascinating old building in one of the most historic parts of Edinburgh. The interior of the kirk is worth visiting when it isn’t in use, but the real highlight is the kirkyard.
2: The kirkyard was the inspiration for JK Rowling and a certain boy wizard. If you have children with you it’s great fun getting them to look around the gravestones to find the final resting place of the Potters, William McGonagall, and Tom Riddle.
3: The kirkyard is spooky – but in a good way! Perhaps the best way to see it is to join one of the Edinburgh walking tours that start from the Mercat Cross behind St. Giles Cathedral.
1: Have a look at the Greyfriars Bobby fountain outside the Kirk. Bobby’s grave is located at the main entrance.
2: Check out one of the few remaining sections of the Flodden Wall while you’re in the graveyard and pop over the road to visit the National Museum of Scotland.
3: After a bite to eat? Visit the Greyfriars pub next door or take a walk down Candlemaker Row to the Grassmarket where you’ll find loads of traditional Scottish pubs serving good food.
There’s a small museum in the kirk that tells the story of Greyfriars from Franciscan times to the present day and it includes one of only a handful of original copies of the National Covenant which was signed in the Kirk in 1638.
There are other interesting objects including an oil painting of Greyfriars Bobby by John MacLeod so it’s certainly worth venturing inside, but you can only explore the interior at those times when there are no congregations or events going on.
The kirkyard that surrounds the kirk is managed by a separate trust and the care and maintenance that have been taken in looking after the graves are evident everywhere you look.
Many notable Edinburgh residents were buried in Greyfriars over the course of its history including the Lord Advocate Sir George Mackenzie, the poet Duncan Ban MacIntyre, Admiral Sir Charles Douglas and the artist Sir John Medina, amongst others.
While you look around the graves make sure you keep an eye open for one of the few remaining sections of the Flodden Wall as well as the ghost of Sir George Mackenzie.
This ghostly figure is reputed to wander through the lonely graveyard late at night and legend has it that anyone who comes into contact with him will be left with cuts and bruises. So watch out!
A slightly more modern claim to fame for the kirkyard is the fact that JK Rowling wrote the majority of the first Harry Potter book just around the corner at the Elephant House café.
It’s widely known that the author used to wander around the gravestones looking for inspiration and you can find lots of names that appear in the books if you spend a little time looking for them. Here are a few to get you started:
- Anne and Robert Potter: From the entrance walk along the path next to the kirk, turn right and you’ll find a small yard. The grave is in the centre with a cross on the top.
- William McGonagall: Walk to the rear of the kirk and through the archway in the wall that is marked with the Flodden Wall plaque. At the far wall you will find the gravestone embedded a few feet above ground level.
- Thomas Riddell: In the same area as the McGonagall grave. From the Flodden wall archway turn right and follow the wall almost to the end. The grave is located a few metres from the far wall.
The site where the kirk and kirkyard are located was originally a Franciscan friary, however, due to the smell of the decaying dead in Edinburgh’s cramped Old Town, the council decided that a new location was needed to bury them.
Building works started on the main section of the kirk in 1602 but it wasn’t until 1620 that it was finally completed, with the building that we see today undergoing significant changes since those times.
Perhaps the most notable of these modifications was caused by the destruction of the west end of the kirk in 1718. The town council in their wisdom had decided to store the majority of the city’s gunpowder reserves inside a small building just outside the kirk.
Unfortunately, it blew up and demolished the entire end of the building so the western section had to be rebuilt.
A new dividing wall was also installed so that two separate congregations could worship within the same building, and the Old and New Greyfriars churches were kept this way for the next two hundred years.
Further alterations to the building occurred in 1845 when a fire raged through the kirk which completely destroyed its interior, hence most of the internal fittings were installed after that date.
Finally, between 1932 and 1938 a programme of reconstruction began which included the installation of a new wooden ceiling and the removal of the old dividing wall.
As you explore the interior of the building try to look for evidence of the 1845 fire on the sides of the eastern-most windows and also take note of the church organ – the first to be installed in a Presbyterian church anywhere in Scotland.
Greyfriars Kirk is located at the junction of Candlemaker Row and George IV Bridge, opposite the National Museum of Scotland.
Discover more places to visit in Edinburgh with: The Best Places to Visit in Edinburgh – Ultimate Visitor Guide.
Things to do
Greyfriars Kirk Tour: Immerse yourself in the history of Greyfriars Kirk. This is no ordinary tour; it’s a journey back in time. The guided tour offers detailed insights into the church’s dramatic past, from tales of the Covenanters to the intriguing symbols on some of the gravestones.
Exploring the Greyfriars Bobby Statue: Make sure to visit the statue of Edinburgh’s most famous dog, Greyfriars Bobby. The Skye Terrier is celebrated for his loyalty after standing guard over his master’s grave for 14 years, and he’s commemorated by a statue on top of a water fountain outside the kirk.
Greyfriars Kirkyard Ghost Tour: If you’re a fan of the supernatural, a nighttime tour of Greyfriars Kirkyard is an unmissable experience. Known as one of the most haunted graveyards in the world, it’s home to the notorious Mackenzie Poltergeist who is said to have left some sightseers with cuts and bruises.
Attending a Service: Greyfriars Kirk is still an active church and visitors are welcome to attend services throughout the year. Experience the spiritual side of Scotland with traditional hymns and sermons where the unique acoustics of the building ensure each service is a truly mesmerizing experience.
Historical Significance: Greyfriars Kirk is named after an earlier Franciscan friary that was dissolved in 1559.
Architectural Style: The Kirk represents a stunning example of post-Reformation Gothic architecture in Scotland. Its T-plan design, characterised by a central nave and two transverse aisles, was a significant deviation from the traditional longitudinal plan of medieval churches.
Greyfriars Bobby: The Kirk houses the famous statue of Greyfriars Bobby, a Skye Terrier who supposedly guarded his master’s grave for 14 years until his own death.
Covenanters’ Prison: The churchyard of Greyfriars Kirk contains the Covenanters’ Prison, where over a thousand supporters of the National Covenant were held in deplorable conditions in 1679.
Grave Robbery: The Kirk was a frequent target for ‘resurrectionists’ in the 18th and 19th centuries, who would exhume bodies for medical research. This led to the construction of watchtowers and ‘mortsafes’ (iron cages over graves) to deter grave robbers.
Fire and Restoration: The Kirk has survived multiple fires, including a significant one in 1845 that destroyed much of the original structure.
Harry Potter Connection: J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, drew inspiration from the tombstones in Greyfriars Kirk. Names like Thomas Riddell, William McGonagall, and Elizabeth Moodie can be found on the gravestones.
Things to do nearby
The Grassmarket. Edinburgh EH1 2HJ. 4-minute walk.
A historic site in Edinburgh that was originally the city’s main cattle market. It slowly evolved into a courtyard city square with a number of traditional pubs that offer outside dining. The photogenic West Bow and Victoria Street are to the north while Greyfriars is to the south.
National Museum of Scotland. Chambers St, Edinburgh EH1 1JF. 1-minute walk.
The largest museum in Scotland. It’s split into two main sections – the restored Victorian Grand Gallery and the modern section that includes science, archaeology, natural history, design and world culture galleries. There are frequent temporary paid exhibitions throughout the year and the museum also houses shops, a café and a restaurant.
The Meadows. Melville Dr, Edinburgh EH9 1ND. 8-minute walk.
A large public park that is very popular with Edinburgh’s residents and the university community. The Meadows really comes alive in August during The Fringe when there are theatre and circus shows staged in the park.
Edinburgh Vaults. South Bridge, Edinburgh EH1 1QR. 7-minute walk.
Underground chambers with a ghostly history. Guided tours take visitors through the subterranean rooms while explaining the story of Edinburgh and the people who lived there over the course of the last 500 years.
St. Giles Cathedral. High St, Edinburgh EH1 1RE. 7-minute walk.
A grand Gothic-style medieval cathedral also known as ‘The High Kirk’, it was the place of worship where John Knox preached. Free to visit and guided tours are available. There is a shop and café on-site and many more within a short walking distance on The Royal Mile.
Frequently asked questions
How do I get to Greyfriars Kirk?
Greyfriars Kirk is situated adjacent to George IV Bridge and the National Museum of Scotland. The nearest on-street parking is at Chambers Street.
Address: 1 Greyfriars, Edinburgh, EH1 2QQ
Directions map: Google Maps
Are dogs allowed in Greyfriars Kirk?
Dogs are not allowed in Greyfriars Kirkyard.
Who is buried in Greyfriars?
The most famous burials in Greyfriars Kirkyard are Greyfriars Bobby and his owner John Gray. Bobby’s gravestone is located at the entrance of the kirkyard adjacent to George IV Bridge.
Other notable burials include architect John Adam, William McGonagall (regarded as one of the worst poets in Scotland!), and Tom Riddle (the inspiration for Tom Riddle/Voldemort in Harry Potter).
How many people are buried at Greyfriars Kirk?
Between 1562 (when Mary Queen of Scots established Greyfriars as a burial ground) and 1900, nearly 100,000 people were buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard.