The Real Mary King’s Close is a tourist attraction located in the middle of Edinburgh’s historic Royal Mile.
The attraction allows visitors to step beneath the streets of Edinburgh into an underground labyrinth where stories of the city’s past residents unfold through a series of exhibits and displays.
The close takes its name from Mary King who was a 17th-century burgess that lived in the area, and visitors can learn about her and the myths and legends that surround Edinburgh’s most famous underground street when they explore the maze of haunted rooms on a guided tour.
2 High St,
|Opening Hours:||Monday-Friday: 09.30 to 17.00 |
Saturday-Sunday: 09.30 to 21.00
|Admission Price:||Adult: £19.50|
Child (5 – 15 years): £12.95
Adult Flexi Ticket: £22.00
Child Flexi Ticket (5 – 15 years): £15.00
|Facilities:||Gift shop, coffee house, toilets, guided tours|
|BUY TICKETS||Click here to purchase|
In the centre of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, through a small nondescript passageway, lies Mary Kings Close. Were it not for the advertising signs posted on the walls nearby you’d probably walk straight past it, but if you did you’d be missing out on one of the most interesting historic attractions in the city.
What makes this one of the more unusual places to visit in Edinburgh is that it’s located underground and is almost entirely unchanged from the time when Auld Reekie was gripped by the black plague.
The close takes its name from Mary King, a merchant who lived in Edinburgh in the 17th century, and the attraction allows visitors to explore the maze of underground rooms that run beneath the modern city streets.
Each room offers a fascinating glimpse into the past and thanks to the guided tour that retells the stories of past tenants you’ll soon discover there’s more to this subterranean labyrinth than first meets the eye.
The experience begins in the courtyard where you’ll wait in a seating area to be shown around by a tour guide. Dressed in the clothes of the time they’ll give you an overview of the tour and what you can expect to see during your visit, after which you’ll descend into the gloom of the close.
In my opinion, the guides are worth the entrance fee alone as their depth of knowledge about the city’s plague-ridden closes and wynds is amazing and you’ll soon find yourself clamouring to listen to their stories as you make your way underground.
At around an hour it’s not a long tour by any means but it’s possibly the best way to experience the old city away from the hubbub of the modern Royal Mile.
The only other experience I’ve found that’s similar to Mary King’s Close is the ghost tour run by Mercat Tours that takes you into the Edinburgh Vaults, but both tours are equally enjoyable and I couldn’t really rate one above the other.
As you follow the guide on the journey around the underground rooms you’ll encounter a few displays and exhibitions that will give you an insight into Edinburgh’s past.
Highlights include a series of videos where ghostly residents tell you their stories and a creepy display about the plague doctors that treated the close’s inhabitants.
The plague, as I’m sure you already know, devastated most of the United Kingdom in the 17th century and due to the lack of hygiene in Edinburgh the poorest residents of the city fared worse than others.
Rats were rife in those filthy streets and with them came the fleas that carried the bubonic plague.
Scotland lost a quarter of its entire population during the time of the plague and the confines of Mary King’s Close ensured the disease spread without mercy – which is all the more horrifying when you try to imagine what it would have been like when 600 people were crammed into those tiny rooms.
1: This is an atmospheric tourist attraction like no other and it’ll give you a glimpse into Edinburgh that you’ll struggle to find anywhere else. Make no mistake, the rooms beneath Edinburgh’s streets are incredibly creepy.
2: The tour guides are very enthusiastic and they’re ultra-knowledgeable about Auld Reekie.
Edinburgh is rightly proud of its history so if you’d like to learn more after you’ve visited Mary King’s Close I recommend visiting The People’s Story Museum that’s located a little further down the Royal Mile in the direction of Holyrood Palace.
3: The gift shop is surprisingly good and it’s the only place where you’ll be able to get a photo of your visit as unfortunately, you can’t take your own photos during the tour (I was given special permission for this article).
1: If you’re in Edinburgh in peak season (basically during summer and when the schools are closed) I recommend getting on a tour reasonably early in the morning.
On the two times I’ve been it was very busy by midday, meaning I had to hang around for a while till a space on a tour became available.
2: There are a bazillion places to visit in Edinburgh so you could end up spending a fortune if you try to visit all the top attractions.
My advice is to either get an Edinburgh City Pass or a Royal Edinburgh ticket, with the latter giving you a discount for The Real Mary King’s Close.
3: If you’re after a meal don’t even bother with The Royal Mile unless you like paying inflated tourist prices. For an authentic Scottish pub meal, you’ll find a dozen reasonably priced options on Rose Street (behind Princes Street).
The expert storytelling offered by the Mary King’s Close guided tour draws thousands of visitors each year but thankfully the number of people in each group is kept low so you won’t feel like you’re being herded around in a big crowd.
The tours run seven days a week so you’ve always got the option of returning the following day if you find all the slots are fully booked, but there are a couple of points worth noting before you whip your bank card out.
First off, it’s pretty creepy down there even if you’re in a tour group so if you’ve got small children they might not feel particularly comfortable.
I was lucky enough to have a visit on my own when I took the photos for the virtual tour and let me tell you I was more than a little spooked, especially when I got to Annie’s room which is supposedly haunted by a 10-year-old girl that died of the plague.
I know the photos on this page make it look like it’s well lit in there but in reality it’s almost pitch black, cold, and has an atmosphere that makes your hair stand on end.
Many people report feeling her presence as soon as they step foot in that room but all I know is I was glad to leave after I’d taken my photos.
The other point to note about the tour is that as it’s underground you’ll have to make your way down several flights of steps, some of which are quite narrow.
That shouldn’t be a problem for most people but if you’ve got any concerns about your own mobility you might want to give the attraction a call for more information to avoid a wasted journey.
Once you’ve wandered through the rooms you’ll be directed back up to ground level where you’ll exit the attraction through a gift shop that’s actually pretty well stocked.
There’s not too much of the usual tourist tat you’ll find at other attractions and you can pick up a photograph of your underground visit as a memento.
There’s also a coffee shop in the courtyard that sells locally-sourced goodies but be aware it might be closed depending on when you visit, but seeing as the attraction is slap-bang in the middle of The Royal Mile you won’t have any problems finding a plethora of cafés, pubs and restaurants in the immediate vicinity.
And speaking of which, if you’re wondering what else to do after you’ve been to Mary King’s Close I thoroughly recommend crossing the road and taking a wander around St. Giles Cathedral.
If you’d like some more ideas for places to visit in Edinburgh I’ve put together a guide to the Top 25 Places to Visit in Edinburgh that highlights the best attractions the city has to offer.
Mary King’s Close History
Born in Edinburgh in the late 1600s, Mary King began her life as a merchant by sewing clothes for sale at her shop on The Royal Mile. In 1616 she married the fellow merchant and businessman Thomas Nimmo who was a representative of the borough of Edinburgh, otherwise known as a burgess.
Following her husband’s death in 1629 Mary and her four children moved into an area of tenement buildings that had the name Alexander King Close, and as Mary’s merchant business expanded she eventually rose to prominence as a burgess herself.
After her death Alexander King Close was renamed Mary King Close in her honour but as the years passed the dilapidated close was sealed up and used as the foundations for new buildings.
The close gained a reputation for hauntings over the following years and it became infamous when several paranormal investigations were filmed there.
Although no evidence was found to support the ghostly tales that spread in the years after the plague there are several theories as to what is responsible for the ghoulish visions that have been reported.
The most likely cause for these apparitions is the fact that the close ran very near to the Nor Loch, the stagnant and polluted body of water that would later be drained to create Princes Street gardens.
Due to the marshland around the area it’s thought that escaping biogas caused eerie lights to be seen and the gas itself could have caused hallucinations for anyone caught in its fumes.
But the fact remains that even today Mary King’s Close has a spooky atmosphere and the idea that disembodied souls roam the subterranean rooms is a much more entertaining theory than marsh gas. And who knows, perhaps you’ll have a ghostly encounter of your own when you visit the attraction…
Discover more places to visit in Edinburgh with: The Best Places to Visit in Edinburgh – Ultimate Visitor Guide.
Things to do
Explore the Underground Streets: Delve deep into Edinburgh’s history as you navigate the labyrinth of underground rooms in the 17th-century close. Each area tells a story, from the plague-ridden alleyways to the homes of wealthy merchants. It’s a unique journey into Scotland’s past, richly layered with tales of intrigue and everyday life.
Meet the Characters: Experience the past coming to life as costumed character guides transport you back in time. They’ll share tales of their lives, letting you experience the sights, sounds, and smells of Edinburgh in the 1600s.
Learn about the Plague: Discover the harsh realities of the deadly plague that swept through Edinburgh in the 17th century. The Real Mary King’s Close offers a hauntingly realistic insight into the conditions of the time, the horrible symptoms of the disease, and the desperate measures people took to try to survive.
Visit the Chesney’s House: Step into the home of the last resident to leave the close, Andrew Chesney. Gain a unique insight into the typical domestic life of the era and see everything from the living quarters to the types of food commonly eaten.
Engage with Paranormal Activity: For the brave, a late-evening tour can be an enjoyably spooky experience. The close is reputedly one of the most haunted places in Scotland and ghostly sightings and unexplained phenomena are often reported.
Hidden Underneath the Royal Mile: Though it’s a popular attraction, The Real Mary King’s Close is not a common sightseeing spot. It is, in fact, a series of streets buried underneath Edinburgh’s historic Royal Mile.
Origin of the Name: Mary King’s Close is named after a prominent businesswoman, Mary King, a rarity in the 17th century. She was a merchant burgess who traded fabrics and sewed for a living.
Preserved in Time: The close has remained almost unchanged since the 17th century, offering an authentic snapshot of life in Edinburgh over 400 years ago.
Plague Outbreak Epicenter: It was a major epicentre during the outbreak of the Bubonic Plague in 1645. The close’s narrow, cramped conditions allowed the disease to spread rapidly.
Ghost Sightings: The close is renowned for its paranormal activity. Many visitors and paranormal investigators have reported sightings and strange occurrences, including the famous ‘Chesney’s ghost.’
Sealed for Centuries: The close was sealed off from the world for nearly 250 years after the city built the Royal Exchange on top of it in the 18th century.
Unique Architecture: The close showcases the unique ‘stacked’ architectural style of Edinburgh’s Old Town, where buildings were constructed on top of one another due to limited space.
War Shelter: During World War II, the close served as an air-raid shelter, protecting citizens from bombings.
Things to do nearby
The Royal Mile. 197 High St, Edinburgh EH1 1PT. 1-minute walk.
A famous medieval high street that joins Holyrood Palace to Edinburgh Castle. Known for its closes and wynds that join the road along its length. It features a variety of shops, bars and restaurants.
St. Giles Cathedral. High St, Edinburgh EH1 1RE. 1-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. Shop and café on site.
Gladstone’s Land. 477B Lawnmarket, Edinburgh EH1 2NT. 3-minute walk.
Historic restored house dating from the 1600s. A guided tour takes you through the history of Edinburgh and shows visitors how people lived in the days of ‘Auld Reekie’.
Edinburgh Vaults. South Bridge, Edinburgh EH1 1QR. 3-minute walk.
Underground chambers with a ghostly history. Guided tours take visitors through the subterranean rooms while explaining the story of Edinburgh.
John Knox House. Scottish Storytelling Centre, High St, Edinburgh EH1 1SR. 4-minute walk.
A historic building known as the home of the preacher John Knox and the royal goldsmith James Mossman. Attached to The Scottish Storytelling Centre which has a café and runs storytelling workshops.
Frequently asked questions
Why was Mary King’s Close built over?
By the time the close was renamed Mary King’s Close it was in a very poor condition and the residents that lived there were suffering from the bubonic plague.
As the city was unable to extend in size due to the encircling city walls, dilapidated areas such as Mary King’s Close were sealed off and used as the foundations for new high-rise tenement buildings.
When was Mary King’s Close rediscovered?
Mary King’s Close was forgotten about after it was sealed off and was only rediscovered in 2003 when workmen accidentally punched a hole through the streets above into the tunnels beneath.
Why is it called Mary King’s Close?
Mary King’s Close was originally named Alexander King Close and was built as an offshoot of The Royal Mile. Mary King was a successful and wealthy burgess who owned a shop there, so when she died the close was renamed Mary King’s Close in her honour.
How long is a tour of Mary Kings Close?
A guided tour around the Mary King’s Close tourist attraction takes approximately one hour.
Why is Mary Kings Close famous?
Mary King’s Close is a historic close located in the Old Town area of Edinburgh, Scotland. It is famous for its history as a medieval street and alleyway that was buried and sealed off when the city built a new Royal Exchange in the 17th century.
The close has since been opened to the public as a tourist attraction and is known for its underground tours which offer a unique look at the history and culture of Edinburgh.
The close is also famous for its association with the legend of the ghost child Annie who is said to haunt the underground chambers.
Can you get discounts for the Real Mary King’s Close?
It is sometimes possible to get discounts at the attraction. Examples are Mary King’s Close 2 for 1 tickets with Lothian Buses, and discounted tours when booking through Groupon and similar sites.