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Scotland is one of the most haunted countries in the world, with multiple ghost sightings recorded throughout the country at all times of the year. Highlights of a ghost-hunting tour include the Edinburgh vaults, Stirling Castle and Skaill House.
Discover these spooky places and many more in this ultimate guide to the most haunted places in Scotland.
Haunted places in Scotland
Scotland is one of the top tourist destinations in the world it draws hundreds of thousands of visitors each year to its mountains, lochs and exciting cities.
While the Scottish landscape is full of cheery meadows blooming with wildflowers in summer the same can’t be said for the colder months when the plants are dying back and the light takes on a sombre hue.
Winter and autumn in Scotland show the nation’s attractions in a completely different tone, especially the ones that have a darker side. Take Glasgow’s Necropolis for example (which you can read about in my Guide to the Glasgow Necropolis).
This is a place where ancient moss-covered gravestones sweep away into the distance in every direction and it really does have an eerie feeling if you walk around it on a damp winter’s afternoon. Stroll through it on a bright summer’s day though and the experience isn’t anywhere near as atmospheric.
Luckily then, if you like your tourist attractions to be a bit creepy you’ll find there are plenty of haunted buildings in Scotland that are spooky no matter the time of year.
Just take a look at any Google search of haunted places in Scotland and you’ll see a list of articles that run into the thousands, or check out Wikipedia’s list of reportedly haunted places in Scotland to be amazed by the number of ghost sightings that have been seen by locals and tourists alike. It’s enough to turn your hair white.
Take Edinburgh as just one example, a city with more stories of gruesome murders and executions than any city has a right to have. I think it’s fair to say you really don’t have to go far in Scotland to find a creepy ghost story.
This list of haunted buildings features locations that are interesting not just because they’re old but because they’ve also got a grisly story hidden beneath their creaky floorboards. I invite you to come and explore them all.
Map of the most haunted places in Scotland
The Edinburgh Vaults
Let’s start off the list with a site that has the most horrific story of any haunted place in Scotland, the vaults in Edinburgh.
If you’ve not heard of the vaults before, they’re basically a series of underground chambers beneath the modern-day city streets that once housed entire families of Edinburgh’s poorest residents in unimaginably bad conditions.
The story of the vaults begins with the building of the South Bridge in 1785, which was built to link the High Street of the Old Town with the university buildings on the south side of the city by spanning the 1,000-foot chasm that separated them.
If you’ve already visited Edinburgh then you might know that the South Bridge is an impressive example of Georgian engineering consisting of nineteen stone arches rising 31 feet above the ground with shops lining the street on either side.
Shortly after it was built, businessmen opened trading booths along the top of the bridge to make the most of passing trade and the arches beneath the bridge were converted into a series of workshops and storage rooms for the shops above.
Unfortunately, as time passed these underground chambers became part-flooded and fell into disrepair so the shop-keepers moved out, at which time the poorest residents of Edinburgh began to move in.
Beggars, the poverty-stricken, thieves and body-snatchers all moved into these forgotten vaults and lived in conditions that must have been unbearable.
There would have been hardly any light, no heat, very little fresh air and absolutely no sanitation, and yet entire families lived their lives in the slowly flooding rooms under the bridge.
As conditions inside the vaults worsened the behaviour of the criminal elements got worse as well, and it didn’t take long for rape, murder and muggings to become part of the fabric of the day-to-day life of the unfortunate souls living inside the vaults.
You might like to also read my article about Murders and Executions in Edinburgh.
Eventually, after nearly three decades of squalor, the Edinburgh vaults were sealed up by the city councillors and were all but forgotten about for the next 180 years until a chance excavation unearthed them in the 1980s.
What the historians found was a labyrinth network of rooms where everyday objects including ceramic jars, pots, plates and even children’s toys were strewn about just as they’d been hurriedly abandoned all those years ago.
In the intervening years the vaults were opened up to the public and it wasn’t long before ghostly activities were reported by many of the visitors who dared to step foot inside them.
Some people hear disembodied voices calling out to them, while others say they’ve seen full-body apparitions walking through the vaults. Others report being stalked by a man wearing heavy boots who throws rocks at them, and yet others say they’ve had their hands gripped by the ghost of a young boy as they were exploring the old abandoned wine cellar.
There’s even a chamber that’s believed to have been used for decades by a satanic cult and the story goes that a woman was brutally sacrificed in the middle of the chamber after the cultists had spent days torturing her. Gruesome stuff.
If you want to get down there and explore the vaults for yourself I thoroughly recommend Mercat Tours who run regular underground tours where you’ll be shown around by an experienced and knowledgeable guide, either as part of a history tour or one that concentrates on the ghostly tales that have led to the vaults being named as one of the most haunted places in Scotland.
The ghost tour is genuinely creepy, although I’d recommend going when it’s dark outside to really get into the whole paranormal atmosphere. Just make sure you’ve got someone’s hand to hold while you’re down there in case a ghostly child tries to grab it first.
If you want to learn about the story of Edinburgh I’ve written an article you might like: Edinburgh – A Thousand Year Story.
This stunning chapel has its origins dating back to 1446, and it is famous for the ornate stone carvings that seem to cover every square inch of its walls. The mysterious symbolism of these carvings has led to many theories as to their meaning, with interest in Rosslyn exploding since it was featured in the movie The Davinci Code.
Now I’ll admit that this is one site in Scotland that’s more beautiful than scary, but the fact that there are so many outlandish theories as to what the stone carvings actually represent and the fact that no one can disprove them makes Rosslyn Chapel one of the strangest places in Scotland in my opinion.
For instance, take the Apprentice Pillar. This is a stone pillar that stands at the centre of the chapel which has ornate carvings that are more intricate than those in other parts of the building.
The story behind the pillar goes that while the master mason was in Rome looking for inspiration for the design of the unfinished chapel, his apprentice was busy at work creating his own designs on the pillar.
You would think the master mason would have been pleased with his protegés work, but instead, when he returned from his overseas trip he became so enraged with jealousy at the quality of the pillar’s craftsmanship that he beat his junior to a bloody pulp.
Strangely, there’s a carving of a young man with a vicious cut on his head engraved elsewhere in the chapel.
Was this made to commemorate the poor apprentice? Another peculiar thing about the Apprentice Pillar is that the vines twirling around it look uncannily like the helix of a DNA strand. Was a representation of the core of all life carved into the core of Rosslyn Chapel 500 years before modern scientists discovered it?
And even stranger is the carving of stalks of corn around one of the windows.
There’s nothing interesting about stalks of corn you might think. Except that corn was an unknown crop in Scotland at the time the chapel was built, and in fact it wasn’t known to Europeans at all until Christopher Columbus discovered America some 50 years after the chapel had been completed. So who carved them into the stonework around the window?
And even all this is insignificant to the secret that’s supposedly buried deep beneath the grounds of Rosslyn Chapel.
There’s a legend that says that the Knights Templar, the sect of holy warriors who were founded by the Catholic Church in 1119, found the holy grail inside Solomons Temple while they were in the middle east during the crusades.
While no-one knows what the grail actually is, we do know that shortly after this event supposedly occurred the Knights Templar suddenly became incredibly powerful, so powerful that the king of France outlawed them.
In turn, many Templars fled to Scotland where they set up properties not far from Rosslyn and from that time stories of a secret relic hidden beneath the chapel have surrounded the building.
A preposterous theory perhaps, except that there are numerous carvings of Templar Knights engraved throughout the chapel walls, along with carvings of Freemason symbology (the Freemasons and Templars reputedly had close ties). Not what you’d expect to find in a Christian building at a time that was fiercely religious.
You can visit Rosslyn Chapel by car or public transport, but if you’re not happy with making your own way there you can also get a guided tour from Edinburgh with Rabbies Tours. These guys specialize in small groups of no more than 16 people and they offer fun and informative tours for a reasonable price.
Did you know that Stirling Castle was once the most powerful fortification in all of Scotland, even more so than Edinburgh Castle? Most people don’t, and if you’re a tourist visiting Scotland you really should take a journey to Stirling to explore this incredible historic building that’s also one of the most haunted places in Scotland.
The castle sits proudly on top of Castle Hill, the enormous rock formation that can be seen from all directions in this lovely part of the Stirlingshire countryside and over the years it has served as a military stronghold and a royal palace.
Robert the Bruce liberated the castle from the English in 1299 and Mary Queen of Scots was crowned there in 1542, so it has plenty of history contained in its walls, although not all of it is pleasant.
One sorry tale concerns Queen Mary and one of her servant girls.
In 1562, The Queen of Scots returned to Scotland after spending nearly two decades in France and took up residence in Stirling Castle, where she was waited on by a number of servants. One of these was known to be a Highland girl who supposedly had the power to see the future.
The girl told Mary that she had a premonition that if the Queen was to spend a single night in the castle she would die, so after begging Mary to let her keep watch she fell asleep in the corner of Mary’s bedroom.
The girl woke up several hours later to find the bedchamber a raging inferno, likely caused by the naked flames of the candles she had lit. As the flames burned through the girl’s emerald-coloured dress she managed to pick up the unconscious queen and carry her to safety, but not before suffering terrible burns in the process.
While it’s a recorded fact that Mary recovered with barely an injury, the poor servant girl was so badly burned that she died shortly afterwards in agony.
Ever since that fateful day there have been reports of a ghostly female figure dressed in green roaming through the castle’s corridors, whose appearance foretells a tragedy involving doom, despair and death.
If that’s not enough to put you off castles for life perhaps this snippet of information will. While exploring Stirling Castle, several tourists have reported seeing a man dressed in full Highland dress walking around in the shadows.
As he’s so elaborately clothed most visitors think he’s a tour guide, but when they wander over to talk to him he turns away and disappears.
You can read more about this historic attraction in my complete guide to Stirling Castle.
If you’d like to discover more Scottish fortifications read my Guide to the Best Castles to Visit in Scotland.
Skaill House is one location in Scotland that I can put money on most tourists haven’t heard of. But if you’ve got any interest in the paranormal then I bet Skaill House is somewhere near the top of your list of spooky Scottish destinations to visit.
This Orkney manor house was built in 1620 not far from the stone-age village of Skara Brae, and it’s had more reports of weird events than most other buildings in Scotland.
Originally built as the home to Bishop George Graham, it has been extensively altered over the years and has served as the family home to several Orkney Lairds, although today it’s open for public viewing as a tourist attraction.
While some people hide skeletons in their closets, this building prefers to hide them under its floorboards, and I’m talking actual skeletons here, not the metaphoric kind.
During the preparation of Skaill House for its first public viewing, fifteen skeletons were discovered near the south wing and under the gravel of the east porch which were later proved to be of Norse origin.
It’s known that are a lot of Viking influences in Orkney, and even the word Skaill is an old Norse word for great hall, but could the disturbed bodies of Viking warriors be to blame for the strange events that have been reported after the skeletons were moved?
Doors are known to open and close by themselves at all times of the day. Weird smells are often reported (I suspect the visitor’s dogs are to blame for that one…), and Scottish ‘members of staff’ have been spoken to by tourists when it was later confirmed no one was on duty.
There have been reports by staff members of sightings of a tall man with dark hair in the shop who disappears when they go to investigate, and even the current Laird has heard loud footsteps in the corridor when the corridor was empty.
And strangely, overnight guests have reported feeling the weight of a person sitting down on the edge of their bed, only to feel the weight shift when they go to turn on the bedside light.
All that’s creepy enough, but there’s also the story of mad Ubby.
Ubby was a man who constructed an island in the nearby loch by repeatedly rowing out into the middle of it and throwing stones in the centre. He must have done this hundreds of times because he eventually created his own small island, high enough above the waves that he could sit on it.
Ubby obviously loved this little mound of stones in the middle of Skaill loch because in his later years he chose to row out and die on it, and his restless spirit is believed to have remained near the site ever since.
Dogs especially seem to sense his spirit and there has been more than one visitor who has complained that their dogs get restless and upset in the manor house, and some get so upset that they end up cowering under the furniture.
Whatever’s really going on at Skaill House is still to be understood, and maybe it will never be. Ghostly spirits or not, this is one old Scottish building that definitely deserves its place in this list of the most haunted places in Scotland.
Dunrobin Castle can be found in the village of Golspie in Sutherland, usually surrounded by busloads of tour coaches as it’s famous for being one of the prettiest castles in Scotland. But it’s also one of the most haunted.
Built in the style of a French château, the castle dates back to 1275 and much of the building has been slowly extended over the last 700 years, with the impressive Scottish Baronial frontage added in the mid-19th-century. Remarkably, this fortified house has been home to the same family (the Earls and Dukes of Sutherland) for over 800 years.
Dunrobin Castle wasn’t always as glamorous looking as it is now though. In fact when it was originally built it was more of a fortified square keep with walls six feet thick sitting perched on top of a cliff-top look-out position.
Although this isn’t exactly a creepy building it has a maze of rooms on the inside in which you can’t help but imagine the events that must have played out throughout the centuries. And of course, the fact that it’s so old means that it has its own resident ghost.
In the 17th-century the Earl of Sutherland was at the height of his power and influence, and among his children was a beautiful young girl called Margaret.
It was believed that young Margaret had fallen deeply in love with one of her stablehands, a young man known as Jamie Gunn, in an illicit affair that would have been devastating to the Sutherland family if it ever became public knowledge.
Sadly for the young couple they were reported by one of the house staff and the enraged earl threw his daughter into the castle attic where he intended to keep her until he had found her a more suitable partner.
Margaret, however, was having none of it, and with the help of her maid she fashioned a makeshift rope out of bedclothes and snuck out the window hoping to meet her lover at the bottom where they could escape together on one of her father’s horses.
Unfortunately, just as Margaret was climbing down the rope her father found her, and the story goes that he either cut the rope out of fury or she let go in fear. Sadly, the poor girl fell from the upper level of the castle to her death on the rocks below.
Ever since that fateful day Margaret has been frequently heard by staff and visitors in the upper floors of Dunrobin Castle wailing uncontrollably for the life of happiness she missed out on. Psychics meanwhile have reported sensing a feeling of unimaginable loss on the castle’s upper floors.
It’s certainly strange to think that such a beautiful building could have been the setting for such a tragic event.
Ok, so this spooky place isn’t exactly a building, but it surrounds a building (actually one of the most famous buildings in Edinburgh), and it has a horribly dark history full of murder, persecution and torture.
Everyone knows the story of wee Bobby, the loyal Scots Terrier who lay by his owner’s grave for 14 years after he died (read my Greyfriar’s Bobby guide for more information), but perhaps not so many people know the story of the kirkyard (Scots for graveyard) where Bobby’s owner was laid to rest.
The site where Greyfriars Kirk is located was actually used as a Franciscan friary in medieval times, with no graveyard was attached to it. However, due to the overpowering smell of the deceased in cramped Edinburgh’s Old Town in the 16th-century, it was agreed that a new location was needed to bury the dead.
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.
However, it would seem that Sir George Mackenzie loves the place so much that he’s not content to just sit in his coffin, preferring instead to terrify Edinburgh’s residents above ground.
Mackenzie was known as a ruthless persecutor of the Covenanters during his time in office. The Covenanters were a zealous religious movement in the 17th-century who were repeatedly defeated in several battles with government forces, and after a failed anti-government revolution in 1679, 1,200 Covenanters were locked inside a freezing-cold mausoleum inside Greyfriars kirkyard as punishment.
The conditions were terrible for the prisoners. Not only were they kept in a tiny overcrowded space during the bitter cold Scottish winter but they had hardly any food or water, and of the 1,200 people who went into the makeshift prison only 275 came back out alive.
Whether Mackenzie felt tortured by guilt over the treatment of the Covenanter prisoners we’ll never know, but mysterious events have surrounded the kirkyard ever since.
Over the years more than 450 tourists have reported walking out of the gravesite with bruises, burns and scratches mysteriously appearing all over their bodies, while another 140 have suddenly collapsed while exploring the ghostly tomb of Sir George.
Even worse, the ghost of Mackenzie has been seen walking amongst the gravestones late at night, and he has supposedly broken people’s bones (although why anyone would want to hang around at night in what is widely recognized as one of the most haunted graveyards in the world is beyond me).
There has even been a death attributed to the ghost of Mackenzie, when a local psychic attempting to make contact with the spirit had a sudden heart attack shortly after.
Greyfriars is definitely worthy of a visit if you’re interested in the legend of Bobby, but if you take the time to walk around the kirk you might like to wander around the kirkyard as well. But be careful. You just never know who you might bump into.
Read my guide to learn more about Greyfriars Kirk and kirkyard.
Spooky events in Scotland
We love celebrating Halloween and all things ghostly here in Scotland and you’ll find a number of events held in most town and cities throughout the year. From ghost-themed comedy events to scary film festivals, you’re bound to find something to entertain you.
Paisley Halloween Festival
This event is supported by the Year of Young People fund, managed by Event Scotland.
The town of Paisley, near Glasgow, is hauntingly transformed as more than 500 costumed young people and outdoor performers parade through the streets along with a series of spook-tacular floats. The Paisley Halloween Festival is staged in late October annually.
Samhuinn Fire Festival
In one of the most colourful events in Edinburgh’s calendar, fire worshippers wearing colourful costumes depict characters from ancient folklore with displays featuring fire, music and street theatre performances.
The Samhuinn Fire Festival on top of Calton Hill really is a feast for the senses. The Celtic festival (which is organized by the Beltane Fire Society) takes you back to the traditions of Samhuinn – the pagan celebration of the end of the harvest season and arrival of winter, and is usually held in April.
Mercat Tours Ghost Tour
Edinburgh’s Mercat Tours definitely know how to put on an atmospheric tour and their knowledgeable guides will take you deep into the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town and below the city streets to recite ghostly tales from the city’s dark past.
You start out by following a cloaked guide through the creepy back streets while listening to stories of murder, torture and hangings from yesteryear, and finish with a visit to the eerie Blair Street underground vaults – widely acknowledged as one of the most haunted places in Scotland. The tours operate throughout the year.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this insight into some of the dastardly deeds and ghostly goings-on that have occurred in these historic Scottish attractions, and I sincerely hope it hasn’t put you off coming to visit us in the future.
If this article has whetted your appetite for a spooky read with lots of Scottish folklore, take a look at this book Famuli Cani: A Supernatural Horror by author Alan Golbourn.
Frequently asked questions
What is the most haunted place in Scotland?
Glamis Castle near Forfar is widely recognised as the most haunted place in Scotland. The 15th-century castle has frequent sightings of several ghosts including the grey lady, the white lady, Jack the runner and Earl Beardie.
Where are the best places to go ghost hunting in Edinburgh?
Mary King’s Close, Greyfriars Kirk, Edinburgh Castle and The Vaults.
Where are the best places to go ghost hunting in the Highlands?
What is the most famous ghost in Scotland?
Arguably the most famous ghost in Scotland is one that haunts the country’s most-visited tourist attraction – the 900-year-old Edinburgh Castle. There have been many sightings of a headless drummer in the castle since the days of Oliver Cromwell and legend says that his appearance foretells danger.
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Don’t forget to bookmark Out About Scotland to discover the best places to visit in Scotland, learn what to do in each region and get suggestions for top tourist attractions to add to your Scottish sightseeing itinerary.