The Cow Shed underground room in Edinburgh
Credit: The Real Mary Kings Close

The Real Mary King’s Close Tour

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 Fri 10 Feb 2017

In 1753 workers began the construction of the City Chambers on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. But they didn’t fully demolish the houses that were there before. Instead, they used the bottom few stories as level foundations on which to build. Sealing the old streets off in this way, the houses remained under the new building and are now open to the public as The Real Mary King’s Close tourist attraction. A little piece of history right in the city centre.

Narrow underground streets in Edinburgh

I went on this tour once before, about 7 years ago, so I knew a little about these underground streets already. However, I went back recently with my friend for another look. It was great to refresh my memory of this fascinating place.

Groups depart every 15 minutes from 10 am to 9 pm. And each group is led by a character that lived on the close around 400 years ago. Our guide was Agnes Chambers, a maid. She led us through the network of winding closes, describing what life was like for inhabitants. There are four to explore – Mary King’s Close, Pearson’s Close, Stewart’s Close and Allen’s Close. They are all so narrow, even Mary King’s Close itself, which was the main market street and the second widest in its time. The streets would have been dark and crowded, covered in ankle-deep filth and riddled with disease. Back then the average life expectancy was 35 years. It really makes you appreciate our city in modern times!

The Real Mary Kings Close

This isn’t a ghost tour and so there wasn’t much talk of the paranormal. But there are many myths and tales of the supernatural that surround the close. There is a room that is said to be haunted by a little girl named Annie. It has become something of a ‘shrine’ with people leaving toys in the room for her, which the attraction regularly donate to the local Sick Kids Foundation.

This is one of the best historical tours of Edinburgh I have been on. It’s amazing to see these streets frozen in time and to hear the true stories of the people who lived there. Tours last one hour and tickets are £14.50 per adult. They were sold out on the day we visited, so I would suggest getting your tickets in advance. I would definitely recommend a visit to this attraction for a unique glimpse into the past, but please note it is not suitable for children under 5 and there is no wheelchair access.

The Real Mary King’s Close, High Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1PG