Child-friendly Spooky Experiences in Edinburgh

14 October 2021

From Harry Potter and the Worst Witch to Percy Jackson and the BFG, kids have always embraced the magical, spooky and slightly dark themes. So why should an action packed day in Edinburgh be any different?! If your kids love the enchanted, unusual or downright bizarre then read on to discover some top spots that should definitely be included on your next family dau out!

Tales of tortures & ghostly goings-on with Mercat Tours

Family Mercat Tours

Specially designed with kids in mind, why not start the day with Mercat Tours Gory Stories: The Kids’ Tour, as they share some of the sights and stories of Edinburgh’s not-so-pleasant past.

Suitable for ages 5+, wander through the ancient streets of Edinburgh’s Old Town and learn about some creepy characters from the past, how to spot a witch, the meaning of gardyloo (and hope you never hear it!) and what treasure could be found buried in a 19th century graveyard!

Hear about what family life was like in 19th century Edinburgh and the jobs that many young children had to endure – would you have made a good rat catcher, chimney sweep or factory hand?

The tour finishes beneath the streets in the Blair Street Underground Vaults – but don’t worry, if you’re well behaved, they’ll show you the way out!

Hubble, bubble, toil & trouble at the National Museum of Scotland

With 5 levels of exhibitions, featuring everything from space age technology to dinosaurs, the National Museum of Scotland covers so many interests, but if you fancy some of the more macabre displays, be sure to take time to fit in these intriguing items:

NMS Mercedes Benz Coffin

NMS Mercedescoffin Open

The Mercedes Benz Coffin. Both a car and a coffin, it represents the Ghana tradition of bright, colourful funerals.

NMS Miniture Coffins

The Miniature Coffins. Discovered on Arthur’s Seat over 200 years ago, these coffins have remained a mystery since they were unearthed. Today, there are no shortages of theories as to what the coffins were for or what they represented, from witchcraft to burials. Today, you can see 8 of the original coffins and make up your own mind.

NMS Witches Collar

Witch's Iron Collar.  In the late 16th-and 17th-century in Scotland, between 3000 and 4000 people were tortured and executed as witches. Most of those accused were women – spinsters or widows who often known locally for being skilled in herbal remedies, folk medicine and healing. And as suspicion rose, a poor harvest, a sudden illness or an unrequited love could be too easily attributed to the presence of witchcraft. This frightening-looking collar was owned by the parish of Ladybank in Fife in the 17th century and was used to hold the accused by the neck and publically shame them. The chain would have been fastened to the kirk wall, gate or tree.

NMS Maiden

The Maiden.  Used between 1564-1710, this Scottish invention was used to publicly behead over 150 criminals and political opponents of the crown. Executions using the Maiden are known to have taken place in Edinburgh’s Castlehill, Grassmarket and High Cross off the High Street and would often attract large crowds of spectators. In an ironic twist of fate, the person believed to have introduced the idea for a beheading machine to Scotland – James Douglas – was himself executed on 2 June 1581 by the Maiden!

Go Name-spotting in Greyfriar’s Kirkyard

Thomas Riddle

A trip to Greyfriar’s Kirkyard is a must for any Harry Potter fan, for here you’ll find a mixture of names that sound strangely familiar – the most famous undoubtedly being Thomas Riddle, which as all Harry Potter fans know, is the name of "He who must not be named", aka Lord Voldemort. Poor Thomas Riddle - when he passed away in 1806, it’s highly unlikely he had any idea that his name would inspire one of literature’s most famous villains!

Other names that you’ll spot scattered around the graveyard include William McGonagall, who rather cruelly, was known as Scotland’s worst poet, as well as Elizabeth Moodie and Daniel Scrymgeour.

Whilst visiting the kirkyard, take a peek over the wall at George Heriot’s School, which many believe was the inspiration behind Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry….

The Harry Potter connection in Edinburgh can be seen all other the city. Not only did JK Rowling write some of the stories here, but you can see visit several places in the city that look as if they just stepped out of the famous wizarding school! From the cobbled and winding Victoria Street, rumoured to have served as the inspiration for Diagon Alley, to The Ghost Night Bus (the closest thing Muggles will ever get to The Knight Bus!), a trip to Edinburgh is a magical experience for kids of all ages.

Get a real sense of Hogwarts and the Wizarding World, right here in Scotland's capital, in our Guide to Harry Potter Guide to Edinburgh> 

Go Planet Spotting at an Astronomy Evening

Valentine2 Observatory

After a full day in Edinburgh’s Old Town, how about spending the evening at the Royal Observatory of Edinburgh

Opened in 1896, and located on Blackford Hill, the site hosts public astronomy evenings throughout the year. Instruments built on site are used to search for life on other planets and distant objects in the universe. Depending on when you visit you may be able to witness a dome demonstration, watch the night sky with a pocket star chart and get your hands on real rocks from space!

Celebrate Celtic New Year with Samhuinn Fire Festival

Samhuinn Fire Festival 736

Be warm and wowed on Halloween by the Samhuinn Fire Festival

Organised by Beltane Fire Society, Samhuinn is a traditional pagan festivity to celebrate the Celtic New Year and mark the start of the winter season. Taking place on Calton Hill this theatrical performance includes music, dance, storytelling, acrobatics and fireworks and is a mesmerising night for all the family.

In 2020, the Samhuinn Fire Festival went digital – you can watch the festival on their website> 

Hear a Tall Tale or two at The Scottish Storytelling Centre

Storytelling Cafe 09 600 X 250

Dedicated to preserving and recounting Scotland’s stories so that future generations can enjoy them, The Scottish Storytelling Centre has an ever-changing programme of workshops and exhibitions for all ages.

Head along on Halloween for a day of craft, drama, storytelling and music workshops based on the Celtic traditions of All Hallow’s Eve – it’s frighteningly good fun!

Visit Faithful Hounds at Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle 736

We are a nation of pet lovers and a little garden cemetery sitting within Edinburgh Castle is a true testament to that love.

Thought to have originally been the site of a medieval tower, since 1840 it has been the final resting place for regimental mascots or and soldiers’ dogs. Courageous and hardworking, these dogs went on many adventures, travelling the world and serving during parades, military campaigns, battles and medical rounds.

Here lie faithful and dutiful canine companions such as Jess, band pet of the 42nd Royal Highlanders (the Black Watch), who died in 1881. Another was Dobbler, who for nine years (until his death in 1893) accompanied the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders to such exotic locations as China, Sri Lanka and South Africa.


Discover more family-friendly attractions in Edinburgh for an action-packed day out>