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 day out!
Tales of tortures & ghostly goings-on with 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:
The Mercedes Benz Coffin. Both a car and a coffin, it represents the Ghana tradition of bright, colourful funerals.
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.
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.
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
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 Riddell which as all Harry Potter fans know, is the name of "He who must not be named", aka Lord Voldemort. Poor Thomas Riddell - 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.
See the magical sights on a Harry Potter tour
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If a guided tour of all the must-see Harry Potter sights is more up your street, The Potter Trail is an award-winning ninety-minute experience like no other. Your robed guide will share with you the magical locations thought to have inspired the series’ characters and scenes; you’ll visit the places where J.K. Rowling penned some of the novels – and you may even learn a spell or two along the way!
Although specifically designed for Potter fans, there’s plenty of fun and entertainment for all the family to be had on these tours – even Muggles!
Their public tours are free, with an optional donation.
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
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!
Hear a Tall Tale or two at The Scottish Storytelling Centre
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 live storytelling, theatre, music, exhibitions, workshops, family events and festivals for all ages.
Why not pop along and escape into the world of storytelling…...
Have a royal day out at Edinburgh Castle
Crown jewels, canons, a great hall, a prison – not to mention the odd ghost or two, every inch of the magnificent Edinburgh Castle is filled with stories that’ll amaze, shock and astonish you.
Kids of all ages can’t help but gasp in wonder as you cross over the drawbridge, under the Portcullis Gate and enter this ancient military stronghold.
Inside you’ll find lots of information boards and interactive scenes which bring the history of the castle to life. You can also choose to rent the audio tour to hear more in-depth stories of the castle’s history.
Be sure to download or pick up an Edinburgh Castle Explorer Quiz – all the answers can be found throughout the castle, but if you get stuck, the friendly guides will point you in the right direction!
On your way out, be sure to keep an ear open for bagpipes – no, not the kind played by buskers on the Royal Mile, but the stirring melody of the lone piper. Legend has it that several hundred years ago, a number of tunnels were found under the castle. Being a small space, a young boy was chosen to investigate, playing his bagpipes as he progressed through the tunnel, so people above ground could keep track of him and work out where the tunnel went. But all of a sudden, the pipes became fainter and fainter, and then suddenly stopped – despite extensive searching, the young boy had disappeared. A decision was taken to seal the tunnel – however, to this day, many people have reported hearing the faint sound of a single bagpipe being played far below the castle and the Royal Mile…….
Experience mind-bending illusions at Camera Obscura
The oldest visitor attraction in Edinburgh, Camera Obscura and World of Illusions has been delighting visitors since 1835.
In a world where seeing is not believing, step into an Aladdin's cave filled with illusions, tricks, puzzles, hands-on experiences, unbelievable effects and the best rooftop views of the city.
Five floors of interactive, mind-boggling, head-spinning, body-bending illusions are waiting to be discovered. Find your way out of the magical Mirror Maze, shrink yourself like Alice in Wonderland in the amazing Ames Room, try to stay on your feet in the Vortex Tunnel, walk on water without getting wet and lose your head!
For an action-packed day out to keep the whole family entertained, head to our guide to Family Days out in Edinburgh >