The Edinburgh Vaults offer a tour through 18th-century tunnels that are rumored to be among the most haunted places in the city. As legend has it, the South Bridge over the Vaults was intended for the oldest resident of the city, who died just before opening, and her coffin was the first crossing. The legend says that, as a result, the bridge and vaults beneath are cursed to be haunted by restless spirits.

The Vaults today are home to historic structures, tunnels and a nightclub and bar, as well as being the target of dozens of ghost tour companies. For the most part, these tours, though spooky, are quite family friendly and are a fun and frightening way to spend a vacation in Edinburgh. Here, you can explore some of the city’s mysterious past and learn about the legendary ghosts that are said to inhabit its shadowy corridors.

Edinburgh Vaults - one of the highlights of 11 Things to Do Off the Beaten Track in Edinburgh (Read all about Edinburgh here)

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Highlights of the Edinburgh Vaults

In its early Georgian days, the area beneath the South Bridge was home to shop fronts, tenement houses, taverns and other businesses. The remains of many of these businesses still stand today. On the south side of the Vaults, the Caves and the Rowantree neighborhoods are used for hosting weddings, private events and gatherings. Occasionally, live music performances and club nights are also held here. For 3 weeks every August, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe hosts over 60 different acts daily in this area.

For the most part, the Vaults are used for ghost tours. You can book any number of guided walks to explore the tunnels and vaults and hear about infamous figures of Edinburgh's past. You'll learn about figures like Mr Boots, the serial killers Burke and Hare, the spectral ghost known as Jack and other historic and mythic Vault denizens.

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History of the Edinburgh Vaults

The Edinburgh Vaults are beneath the South Bridge, which was built between 1785 and 1788, and their history is as much legend as fact. Legend has it that the honor of the first crossing was reserved for a prominent judge's wife, who died just a few days before the opening. Her casket became the first crossing. Rumors of a curse upon the bridge were rampant among city folk. Even still, space along the Vaults sold at a premium for taverns, cutlers, cobblers and other businesses.

As time passed, tenements sprung up and immigrants and the poor took up residence. Crime abounded, and by the 19th century, the Vaults were closed off. They were rediscovered with much fanfare in the 1980s. Today, guided tours explore the tunnels and rooms and tell the story – fact and legend – surrounding the bridge and vaults.

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Good to know about the Edinburgh Vaults

Most of the Vaults have been closed to the public since 2015, and any access is closely monitored for safety reasons. This means you can't simply head down and explore on your own. For that, you will need to book one of the many ghost tours in Edinburgh, which carry various fees. The exception is once per year in August when the rooms open to the public for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe events.

Each tour group is committed to your safety and health and will remain in compliance with all governmental requirements, laws and recommendations in this regard. It's a good idea to book in advance, as many tour slots are limited. It's important to note that the nature and construction of the Vaults mean that they are not wheelchair accessible.

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Edinburgh Vaults