/ The Edinburgh Guide
Edinburgh — By Andy Hayes on December 11, 2009 at 3:05 pm

Hanging Out with the Dead in Edinburgh

The entire inner centre of Edinburgh is a UNESCO world heritage zone – from the winding, twisting alleys and closes of the Old Town to the Georgian townhomes of the New Town.  UNESCO has recently declared Edinburgh’s cemeteries, arguable one of the unseen charms of the city, as endangered status.  Indeed, these burial grounds are often subject to vandalism but they remain a key part of the city’s heritage.

Here are some of my favourite cemeteries and what you can find while you’re there.  Warning – if you won’t want to see Ghosts in Edinburgh, these might not be for you.

New Calton Cemetery

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New Calton Cemetery is a true gem, and I near-guarantee if you go you’ll have the place to yourself.  It is where the “Edinburgh Obelisk” can be found – that’t the tall, pointy structure everyone takes a nice photo of but no one seems to know what it’s for.  It is actually a memorial to the Scottish Martyrs.  There’s a lot of wonderful mausoleums up here and monuments, and as the cemetery is a level or two up from the road, it is a peaceful and soothing memorial place.

How to Get There: You’ll find the entrance gate just east of the end of Princes Street, on Waterloo Place.  It is a gate with stairs heading straight up – easy to miss if you aren’t looking closely.

Old Calton Cemetery

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Not to be confused with the previous entry, this is the Old Calton Cemetery – though you might be saying both are pretty old, and you’d be right.  I love this stop because at the entrance you are at the top of a sloping cemetery, heading down to its close just behind the Scottish Parliament.  Thus you are awarded an amazing view of Holyrood Park and the Salisbury Crags as the ideal backdrop behind these crumbling tombstones and lush green space.

Have a walk around and check out the massive open-air mausoleums.  Unfortunately, they are frequented by miscreants so there is an abundance of damage and rubbish, but if you’re careful there are plenty of photo opportunities.    You can walk down to the south entrance, but it is always closed so you must enter/exit from Calton Road.

How to Get There:  Walk along Regent Road from Waterloo Place, curving around the south side of Calton Hill, and once you pass the Old High School you’ll find the entrance to your right.  The path curves down to the entrance.

Greyfriars Kirkyard

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Welcome to the most haunted spot in Edinburgh.  Greyfriars Kirkyard is a great tourist stop for the wonderful architecture but also some good ghost sightings – at night a tour of the yards is conducted and many ghouls and unearthly spirits are reported!  Don’t miss the great views of the castle from here as well as George Heriot’s school, inspiration for J.K. Rowling.  You could explore the inscriptions and various statues and displays for hours, such as the ominous tombstone featured above.

How to Get There:  Greyfriars Kirkyard is at the south end of George IV Bridge.  Just look for the statue of Greyfriars Bobby and the Greyfriars pub – you can’t miss the entrance.  (Note that the gates are closed at night; the mentioned tour starts from St Giles Cathedral.)

West Princes Street Gardens

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I love all the pillar-esque graves of the cemetery of St Johns in the west end of Princes Street Gardens.  It has such a Scottish feel, as the trees overhead are dense and the stones are all moss-covered, giving you the feel as if the earth is slowly trying to reclaim these graves.  There are no mausoleum here, just flat graves and the distinctive pillars.  Wonderful.

How to Get There: You can reach this graveyard from behind St John’s church.  There are also entrances from the main section of Princes Street Gardens as well as from Kings Stables Rd.

Pet Cemetery @ Edinburgh Castle

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Edinburgh Castle is the city’s number one tourist destination, and besides being a popular stop with tourists it is also full of dead people. :-)  Edinburgh is one of our favourites for family-friendly attractions in Edinburgh.  But many don’t realise that there’s not only plenty of dead people but also dead pets!  For soldiers, there was a pet cemetery installed and for those that find it, it is the perfect photo opp.

How to Get There:  Edinburgh Castle is hard to miss, but bear in mind you need a ticket to get into the castle to see the Pet Cemetery.


Photos by j_lord, brooklyn,  kitaroh, tomato geezer, jeaneem

PS – If you want a great guide to help you exploring the city’s cemeteries, check out my Historic Walking Guide to Edinburgh.  All of the featured spots are included in the guide.

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