Somewhere beneath the bustling streets of Edinburgh, away from the street vendors and mime artists and out of sight of the thousands of people who live and work in the city every day, lies an abandoned street that was once the very heart of the city: Mary Kings Close.
A close is the Scottish word for tenements, a row of tightly packed high-rise apartments with narrow alleys forming streets between them. Often depressing places, a close was a community all of its own, with a rank structure that saw the wealthiest tenants living in relative comfort in the upper middle floors. Those who formed the lower classes were relegated either to the very top floor, where the howling winds and often leaking roofs made life uncomfortable, or to the lowest flats, where living amongst the grime and faeces was part of everyday life. Most of these closes are long forgotten, buried beneath the ever-expanding streets of a constantly modernising city, but the Real Mary Kings Close has been rediscovered – and what a popular tourist attraction in Edinburgh it is now!
Step inside this unique visitor centre and descend beneath the cobbled pavement of Edinburgh’s High Street, and you’ll find yourself standing in 17th Century Edinburgh as it existed all those years ago. You’ll be led by your guide through the maze of underground homes, some still completely intact and others held up by supports. You’ll discover the legends of the Mary Kings Close in habitants, learn the fate of those who died from the Plague, and meet the ghost of a lost little girl. Tales will be told of everyday living, from working in the slaughterhouse to running the market stalls that once lined this cramped alleyway.
The Real Mary Kings Close is a seriously good attraction, and something that shouldn’t be missed on a tour of Edinburgh. Nowhere else will you get such a first hand, visual experience of how life used to be, and when we visited we were impressed by how well it’s run. The guides are well-informed and incredibly believable, the props do the tours justice, and it’s nice to see a historic attraction that hasn’t gone overboard by masking the realism with the hype. There’s the obligatory gift shop, of course, as you’d expect to find in any 5 star tourist attraction, but the trinkets you’ll find here are a step up from the normal tacky tourist rubbish you get elsewhere. The Close isn’t difficult to find, and certainly not expensive – our opinion is that it’s well worth the trip.
If you want to make the experience even more interesting, why not brave a tour at Halloween. We haven’t been on one ourselves, but we’ve heard they’re to die for!