The Real Mary King’s Close

The Real Mary King’s Close is an underground historic tourist attraction accessible from the Royal Mile.

Why The Real Mary King’s Close?

Located opposite St Giles’ cathedral and the Mercat Cross lies a tourist attraction that aims to educate visitors about the Edinburgh of the past in an entertaining manner. The walking tour, which runs for one hour, takes people down into Mary King’s Close.

Closes are narrow alleys that slope from the Royal Mile down to the north and the south. Housing in the Old Town was densely built as there were too many people to accommodate on the restricted land area within the defensive wall, and so buildings grew taller and taller, resulting in some of the tallest tenement buildings of its time. Named after the merchant burgess Mary King who resided on the close in the 17th century, it was eventually buried due to the erection of the Royal Exchange above it, and was reopened as a tourist attraction in 2003.

A great option for an activity on a dreich (Scottish for cold and wet) day, visitors enter through the ticket and information counter accessible from the Royal Mile. Groups await the start of their slot in a multimedia exhibition area showing clips, images and a model of Mary King’s Close as it would have looked like before it was built on top of.

Guides are acting our their role (there are several characters guiding the tour at different times such as a merchant, a maid or a doctor) and tell the story of Mary King’s Close from their very own angle during this social history tour that takes visitors under ground. The venue has been open for 15 years now, and new elements have been added upstairs and downstairs. Visitors get a glimpse of what live for the residents would have been like for the different classes during the plague, the hardship and challenges experienced, working conditions, and the abysmal hygiene of inhabitants living stacked on top of each other.

Opening hours differ by season, but between April and October they are from 10am until 9pm all week. The guided tours run every 15 minutes, lasting 1 hour. It is advisable to book in advance either online or at the counter - ideally bookings should be made 24h in advance to avoid disappointment.
Admission costs £15.50 for an adult, and £9.50 for children between the ages of 5 - 15 years. Family passes are available. Children under 5 are not admitted for safety reasons.

Due to the underground location, the layout with uneven steps and steep inclines, and the historic nature, The Real Mary King’s Close is unsuitable for wheelchair access. Sturdy footwear is recommended. Taking photos or videos is not allowed on the tour, but it is possible to purchase an image that is taken during the tour.

A Cafe and gift shop are attached, where visitors can sit down after the tour over a hot drink, cake, soup of the day (£4.75) or other snacks to gently settle back into to the present day. A small selection of chilled soft and alcoholic drinks is available. The gift shop allows to purchase merchandise, shortbread, mugs, prints and Scottish and history-themed books.

For those not fluent in english or hearing impaired, there are free audio guides available in English, French, German, Italian and Spanish. These should also be reserved in advance along with the ticket. Note, the pre-recorded audio guide does not offer the same character guide experience, but gives a less colourful, less personalised introduction to Mary King’s Close.

The Real Mary King’s Close is an interesting tourist attraction for children and adults alike. Not cheap, and with a touch of ghost tour, but an unforgettable experience.

Where is The Real Mary King’s Close?

High Street 2 Warriston's Close

The tourist attraction The Real Mary King’s Close is accessible underground from the Royal Mile.

Photo credit: None

Filed under Coffee, Gifts, Visitor Attraction