Memorials in Greyfriars Kirkyard.

Meet The Dead Of Old Edinburgh!

Discover the stories of some of the people 

who lived, worked and died in Old Edinburgh

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Your Greyfriars Kirkyard history tour

Greyfriars Kirkyard is a fascinating and picturesque burial ground that serves as the last resting place for thousands of Old Edinburgh’s people.  Rich and poor and the great and good are all buried here.  Greyfriars is a fascinating place to photograph and explore, but it’s the stories of the people buried here, which we love the most.

We endeavour to cover everything that we’ve outlined on this page.  We will also make alterations to your tour if someone has mobility issues.  We aim to deliver an Edinburgh walking tour which is perfect for you.  If there are stories or places outlined here which you wish to see, please let us know, and we will make these our priority.

This is your Greyfriars Kirkyard tour, and we can’t wait to reveal the secrets of the burial ground!

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The top of Candlemaker Row.

“Robert has an encyclopedic knowledge of the history of Edinburgh. His enthusiasm is contagious and we spent a wonderful day seeing the whole center city with him. It was the highlight of our trip and informed everything else we chose to see and do. A great first day in Edinburgh!”

EvanstonMama-  Tripadvisor - September 2019

A detailed itinerary

Remember, this is your private tour of Greyfriars Kirkyard -  you can choose when it starts!  We’ve also got some flexibility with distances and elevations on the tour.  Please get in touch if you’d like to discuss these alternatives.  Robert, your Edinburgh guide, wants to give you a walk that interests you and accessible for your group.

In this Edinburgh history tour, all your locations will take place within Greyfriars Kirkyard itself.  We’ve outlined all the story possibilities for your visit.  We may not cover them all; it depends on where your interests lie.  Remember, this is YOUR tour, and we’ve got opportunities to accommodate the things you are interested in!

Story 1 - Greyfriars Bobby, the faithful wee dug!
You’ll find just how vital Greyfriars is to Scotland’s history and you’ll get a chance to discover the different stories behind the legend of the famous wee Skye Terrier Greyfriars Bobby!  Greyfriars Bobby is, almost certainly, the most renowned creature buried here.  The Greyfriars Bobby statue, which sits just outside, is renowned as Scotland’s most photographed statue.  Not a bad feat! Greyfriars Bobby was the lead character in not one, but two films (one of them a Walt Disney film!)  He also had a wee cameo role in the 2010 Burke and Hare film with Simon Pegg.  His story, however, maybe isn’t quite what you think.  We’ll let you decide what you think happened here!

Story 2 - Remember, you are mortal (“Memento Mori”).
You’ll find out why some of the memorials have skulls and crossbones and how this helps you date gravestones.  You’ll find out about the early ‘inhabitants’ of Greyfriars as well as what happened to the Greyfriars Friary.  We’ll even use a rather exciting prop to figure out how the corpses under your feet look.

Story 3 - One man, three resting places…
We now ‘meet’ a famous teacher, George Buchanan.  Buchanan was the teacher of the future King James VI.  You’ll find out about his use of physical threats and bad language!  You’ll also learn why his grave is rather peculiar…

Story 4 - Harry Potter’s school.
George Heriot is famed for being rich and for having an even richer and very philanthropic son.  Their legacy holds particular interest for visitors in the 21st century because it might well be an inspiration for a place called ‘Hogwarts’…

Story 5 - The Covenanters and the Martyr’s Memorial.
If Greyfriars Bobby is the most famous Greyfriars ‘inmate’, our next stop focuses on the most significant.  You’ll learn about the Covenanters - who they were, their demands, what the ‘Killing times’ were and why they are entwined with Greyfriars Kirkyard.

Stories 6 and 7 - Royal Connections - Dr Pitcairn and J.E.M.
In quick succession, you’ll be introduced Dr Archibald Pitcairn and his legacy - a legacy that had profound implications on the life of his son.  You’ll then find out about the most powerful person in the Kirkyard.  James Douglas, Earl of Morton.  The Regent Morton effectively had the power of the king, and he played a considerable role in the reign of Mary, Queen of Scots and even more so in the early part of the kingship of James VI.  You’ll find out why his grave is harder to find than you might expect…

Story 8 - John Kay’s caricatures.
It’s not all doom and gloom on this Greyfriars Kirkyard tour (although we do LOVE to tell a gory story!) Our next character is John Kay, possibly one of our favourite Old Edinburgh people.  Kay was a caricaturist, and you’ll see some of his comical illustrations of Englightenment Edinburgh’s most eclectic group of people.  


Story 9 - The Porteous Riots.
Your next story is about a pioneering golfer…who was lynched!  John Porteous was a captain in the Edinburgh Town Guard.  He oversaw a smuggler's execution, which went badly wrong and there was a riot at the execution platform in the Grassmarket.  The repercussions of this would come back to haunt Porteous.  Your Edinburgh guide will tell you all about the tumultuous story of the Porteous Riots.

Story 10 - Harry Potter’s pals .
We’ll visit the western extension of the Kirkyard, and we’ll find out about William McGonagall, the “World’s worst poet”  (an unfair name we think). We’ll also take an opportunity to learn about the possible Greyfriars links to JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books.  We’re a history tour…but it would be churlish to miss out on some popular culture too!  If you aren’t interested in Harry Potter, don’t worry!  We can introduce you to William Creech, a man who has links to Deacon William Brodie (the famous Edinburgh thief), Robert Burns and the abolition of slavery.

Stories 11, 12 and 13 - From tortured spies to boring teachers!
Your tour is torture!  Almost literally!  You’ll find out about an eighteenth-century spy  - William Carstares - and the methods of torture he endured.  You might even get a chance to experiment with your new-found knowledge and our very own set of thumbscrews (ooooh yes!)   Within a few steps, you’ll also have an opportunity to find out about the Burke and Hare murders. You might even get to inspect the memorial of the Covenanter, Alexander Henderson, to see if a historical story is true.















Story 12 - The infamous Greyfriars Kirkyard ghost story.
Although we’re focusing on history, we can’t miss out on the story of  ‘Bluidy Mackenzie’ - the most famous Greyfriars Kirkyard ghost story!  Want to see the secret parts of Sir George Mackenzie’s mausoleum?  We’ve got photos!

Story 13 - Bodysnatchers and Burke and Hare.
Our tour comes to an end with the bodysnatchers' story, the infamous ‘resurrection men’.  You’ll learn how they lifted corpses and why we know so little about them.  We’ll also return to the Burke and Hare story. Although Burke and Hare are renowned as ‘bodysnatchers’, we’re only sure of their role as murderers.  You’ll find out why body-snatching and murdering were so closely related.

Greyfriars Kirkyard has many incredible stories.  We’ve gone into some detail with these notes, but the full stories are even more fascinating.  This graveyard tour holds a five-star rating - we’ve not had anything BUT five-star reviews for this most macabre offering from our range of Edinburgh walking tours!

The rear of Greyfriars Kirk.
Greyfriars Kirkyard in the snow.