A photograph of the top of the West Bow in Victorian Edinburgh.

Slum life in Victorian Edinburgh tour

Find out what life was like for the capital's poorest residents on this fascinating private tour

COVID-19 and your safety

We're good to go - COVID-19 safety

We have achieved the “Good to Go” standard for the COVID-19 procedures we’ve put in place to give you a safe tour.You can find out more about our COVID-19 policy here.

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We're Certificate of Excellence winners on Tripadvisor.
We're Traveller's Choice winners on Tripadvisor.

Your Victorian Edinburgh tour at a glance

Price (1)
£40 total price
1-4 people
Price (2)
£60 total price for 5-8 people 
Meeting place
In front of Greyfriars Kirk
Accessibility info
Gradients and steps
Duration
2 hours

Quick description

Walk in the footsteps of the capital's 'forgotten' citizens as we discover what life was like for those who were at the 'bottom' of Victorian society.  

This is a tour that looks at poverty, inequality and unfairness.  You'll discover a very different side to Edinburgh's history as we explore the sites of Edinburgh's long-lost Victorian slums.

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This tour has a Viator
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Highlights

When you take our Slum Life in Victorian Edinburgh tour, you’ll really discover a ‘tale of two cities’.  The opulent and affluent New Town and also the impoverished and packed Old Town.  At one time the Old Town had been the most important part of Edinburgh, by the mid-nineteenth century it was an area of extreme poverty. These two worlds clashed when middle, and upper-class people went into the slums and reported back. It’s these eyewitness accounts which we will use to help us understand an oft-forgotten period in Edinburgh’s history.

Life in the slums will be brought vividly to life through excellent storytelling, archive images and eyewitness accounts.  Inequality and extreme poverty will be laid bare before you.  This is our most emotionally challenging tour, and we think it is our most fascinating. You’ll also see how the positive sides of human nature sometimes broke through the unfairness. It’s not all doom-and-gloom, but it will make you see our history in a very different light.

Are you ready to ‘meet’ Victorian Edinburgh’s slum dwellers?

Book your tour date

Click your preferred date on the widget below and follow the instructions to book your tour.

This tour starts at Greyfriars Kirkyard.

This tour meets at this spot, just in front of Greyfriars Kirkyard (next to Greyfriars Bobby's Bar on Candlemaker Row).

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Meet your guide

See the places which were important to the lives of our Victorian 'ancestors'

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Victorian Poverty Tour.

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Me and my friend joined Robert for the Victorian Poverty tour which took place a month ago (apologies for the delay!). I have been living in Edinburgh for 6 years so far, but he showed us “hidden” places I have never seen before and told us stories I have never heard. Robert was very knowledgeable and managed to bring us back in time through facts and stories, which were told in very fascinating way, but also through many illustrations which were very helpful to enhance our imagination. I was shocked how difficult was the life of poorest in Victorian times.

Mirka B - June 2019

Greyfriars Kirkyard.

Greyfriars Kirkyard

Your tour of Victorian Edinburgh starts with a very sad story about a person buried in Greyfriars.   We'll look at why the legend of Greyfriars Bobby is quite unhelpful to our view of Edinburgh's Victorian poor.

An image of Edinburgh's Charity Poorhouse.

The Poorhouse

England had Workhouses, we had Poorhouses.  You'll see the remaining part of Edinburgh's Charity Poorhouse, and we'll look at Edinburgh's links to Charles Dickens.

Lodging-houses in the Grassmarket, Edinburgh.

The Lodging-Houses

The lodging-houses, especially the ones based in the Grassmarket, were viewed as palaces of sin, or (depending upon your point of view) some of the few places where Edinburgh's poorest people could have a tiny bit of fun. 

The Grassmarket in the early 1900s.

Charity

There were some really noble attempts at making things better.  We'll look at the ways used to improve life for the poor.

The Bowhead House - Victorian Edinburgh.

The Victorian Old Town

All of our stories take place within the famous Old Town of Edinburgh.  On this walk, unlike almost any other Edinburgh tour, you'll focus on the significant places in the Victorian Old Town.

Cardinal Beaton's Palace - Blackfriars Wynd.

Sites of the Slums

The end of this Edinburgh history tour takes you into the places where Edinburgh's very worst Victorian slums once stood.  You'll see clues from today as you hear long-forgotten stories about what life was actually like in these 19th century hell holes.

The sites you'll see.  The stories we tell.  The secrets we'll share. 

Footsteps

Stop 1 - Greyfriars Bobby, an undiscovered grave and why Greyfriars Kirkyard is the worst place to start a tour about Victorian poverty!

Footsteps

Stop 6 - Old Fishmarket Close - When a  night in the nick was a good thing.

Footsteps

Stop 2 - The Edinburgh Poorhouse and why the famous novel ‘A Christmas Carol’ wasn’t too fictitious…

Footsteps

Stop 7 - Junction of North Bridge and the High Street - why a small valley between the Old Town and New Town, was effectively a massive chasm between two worlds.

Footsteps

Stop 3 - Opposite the Royal Infirmary.  The story of Dr Littlejohn and Edinburgh’s ailments.

Footsteps

Stop 8 - Blackfriars Street and St Mary’s Street - we enter the sites two of the most impoverished slum areas in Edinburgh.

Footsteps

Stop 4 - Life in a slum dwelling - what life was like in a furnished room.

Footsteps

Stop 9 - Outside St Patrick’s Church in the Cowgate.  A heart-warming story of a football rivalry.

Footsteps

Stop 5 - The Grassmarket - ‘Party time’ in the lodging houses!  This Edinburgh walking tour isn’t just about the hard times!

Footsteps

Stop 10 - The Netherbow.  The story of three long-lost houses and a cheering story about a fundraising raffle ends our Victorian Edinburgh tour on a high note!

Your tour - a detailed itinerary

We understand that you might want even more information about this Edinburgh walking tour.  Some people like lots of detail, we've got that for you!

Please click the 'Learn more' button to see a detailed itinerary for this tour.

Why should you choose us?

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Easily adapted for children

Your guide is a qualified primary school teacher and can give an appropriate tour which will interest children.

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Friendly guide - in a kilt!

Robert was born in Edinburgh and has lived here all his life. He researched all our tours and has an extensive knowledge of Edinburgh and her history.

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Convenience

Your tour is private. You can choose when it starts and we can make some alterations to the route if needed. You've got the freedom to ask all the questions you want!

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Quibble-free refund

We offer a full refund if you cancel your tour more than 12 hours before your tour is due to start.

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A picture tells a thousand words

Your guide will carry an A3 folder packed with ‘then and now’ images to help you imagine Edinburgh as it once was.

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Accessibility options

If you have someone with mobility requirements, please contact us in advance so that we can offer some appropriate changes to the route.

Snapshots from this Edinburgh tour

Greyfriars Kirkyard.

Greyfriars Kirkyard.

Our tour starts just inside the main gateway to Greyfriars Kirkyard.

Greyfriars Bobby.

Greyfriars Bobby.

He might have a wonderfully uplifting story, but it's one which paints life for Edinburgh's Victorian poor in a very unhelpful light...

The Flodden Wall will double as a 'prop' in this tour!

The Flodden Wall will double as a 'prop' in this tour!

We'll stop in some picturesque places!

Two early Edwardian girls.

Two early Edwardian girls.

We also cover the decade before and after the Victorian period.

The Grassmarket on our Victorian tour.

The Grassmarket on our Victorian tour.

Robert showing a group how the Grassmarket lodging-houses once looked.

Grassmarket by Archibald Burns - 1860s

Grassmarket by Archibald Burns - 1860s

The Grassmarket lodging-houses were an important part of life for Edinburgh's very poorest citizens.

Edinburgh's VIctorian Old Town.

Edinburgh's VIctorian Old Town.

We'll visit the site of this long-lost building, once one of the most picturesque structures on the Royal Mile.

Blackfriars Wynd.

Blackfriars Wynd.

We'll take you to the sites of Edinburgh's poorest slums - St Mary's Wynd and Blackfriars Wynd.

Moubray House and the John Knox House.

Moubray House and the John Knox House.

We finish our tour here, next to one of the most photographed temperance movement places in the Old Town.

FAQs and Terms and Conditions

Frequently Asked Questions

You can find the answers to some of our most frequently asked questions here.

Please don't hesitate to email us (robert@historicedinburghtours.co.uk) if you wish to ask any further questions.

Tour Terms and Conditions

You can see our tour terms and conditions here.