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Second level Slum life in Victorian Edinburgh tour

Take your learning into the heart of Edinburgh's Old Town.  Your class will use archive images and maps as they explore Edinburgh's Victorian slums on this teacher-designed and led tour

2017 Tripadvisor Certificate of Excellence for Historic Edinburgh Tours
2018 Tripadvisor Certificate of Excellence winners - Historic Edinburgh Tours

As of 28/05/2023,  321 of our 326 Tripadvisor reviews awarded us five-stars! 


Our Victorian poverty tour is one of our favourite Edinburgh walking tours.  The school version is just as interesting.  So often schools have to rely on resources that focus on the lives of the rich or people who live in London!  We designed this tour to give your class a sympathetic understanding of what life was like for Edinburgh’s most impoverished people.

This tour will encourage your pupils to think about how history can have a bias in terms of social class.  Your class will compare maps with the streets they see today, and they’ll compare and contrast different archive images of the same building (and then compare that with the building as it looks today). 

There’s enough of the Victorian Old Town in evidence and even around us to let your class imagine what it was like to live in the slum dwellings of Edinburgh.   Edinburgh will act as a background that enables us to look at some of the most significant aspects of life for the Victorian poor - immigration, sectarianism, poverty, charity (and lack of) and judgemental attitudes are covered in this tour.  

There are many opportunities for your class to feel real outrage at the lives these people had to suffer.


£3.50 per pupil.  This includes a 50p donation to City of Edinburgh Council for using Greyfriars Kirkyard. No charge for adults.

Click the button below to secure a suitable date and start the discussion about your tour.


Free cancellation up to 24 hours in advance


We work with you to give you the tour you need and want


Historic Edinburgh Tours is rated '5-star' on Tripadvisor


You will need to complete your own risk assessment form for the trip. 

Click here to download our guidance notes for teacher risk assessment.

“We were looking forward to the tour and knew that it would be good from watching the video on the website and some word of mouth feedback, but it exceeded all expectations!”


J.Moynes - Class Teacher 

We're currently working on producing a new video for this space.  Please check back soon!

January 18, 2023



Meet just inside the main gateway of Greyfriars Kirkyard (next to Greyfriars Bobby's Bar at the top of Candlemaker Row).


This tour takes 1.5 hours (approx).


This tour finishes in the High Street, close to the City Chambers.


We recommend starting a morning tour at 10.30 am and an afternoon tour at 12.30 pm.  We do have some flexibility over these times.


Moderate gradients throughout, uneven paving, steps.


We will invoice your school after the tour.  There's no need to bring payment on the day.  We'll send the email to you; if you could pass this on to your school's business manager, we'd be very grateful.​


Here are five of the places we can visit on your private tour. There are more! How long we spend on each story and how much walking we do is up to you!


“What was life like for the poor in Victorian Edinburgh?”

Often school resource books will focus on the significant events of the Victorian period or the lives of the rich and famous.  However, this tour is very different, and it’s a very ‘Edinburgh’ tale.  

We’ll visit the site of two of Edinburgh’s very worst slum streets, and we’ll look for evidence of how they have changed over the years.  Your class will also find out what ‘charity’ was available to the poor and why this wasn’t always helpful. 


“What help was given to Edinburgh’s poor (and why was this not always too ‘helpful’)?”

One of the most critical influences on life for those at the very ‘bottom’ of Victorian society was what charity looked like and how it was given.  Your class will discover how prejudices and unfairness were often decisive in whether a family would be supported or ignored.

We will see the remaining section of Edinburgh’s Poorhouse and learn why these places were some of the most controversial parts of Victorian charity.


“What evidence can we use to find out about life for Edinburgh’s poorest people?” 

This is a fascinating question that is worth looking at, even briefly.  The continual lack of fairness is a talking point which your pupils will meet time and time again on this tour.  Upper-middle-class men usually wrote most accounts of the life of Edinburgh poor, and we’ll look at this bias on our tour.  

We can even visit Greyfriars Kirkyard to discover why having no evidence can be just as telling as having lots of evidence.


“What was a typical slum house like?”

We’ll use eyewitness evidence to imagine the slum dwellings and appalling rooms which were ‘home’ to Edinburgh’s poorest Victorians.

We’ll even recreate the dimensions of a slum room and discover some of the unfair things unscrupulous landlords did to their tenants.


“What role did immigration play in Edinburgh’s history?”

Immigration was a significant aspect of life in the Victorian Old Town.  Your class will have an opportunity to use an example of the National Census result for Blackfriars Wynd, and we’ll investigate the street as it is today.

There are many positive stories about the Irish's role in Victorian Edinburgh.  We will discover how this influenced a very famous Edinburgh sporting rivalry and (possibly) a popular song.


“What changes were made to Edinburgh’s streets so that the city was ‘improved’?”

Your tour will visit Blackfriars Street and St Mary’s Street.  These were once two of the very most impoverished places in Scotland.  They were so awful that there were books written just about these slum areas.

We’ll get a chance to look for clues which tell us what happened in these streets, and we’ll see how the Council tried to make life better.  Unfortunately, these plans were much harder to put into action because of one rarely discussed part of the history of Victorian slums.  We’ll find out what that was, and then your class can judge how effective the Council’s plans were. 


2018 Tripadvisor Certificate of Excellence winners - Historic Edinburgh Tours

Certificate of Excellence award winner 2017 and 2018.


Tripadvisor Traveller's Choice award winner 2020 and 2023.

five star rated tour of Edinburgh

As of December 15, 2022, 99.6% of our reviews have been five stars.


Your tour will be led by a primary teacher with 25 years of classroom experience.


Q: Can we have a snack break on tour?

A: You can, but this means your class will be 'snacking' during their 1.5 hours. We strongly recommend you snack your class outside the Museum of Scotland (the steps up to the old central doorway make a great place to sit on a sunny day). You may also want to ask the Museum if your class can use the toilets. The Museum opens at 10 am, and I typically prefer classes to attend any sessions there from 10.30 am onwards. Reception staff may allow you to use the toilets before then. Male and Female toilets are on the ground floor and are situated next to each other. They're straightforward to 'police'.   Please note that we don't organise this for you, and it depends on the Museum of Scotland.

Q: What happens if it is a really rainy day?

A: Don't worry, we will be there! We want you to have a good tour. If the weather is awful, we know you may prefer to reschedule your tour. We can even reschedule on the day - please let us know by 8 am on the day of your tour. You can text us at 07590026077.

Q: What happens if we are running late?

A: Don't worry! Robert was (and still is) a classroom teacher. Traffic can happen, and parent helpers can have issues and turn up late. These things happen! It may impact the duration of your tour if you have time restraints.

Q: Are there toilets along the tour route?

A: No. We've not planned or risk assessed for toilet stops on any of our routes.

Q: We have a pupil/adult in a wheelchair. What do we need to do?

A: Edinburgh's history is there for all to be enjoyed. Please let us know in advance, and we can alter the tour route so that everyone can enjoy the Old Town and our stories.

Q: Do you have any risk assessment advice?

A: Yes! You will need to complete your forms, but we've included a suggested risk assessment for your tour. You can access it here.

Q: Are your private tours 'child-friendly'?

A: This tour has been carefully designed for primary school pupils. We don't want anyone to be scared or upset by our stories. A qualified primary school teacher delivers the stories you will hear. Some pupils love to hear about Burke and Hare or the bodysnatchers. We also know that some of Edinburgh's history (stories that some pupils love) is quite 'adult-level'; don't worry, we can cover this sensitively.  

Q: We've got two classes. Can we combine both for one tour?

A: Sadly not. Bigger groups are harder to move around the Old Town and cause more disruption for those around us. We're also limited to 35 people in Greyfriars Kirkyard. We may need to ask additional adult staff to wait at the Kirkyard gates. This is a ruling by the City of Edinburgh Council.


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