Grassmarket by Archibald Burns - 1860s_edited_edited.jpg

Slum Life in Victorian Edinburgh virtual tour

Find out what life was like for the very poorest of our Victorian ancestors

2017 Certificate of Excellence winner - Tripadvisor - Historic Edinburgh Tours Ltd
We're Certificate of Excellence winners on Tripadvisor.
We're Traveller's Choice winners on Tripadvisor.

Your Edinburgh Slums virtual tour at a glance

£30 total price
Mic or Camera?
You don't need either of these.
Meeting place
We'll see you on 'Zoom'!
No. of devices
You can join up to five devices.
1 hour - 1 hour 15 minutes (approx).

Quick description

Explore the lives of Edinburgh’s forgotten Victorian poor with a live guide!  

Our five-star rated Slums of Victorian Edinburgh tour has now been taken online.  Discover the people, places and events which have been almost erased from Edinburgh’s history as we take you on an interactive ‘virtual tour’ of the Victorian Old Town!

We’ve been able to use our extensive archive, which included 360-degree images.  These let your guide control the image and ‘look around’ just as if we were actually in Edinburgh.  Where possible, Robert can even tailor aspects of the tour to best suit the interests of the group.  

We are currently only offering this experience as a private virtual tour. Please email us if you are interested in a private tour at a time that suits you.

Book here

£30 for a private tour - up to five devices can be linked to our tour.

1 hour long virtual tour.

English language.

Click the 'contact us' button to go to our contact us page.  You can let us know the virtual tour you are interested in and times which are suitable for you.

Learn about the lives of Edinburgh's poorest citizens

Greyfriars Kirkyard.

Greyfriars Kirkyard

Your online experience 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 view point) some of the few places where Edinburgh's poorest people could have a tiny bit of fun. 

The Grassmarket in the early 1900s.


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 virtual 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.

Blackfriars Street.

We would give it ten stars if we could!


We have done many tours all over the world and this one rates right at the top. Robert is charming and entertaining, extremely flexible in his delivery of the tour and a source of astonishing and varied facts, history and anecdotes.

Foxka, Tripadvisor - October 2021

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


Remember, your virtual tour of Edinburgh’s Victorian Slums is private - you can choose when it starts!   Robert, your guide, has lived in Edinburgh all his life.  He can suggest alternatives where possible.

In this private Edinburgh tour, all your locations will take place within the Old Town. We’ve outlined all the story possibilities for your tour.  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 Skye Terrier.
Since Greyfriars Kirkyard is the starting point for most of our tours, we usually cover Greyfriars Bobby’s story.  Our Victorian Slums tour is a very different type of history walk, and the Greyfriars Bobby story takes on a different role.  Greyfriars is a fascinating burial ground, but in this case, it’s the worst place to start a tour about the lives of Edinburgh’s Victorian poor. We’ll share why with you.  It sets us off on a really great (virtual) footing!

Story 2 - “Gracious heavens!”
The ‘Slums tour’ is very emotional. It’s full of stories of injustice and inequality. We’ll look at an eyewitness account of a lady who lived in Edinburgh’s slums. It’s a really engaging story, for all the wrong reasons, and it helps us understand the mindset of the people who visited and wrote about the slums.  Most of the stories we have of the slums are from these ‘visitors’, not from those who lived there.  

Story 3 - The Edinburgh Poorhouse.
Charles Dickens wrote about the Workhouse in many of his most famous stories.  The Poorhouse was the Scottish equivalent and just as grim and just as depressing. We’ll visit a street which lets us see the remaining section as we find out about life in the Poorhouse.  Clue - it wasn’t much fun! You’ll hear about some very unpleasant links to Edinburgh’s medical experts, and you’ll also discover what the hierarchy of poverty was.  

Story 4 - Making improvements.
Edinburgh was fortunate to have some people who wanted to make a difference.  The City’s Medical Officer of Health- Sir Henry Littlejohn worked tirelessly to improve the lot of our slum dwellers.  He was often helped by the Lord Provost, William Chambers. You’ll find out what diseases were causing problems, the very modern way Littlejohn mobilised support and what improvements were made to the Old Town.

Story 5 - Slum dwellings recreated - and why TripAdvisor wouldn’t have worked.
We’ll stop in the shadows of the city’s Flodden and Telfer Walls.  This lets us catch one of Edinburgh’s best views and gives us space where we can spend a little while looking at what it was like to live in a furnished slum room. We’ll use eyewitness accounts to provide you with a bit of a taste of what life was like.  Spoiler - imagine it’s terrible, then multiply that thought! We’ll also spend some time talking about why TripAdvisor would have been a totally alien concept to Edinburgh’s slum dwellers!

Story 7 - Fun and sin in the lodging houses!
This is quite a serious tour - although ‘serious’ does not mean ‘boring’.  Robert, your guide, wouldn’t want to disrespect Edinburgh’s Victorian poor by making light of their stories. However, there is a need to make this tour work on all levels and the sites of the infamous Grassmarket lodging houses let us look at the stories of partying, fun, and‘sin’, which took place in these popular dens.

Story 8 - When an improvement isn’t an improvement.
We’ll move along the Grassmarket and take a few virtual leaps up the picturesque West Bow.  Our tour doesn’t stop at the typical tourist spots, and we’ll stop at the old Bowhead House site. We’ve got photos of this pretty building to share with you, and we’ll also look at the story of the nearby Ragged School which sits just up the road in Castlehill.  We’ll also look at how successful the Improvement Acts actually were. 

Story 9 - The Police Refuge.
Robert will take you down the Lawnmarket and the High Street and on to the old Police night refuge site.  Here we’ll share some images of how this would have looked, and we’ll take a moment to discover a few surprising things about how the police force handled the locals.  We might also examine some of the more amusing dodges used by some unscrupulous citizens to get money from middle-class visitors.

Story 10 - One city - two worlds.
This tour of Edinburgh takes place in the Old Town, but as we pass North Bridge, we can see the affluent New Town in the distance.  The contrast between the two Edinburgh ‘towns’ is what we’ll look at here. You’ll most probably be surprised at just how little people in the New Town knew of the lives of people only a mile or so away in the Old Town. 

Stories 11 - Blackfriars Wynd Analyzed.
Our tour now changes as we approach the site of two of the most impoverished streets in Edinburgh.  The tour will now explore Blackfriars Street and St Mary’s Street.  Robert will use eyewitness accounts, many from books called ‘Blackfriars Wynd Analyzed” and “Day and Nights in the Closes and Wynds of Edinburgh”.


These books were written about the people who lived in the very places you’re now visiting.  The full nature of the horrors of slum life will become apparent, as will the incredibly sectarian views of some of Edinburgh’s people.

Story 12 - A friendly sporting rivalry.
Often opposing sports teams have a shared past which is full of conflict. You’ll hear about the formation of  Hibernian Football Club.  This club was set up to help the lives of those in the slums.  One of their big breaks came when Heart of Midlothian Football Club broke an embargo to play their new capital city rivals.  The rest, as they say, is history.  And what a history! 

Story 13 - Coming together.
Your virtual Slums life in Victorian Edinburgh tour finishes in the shadows of the John Knox House. We’ll share some images that show how this area looked in the Victorian times, and we’ll talk about the importance of the Temperance Movement.  A building next to the John Knox House was a well-known Temperance Cafe. We’ll finish our tour with a heart-warming story about a ‘raffle’ held to raise funds for a local man in trouble with the law.

We’ve gone into some detail with these notes, but the full stories are even more fascinating.  The ‘actual walking tour’ version of this virtual tour holds an average five-star rating and is the most popular of our Edinburgh tours.  Although you won’t actually be setting foot in the Old Town, the places we will take you to (virtually) and the stories we tell are the same.  It’s a fascinating look at a group of people, and a time, which is often completely forgotten about.   We think that the stories of Edinburgh’s slum dwellers deserve to be told.

Why should you choose us?

Why should you choose us?

Why should you choose us?


Easily adapted for children

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


Friendly, local, guide!

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.



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!


A picture tells a thousand words

Your guide will use many ‘then and now’ images to help you imagine Edinburgh as it once was.

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 ( if you wish to ask any further questions.

Tour Terms and Conditions

You can see our tour terms and conditions here.