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The Vaults’ original lifespan was short, having been abandoned in the 1830s after only opening in the late 18th Century. The labyrinth of corridors and chambers only reopened to the public in 1996 and has remained unchanged for more than 200 years. Guests on the tour will discover why the Vaults were built, experience the living and working conditions for the people who inhabited them, and find out how the Vaults were linked to the city’s notorious ‘bodysnatchers’ and the old medical school nearby. With endless demand for cadavers, what were the vaults really used for…?
Operational information :
- 1 April – 31 October : Daily tours at 2pm and 4pm
- 1 November – 31 March : Daily tours at 4pm
- Additional tours on Saturday and Sunday at 2pm
- No tours 24 – 26 December
Duration and Location :
- Tour lasts approximately 1 hour 15 minutes
- Tour begins at Mercat Cross in the Royal Mile, High Street, Edinburgh EH1 1NS (next to St. Giles Cathedral)
- Tour ends at Interpretation Centre, 28 Blair Street, Edinburgh EH1 1QR
- You must call or email Mercat Tours to confirm your chosen tour date at least 24 hours in advance, details on your confirmation email.
Do you have to do a lot of walking on the tours?
No, the distances are not great. However sensible and comfortable shoes are recommended because the ground can be uneven and occasionally steep.
Will the tour run even if it is wet?
Your guide will always be at the Mercat Cross to greet you, whatever the weather! They’re great at finding shelter from the elements, but do dress for the cold especially in the evenings and in winter.
Will the guide be dressed up for the tour?
All staff follow a strict dress code. Daytime guides wear smart, dark clothing while evening guides wear distinctive cloaks. All guides wear their Mercat Tours badge.
How many will there be on the tour?
The maximum number of places on most tours is 40 per guide.
Are the tours suitable for people with disabilities?
Guides have successfully led wheelchair users on the Secrets of the Royal Mile tour. Other public tours are not suitable for people with perambulatory difficulties as they include the Vaults which are accessed down a winding staircase and have original uneven earth and rock flooring.
Short synopses of the tours can be provided for those with hearing difficulties (please request in advance) and guides have worked well alongside someone who signs for deaf customers.
The poorly sighted or blind would need to be accompanied during the tour. The skill of the guides as storytellers and the craft with which they use their voices to create atmosphere make for an enjoyable experience for those totally dependent on listening.
Essential carers go free.
What do you mean by 'family' ticket?
A family ticket allows two adults with two children to go on a tour at a discount for one child. Adults and children do not have to be relatives.
Can children under 5 years come on a tour?
For health and safety reasons children under 5 years of age are not allowed on any tour.
Can children 5 - 15 years be booked onto a tour without an adult?
All children on tours must be accompanied by an adult.
How long do you spend underground in the Vaults?
With the exception of the ten minutes it takes to reach them the entire duration of The Historic Vaults tour is spent in the vaults.
How dark and how narrow are the Vaults?
There is sufficient candlelight and electric light for the vaults to be safe but remain atmospheric. The narrowest corridor is still 1.5 metres wide. The vaults themselves vary from the size of a small box room to a large, high-ceilinged chamber.
If I feel uncomfortable in the Vaults can I leave?
Yes. Simply alert the guide and s/he will immediately lead you back to ground level.
Will people jump out on me during the tour?
'Jumper-ooters' are not a feature of the scheduled tours. The content of the ghost tours and the skills of the guides do not require such extras to provide additional suspense. Your imagination will run wild!
Can I film in the vaults?
No. Visitors are permitted to take occasional pictures during the tour, but filming is prohibited as it is disruptive for other group members.
Can I bring my dog on a tour to the vaults?
No, except guide dogs and assistance dogs.
We've been on tours where some customers have spoiled it for us with loud, disruptive and sometimes drunken behaviour. What do you do about this?
Management reserve the right to refuse entry on any tour to disruptive customers. Even if the disruptive behaviour only emerges once the tour has begun our guides are instructed to invite the person(s) to leave. Their priority is to ensure a quality, enjoyable experience for all.
Is the tour conducted in English?
All daily tours are conducted in English. A written translation of the Historic Vaults, Ghostly Underground and Ghost & Ghouls tours can be provided on request, in French, German, Italian and Spanish.
Are there toilets on the premises?
There are no public toilets on the Blair Street premises. There are several coffee shops, restaurants and bars very near the tour meeting point where you can use this facility.
What happens if I am late for the beginning of the tour?
If you are late by a few minutes, you can of course join the tour. If you are delayed by more than 15 minutes it won't be possible to join the tour as you will have missed too much of the tour content.
Do you have lifts on the premises?
Due to the historic nature of the site there are no lifts.