Historic Edinburgh Cemeteries to Explore

I’m an avid fan of old cemeteries, and Scotland has them in abundance. Edinburgh, Scotland’s compact and hilly capital, is home to magnificent historical cemeteries you shouldn’t miss during your visit.

Such as the world’s most haunted graveyard, which inspired the creation of several Harry Potter characters and is known for its connection with one extraordinarily loyal dog.

One of Edinburgh’s venerable graveyards’ beautiful things is the way life is harmoniously mixed in with death. The weathered headstones, where history is buried underneath, are surrounded by lush green ivy, spring flowers and chirping birds that call these historic sites home.

If you enjoy wandering through graveyards heavy with the memories of those departed while soaking up the macabre atmosphere, you need to add these Edinburgh kirkyards to your must-visit list.

misty foggy graveyard with the haunted black mausoleum in Grayfriars Kirkyard
Skeleton engraved on an old tombstone in Greyfriars Kirkyard

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11 Edinburgh graveyards you shouldn’t miss

Greyfriars Kirkyard

Mossy green weathered headstones in Greyfrairs Graveyard

Greyfriars Kirkyard is one of the most famous and popular Edinburgh cemeteries. A kirkyard is a churchyard in Scotland that surrounds a kirk (church).

This Edinburgh graveyard is so highly acclaimed due to the stories of Greyfriars Bobby, the Skye Terrier who stood guard over his owner’s grave until his own death.

There are also fascinating mysteries surrounding the haunted Mausoleum of George MacKenzie.

Weather-worn gravestones masked with moss are scattered throughout the hilly grounds of the cemetery. The uneven surface of Greyfriars is caused by that which lies beneath the grass — half a million corpses buried in unmarked graves below create the rugged, unique landscape.

Grave Robbers

Edinburgh was once well-known for its grave robbers. The infamous Burke and Hare went as far as murdering people to meet the demands for nearby universities’ cadavers.

Greyfriars took it upon themselves to install mortsafes — iron cages built over graves and kept under lock and key to deter body snatchers.

The Mackenzie Poltergeist and MacKenzie’s Mausoleum

Greyfriars Graveyard Black Mausoleum with blue closed doors to an old creepy tomb
The MacKenzie Poltergeist’s Mausoleum

What would an old cemetery be without a ghost? Greyfriars has a resident spirit who likes to scratch and push people visiting his haunted Mausoleum.

Known as the Mackenzie Poltergeist, the spectre is thought to be the ghost of George MacKenzie — a cruel lawyer who oversaw the Edinburgh witch trials and was particularly brutal towards Covenanters (those part of the Scottish Presbyterian movement.)

Visiting the most haunted graveyard in Scotland is the best way to spend Halloween in Edinburgh.

Harry Potter in Greyfriars

If you’re a Harry Potter fan, be on the lookout for George Heriot’s School, which you can see from the cemetery. This school was the inspiration for JK Rowling’s Hogwarts! Plus, you can also see the gravestone for Tom Riddell, who inspired the character Voldemort.

Greyfriars Kirkyard tours

The City of the Dead does an incredible Haunted Graveyard Tour, which gives you access to the Covenanter’s Prison and the Black Mausoleum. The tour is funny and provides stories detailing the history of the graveyard and its residents.

Are you a fan of all things spooky, be sure to check out my list of the spookiest places to visit in Edinburgh. Or, if you are planning on exploring all of Scotland, you can also check out the Spooky Places in Scotland blog post.

If ghosts aren’t your thing, take a Walking History tour of Greyfriars with City Tours Edinburgh instead.

Getting to Greyfriars Kirkyard

Directions: Greyfriars Kirkyard is located across the street from the National Museum of Scotland (which has free entry!) where you can see the world’s first cloned sheep, Dolly.

St. Cuthbert’s Kirkyard

Old tombstone from Edinburgh cemeteries St. Cuthbert's Kirkyard. Gravestone has two skulls on the top with an angel in the middle draped down with the grave inscription

Located in the midst of the bustling Lothian Road and Princes Street, St. Cuthbert’s Kirkyard offers a solace of peace and tranquillity, away from the surrounding chaos. This is another one of my favourite Edinburgh cemeteries because of its incredible beauty.

Tree-lined paths shield you from the world as you walk among the blackened, timeworn mossy tombstones. Edinburgh Castle towers over St. Cuthbert’s from atop Castle Rock and provides stunning views of the cemetery with the impressive fortress looming in the background.

Be sure to visit the Parish Church of St. Cuthbert while exploring the graveyard. The church’s interior features spectacular stained-glass window art with scenes from the Bible, such as depicting David going to meet Goliath.

One of the more notable residents of St. Cuthbert’s is John Napier. He’s the mathematician who invented logarithms and is the namesake of Napier University in Edinburgh.

Getting to St. Cuthbert’s Kirkyard

Directions: You can access St. Cuthbert’s Kirkyard from Princes Street Gardens. Just follow the gardens towards Lothian Road. The kirkyard is on the corner of Princes Street and Lothian Road.

Cemetery for Soldiers’ Dogs

Two tiny gravestones, one in the shape of a dog house with a sign that says Cemetery for Soldier's Dogs at Edinburgh Castle

This Edinburgh cemetery was a cute surprise I stumbled upon during my first visit to Edinburgh Castle. Although inaccessible to the general public, you can see the cemetery from above when looking out toward Princes Street from within the castle walls.

The Cemetery for Soldiers’ Dogs is home to several tombstones honouring dogs that belonged to high-ranking soldiers. Be on the lookout for one particular gravestone shaped like a dog house.

The graveyard was created to provide soldiers’ dogs with a proper burial and remember the great importance of the relationship and bond between dogs and their owners. It’s adorable, and I love it!

Did you know that the cemetery is also haunted by the spirit of a dog? Check out the post about Edinburgh Castle Ghosts here!

Cemetery for Soldiers’ Dogs tours

Edinburgh Castle offers guided tours as well as audio tours if you want to explore on your own.

Getting to the Cemetery for Soldiers’ Dogs

The cemetery is only accessible through Edinburgh Castle. Edinburgh Castle is open daily 9:30 am – 5 pm and entry costs £18.50.

Directions: Edinburgh Castle is located high atop Castle Hill. Walk straight up the Royal Mile and Edinburgh Castle will be your final stop.

Book your visit to Edinburgh Castle here.

Canongate Kirkyard

Canongate Kirk in Edinburgh at night. Bright red doors light up the large building on the Royal Mile.
Canongate Kirk – the graveyard is behind the fence near the kirk to the right.

Located in the Canongate district on the Royal Mile, the Canongate was a semi-autonomous burgh until it was incorporated into Edinburgh in 1856.

Within Canongate, sitting outside the Canongate Kirk’s gates, is a bronze statue of Robert Fergusson, a depressed poet known for his hauntingly grim poetry.

He’s one of the more famous residents of the cemetery, along with Adam Smith, known as the Father of Economics and author of Wealth of Nations.

If you’re into the macabre, you might be interested to know that Canongate Kirkyard is also home to James Douglas, the Earl of Drumlanrig. Nicknamed the Cannibalistic Idiot, James slaughtered, roasted and ate a young kitchen maid in the Queensbury House, where he was kept locked up for being violently insane.

Canongate Kirkyard tours

You can learn more about the history of Canongate’s most famous residents with Mercat Tours on their Doomed Dead and Buried Tour. The tour lasts nearly two hours, so wear your comfiest walking shoes.

Free Edinburgh cemetery historical tours: Guided tours with a local historian take place every Sunday May-September. Meet outside the church door at 1 pm.

Getting to Canongate Kirkyard

Directions: Walk down the Royal Mile toward Holyrood Castle and Arthur’s Seat. Canongate Kirkyard will be on the left. When you see the statue of Robert Fergusson you’re at the right place.

Download a map of the Canongate Kirkyard

Old Calton Burial Ground

Abraham Lincoln Statue in Old Calton Burial Ground
Abe…what are you doing in Edinburgh?

Like Glasgow Necropolis, Old Calton Burial Ground bears a striking resemblance to the famous Père Lachaise in France. The cemetery’s gloomy atmosphere hangs heavy in the air as you wander along small pathways spotted with eccentric tombstones and mausoleums.

Perhaps the most notable piece is the large obelisk that towers over the cemetery. The column is a monument honouring the Political Martyrs’ Movement when five political reformists were imprisoned for campaigning for reform under the French Revolution’s ideals.

There’s another peculiar monument commemorating Abraham Lincoln at the Old Calton Burial Ground. This marker, which features a slave being released from his shackles below Lincoln, is a salute to the Scots who fought alongside the Americans in the American Civil War.

The Edinburgh cemetery is also home to Scottish philosopher David Hume, whose statue is located on the Royal Mile. Philosophy students come from all over the world to touch the statue’s toe, which has resulted in it being gradually worn away.

The same fate has been bestowed upon the statue of the dear Greyfriars Bobby near Greyfriars Kirkyard. I really wish people would stop touching these statues — it slowly destroys what incredible pieces of art are, and that makes me sad.

Getting to the Old Calton Burial Ground

Directions: From the steps leading to Calton Hill, walk toward Waterloo Place. The cemetery is just past Waterloo Place on the left.

New Calton Burial Ground

Tombstones scattered throughout the grounds of the New Calton Burial Ground in Edinburgh Cemeteries

New Calton Burial Ground was created when the Old Calton Burial Ground was starting to overflow. As with many cemeteries in Scotland, body snatching was a huge issue during the construction of the New Calton Burial Ground.

In addition to the mortsafes (like the ones built in Greyfriars), a three-storey circular watchtower was built in the upper corner of the cemetery, near the entrance, to protect the burial spots from grave robbers.

The cemetery was built on a steep slope, which offers breathtaking views of Holyrood Palace, Arthur’s Seat and the less attractive Scottish Parliament Building.

Getting to New Calton Cemetery

Directions: Just a 9-minute walk from the Old Calton Burial Ground. Go past Calton Hill up Regent Road and New Calton Cemetery will be on your right.

Dean Cemetery

Dean Cemetery in Edinburgh - beautiful old gravestones with the statue of a woman leaning on a tombstone

Situated north of the picturesque Dean Village in Edinburgh, the historical Dean Cemetery opened in 1846. It was designed by David Cousin, the same architect responsible for the Warriston Cemetery listed below.

It’s a beautiful cemetery with several Victorian-style monuments and tombstones. The cemetery established itself as a fashionable and secure burial location, two traits that were hugely valuable when grave robbers were prevalent throughout the capital.

Because of this, Dean Cemetery is mostly home to the middle- and upper-class. It even has a section called the Lords’ Row, which features a pyramid-shaped tomb that reminds me of the tombstone in New Orleans destined to be the future home of Nicolas Cage.

With such an incredibly beautiful layout, Dean Cemetery is truly a work of art and should not be missed!

Dean Cemetery tours

Guided tours of Dean Cemetery are available with the Dean Village Associate and can be booked online.

Getting to Dean Cemetery

Directions: Located half a kilometre upstream from Dean Bridge on Dean Path, north of Ravelston Terrace.

Warriston Crematorium & Cemetery

Robin sitting on top of a tombstone singing his heart out
Credit: Graham Jones from Friends of Warriston Cemetery

Warriston Cemetery is a hidden gem found on the north side of the Water of Leith in the northern Edinburgh suburb of Warriston.

Designed by David Cousin (the same architect responsible for Dean Cemetery), Warriston was the first garden cemetery in Edinburgh and was largely influenced by the Kensal Green Cemetery in London.

The graveyard contains thousands of graves from Victorian and Edwardian times, which are being overrun by lush green ivy and overgrown trees due to years of neglect. But, as a big fan of abandoned sites, it makes it that much more beautiful to me.

To turn things around, the Friends of Warriston Cemetery are now taking care of the grounds, and the gardens are slowly but surely fighting back to create a charming, verdant landscape. Be sure to visit the cemetery often to see the restoration progress by the FOWC volunteers.

Special thank you to Graham and Caroline from the Friends of Warriston Cemetery for allowing me to use the image of the cute robin sitting on top of a gravestone within the cemetery.

Getting to Warriston Cemetery & Crematorium

Hours: 9 am – 5 pm weekdays and 10 am – 4 pm on weekends

Bus Directions: You can catch the bus on the mound – number 27 to Silverknowes. Get off at St James Church and Warriston Cemetery will be 900m away. Alternatively, you can catch the number 23 bus toward Trinity and get off at Banghold Avenue. The cemetery is a 7-minute walk away from this spot.

Download a map of Warriston Cemetery

Cramond Kirkyard

Cramond Kirkyard with graves in the foreground and the large kirk in the center at the back

Cramond Kirk is set in the village of Cramond on the outskirts of Edinburgh, just over five miles from Princes Street.

It’s home to a magnificent old church that played a part in northern Britain’s Roman invasion. The Romans built a settlement on the land, which was largely used by the local population after the Romans left Scotland.

Surrounding the kirk is the Cramond Kirkyard, a tremendously peaceful graveyard with an array of gravestones adorned with images of skulls, snakes and other variations of Victorian symbolism.

Bonus: Be sure to check the coinciding tide charts for Cramond Island for when you visit the cemetery so you can combine your time at the graveyard with a trip to Cramond Island. The island is only accessible during low tide via a tidal causeway.

Getting to Cramond Kirkyard

Bus Directions: Take bus number 41 from Princes Street to Cramond Giebe Road

Downloadable a map of Cramond Kirkyard

Liberton Kirkyard

Large historic church covered in vines with bright red doors.

Liberton Kirkyard is a quaint little churchyard is a must-see for lovers of beautiful architecture. If the old walls could tell the tale of time, it would have a lot to say as the stones date back to the 8th and 11th centuries.

The graveyard contains two Celtic crosses, one of which holds a design that is now a part of the church’s logo. The church was built in the 17th century but suffered a disastrous lightning strike and was demolished in 1814. The church was rebuilt and is one of the most stunning buildings in all of Edinburgh.

In the spring, green luscious leaves cover the church’s exterior, with only its windows peering out from beneath the forest of green. In Autumn, the leaves turn to a beautiful red, leaving you breathless from how it transforms the church into something out of a fairytale.

If you are a taphophile you need to visit Liberton Kirkyard, walk through the ancient tombstones and enjoy the quiet crisp air that surrounds the graveyard.

Getting to Liberton Kirkyard

Bus Directions: Take the 37 towards Penicuik (Deanburn) from Princes Street directly to Liberton Cemetery

Bus Directions: From Princes Street, take the 44 towards Balerno to Murieston Crescent. The cemetery will be a minute’s walk from the bus stop.

Dalry Cemetery

Moss covered tombstone with a monument of a winged angel

Dalry Cemetery might not be on everyone’s list when they visit Edinburgh, but if you are a tombstone tourist, you will love it. The historic garden cemetery was built in 1832 after a cholera epidemic hit Edinburgh.

The wildlife haven was built with the intent of creating a picturesque garden cemetery complete with catacombs. The cemetery was designed by David Cousin, who also designed Warriston Cemetery, Dean Cemetery and Newington Cemetery.

The little cemetery sits beside the iconic and historic Dalry Cemetery Lodge, a private residence. The lodge overlooks the little graveyard covered with moss, overgrown trees and tiny animals that live amongst the toppled over tombstones.

Tombstone Tourism & Taphophiles

Wandering through cemeteries is a form of a dark history that can educate and captivate with its history. Learning about the people and their lives in Edinburgh is fascinating. After all, these people and their pasts helped create the Edinburgh we know today.

Edinburgh isn’t the only place in Scotland with fascinating cemeteries. Another one of my personal favourite Scottish cemeteries is the Glasgow Necropolis, with its moss-covered tombstones so badly weathered that the names have been quite literally dissolved by time.

Be sure to add it to your list of cemeteries to visit on your adventures in Scotland.

More Information about Dark Travels and Dark History in Scotland

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