Visitors to Edinburgh could be forgiven for passing right by one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions – because it is actually located under the Royal Mile.
In the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town, The Real Mary King’s Close is a network of authentic medieval Edinburgh streets that were sealed up centuries ago when the City Chambers were built. Only uncovered in 2003, the close or alley was renovated and opened as a tourist attraction shortly afterwards.
Recently given a five-star rating by the Scottish Tourist Board, visitors to The Real Mary King’s Close are taken back in time with the help of actors dressed as characters from the streets’ history. Although there have been some reports of ghostly activity in the hidden streets, the attraction’s real charm lies in the fact that it is a genuine window on the past, and not a modern recreation unlike most other sites of this kind.
The Real Mary King’s Close features several narrow streets and dozens of buildings, some dating back as far as the 16th century, with some of the tenement blocks or flats stretching seven storeys high. These buildings were used as the foundations for the impressive City Chambers building meaning that the area had to be emptied of its inhabitants and sealed up in the 1750s.
The actors which conduct tours round The Real Mary King’s Close are dressed as different real-life people who lived in the area between the 1500s and the 1800s when the street was boarded up and forgotten.
Some of the most memorable include a grave digger whose family was wiped out by the plague, Andrew Chesney, a tradesman and the last person to leave his home over 250 years ago, and of course the eponymous Mary King, a seamstress and rich widow whose house and small business gave the tourist attraction its name.