The Real Mary King’s Close is Attraction of the Year

The Real Mary King’s Close is delighted to announce a momentous win, as the social history tour is named ‘Attraction of the Year’ at the Continuum Attractions annual awards.

Fighting off competition from attractions including York’s Chocolate Story, Greenwood Forest Park, and The Emmerdale Studio Experience and Village Tour, The Real Mary King’s Close was awarded the accolade following record breaking visitor numbers in 2017-18, as well as other considerations including performance, guest experience, Trip Advisor ranking, and audit results.

Team members from across Continuum Attractions came together at Portsmouth’s Spinnaker Tower for the awards – marking the end of a successful year for the company, and looked forward to many exciting projects in the pipeline for the year to come.

Craig Miller, General Manager of The Real Mary King’s Close comments:

“We are so proud that The Real Mary King’s Close was named ‘Attraction of the Year’ at the Continuum Attractions annual awards. The recognition of our outstanding social history tour is a credit to each member of The Real Mary King’s Close team, and a testament to the exceptional experience we offer to our guests on a daily basis.”

A programme of special events will be running at The Real Mary King’s Close this year to mark the attraction’s 15-year anniversary, with the aim of bringing more of Edinburgh’s hidden history to life than ever before.

Happy Birthday! We’re 15 years old

We are delighted to be celebrating a major milestone this year, as we commemorate the 15th anniversary of The Real Mary King’s Close.

To mark the occasion, we hosted a party for the movers and shakers of the Edinburgh tourism industry. The event saw the launch of several exciting new experiences, including new character guide ‘The Doctor’, a Mary Queen of Scots themed room, and a renovated outdoor courtyard area.

Frank Ross, Lord Provost of Edinburgh, commented: “For 15 years, the Real Mary Kings Close has educated and enthralled citizens and visitors with its social history tour of underground Edinburgh.

Before the attraction opened in 2003, its warren of streets and spaces lay frozen in time for many years, right beneath our feet. Now, over 2.75 million people have discovered this hidden part of Edinburgh’s history, while the site has expanded to include an above-ground exhibition space and entrance on to the Royal Mile, as well as a retail and café area.

This new display telling the story of the night Mary Queen of Scots spent on the Close is another fantastic addition for the attraction in this anniversary year. It is testament to Continuum Attractions and its approach to telling the city’s stories in new ways that The Real Mary Kings Close has consistently remained a five-star visitor attraction, and one of the most popular in the whole of Edinburgh.”

Juliana Delaney, CEO of Continuum Attractions, commented: “This place is very, very special. The real stories of real lives lived in these spaces is even more so.

It was, and remains a privilege to reveal these amazing stories in such a memorable place and provide a 5-star experience for tourists and Edinburgh locals alike. The Real Mary King’s Close is the real deal.  It is an outstanding visit which creates memories that last. Its commercial operation has provided both a top-class attraction for the city, and revenue for the city coffers too.”

Craig Miller, General Manager at The Real Mary King’s Close, commented: “Reaching our 15 year milestone is a significant landmark, and a testament to the unique and authentic experiences we offer here at The Real Mary King’s Close. We are looking forward to the year ahead, and welcoming existing, and new customers alike to discover the Close like never before. 2018 will be a year of progress, and celebration.”

Originally opening in the spring of 2003, the unique five star tour experience has welcomed over two and a half million visitors, and consistently ranks among the top things to see and do in Edinburgh. In the year 2017-2018 the attraction hosted 250,000 guests; the busiest year yet for the Close, and an 11% increase on the previous year’s visitor numbers.

Working closely with the City of Edinburgh Council, Continuum Attractions was chosen to develop and operate the historic site as a world class visitor attraction, revealing the real history of these narrow streets and spaces to guests from all over the world.

APRIL FOOL: We’ve launched a new Slip and Slide

We are thrilled to announce an exciting new addition to our award winning visitor attraction – for one day only, guests will be able to experience the Close in a way that has never been done before, with the introduction of a Slip and Slide.   

On April the 1st, thrill seekers will be able to take the plunge down the Slip and Slide, which stretches the entire length of the underground street. Our team members had fun testing out the new feature, which has been nicknamed ‘Gardy Loo’, after the 17th century cry which would often be heard in the Closes as waste buckets were emptied in to the streets. Of course our ‘Gardy Loo’ is considerably more pleasant, featuring water rather than human waste. 

General Manager of The Real Mary King’s Close, Craig Miller, said: “The addition of a slide is something we have been joking about at the Close for years, so we’re very excited to make it happen. We’re hoping to compete in international Slip and Slide competitions, and to bring some medals home from the Olympics.”  

Although the Slip and Slide is only be available for one day, The Real Mary King’s Close is extending its opening times over the Easter break and beyond. From Friday 30th March until Saturday 31st October tours will run from 10am-9pm. Pre booking is highly recommended; advance bookings can be made by calling 0845 070 6244, online at www.realmarykingsclose.com or in person at The Real Mary King’s Close. 

Record visitor numbers for The Real Mary King’s Close

We are delighted to be celebrating a major milestone – 2017-18 saw us welcome 250,000 guests; making it the busiest year yet for The Real Mary King’s Close. Originally budgeted to achieve just 60,000 visitors per year, we have far surpassed expectations, which is demonstrated by an 11% growth year on year. Since opening in 2003, over two and a half million people have walked in the footsteps of Mary King and the Closes’ other residents, discovering the real history of its uniquely preserved streets and spaces.

Our social history tour has benefited from substantial investment over the years, including the addition of an entrance on the Royal Mile in 2015, and numerous upgrades to the tour route – offering a greater experience to our guests from all over the world.

Juliana Delaney, CEO of Continuum Attractions, said: “The ongoing success of The Real Mary King’s Close demonstrates the ‘power of the magic of the real’. Real people and real stories in a memorable place, wrapped in great service. I commend the work of the fantastic team at the attraction, as well as that of our industry partners, for taking The Real Mary King’s Close from strength to strength.”

Craig Miller, General Manager, The Real Mary King’s Close, said: “Welcoming our 250,000th guest was a huge achievement for the team here at TRMKC. As the attraction continues to develop, this year will see us launch some exciting new experiences. We’re planning for more growth, and attracting even more guests from around the world.”

To mark the occasion we treated three lucky visitors to a free tour of our top visitor attraction, goody bags, and a bottle of bubbly.

Burns Night

Every year the people of Scotland celebrate Burns Night, an evening commemorating the life of poet Robert Burns (January 25, 1759-July 21, 1796) on the anniversary of his birth. Even if you are unfamiliar with the Scottish poet, you are bound to know his poem ‘Auld Lang Syne’. That’s right, the song we sing as the bells ring in a new year was written by Burns!

Burns Night events have been happening since 1801, just five years after the poet died in 1796. The first Burns Night was when his friends came together to mark the anniversary of the great man’s death, it was then decided that a feast would be held every year in his honour. It’s a fantastic reason for friends and families to get together; eat, drink and of course read the poetry of our national bard.

There are many traditions associated with Burns Night, including poetry readings and dancing (or a ‘ceilidh’) but they usually involve a delicious meal (known as a Burns Supper) and a dram or two of whisky.  A Burns Supper is usually made up of haggis, accompanied with mashed neeps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes), in a whisky sauce. Oh, and don’t forget the ‘Selkirk Grace’:

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thankit.

This year at The Real Mary King’s Close we are celebrating Burns Night with a brand new event. On the 26th of January 2018 The Real Mary King’s Close, in partnership with Wedgwood the Restaurant, will be serving up the perfect celebration of the birth of Robert Burns. Bringing together poetry, history and the best locally sourced produce, guests will experience an indulgent evening of heritage, poetry and delicious food.This exceptional event will begin at 6.30pm with a three course meal at Wedgwood the Restaurant, showcasing the best in Scottish cuisine. Guests will then be treated to a recital of Burns poetry, before being escorted to The Real Mary King’s Close where they will enjoy a Burns inspired guided tour of the uniquely preserved streets and spaces. The evening will finish with a dram of whisky in the beautiful Burgh Courtroom, where guests can raise a glass to Scotland’s favourite son.
 

Scotland’s Yuletide Past

 

Edinburgh’s Christmas today may be full of mince pies and mulled wine, stockings and Santa, carols and cards, and of course the Edinburgh Christmas Markets….but it wasn’t always so.

 

Let us take you back to a time where spirits were kept high to ward off the dangers of winter. Where angels and demons coexisted in folk tales, bleakly told in the mist and snow. 17th century Christmas was quite different to the frivolity of today, and winter was not seen as a time of celebration. The need for hope was gravely necessary, as the living conditions were quite different from the luxuries that we take for granted.

 

Although Christmas was not a public holiday, following the devastation of the plague families were allowed to celebrate the day, as long as it did not interfere with their neighbours. They rejoiced together as one people, who were strong enough to survive. This feeling of love, compassion, and merrymaking demonstrated the true meaning of Christmas to which we all adhere to today.

 

On New Year’s Eve, or Hogmanay as it’s called in Scotland, people would crowd on the streets and closes trying to greet everyone as they went to usher in the New Year. Gifts of whisky or black buns were brought as a sign of good luck and positivity, and strangers flocked to greet one another. Families stood together to sing Auld Lang Syne, welcoming in the New Year and the fortune that lay beyond. This was the end of another year that they had survived together; a year that the demons had not managed to catch them. The monsters of winter were staved off by loving families looking to the year ahead.

 

Discover more about the fascinating history of Scotland’s Yuletide Past, Hogmanay, Burns Night and much more at five star visitor attraction The Real Mary King’s Close. Join a character tour guide, as you take a one hour tour through these once inhabited Closes, and get a taste for what life really would have been like in the 17th century.

 

The Real Mary King’s Close will be open throughout the Christmas period, closing only on Christmas Day so why not visit us and discover Edinburgh’s hidden history.

The Great Fire Of Edinburgh

 

As we’ve mentioned in the blog previously, the world’s first organised Fire Brigade was founded in Edinburgh by James Braidwood in 1824. It’s just as well really, as when the Fire Brigade was only a few months old Edinburgh suffered one of its most devastating fires.

 

On the evening of the 15th of November 1824, at around 10pm, the cry of “fire!” was heard in the High Street.  Clouds of smoke could be seen coming from the second floor of a seven-storey printing house on Old Assembly Close (just down the road from The Real Mary King’s Close). In the workshop of engraver James Kirkwood a pot of linseed oil had overheated, spilled and set fire to a stack of paper.

 

The fire quickly spread, within two hours the south side of the High Street was up in flames, the blaze destroyed the tenement at Old Assembly Close before taking over three tenements neighbouring tenements. Overnight the fire destroyed the offices of the Edinburgh Courant newspaper, and the following day some flying embers caused the Tron Church to catch fire. The terrible fire then made its way through Parliament Square and St Giles’ Cathedral.

 

The newly founded Fire Brigade struggled to gain control of the fire, as the firefighters had not yet received full training and the flames were relentless. Conflicting orders from city leader’s just added fuel to the fire (pardon the pun). The Great Fire raged for two days – taking another two to fully extinguish. 400 homes were destroyed, businesses were ruined, and 13 people were killed, with hundreds of others injured or made homeless. Building damage amounted to over £200,000, and the fire was responsible for the loss of some of the oldest buildings in Edinburgh.

 

As a result of the inquiry that followed The Great Fire Of Edinburgh, city fire masters were given full command of firefighting incidents – a structure which exists to this day.

The History of Hallowe’en in Scotland

 

Hallowe’en traces its roots back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, which takes place on the 1st of November and marks the end of the summer harvest period and the onset of winter. Ancient Celts believed that on the 31st of October, the dead would rise and walk amongst them. It is believed that the name ‘Hallowe’en’, a Scottish contraction of All Hallows’ Eve (All Saints Day) first entered common parlance in Scotland in 1745. Hallowe’en in Scotland symbolised the boundary between the world of the living and the world of the dead, and is all about witches, spirits, and fire.

 

It’s not hard to understand why Hallowe’en continues to be important to the people of Scotland. From Shakespeare’s witches in Macbeth and Robert Burns’ poetry, to the trials of women accused of witchcraft, much of our country’s history features the occult. To this day there is a special atmosphere in many parts of Scotland, and a number of Hallowe’en traditions which were born in the pagan times have endured….

 

To keep away the evil spirits, people would extinguish fires in their homes and light a large bonfire in their village. An early version of pumpkin carving first appeared in Scotland during the 19th century when ghastly faces were carved in potatoes and neeps. These were known as “tattie bogles” or “potato ghosts”. Today in Scotland we still make lanterns, either made from a carved out turnip or the more modern pumpkin.

 

Another fun Hallowe’en tradition is dookin’ for apples, a game which involves picking up an apple from a bowl of water without using your hands. This dates back to pagan times when the ancient Celts believed apples were sacred.

 

Until recently, ‘trick or treat’ did not exist in Scotland. Instead children would dress up as evil spirits and go guising or galoshin. According to folklore, this allowed them to venture out safely without being detected by wicked ghouls, as they would simply blend in with the spirits. Children would then call at houses, where they would receive an offering to ward off evil. Today, rather than simply just knocking on doors, children perform a party trick such as a song or a dance, before they are offered a treat which could be fruit, sweets, or money.

 

This Hallowe’en at The Real Mary King’s Close we will be exploring the history of Witchcraft in Scotland with our special ‘Condemned’ tour. Condemned offers a unique insight into Edinburgh’s fascinating history with the occult, telling the stories of its infamous accomplices and most ardent opponents. Join a character guide on a journey, documenting how and why attitudes changed over time.
The final performance of Condemned will take place on Thursday the 26th of October at 22.15pm and is priced at £16.95 per person.

 

Advance booking is recommended and tickets can be booked online at www.realmarykingsclose.com, by phone on 0131 225 0672 and in person at The Real Mary King’s Close.

Things to do with the family in Edinburgh on a rainy day

 

Our wonderful city of Edinburgh is packed full of fascinating things to see and do, so in our new series of blogs we will be exploring the many wonderful attractions on offer (other than ourselves). Our first blog is about things to do with the kids, and particularly things to do on a rainy day.

 

Camera Obscura and World of Illusions
One of Edinburgh’s oldest attractions, Camera Obscura has to be seen to be believed. Offering visitors a combination of optical illusions and breath-taking views, there are six floors of fun to be explored in this fascinating attraction. This unique experience has delighted and intrigued visitors for over 150 years. One for big and small kids alike, Camera Obscura is a ‘must’ on any visit to Edinburgh.

 

The Palace of Holyrood House
As part of the more educational side of Edinburgh, the Palace of Holyroodhouse is both a beautiful building and a fantastic place to visit. A tour of the Queen’s official residence in Scotland will show you more tapestries, paintings and plasterwork than you can shake a sceptre at. Visitors can explore magnificent State Apartments, the ruins of the 12th-century Holyrood Abbey and the beautiful royal gardens where the Queen’s annual garden party is held. The Queen’s Gallery at the Palace of Holyroodhouse also hosts a programme of changing exhibitions from the Royal Collection.

 

Dynamic Earth
A visit to Dynamic Earth is out of this world – almost literally. Take a journey through space and time, and experience the primeval forces of nature as they shaped planet Earth. Throughout the summer holidays, Dynamic Earth is inviting families to become polar explorers and see if they have what it takes to withstand the harsh environments of the poles through a range of interactive demonstrations and activities.

 

The People’s Story Museum
Located in the late 16th century Canongate Tolbooth, The People’s Story is a museum with a difference. Explore the lives of Edinburgh’s ordinary people at work and play, from the late 18th century to modern day. Visitors can see displays showing a bookbinder’s workshop, a wartime kitchen, an original former jail, an original part of this historic building, and much more.


Museum On The Mound

Ever seen a million pounds?  You can at the Museum on the Mound, as well as lots of other intriguing displays including old Scottish banknotes and coins, along with examples of unusual money from around the world.  The museum often run workshops for children in the summer holidays, so this beautiful building is fun for all the family.