Underground Around The World


You may have heard The Real Mary King’s Close referred to as ‘The Underground City’. Well, although strictly speaking we are neither a city nor underground, there are a number of underground cities around the world.

In our latest blog we are exploring these unique spaces beneath the streets.


Lady Barbers sign



The Underground Tour is one of Seattle’s most unusual attractions. Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour allows guests to take a guided stroll through intriguing subterranean shopfronts and pavements, which were entombed when the city was rebuilt on top of itself after the Great Fire of 1889. As you roam the underground passages that once were the main roadways of old downtown Seattle, guides regale you with the stories the pioneers didn’t want you to hear.



When Prague’s New Town was built in the 13th century all the debris that was removed from the area was brought into the Old Town, where it was used to increase the level of the street to prevent flooding. This meant that the city’s ground floors became basements, which were closed off and hidden beneath the city. The oldest part of the Old Town Hall’s underground is the Roman hall from the second half of the 12th century. The underground space was also used to hold prisoners too, as is evidenced by their names being engraved on to the Gothic portals.

Today there are numerous underground tours available which take you through these streets beneath the city.



Buried deep beneath Italy’s bustling capital are many underground areas including three temples; the Basilica of San Clemente, the Basilica dei Santissimi Giovanni and Paolo and the Church of San Nicola in Carcere.

You can see a 12th century church which is home to beautiful mosaics and frescoes which date back to the 4th century, Roman homes that would have been at street level as far back as the 1st century BC, medieval piazzas and stunning frescoes.


 These are only three of the underground spaces from around the world, there are many more but none are quite like The Real Mary King’s Close.


The Real Mary King’s Close shortlisted for The British Travel Awards


We are thrilled to announce that The Real Mary King’s Close has been short listed for the Best UK Heritage Attraction at this years British Travel Awards. The British Travel Awards is the largest and most influential poll of consumer opinion on the performance of leisure travel and tourism providers. Since 2008 they have been registering public opinion and rewarding companies considered by customers as the best at their business, and we are honoured to be short listed for the 2017 awards.



Our General Manager Craig Miller comments:

“We are absolutely delighted to have been short listed for the Best UK Heritage Attraction at the British Travel Awards. 2016 was an incredibly successful year for The Real Mary King’s Close, and we have gone from strength to strength this year. Our nomination is a true testament to our fantastic team, and our unique heritage attraction.”


BTA chief executive Lorraine Barnes Burton adds:  

“The British Travel Awards give you the opportunity to reward travel and tourism enterprises for outstanding performance in service delivery and product offering. Voting in the 2017 Awards is now open and nominated companies have until 30th September to lobby their happy customers for votes – good luck to The Real Mary King’s Close.”

Voting is open till the 30th of September, and you can vote for us by clicking the link below-











Meet Mary King

As is the case with so many women in history, not much is known about our namesake. What we do know is a tantalising glimpse of a characterful woman who was a successful merchant and mother.


Mary was born in Edinburgh at the end of the 16th century, and is recorded as marrying Thomas Nemo or Nimmo in 1616. Together they had four children; Alexander, Euphame, Jonet and William. Sadly Thomas died in 1629, and in his will he left Mary a title naming her a Burgess, this meant that she became a member of the city council and had voting rights.


In 1635 she moved her family on to what was then known as Alexander King’s Close. Alexander King was a prominent lawyer in the city, and although he was no relation of Mary’s, the coincidence of the same surname is probably at least part of the reason for the closes name change. Closes in Edinburgh were named after the most prominent citizen or the most commonly found business to take place on the close. For example Fleshmarket Close was the city’s abattoir, Fishmarket Close was a fish and poultry market, and Anchor Close was named after a Tavern on the same street.


Mary King rented a turnpike house with a cellar, near the top of King’s Close. A prominent businesswoman, she also had a shop on the High Street from which she traded in fabrics and sewed for a living. It was highly unusual for a close to be named after a woman at that time, indicating Mary’s standing in the town.


As a woman on her own, with four children to care for, life would not have been easy for Mary King, however she seems to have lived a reasonably comfortable life. When Mary King died in 1644 she left a lasting legacy. In the years ahead, the close where she lived was named after her and in the course of time, Mary King’s Close became famous.

Edinburgh’s Plague Doctor


Allow us to take you back to the summer of 1645, the worst outbreak of the plague is ravaging Edinburgh and just to make matters worse it has also taken the life of the city’s first Plague Doctor, John Paulitious. Thousands of people have died, in fact it is believed that at the height of this plague there were only 60 men left to defend the city.


Due to overcrowding within the city walls the plague spread like wildfire, with fleas on the backs of rats transmitting the disease. Two types of plague hit Edinburgh, killing around half of those that contracted it. The pneumonic plague attacked the lungs, causing coughing which resulted in massive internal bleeding which turned the skin black, hence the name the black death. Then there was the bubonic plague, which caused the sufferer to break out in buboes or boils. These boils were filled with pus, and if they were not treated they would swell to the size of an orange and burst, poisoning the poor sufferer’s blood and often resulting in death.


Those suffering with the plague were confined to their homes and instructed to hang a white sheet from the window, they would then be visited by the Plague Doctor. On the 13th of June 1645 Edinburgh’s second Plague Doctor was appointed, his name was George Rae.



Dr Rae was considerably more successful than his predecessor in that he lived through the plague outbreak and treated many people, venturing into plague ridden houses to treat the sick. With the limited and dangerous treatments available at the time, Plague Doctors did all they could to cure the sufferers. This often involved the lancing of the boils to allow the poison to run out. When the wound had been cleaned out it would be cauterised shut, thus sealing and disinfecting the wound.


Dr Rae wore a fairly terrifying outfit to protect him from the airborne miasmas which at the time were believed to cause the plague. A long cloak kept the infectious air from his skin, and he wore a beak like mask which was filled with spices and rose petals to prevent the miasmas from entering through his nose (although they also would have kept the terrible smell away). Although we now know miasmas were not the source of the plague, Dr Rae’s outfit still did its job and protected him from flea bites, meaning he survived the plague… however his troubles were not over.


As the Plague Doctor wasn’t expected to live through the outbreak, the council got a shock when the time came to pay the large salary which Dr Rae had been promised. Dr Rae spent the ten years that followed the last outbreak of ‘foul pestilence’ in Edinburgh fighting to be paid, and it is widely believed that he died without ever receiving the money.


Without George Rae many more citizens of Edinburgh may have fallen victim to the plague, in fact we think he was quite the hero.

Celebrate Gin Day with Afternoon Tea at The Real Mary King’s Close  


World Gin Day takes place on Saturday the 10th of June, and what better way to celebrate than by joining us for a special Afternoon Tea in Mary King’s Coffee House?


The perfect combination of sweet and savoury, served in the majestic environment of the historic Burgh Courtroom, this unique Afternoon Tea for two celebrates all things Gin. Enjoy a selection of sandwiches (including cucumber), scones and a refreshing Pickerings Gin and Tonic.


Gin Afternoon Tea is available daily between 12pm and 3pm. In addition, for a limited time only we will also be serving up Gin and Tonic sorbet’s made by S Luca’s. Yum Yum!


Make it a day to remember and join a one-hour guided tour of the world famous underground streets. Despite often being considered spooky, the combination of costumed character guides and the unique history of the site make it a fun yet informative way for visitors to learn about Edinburgh’s fascinating history.


Watch as these now underground streets and houses are brought to life by costumed character guides playing a one time resident of the Close. From the maid to the merchant, the plague cleaner to the poet, each character offers a unique perspective of day to day life on Edinburgh’s narrow closes.

Queen Mary on Mary King’s Close


Just round the corner from The Real Mary King’s Close, at the entrance to The Quadrant of the City Chambers you may have noticed a plaque. This plaque commemorates the night that Mary Queen of Scot’s spent at the top of Mary King’s Close.

On the 15th of June 1567, following her abdication and surrender to the confederate Lords at Carberry Hill, Mary Queen of Scots arrived in Edinburgh. Essentially a prisoner, Mary was taken to the residence of Sir Simon Preston, Provost of the City of Edinburgh, on the High Street. An angry and excited mob eagerly awaited her arrival, shouting abuse and accusing her of the murder of her husband Lord Darnley. The crowds believed that the Lords were acting in the best interest of the young Prince James, by avenging his father’s death.

That night the nobles sat down to dinner, but the queen retreated to her bedroom in a state of hysteria following her experiences. However even in her room she could not rest as the guards insisted on staying with her to make sure she did not escape. Mary went to pieces, she ran to her window and shouted to the people outside on the Royal Mile that she was being held captive. Mary was utterly distraught, with her hair hanging wildly and her clothes so torn that her upper body was almost bare. The Princess was like a mad woman, hanging from her window at the top of the Close, screaming of her betrayal.

On the following evening Mary was taken to the palace of Holyrood, and thereafter to Lochleven Castle as a prisoner of the state. Mary spent the next 19 years being moved from from castle to castle as a prisoner of her cousin Elizabeth. Finally, in 1587, Elizabeth was persuaded to end the threat to her throne once and for all and ordered Mary’s execution.

10 Things Edinburgh Gave The World


Scotland’s capital of Edinburgh is a truly beautiful city, steeped in culture and history, but how much about its fascinating history do you know? Here are just a few of our favourite gifts from Edinburgh to the world.


1. Sherlock Holmes

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was born in Edinburgh in 1859, and graduated in medicine from Edinburgh University. He combined a career in medical research with writing, creating Sherlock Holmes in 1887. In 1991 a statue of the great detective was erected on Picardy Place to commemorate the birthplace of his creator.


2. The Fire Service

Known as the father of firefighting, Edinburgh born James Braidwood established the world’s first organised Fire Brigade in 1824. In 1833 he became the first Superintendent of the new London Fire Brigade, with a team of firefighters across 13 stations. Tragically he lost his life in a fire in 1861 when a wall fell on him.


3. Penicillin

In his cluttered Edinburgh laboratory in 1928, bacteriologist Alexander Flemming was clearing a pile of petri dishes in which he had been growing bacteria. He noticed that a mould which had grown on bread appeared to have killed off the harmful bacteria in its dish. This mould was penicillin, which has saved over 100 million lives to date.


4. The Encyclopaedia Britannica

The first edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica was produced in Edinburgh in 1768, and was priced sixpence or 8 pence on finer paper.


5. The Emerald City

Before immigrating to America, set designer George Gibson lived on the junction of Bread Street and Spittal Street. His daily view of Edinburgh Castle is said to have inspired the design for the Emerald City in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz.


6. Dolly The Sheep

Dolly was the first mammal cloned from an adult somatic cell. In 1996 she was cloned at the Roslin Institute, which is part of the University of Edinburgh. Dolly may not be with us any more but you can still visit her at Edinburgh Museum.


7. The Inventor of the Telephone

Alexander Graham Bell, the creator of the telephone was born and educated in Edinburgh, before moving to Canada in 1870, then on to America.


8. The Decimal Point

Edinburgh born John Napier was a mathematician and theologian who correctly forecast that the ‘decimal point’ would revolutionise mathematics, and who wrongly predicted the end of the world. His studies of the decimal point lead to the discovery of what we today call logarithms.


9. Harry Potter

Although his character was created on a train to London, JK Rowling’s tale of boy wizard Harry Potter was written in the back room of The Elephant House on George IV Bridge.

10. The Digestive Biscuit

Edinburgh is a wonderful city for food and drink, but not many people know that the Digestive was created here. In 1830 Robert McVitie and his father William opened a provision shop on Rose Street. In 1888 the company opened a biscuit factory on Robertson Avenue, Edinburgh, and a few years later came their most famous creation – the digestive biscuit!


Double Award Win For The Real Mary King’s Close

We’re celebrating here at The Real Mary King’s Close, as not one but two of our wonderful team members won titles at the Continuum Attractions ‘Attraction of the Year’ awards last week. Kayleigh Day was crowned Star Performer of the Year and Retail Manager Laura Paterson was named Manager of the Year at Continuum Attractions’ highly competitive annual awards ceremony.







Colleagues from across each of the Continuum Attraction sites came together at the Emmerdale Studio’s in Leeds for an evening of celebrations. The awards marked the end of a successful year for our company, and looked forward to many more exciting projects coming up this year.

The finalists were nominated by their colleagues, with each site really getting behind their nominees and cheering them on. The final winners were chosen by Continuum Attractions Executive Management team. Considerations include performance, guest experience, colleague feedback, and customer service.

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

“We are so proud that The Real Mary King’s Close was presented with two awards at Continuum Attractions ‘Attraction of the Year’ awards. The recognition of our outstanding team members Kayleigh and Laura is a testament to the passion they have for The Real Mary King’s Close and the skill and care that they demonstrate to our guests on a daily basis.”

Well done to Kayleigh and Laura, from all of us at The Real Mary King’s Close!

Guest Blog: Whisky, The Real Scottish Spirit

May is Whisky Month, and to celebrate we are running our whisky tour ‘Cask Is King’ every Thursday evening. We invited our expert whisky partner Skene Scotch Whisky to give us some insight in to the history of our national drink.


It is not known exactly when distilling first arrived on these shores, but there are vague references to a drink that was ‘stronger than wine’ as far back as the sixth century. The first official record of distillation in Scotland was documented in the tax records in 1494. There is in fact a written reference to monks brewing ale in Holyrood Abbey in the 12th Century, and whisky is (in it basic form) distilled beer!


Whisky was first distilled in monasteries, and used predominantly for medicinal purposes. In fact the word ‘whisky’ is thought to come from the Gaelic ‘uisge beatha’, or ‘usquebaugh’, meaning ‘water of life’. In 1505, the Guild of Surgeon Barbers in Edinburgh was granted the monopoly over the manufacture of ‘aqua vitae’ with the first law regarding the provision of aqua vitae passed in 1548. This kicked off a legal battle over whisky that lasted for over two hundred years.


During the 16th century, the monasteries were destroyed and the monks fled to the Highlands of Scotland, which had the perfect climate and location for producing whisky. Distilling quickly became widespread throughout the community as the main crops were barley and oats and the Highland Glens kept them hidden from the taxman.


For many years the government chased the distillers to no avail until they decided to pass the Excise Act in 1823, allowing distillers to purchase a licence to produce whisky. Glenlivet distillery was the first to sign up in 1824 and many more followed, thus revealing their secret locations.


Up until the 19th Century, the majority of distilled spirit was drunk direct from the still!


The Oak Cask

Casks or barrels have been used in Scotland for the transportation of goods for centuries and whisky was no different.


From the “Porters Stone” (dated 1678) we know casks & barrels were arriving in and being traded in Leith and casks filled with the wines of Jerez that were shipped into Scotland. It became apparent that the spirit benefited from storage in these casks with the sweet flavours from the wood being imparted into the spirit and the aging in casks is one of the most important components in quality aged Scotch whisky.


Cask Is King tours are taking place at The Real Mary King’s Close every Thursday in May at 9.15pm, advance booking is highly recommended. Tickets are priced at £35 per ticket and can be purchased online, by phone on 0131 225 0672 or in person at The Real Mary King’s Close.