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Is There Really An Underground City in Edinburgh?

9th May 2024
Is There Really An Underground City in Edinburgh?

Paris has its catacombs. Turkey has its underground citadels. Edinburgh has its vaults.

Explore these vaults with us and dive into their dark history.


Hidden History

As you go about your day, you might have no idea what lies beneath your feet—beyond the cobbles, pavement and streets.

Under the trundling traffic of South Bridge is a network of once-forgotten rooms. Is this a hidden city?

An illustrated cross-section of Edinburgh's South Bridge, showing the rooms within its arches, which make up Edinburgh's underground vaults.


The South Bridge  

Edinburgh’s South Bridge doesn’t look like your typical bridge. Encased by buildings on either side, it’d be easy to mistake it for nothing more than a road.

But when you walk across it, a series of extensive vaults expand beneath your feet.


The Blair Street Underground Vaults

The Blair Street Underground Vaults are the deepest and most extensive set of the South Bridge Vaults. Built along with the bridge in the 1780s, these vaults were once used as workshops and storage spaces. Over time, their uses shifted.

A permanent damp drove business owners away, but the vaults weren’t immediately vacated. One room, we know, was used as a tavern. At some point, an illicit whisky still was in use here.


Did people live here?

In the early 19th century, Edinburgh didn’t have enough slum housing for the poorest of citizens. So, yes, they did live in the vaults.

Down here, air quality would have been dire. There is no sunlight, no air movement, light by way of fish oil lamps.

While no human remains have been found in the vaults, other archaeological evidence points to their residency. Butchered animal bones, children’s toys.


Is it an underground city?

In short, the vaults are not a city. Nor are they catacombs.

The Blair Street Underground Vaults were never built for human habitation—so they are not technically a city. They also weren’t built for religious purposes—so not catacombs.

But people did exist in these underground rooms. While they may not be a city of their own, these vaults are an important part of the city of Edinburgh.

Join us on tour to explore the Blair Street Underground Vaults for yourselves and discover more of their history—and the dark stories that permeate their walls.

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