7 Magical Things To Do In Edinburgh
With its breath-taking architecture and extraordinary history, there’s no doubt that Edinburgh is a magical place. To celebrate the opening of our mystical, Arthurian-themed escape room, Operation Spellbound, we’ve been digging into Edinburgh’s magical past and present to bring you a list of the top seven magic themed things to do in Edinburgh.
1. Magic At Edinburgh Festivals
Although Edinburgh is world famous for the Edinburgh Festival and the Edinburgh Fringe in August, Edinburgh has scores of festivals taking place throughout the year to suit every interest. Every year, fans of magic, the paranormal, and things that go bump in the night flock to the Edinburgh International Magic Festival, and the Edinburgh Horror Festival on Hallowe’en weekend in October.
2. The National Museum of Scotland
At the celebrated National Museum of Scotland, visitors can take a step back in time and discover artefacts of witchcraft and witches in Edinburgh and Scotland. From agricultural anti-witch charms, like the Dalkeith Calf’s Heart Charm to the mysterious Arthur’s Seat Coffins (skip to item 5 for more on the latter of these macabre artefacts), the National Museum is the perfect place to learn more about the history of witchcraft and its practitioners and opponents in Scotland.
3. Witches Well, Edinburgh Castle
Built to memorialise men and women tortured and executed for alleged witchcraft in Scotland during the Great Witch Hunt of the 16th century, this well stands in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle and through its motifs attempts to recognise and raise awareness of the many facets of witchcraft and its persecution in Scotland. A plaque on the well reads:
"This Fountain, designed by John Duncan, R.S.A. is near the site on which many witches were burned at the stake. The wicked head and serene head signify that some used their exceptional knowledge for evil purposes while others were misunderstood and wished their kind nothing but good. The serpent has the dual significance of evil and wisdom. The Foxglove spray further emphasises the dual purpose of many common objects."
4. Harry Potter in Edinburgh
If you prefer magic more when it’s firmly contained within book pages or a silver screen, you’re in luck as well: Edinburgh allegedly provides much of the inspiration for J.K. Rowling’s world famous Harry Potter series. Wander amongst the towering, Diagon Alley-esque architecture of quaint shopping lane Victoria Street to Greyfriar’s Kirkyard where you may find some familiar names, including Potter, Grainger, McGonnagle, Scrimgeour and Thomas Riddell, along with a Poltergeist and views of Heriot’s School - stomping ground of so many geniuses that locals in the 1800’s believed it to be… a Wizards school! And, of course, there’s The Elephant House, a cosy cafe on George IV Bridge said to be one of the locations where Rowling wrote portions of the series. Since the success of the Harry Potter novels, The Elephant House has become something of a pilgrimage site for ‘Potterheads’ and in recent years, the cafe’s public toilets have become the home of a plethora of Harry Potter-inspired graffiti.
5. Arthur’s Seat and the Arthur’s Seat Coffins
Towering over the Edinburgh skyline, Edinburgh’s most ancient landmark, Arthur’s Seat, is steeped in magical legends and intrigue. Thought in pre-Celtic times to be a ginormous sleeping dragon, the hill is also the discovery site of the National Museum of Scotland artefact, The Arthur’s Seat Coffins. Discovered by children playing on Arthur’s Seat in 1836, the seventeen miniature coffins and the carved bodies contained within them have been a source of much speculation for nearly two hundred years. Decried by the Scotsman when they were first discovered as evidence of “Satanic spell-manufactory” in the capital, the macabre models have helped to cement Arthur’s Seat’s reputation as a mysterious and potentially magical site.
Even the hill’s name is shrouded in mystery, with some arguing Arthur’s Seat to be a mishearing of mistranslation of the Gaelic ‘Àrd-na-Said’ (‘height of arrows’), while others suggest the hill could once have been the stronghold of the legendary King Arthur.
6. King Arthur In Edinburgh
There’s certainly evidence to suggest that the man who inspired the legend of Arthur might well have been a Scottish king. The oldest reference to the fabled King Arthur appears in the old Brittonic epic ‘Y Gododdin’. The Gododdin were a tribe of Britons who occupied the areas of Scotland now known as the Lothians and Edinburgh.
The Britons, ancestors of the Welsh, formally occupied most of Britain South of Stirling. Although most people associate King Arthur as a ‘King of the Britons’, fighting in what is now Wales and England, the oldest recognisable Royal by the name of Arthur in Britain is Artur MacAiden, son of Aiden King of Dál Riada; which became the Kingdom of the Scots. Coming from Ireland, Dál Riada was the earliest Christian kingdom in mainland Britain, and so the Arthurian idea of a British Christian king fighting against the pagan Saxons fits this narrative nicely. Amongst Arthur’s allies was King Urien, a genuine historic figure based in Southern Scotland / Northern England, and among his enemies was Lot, King of the Picts; based firmly North of the Forth River.
Unsurprisingly, some historians are increasingly favourable to the concept that King Arthur was, in fact, Scottish, with Saint Columba being a contender for filling the role of Merlin.
With the fortress of Dun Eidyn (Edinburgh) named in Y Gododdin, and Arthur’s seat nearby, plenty of lochs and lakes, islands and causeways leading between them Edinburgh has a host of Post Roman, Roman and Pre-Roman era landscapes and ruins, Edinburgh and the surrounding locales could well have been inspiration or, indeed, location for some of the Arthurian tales.
7. Operation Spellbound
A short walk down the crags below Arthur’s Seat will lead you to Can You Escape?’s door where you can take part in our magical Arthurian themed escape room, Operation Spellbound (you didn’t think we’d write about magic in Edinburgh and leave out our beloved Operation Spellbound, did you?!).
The legendary magicians Morgana and Merlin are frozen in their eternal battle in a cave beneath the Kingdom of Avalon. Every 100 years the stars align, opening a portal to this cave, accessible only by the bravest knights. As the battle wages on, can one side finally triumph? Today is such a day and the hour now approaches!
The powers of Merlin or Morgana are evenly matched and only you can break the tie. Does your team have what it takes to finally bring peace to King Arthur’s land, or will you remain trapped in time for the next century?