Medieval history and royal palaces? Check. Word famous festivals? Aye. Edinburgh does many things well, but if there’s one thing it knows how to do really well, it’s having a good time.
Edinburgh’s social scene is pumping. From cosy pubs tucked away in cobblestone alleyways to trendy cocktail bars with dazzling views of the city skyline, there’s no shortage of pubs to pass the time and warm up on those (frequently) cold and damp Scottish days. Whether you’re looking for some good ol’ pub grub and a pint (or two) in Old Town or fancy popping on your glad rags and dancing the night away in a snazzy bar, we’ve put together some of our favourite watering holes to check out on your next trip to Edinburgh.
- The Bow Bar
- The Dagda Bar
- The Cafe Royal Circle Bar
- The World’s End
- The Last Drop
- The Sheep Heid Inn
- The Royal Dick
- Sandy Bell’s
- The Cauldron
- Le Monde
1. The Bow Bar, West Bow
Whiskey lovers rejoice! The Bow Bar in Edinburgh’s city centre has over 300 whiskeys to sample (maybe not all at once) from Highland malts to Speyside malts and everything else in between. They also have a pretty impressive range of cask and keg beer to wet the whistle. Stick to German and Belgian classics or surprise your taste buds with new flavours like coffee and cherry stout or peat smoked brown ale. Founded in 1987, The Bow Bar has the feeling of a ‘proper’ Scottish pub as soon as you walk in. You won’t hear and blaring music or TVs showing sports games in here, only good conversations oiled by a glass or two of top-notch whiskey.
2. Kilderkin, Canongate
Before we go any further, we’d just like to say that yes, Kilderkin might be very popular with tourists, BUT it still deserves a place on this list. Located in the heart of the Old Town, Kilderkin is a classic old-school boozer with polished wooden floors, stained-glass windows, comfy leather sofas and rickety bar stools. The location draws in throngs of tourists, but it has a laid back atmosphere and serves a fine list of thirst-quenching rums, cask beers and rustic pizzas. Kilderkin also hosts a well-known pub quiz every Tuesday which draws in plenty of locals and the occasional member of Scottish Parliament which is a stone’s throw from the pub.
3. The Dagda Bar, Buccleuch St
If you’re looking for a cosy, unpretentious joint where the staff genuinely know what they’re talking about, The Dagda Bar has you covered. The bar oozes character and charm. It was built in an 18th-century tenement terrace and has retained some of its traditional features. There’s a solid selection of malt whiskies, craft beer on tap and guest ales that change every week or so. Pull up a chair at a scuffed table or take a pew at one of the beer barrel tables to enjoy the snug, friendly vibe.
4. The Café Royal Circle Bar, West Register St
Café Royal might be glamourous, but it still has that cosy pub atmosphere. Established in 1863, it still has many original features including stained-glass windows, polished brass taps and an elegant marble bar serving a fine array of spirits. They also serve delicious food – think pub grub with a sophisticated twist. Sink your teeth into freshly shucked oysters, garlic mussels, steak n’ chips, ox cheek steak pie and other favourites. They also serve tasty pub snacks if you’re not so hungry including smoked haddock scotch egg and samphire pakoras.
5. The World’s End, High St
If you’ve come to Edinburgh to learn about the history, you have to grab a pint at World’s End. There’s quite an interesting story behind this little pub. After the Battle of Flodden in the 16th century, Edinburgh became a walled city to protect the city and its people. People considered anything outside of the walls or gates to belong to another world. This pub sits on the cusp just inside the walls, hence the name World’s End. After walking the cobbled streets of the Royal Mile, quench your thirst with a beer or get some hearty scran. They do pub classics like steak pie, fish and chips and macaroni cheese. The menu and the atmosphere is as classic as old Scottish pubs come with wooden beams, wonky walls and banknotes pinned on the wall from travellers all over the world.
6. The Last Drop, Grassmarket
With a name like The Last Drop, you might be thinking about the last dregs of booze… not quite. There’s a dark story behind the name. The pub is in the heart of the vibrant Grassmarket near the infamous Greyfriars Kirkyard (which is said to be the most haunted cemetery in the world). And the ‘last drop’ actually refers to the last hanging that took place in the gallows that used to stand directly opposite the pub. Some say a ghost of a little girl haunts the walls of the pub, but you’d never guess its harrowing history after walking inside this cosy pub. It’s a classic pub with low ceilings, Find a seat in this classic, polished wooden tables and leather studded benches. They have a decent range of traditional and craft beers, wines and whiskey. You can also sit outside in the lively pedestrian square with a pint while you watch the world go by.
7. Brewhemia, Market St
Brewhemia was inspired by the life of Robert who was a distant royal relative of Elizbeth Stuart. After missing out on the English throne, Elizabeth travelled to Bohemia in the Czech Republic where she became the Winter Queen, the Queen of Bohemia. After learning about her life, Robert followed in her footsteps and fell in love with Bohemia’s artistic lifestyle and riotous parties. He then travelled onto Munich where is discovered Oktoberfest, and Venice where he enjoyed Prosecco parties.
In his final days, Robert shared the stories of his free-spirited life with his son who vowed to enjoy and pass on his father’s hedonistic lifestyle to the next generations. These tales resonated with one of Robert’s great grandson’s so much, that he created Brewhemia. With a copper Czech-style beer palace, a French-style boudoir and a Scottish tartan taproom, Brewhemia is somewhere where you can get a little fancy and enjoy the finer things in life. They also serve up some tasty Scottish scran and German-inspired haus sausages.
8. The Sheep Heid Inn, The Causeway
Psst… apparently this is the oldest pub in Edinburgh. Established in 1360, these pub walls have seen it all. Sheep Heid Inn has been a favourite watering hole with monarchs and famous poets for centuries. One of its most famous punters was Mary Queen of Scots who enjoyed playing skittle alley here). Located in Duddingston Loch (a 10-minute drive from Edinburgh city centre), Sheep Heid Inn is the go-to for a pint and some scran after climbing Arthur’s Seat. They serve hearty meals like sea bass fillets, prawn linguine, rotisserie chickens, chicken pies and plant-based dishes. It’s also a prime spot to enjoy a Sunday roast. If you’re here in the summer, head out to the courtyard out the back for some related day drinking.
9. The Royal Dick Bar, Summerhall
The Royal Dick isn’t your average pub. It’s tucked away behind the popular Summerhall arts venue in what used to be the Small Animal Hospital of the Dick Vet School. It’s a quirky joint with old projector slides set in the bar tops and peculiar art and veterinary artefacts covering the walls. There’s a good range of beverages including craft beers and gin from Barney’s Beer and Pickerings Gin – both of which are brewed and distilled on-site in Summerhall. You can soak up the booze with pub snacks, light meals or tasty platters. Take a seat in one of the eccentric rooms or head outside to the Courtyard Bar (supposedly the biggest in Edinburgh) to quench your thirst in the sometimes sunny beer garden.
10. Sandy Bell’s, Forrest Rd
If you fancy toe-tapping or a jig to some traditional Scottish and folk music, head to Sandy Bell’s. Known for its “sessions”, this watering hole is a bit of a local legend and local musicians gather here to jam most days. Don’t be surprised if you suddenly hear fiddles, guitars, accordions and wooden flutes come out of the woodworks while you’re enjoying a quiet pint. The music is different every night and you can never really know what to expect. Drinks-wise, they serve all the usual suspects and a solid selection of malt whiskies and craft beers.
11. The Cauldron, Frederick St
Ever wondered what it’s like to go to Wizard’s afternoon tea or make alcoholic potions using molecular mixology? We’re guessing not. If you’re a big Harry Potter Fan, the immersive cocktail class at The Cauldron will be a dream come true. You’ll be given your own cloak and magic wand before being taken to an interactive workstation. Here, you’ll make your drinkable elixirs and potions using a bubbling vat. Quirky? Just a tad. But hey, it’s fun to try something different once in a while. There are also mixology experiences available for non-drinkers and families with kids.
12. Le Monde, George St
Le Monde is a boutique hotel, bar and restaurant where you can party into the wee hours. Located in the heart of George Street, the bar-cum-club oozes cosmopolitan glamour. It features global-inspired decor and drinks from some of the world’s most vibrant cities. Enjoy a Prosecco afternoon tea on the terrace, kick back in a booth or dance the night away in the Shanghai club. If you’re feeling a little more bougie or are out celebrating something special, head to the plush New York-style cocktail bar or book a table in the champagne lounge.
With so many cosy and quirky pubs to explore, Edinburgh promises to quench your thirst for a good brew and a good time.