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 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 fancy popping on your glad rags to dance the night away, here are some of Edinburgh’s best watering holes.
1. The Bow Bar, West Bow
Whisky lovers, rejoice! The Bow Bar has over 300 whiskies to sample (maybe not all at once) from Highland malts to Speyside malts and everything in between. They also have an impressive range of cask and keg beers. Stick to German and Belgian classics or surprise your taste buds with 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 blaring music or TVs showing sports games here –only good conversations oiled by a glass or two of top-notch scotch.
2. Kilderkin, Canongate
Okay, so Kilderkin might be super popular with tourists, but it still deserves a place on this list. Located in the heart of Old Town, Kilderkin is a classic old-school boozer with polished wooden floors, stained-glass windows, comfy leather sofas and rickety bar stools. 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.
3. The Dagda Bar, Buccleuch St
If you’re looking for a cosy, unpretentious joint where the staff are experts on everything on the menu, Dagda Bar has you covered. The bar oozes character and charm. It was built in an 18th-century tenement terrace building and has retained some of the traditional features. There’s a solid selection of malt whiskies, craft tap beers 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 friendly vibe.
4. The Café Royal Circle Bar, West Register St
Café Royal might be one of the more glamorous pubs on this list, but it still has a cosy pub atmosphere. Established in 1863, many original features are still intact including stained-glass windows, polished brass taps and an elegant marble bar stocked with a fine range of spirits. They also serve delicious pub grub (with a sophisticated twist) including freshly shucked oysters, garlic mussels, steak n’ chips and ox cheek pie. Don’t fancy a large late? Tuck into smoked haddock scotch eggs, samphire pakoras and other tasty bar snacks.
5. The World’s End, High St
If you’ve come to Edinburgh to learn about its history, you have to visit World’s End. There’s an interesting story behind this little pub. After the Battle of Flodden in the 16th century, Edinburgh became a walled city to protect the people, and anything outside of the walls was considered to belong to another world. This pub sits on the cusp just inside the walls, hence the name. Pop in for a pint after strolling the Royal Mile or enjoy some hearty scran like steak pie, fish and chips and macaroni cheese. The atmosphere is as classic as Scottish pubs come with wooden beams, wonky walls and memorabilia pinned everywhere.
6. The Last Drop, Grassmarket
The name of this pub might make you think of the last dregs of booze. Nuh-uh. Located in the heart of Grassmarket near the infamous Greyfriars Kirkyard (said to be the most haunted cemetery in the world), the ‘last drop’ actually refers to the last hanging that took place in the gallows directly opposite the pub. Some say it’s haunted, but you’d never guess after walking inside and seeing its low ceilings, polished wooden tables and leather-studded benches. They have a decent range of traditional and craft beers, wines and whiskies. If it’s sunny, you can also sit outside in the lively pedestrian square to watch the world go by.
7. Brewhemia, Market St
Brewhemia was inspired by the life of a Scottish man named Robert who was a distant royal relative of Elizabeth Stuart. After missing out on the English throne, Elizabeth travelled to Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic) where she became the Winter Queen (AKA 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 to Munich and Venice where he discovered Oktoberfest and Prosecco parties.
In his final days, Robert shared his stories with his family who were amazed by his free-spirited youth. The tales resonated with one of Robert’s great-grandsons so much, that he created Brewhemia. With a copper Czech-style beer palace, a French-style boudoir and a Scottish tartan taproom, it’s a place where you can get a little fancy and enjoy the finer things in life.
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 poets for centuries. One of its most famous punters was Mary Queen of Scots who enjoyed playing skittles here. Located in Duddingston Loch (a 10-minute drive from Edinburgh city centre), it’s the go-to pub for a pint 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.
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 on 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. 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 beer garden.
10. Sandy Bell’s, Forrest Rd
If you fancy toe-tapping to some traditional Scottish folk music, head to Sandy Bell’s. Famous for its “sessions”, this watering hole is a bit of a local legend and 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 woodwork while you’re enjoying a quiet pint. The music is different every night so you never really know what to expect. Drinks-wise, they serve all the usual suspects as well as 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 maybe you’re a big Harry Potter fan? If so, 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 where you’ll make drinkable elixirs and potions with a bubbling vat. There are also mixology experiences available for non-drinkers and families.
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, 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 boujie or you’re out celebrating something special, head to the plush New York-style cocktail bar or book a table in the champagne lounge.
Discover the charm of Scotland’s capital city on an Edinburgh tour.