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Pubs and Bars in Edinburgh Have Something for Everyone – Even One or Two Hangovers!
Maybe you’re planning a stag party or a hen party… Edinburgh is one of the most popular destinations for a hedonistic weekend break in the UK!
For a city of just 477,000 people, we have an exceptionally high number of pubs, bars, clubs and music venues.
How do they all live? Well… one reason is, the people of Edinburgh have a real appetite for fun and love to let their hair down!
Another reason is the hordes of party-animals from elsewhere who are drawn to Edinburgh to see if its reputation lives up to its billing!
With such a wide variety to choose from, it can be difficult to decide where to go. That’s where this page comes from. To keep things clear I’ll divide this page into six sections – Trendy Bars, Traditional Pubs, Themed Bars, Student Bars and Sports Bars.
Of course, I can’t cover every notable pub and bar in the city of Edinburgh. Even a 70-year-old local man couldn’t manage it! However, I have selected several great pubs and bars in Edinburgh to get you started and give you a taste of what this great city has to offer.
A traditional pub
In full respect for the history and culture of my hometown, I will start with our traditional pub.
As a general rule, you’ll find traditional pubs scattered throughout the city, however, Grassmarket is outnumbered on the Royal Mile and Rose Street, directly behind Princes Street.
Once a place of execution, the Grassmarket is now a haven for intimate, cozy pubs with an interesting name and character. Walking from pub to pub is a simple task as the Castle side of the Grassmarket is a continuous terraced building of various traditional pubs. Don’t like one? Go next door!
A two minute walk from the Grassmarket towards Cowgate and Candlemaker Row will bring you to Greyfriars Bar.
Located opposite Greyfriars Bobby, this pub is the best place in town to learn about Bobby, Edinburgh’s most faithful dog, and the story of some traditional ale while eating a cracking sandwich. It is one of the most famous pubs and bars in Edinburgh.
From there, head over George IV Bridge to the Royal Mile, where you’ll find Deacon Brodie’s Tavern on the corner. Named after the man who inspired Robert Louis Stevenson to write ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’, Deacon Brody’s Tavern is as traditional as it is popular with tourists and locals alike. Don’t forget to read Deacon Brody’s intriguing story on the outer wall!
If you’re still standing, take a stroll down the Royal Mile where there are plenty of traditional pubs and cafes to choose from. That might be enough for one day, but if you’re well-trained or in training, head to Rose Street, behind Princes Street.
Rose Street is somewhat legendary as it has the highest concentration of pubs and bars in Edinburgh, with cozy little emporiums lining both sides of the street. Rumor has it that if you can finish one drink in every pub on Rose Street within 24 hours, you will be granted the freedom of the city.
At the east end of Princes Street behind Burger King (don’t scroll down yet) is Cafe Royal, a beautifully decorated bar with a central serving area, impressive paintings on the walls and brass fittings throughout. This would be a great option for an afternoon pint or bite to eat with your partner or some friends.
Although George Street and the West End are famous for their up-market hangouts and must-sees, trendy bars are dotted all over Edinburgh.
The Hudson in the West End, next to House of Fraser department store, has only been open for a few years and has a stylishly decorated bar with hotel rooms upstairs. They usually keep the lights low which creates a slightly gloomy mood. This can be a good date-bar. If your date doesn’t catch your attention, there are countless TVs on the walls showing the latest sports!
A walk across Charlotte Square takes you to the start of George Street, Edinburgh’s hub for trendsetters. Bars like Brown’s, Candy Bar, All Bar One and Le Monde are particularly popular. When the weather is nice, many of George Street’s bars have tables and chairs set out on the wide pavement.
Le Monde has three distinct areas, incorporating styles prevalent in Paris, Vienna and Milan nightspots.
Two of my favorite bars in Edinburgh, Amicus Apple and Oloroso are on Frederick Street and Castle Street respectively which are perpendicular to George Street.
However, their positions and perspectives could not be more different. Amicus Apple is housed in the basement of his building and Oloroso is the rooftop bar. With stunning views of Edinburgh Castle, Oloroso is the kind of bar you go to with your partner for a romantic drink while enjoying the open air and breathtaking views.
Amicus Apple, while fairly laid back during the day, is a party venue at night with regular themed parties and lots of fun. A quiet drink at their table outside on a hot day is highly recommended!
If you’re willing to venture a little further, I can recommend the Medina on Lothian Street from the Museum of Scotland.
I can only describe Medina as a North African hippie-den with style. They don’t do tables and they don’t do chairs. Instead they have armchairs, couches and small stools with holes to hold your drink. Expect deep reds, oranges and browns in furniture, walls and ceilings. I can’t think of a better place in Edinburgh to have a relaxing drink with your partner.
A themed bar
My favorite bar is a themed bar and luckily we have some great themed pubs and bars in Edinburgh. Let’s start with George IV Bridge where they have two bars with very different themes.
Firstly, Bar Kohl’s is a vodka specialist stocking over 100 different vodkas from around the world and having the longest cocktail list in town.
What I love about this place is the different types of vodka they have written on the chalkboard on the wall. Locals like to pick random numbers without looking at the board and seeing what they end up with. Patience is the word of the day…
Across the road you’ll find Frankenstein, the most famous of all themed pubs and bars in Edinburgh.
All three floors of this converted church are based on the classic Mary Shelley novel so expect near darkness, lots of electric balls and a food and drink menu to match the mood. Oh and beware of that horrible surprise around midnight…I won’t say any more.
Sticking to this theme of darkness, the Jekyll and Hyde pub is worth a visit. Perhaps the darkest pub in Edinburgh, your eyes will need time to adjust when you walk in. Based on the Robert Louis Stevenson novel, the pub is creatively decorated to represent the character of Mr. Hyde. Make sure to look for the toilet as soon as you arrive as its discreet location will put you to shame!
On a more Celtic note, Gilly Dhoo, Edinburgh’s best Scottish bar in the West End next door to the Caledonian Hotel, focuses on Highland music, dance and culture.
Ghillie Dhu is definitely the most impressive new bar in town. Downstairs you’ll find a large bar area with a wide selection of Scottish ales and whiskeys and liqueurs served by men in kilts. Behind the bar, you and your friends can occupy private booths with small saloon-style swing doors.
Ascending the spiral staircase in the entrance hall takes you to the Ceilidh Hall where a live folk band performs Scottish country dances. If you have no idea what to do, the singer will describe the moves to you and then you’ll be surprised at how quickly you pick them up as Mood and your dance partners accompany you!
The most striking and pleasant aspect of this bar is the wide range of age groups that attend. It is so refreshing to see the young, the young and the youngest socializing and dancing together. Of all the pubs and bars in Edinburgh, this is the place to sample Scottish culture. Although Ghillie Dhu has a loyal following, tourists will find the insight into Scotland’s culture, language and dance fascinating and thrilling.
The city has a significant student population, with three universities in the city, the University of Edinburgh, Heriot-Watt University and Napier University, and several colleges. Aside from student unions, Edinburgh has dozens of interesting student bars and pubs. Let’s take a look at three of the best.
My student days are long gone, but I still enjoy a good night in Troon. Located just off the Royal Mile at Hunter Square, The Tron has three floors and a mezzanine-of-sorts. A video jukebox rules the bar at The Tron, giving you full control over the background music.
Tron also has a ‘Yellow Card’ system which allows discounts on many popular drinks. Located close to Cowgate’s bars and clubs, The Tron is used as a launchpad for a night-out.
A stone’s throw from The Tron, next to the Bank Hotel on the Royal Mile, is The Globe, another sought-after student hangout. As it is practically underground, the bar is characterized by an arched stone ceiling.
Cheap drinks are also a specialty of the bar. It becomes very popular among students and travelers and creates a very pleasant atmosphere. The Globe has large TV screens at the end of the small den that are great for watching live sports with a group of friends.
The Cowgate in the Old Town is very popular with students and young people and generally has one of the highest concentrations of bars and pubs in Edinburgh. The Three Sisters Bar is the largest and most popular bar in Cowgate and has a large front patio that is often used for summer barbecues.
Inside, the bar has stone walls and a low arched ceiling creating a cave-like effect. The serving area runs the entire length of the left wall, and if you want to strut your stuff, there’s a small dance floor hidden just behind. Numerous confessional-like booths along the right wall can be used for more private conversations.
Although the majority of pubs and bars in Edinburgh have televisions and big screens showing live sports (we can’t do without our football in this country!) there are a number of bars that specialize in live sports coverage.
The best sports bar in town is the aptly named Sportsters. You’ll find this bar opposite Waverley train station on Market Street and the back entrance to Edinburgh Dungeon.
Sportster’s is the proud owner of a large seating area, ranging from over 30 television screens in size to über-large, a stadium-like atmosphere for big games and a top-floor restaurant serving quality pub-grub. If the game goes really well, sportsmen have access to City Nightclub inside!
Australians themselves might cringe at the idea of an Aussie bar chain called Walkabout, but if you’re into rugby, cricket, Aussie rules and ‘soccer’, you can’t go far wrong with Walkabout.
Set in the Omnicentre at the top of Leith Walk next to the Playhouse, Walkabout hosts gigs now and again, making use of the relatively large bar area and adding to the venue’s very relaxed atmosphere. There is also a cash machine next door which often proves very handy…
Those who know me well will know that I want to write something about the standing order on George Street. Whether you love it or hate it, everyone agrees it’s a people’s bar and is as cheap as chips at a George Street bar.
What I love most about Standing Order is that it’s a converted bank (hence the name) with very high ceilings and several cozy rooms off the main bar. You will meet people of all ages in this bar and it is always very busy which guarantees a casual, friendly atmosphere.
There are wide-screen televisions on the wall opposite the bar in standing order and when the Scottish national football team loses, ie plays, the projection screen is brought down, the bar is packed and the atmosphere is absolutely electric!
Standing order is the sound of hundreds of people chatting, laughing and generally having a good time with no background music. Plus – there aren’t many places in Edinburgh where you can get a pint for £2!!
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