When it comes to enjoying a night out in Scotland’s capital, one of Edinburgh’s greatest assets is its size, or rather, the lack of it. That’s not to say that there isn’t much to see and do, however, it simply means that getting about from one place to another is pretty easy, so it’s terrific if you’re trying to catch up with different groups of friends on a flying visit.
The ability to flit from one bar to the next, or to try a particular club out before deciding to move elsewhere instead, means that you can sample many different places too; perfect if you’re planning to return to the city regularly and want to get a feel for the nightlife. Whatever you look for in a night out, Edinburgh will be able to meet your expectations, and much more besides.
For the discerning drinker who likes to indulge with cocktails in luxurious surroundings, you don’t really have to look much further than the area around George Street, littered as it is with a surfeit of trendy style bars that wouldn’t be out of place in New York, London or Hong Kong. These are the places to see and be seen. Many blur the boundaries between bar and club as the night draws on, and they tend to play a mixture of house, R’n’B, hip-hop and funky soul.
Enjoy cocktails at The Queens Arms pub in the New Town
At the west end of the street, Candy Bar is a haunt for all the pretty young things, while Le Monde offers something similar at the other end of the drag. Neighbours Grand Cru and 99 Hanover Street are laid-back bars, also in the same vein and their resident and guest DJs are always excellent. The eye-catching Tigerlily, a dazzling oasis of big, bold patterns, mirrored walls and colourful furniture, is a real highlight, and it even has its own club, Lulu, downstairs should you wish to prolong the evening’s festivities.
Just a few blocks down is Eastside, which aims to offer something quite different from the rest of its George Street contemporaries. Eschewing the standard luxury club ethos, Eastside offers a much more informal late-night experience – there’s still all the great cocktails and well-sourced beer and booze you’d expect from a luxury venue, but with in-house street food and a dance-where-you-stand vibe instead of private booths and a designated dancefloor. At the west end of George Street, Browns has undergone an art deco-inspired transformation, complete with a stunning brass back bar.
For the discerning drinker who likes to indulge with cocktails in luxurious surroundings, you don’t really have to look much further than the area around George Street
Achingly cool and effortlessly stylish
If you find yourself up in the Old Town, you’ll definitely want to make a beeline for the bar in the five-star Radisson Collection hotel. Just off the High Street, it’s a real triumph of design, achingly cool and effortlessly stylish. Hidden away down a nearby vennel, in a repurposed Victorian pump-house, is the fabulous Devil’s Advocate which boasts hundreds of whiskies and a cocktail list that’s every bit as impressive. In fact, wherever you go in the city, you’ll be able to find a cool bars with intriguing drinks lists.
For weird, wonderful and truly memorable cocktails, try Bramble on Queen Street – which regularly features in industry World’s Best Bar lists – or its sister bars, Lucky Liquor and the Last Word Saloon. In fact, the cocktail scene is really burgeoning in the capital, with a number of interesting and unusual new venues often with some sort of quirky angle.
You’ll be well looked after in Edinburgh’s many bars
This is the city for you if you’re a whisky lover
Squirrelled away below street level, through an almost unmarked door, Panda & Sons is a hidden speakeasy-style cocktail bar with a barbershop vibe, with a sister bar, Hoot The Redeemer that is equally as wacky. In the West End, The Voyage of Buck uses the (fictional) back story of an intrepid Victorian traveller, with its libations inspired by the various cities he visited.
For wine lovers, Stockbridge’s Smith & Gertrude and Good Brothers are both first-rate examples of the type of modern enotecas you might find in say, Perugia or Melbourne, while Bar à Vin, a few minutes walk from Princes Street, offers a more traditional – but equally appealing – dose of Gallic charm. And from the other side of the Alps, Italy’s largest private winemakers, the Zonin family, have teamed up with noted Scottish restaurateur Sep Marini to convert a Georgian townhouse on Picardy Place into a boutique ‘wine hotel’, with their bar, The Wine House 1821, as its centrepiece.
Hidden away down a nearby vennel, in a repurposed Victorian pump-house, this bar boasts hundreds of whiskies and a cocktail list that’s every bit as impressive
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If a little less glamour and a little more grunge is more your scene, then you’d do worse than to check out Cabaret Voltaire, one of Edinburgh’s most popular and eclectic clubs. Consisting of two stone vaults, the subterranean lair plays host to all sorts including cutting edge electronic and dance. 4042, just off Lothian Road, also offers a range of DJs and club nights, while the always-diverse Bongo Club also holds interesting one-off specials and regular events.
Ultimately, if you’re after something a little more alternative, it’s best to do a little research in advance or, alternatively, ask around for what’s happening that evening – there’s nothing better than stumbling across a great night at the last-minute simply by word of mouth, and you’ll find no shortage of opinions from the locals.
For more of a party atmosphere, head to one of Edinburgh’s many clubs
Come the weekend, the multitude of pubs around the Grassmarket and Rose Street become the domain of the hen/stag party, but on week nights are a lot more convivial and worth exploring. If you fancy staying up until the wee small hours but aren’t worried about what everyone around is wearing, make your way to one of the pubs and clubs with more of a party atmosphere – Whistlebinkies, Stramash and Dropkick Murphys are merry, lively, and often have live bands playing classic hits. And to soak up some of that famous Scottish hospitality, Ghillie Dhu hosts late-night ceilidhs at weekends.
To showcase your dance moves, there are recurring Salsa and Latin evenings that take place across the city. Boteco Do Brasil, El Barrio and Club Cuba are just some of the places that host classes so you can join in and be your own entertainment, and if you fancy making your own music to accompany your moves, Supercube has private karaoke booths of varying sizes and styles and make for an enjoyable soiree with friends.
A very gay-friendly city, Edinburgh has a thriving LGBTQ+ scene, with the pink quarter centred around Picardy Place and Broughton Street including Habana, Planet Bar and The Street, while the nearby Regent offers a host of real ales and a change of pace. If cheesy and cheerful and colourful is more your thing, head for CC Blooms – (named for Bette Midler’s character in Beaches, of course), which has been successfully entertaining the gay community since the mid-80s.
If you’re after something a little more alternative, it’s best to do a little research in advance or, alternatively, ask around for what’s happening that evening
In terms of evening entertainment, Edinburgh is a customary fixture on the comedy circuit, thanks in part to the Fringe, but also to the efforts of comedy club The Stand. Since it was established in 1995, it’s become one of the UK’s leading clubs, developing new talent and playing host to the biggest and the best too. Monkey Barrel Comedy, on Blair Street is another dedicated comedy venue, and there are plenty of pubs which host regular comedy nights, too, and although the standard at these can vary wildly, that’s half the fun.
Although it’s perhaps not always attracted touring acts with the same frequency as Glasgow, Edinburgh’s pretty well-served in terms of live music and the local band scene is vibrant, encompassing virtually every sort of genre in some form if you dig deep enough.
The Voodoo Rooms stages gigs frequently throughout the year
The local band scene here is vibrant
The Edinburgh Corn Exchange is the city’s biggest live music venue, while the Liquid Room has proved enduringly popular with musicians and fans alike. Nearby, Sneaky Pete’s, a tiny venue on the Cowgate, is the place to catch the next big thing and cult favourites from almost any niche or genre. As well as being one of the city’s most attractive bars, The Voodoo Rooms stages gigs frequently throughout the year, and other popular venues like Bannermans and Henry’s Cellar Bar also get in on the act too, while Sandy Bell’s and The Royal Oak cater for those who like a bit of folk and traditional music. Jazz aficionados are well served at The Jazz Bar in the heart of the city’s Old Town, where an eclectic mix of live jazz, plus other genres, are on offer every night.
If you’d prefer a few quieter drinks, you’re spoiled for choice. With a fine selection of malt whiskies to try, Teuchters on William Street is a cosy, welcoming retreat, although it livens up post-work on Fridays and when the rugby is in town. On balmy summer evenings, an outside table at The Pear Tree is delightful, but you might have to stand in the courtyard until one becomes available.
Jazz aficionados are well served at The Jazz Bar in the heart of the city’s Old Town, where an eclectic mix of live jazz, plus other genres, are on offer every night
Craft beer and theatre
Roseleaf, in Leith, is a quirky little hideout, brimming with exotic spirits and beers. It’s also home to the friendliest bar staff in the city, who like nothing more than to chat about food and drink, so don’t expect to leave after just one tipple. Specialising in craft beers created by their own team and master brewers from around the world, Brewdog are doing their bit to elevate beer to the status of fine wines and spirits, with two bars in the city centre to choose from.
There’s a lot of other great brew bars too, with The Hanging Bat and local brewer Innis & Gunn’s own establishment, the Beer Kitchen – both just a hundred metres or so apart on Lothian Road – a couple of good examples, while fellow Scottish brewers Six Degrees North offer an excellent selection of their own concoctions, collaborations and curated pours from around the world.
The craft beer offering in Edinburgh is booming
Other top craft beer bars include Salt Horse Beer Shop & Bar, OX184, Brauhaus and Jeremiah’s Taproom. Eschewing the hipster-vibe of many of its compatriots is newcomer Cold Town House. Located in the Grassmarket, in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle, they make a claim to serving up the best in unpretentious beer (brewed on site), pizza and prosecco.
Fans of more traditional-style public houses should start at Bennets Bar. Situated next door to the King’s Theatre, this bar’s charming mahogany interior dates from 1906 and is listed, and there are some interesting features inside and out. Cloisters and Blue Blazer are other excellent examples of this style of pub, and both serve a wide range of real ales. If you like to make sure your conversation is heard, Bow Bar just off the Grassmarket has a ‘no music’ policy, although you may find that the array of malts on offer curb your ability for speech somewhat.
Finally, no outing in Edinburgh would be complete without setting foot in the Oxford Bar. The epitome of the ‘no frills approach’ to pub decor, it’s the preferred watering hole of author Ian Rankin (and his most famous character, Inspector Rebus), you can either choose to join in the banter between the regulars and the staff in the tiny bar area, or move up the stairs to the back room for a seat.
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