Smiley Edinburgh must be about as friendly and welcoming as cities get. And we’d surmise that’s in no small part thanks to the city’s wealth of pubs and bars. Whether you’re into comfy chairs, soft music and chatter, or stylish hangouts that get packed at the weekend, there’s something boozy for all sensibilities in this historic city – which we think is reason enough to get out and explore.
When it comes to the best bars in Edinburgh, look to the Old Town for hipster hangouts that bring in only the best craft beers and prefer ‘Curiosity Cola’ to Coke. Then head to Leith for a mix of old man boozers and up-and-coming cocktail bars, alongside foodie spots that dish up vegan meals with their alcohol. Whichever part of town you’re in, you can take comfort in a whole host of affordable drinks menus that’ll see you nicely through the night.
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Best bars in Edinburgh
From the same Scandinavian stable of bars as Joseph Pearce’s and Boda, Sofi’s is not new and hardly prominent either. Tucked down Henderson Street, it’s all of a couple of minutes’ walk away from the heart of Leith but easy to miss as you rush towards that Michelin-starry locale. Launched in the mid-Noughties, this is a hard-working 21st-century neighbourhood bar that offers a great deal more than just lager and crisps – convivial, community-minded and relaxing, it’s worth getting to know.
There are three storeys to this Grassmarket bar, including a rooftop terrace that’s perfect for summertime drinking. Born from a desire to move past hipsterism-for-the-sake-of-hipsterism, Cold Town House dedicates itself to pretence-free pizza, beer and prosecco. They also have their own lager and pale ale (OK, that sounds a little hipster), and you can watch the brewing process through floor-to-ceiling windows on the bar’s first floor.
The Hanging Bat is a peculiarity on the Edinburgh bar scene in that it seems to have jettisoned most bar-like elements in case they get in the way of appreciating a good (read: craft) beer. Forgoing cocktail lists, dimly lit corners and even full-size pint glasses, it’s an altar to the creation and appreciation of the not-so-humble brewski.
The Blackbird attracts a hip-young-thing clientele who create a not-unpleasantly-busy atmosphere most nights of the week. Beers are typically either continental or craft, and the cocktail list is well curated too, with edgier titles like Fake News and Blood Money backing up the more traditional negroni, daiquiri and martini crowd.
Unsurprisingly favouring their own brand, Brewdog’s range of beers on offer at their central Edinburgh branch includes a handful of IPAs, a dangerously dark porter and – whisper it – a lager. Home brews aside, there’s also a selection of top-quality guest draughts, with gluten-free options and some rosé cider also getting a look-in.
An extended home-away-from-home for the local Leithers, young professionals and hipsters, this small-ish space is littered with quirky vintage-style armchairs and comfy lived-in sofas. A small bar with big ideas, Boda offers a drinks menu for all seasons, with decent beers, local gins and a good selection of wines and cocktails, plus events like vegan cocktail nights.
Once upon a time the premises at Summerhall were the University of Edinburgh’s vet school but the animal doctors moved out in 2011 and a multi-purpose arts centre moved in. It has since established itself as an important creative hub and one of the main venues during the Edinburgh Fringe. Also on site, you’ll find a café, a craft brewery (Barney’s), a gin micro-distillery (Pickering’s) and a cosy bar that shares a name with the old vet school itself – the Royal Dick.
With an interior that combines kitsch and camp, plus a lengthy cocktail list you’ll want to devour, Paradise Palms is the perfect spot for a relaxed drink, combined with unironic appreciation of the pineapple and flamingo-themed décor. The various Scottish twists on common mixes are certainly worth your time (how about a Buckfast Daiquiri or Aye-Tai?), and there’s also an American diner-inspired food menu by Lucky Pig. A record store and label are based on the premises too.
A 2016 debutante in the heart of the Old Town, Salt Horse is dual-purpose beer shop and bar which places a focus on things artisan. The bar space is not the biggest, but the staff have managed to squeeze in quite a few small tables, lots of beer in bottles and cans, and a dozen rotating keg lines. Food-wise, the kitchen has been offering excellent cheeseburgers and loaded fries of late.
Take one traditional nicotine-stained boozer much patronised by the middle-aged-gent-afternoon-drinking sector. Give it a fresh lick of paint, some quirky fittings and a Scandinavian-style bar menu. Provide a welcoming space for children during the day. Put seats outside but offer fleece blankets too – you are 56° north after all – then just watch the punters roll in, in, in. To Joseph Pearce we say: good luck getting them to leave.
A kitschy American diner by day, the City Café becomes a pre-club party joint by night. Cocktail and beer pitchers are the main event, and on the weekends guest and resident DJs spin funk, hip hop and house tracks to get you in the mood for nearby dancefloors.
Hung over? Here’s where to nurse it...
Whether you’re up at the crack of dawn or opening your eyes as the clock strikes midday, Edinburgh’s full of places that can give you a hearty start to the day. You may be after a hair of the dog, when only a full fried breakfast and a Bloody Mary will do, but there’s an excellent array of do-good fruit and yoghurt-based breakfast spots here too.