Think Edinburgh, think cheap whisky and pints of Tennent’s? Time to reassess – there’s so much more to the city’s pub scene than just the stereotypes. With quality beer flowing from the taps and smart bartenders pouring endless drams of single malts, the best pubs in Edinburgh – and its myriad excellent cocktail bars – show this city can very much do classy. But equally, if you do fancy somewhere a little more homey, you’ll find all manner of traditional wood-panelled boozers and stripped-back dives in the Scottish capital too. Shabby and chic? Double tick.
So whether you feel like tapping on that stain-glassed tavern door and mingling with the locals, or would rather head to a modern taproom where craft beer takes centre stage, our selection of Edinburgh’s best watering holes has you covered. Frankly, there are few better places to drink than this.
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Best pubs in Edinburgh
This village pub by Duddingston Loch used to be ‘a firm favourite among past monarchs and poets’ according to its website. Now it’s a firm favourite among climbers of Arthur’s Seat in need of refreshment, students keen on Scotland’s oldest skittle alley and Sunday roast-hunters.
With more than 400 bottled beers and 12 rotating drafts, the Salt Horse drinks list would take a lifetime to get through (or one concentrated, particularly mad year). The bar crew are knowledgeable, the burgers and fries decent, and the clientele’s mainly locals. You can get wine if you ask nicely, but really, it’s all about the brews.
One room, dried hops hanging from the ceiling beams, eight ales on tap from all over the British Isles, one working fireplace and the Water of Leith flowing by outside. And crisps. If you’re looking for hipsterism, schooners, pulled pork on brioche or tasting paddles you’re very much in the wrong place. The Malt & Hops sits in the historic centre of Leith, still a working port, where quality has been a watchword in terms of food and drink since the area’s 1980s renaissance.
The sister pub of cocktail bars Hoot the Redeemer and Panda and Sons, Nauticus puts a maritime spin on the traditional Scottish boozer. The Scots theme runs through their drinks list, with Edinburgh’s best local brews and spirits featuring heavily. Paying homage to the area’s trading heritage, Nauticus pulls Leith’s past into the thrilling, boozy present.
Lothian Road’s The Hanging Bat stands unpretentiously amid a peculiar mix of tanning shops, bookies and bargain warehouses. It doesn’t look like much, but inside you’ll find a cavernous pub where sampling is encouraged and beer knowledge traded. The biggest glass is 2/3 of a pint and cocktail menus are forgone in favour of a traditional pub line-up.
Hector’s has been helping well-heeled shoppers put their feet up and dishing out hair of the dog to locals for more than 25 years. Although it’s open every day, for many people, it’s filed in the part of their brain under ‘places to flop about on a Sunday’ – they mix a good bloody mary, have a tall stack of board games, and the roast’s good too.
The choice of cask ale in this traditional pub at the foot of Broughton Street is impressive, with brews from all over the British Isles: from Highland Brewing on Orkney to Dark Star in West Sussex. This is the kind of place where if you ask bar staff to remove the sparkler from the tap before they pour your pint, they know what you’re talking about. Basic bar meals available; popular for football and rugby.
From the hanging baskets and beer garden outside to the warren of rooms inside with their simple, traditional décor, you can tell this is a highly civilised pub. But given the neighbourhood is one of Edinburgh’s swankiest and forms part of a World Heritage Site it’s no more than you’d expect. The beer is good, the wine list decent and the food menu offers everything from sandwiches and burgers to pan-fried hake fillet and caesar salad, with roast beef on Sundays.
The Bow is among Edinburgh’s finest whisky destinations, offering more than 300 ranging from familiar names to real rarities. And it does a fine line in cask ales and craft keg too. It dates to the 1980s and has the look of a traditional Scottish pub: one room simply furnished with wooden fixtures and fittings, and old bar memorabilia on the walls.
Bennets’s more eye-catching Victorian features – curved dark wood shelves and large mirrored panels – have been tastefully merged with modern touches like rounded red leather banquettes and Ordnance Survey maps of Edinburgh and Scotland under glass-topped round tables. It’s earned a reputation for its selection of craft beers and real ales, and also stocks a wide range of single malt whiskies.
Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson was a 19th-century Glaswegian architect now celebrated for sustainable building methods and his Greco-Egyptian aesthetic. The interior at Thomson’s in Morrison Street is a modern homage to the man and his style. With warm oak panelling, a beautifully detailed oak gantry, black and white checkered floor, old-school pub chairs and bar memorabilia it certainly looks the part – very Victorian – although the venue itself opened in 2000.
An ornate drinking palace dating to 1863, the Café Royal Circle Bar is among the city’s most beautiful places to stop for a beer. The venue has been very well maintained, so its stained glass, decorated ceiling and cornicing all look good as new. There’s usually a few cask ales available, plus a reasonable whisky selection.
Taking over the premises of popular but slightly dusty 1960s boozer Jenny Ha’s, The Kilderkin changed hands in 2011 and now draws a crowd of rum lovers, pizza fans and pub quiz regulars, who sit alongside the remaining hardcore punters propping up the bar from the old days.
For more than 20 years Cloisters has been a haven of quality beer and decent pub grub, perched on the short stretch between Tollcross and the rolling green space of the Meadows. The beer choice is legendary – nine cask taps and 10 keg – with eight of those rotating constantly. You could find anything here from a local IPA to a trenchant Orkney Porter – and others from much further afield. Whenever you go, there’ll be something new to try.