Playful things to do
Not only one of the city’s thriving gig venues, the wonderfully eclectic Electric Circus also boasts private karaoke booths that take the sting of public humiliation out of singing out loud. Grab a posse of pals, peruse the cocktail menu and put yourselves down for ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’.
This poky wee eatery just off the Royal Mile has built up a loyal following in the capital for its simple, cheap and easygoing formula: chicken wings galore. Pick from a few dozen varieties, share a couple of bowls with your mates and prepare to enjoy some messy food that’s finger-lickin’ fun.
A well-kept secret on Edinburgh’s drinking scene, the Star Bar is difficult to find but rewarding when you do. After discovering it tucked away in a residential corner of the New Town, you’re free to imbibe its carefully chosen selection of beverages while lounging in one of the city’s best beer gardens or playing table football.
Given its proximity to the Edinburgh Festival Theatre, the Brass Monkey on show night can look too popular to be enjoyable at first. Elbow your way through the patrons, though, and you’ll find a comfy back room decked out with massive bed-like loungers (seating upwards of ten) and a projector screening cult films daily.
Edinburgh’s legendary vintage clothes emporium is a through-the-looking-glass world of costumery, clothing and accessories from throughout history. The emphasis is on chic fashions from the ’50s to the present day, but there’s always the option of a Libertines-y army jacket or 1920s flapper dress should you be feeling adventurous.
One of Scotland’s oldest pubs, the Sheep Heid might sound a bit fusty and unfashionable at first, but that’s before you realise they have a fully operational skittle alley on the premises. It’s the perfect relaxer after a jaunt round Arthur’s Seat – and the food and drink’s pretty good too.
Cocktails, Hawaiian shirts and a food menu divided into ‘tacos’ and ‘not tacos’ – what’s not to like about Paradise Palms? Aside from the excellent margarita selection, they also boast a quirky events calendar featuring gramophone DJs and scratch cabaret nights.
While we love the Filmhouse further down the road, its focus on award-worthy foreign cinema is sometimes a little too highbrow for our tastes. The Cameo, while showing its fair share of foreign films, also stages cinematic events you can get involved in, including raucous screenings of so-bad-they’re-good flicks and delirious all-night horror marathons. Pass the popcorn!
Sophisticated things to do
Their animal-themed marketing may give off a slightly playful, cartoonish vibe, but don’t be fooled – this hipster paradise is all business when it comes to cocktails. Recline in a retrofitted barber’s chair and sip a classy beverage from Mr Panda’s own selection – we recommend the Hungry Rastapillar, a spicy Jamaican rum concoction.
Dimly lit, decorated with warm, dark wood and boasting a tasty tapas-style sharing menu, the Bon Vivant is the ideal spot for a discreet rendezvous. The cocktail menu is the main reason to visit, though, with an expertly crafted house selection augmented by regular specials – or, provided they have the ingredients, whatever you’re in the mood for.
Edinburgh’s designer allée is a must-visit for fashionistas in the city, with names like Louis Vuitton, Kurt Geiger, Burberry and Boss lining the precinct behind the Harvey Nichols department store. Visit the Valvona & Crolla VinCaffè after a hard day’s retail therapy to sip a latte and watch the well-dressed crowds go by.
The tea room at the Balmoral Hotel is a seriously swanky affair – a Venetian chandelier lights the gilded, domed ceiling and a harpist provides a heavenly atmosphere in which to nibble a pastry or sip one of a selection of loose-leaf teas. Or champagne, if you’re feeling especially elegant.
You might think an ice cream parlour, with its natural appeal to excitable young children, is unlikely to be the most sophisticated of venues, unless you’ve been to Nardini’s. The chrome-and-tile Italian café is a class act, and while there are occasional appearances by little tykes, that delicious gelato will make you forget all about them.
The Traverse is the place to go for exciting new writing, the Playhouse for big-budget touring musicals – but for varied theatrical entertainment, from Ibsen to youth theatre, new comedies and Ian Rankin’s debut play, the Lyceum is one of Edinburgh’s finest. At its busiest during the Festival, the theatre has productions year-round.
It wouldn’t be right to discuss sophistication in Edinburgh without mentioning Scotland’s national beverage, and the Scotch Malt Whisky Society holds the drink in especially high regard. Choose from the swanky Queen Street location (including the highly-regarded Dining Room) or if you’re in Leith, sample the oak-panelled flagship Members’ Room in the eighteenth-century Vaults.
The spa at the Scotsman Hotel prides itself on being at the cutting edge of health treatments, with Scotland’s first stainless steel swimming pool and a ‘scientifically proven’ range of beauty products on offer among their regular massage treatments. While that’s verging on a slightly clinical vibe, we can promise – it’s proper lush.
Get a taste of Golden Age cinematic glamour at the art deco Dominion in Morningside, where the staff are kitted out in crisp, starched uniforms and the three screening rooms are decked out with plush recliners and sofas for your viewing pleasure. We recommend accompanying your chosen film with a bottle of wine – this is a far cry from the soda-and-popcorn deal at your nearest multiplex.
There aren’t many views in Edinburgh – or anywhere else, for that matter – that can beat those from the terrace atop Harvey Nichols. Gaze out over the city skyline and the Firth of Forth and enjoy something from their forward-thinking cocktail menu, or go all out and sample the delights of their brasserie as well.