People - quite rightly - rave about Edinburgh's clubs, but the best music in our city isn't just that which comes from a pair of decks. Whether you favour classical recitals, lo-fi folk performances, improv jazz, floor-filling electronica or anthemic pop and rock, Edinburgh has a live music venue for you. Just remember to whet your whistle at one of our best bars - it's the key to getting in the right mood. And then, when you're ready, read on to discover the finest of the city's live music venues.
Edinburgh music venues
A 150-capacity sweatbox on Edinburgh’s main clubbing thoroughfare, Sneaky Pete’s has punched well above its weight to become the finest gig and club venue in the city. Gig-wise, its programming veers towards the just-above-underground: Future Islands, Frightened Rabbit, Eagulls, DZ Deathrays, TheeSatisfaction and Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip have been among the best Edinburgh live shows of the last few years.
What was once just another decent mid-level venue on the circuit has been getting a little extra love from Edinburgh folk in recent years, following a fire in the restaurant above that left it badly damaged in 2008. Rather impressively, the owner had the entire club gutted and then rebuilt almost exactly to the original specification for reopening in 2010, and it’s been going strong ever since. A slew of recognisable international acts have played on its stage in the early stages of their careers since it opened in 1997, including Calvin Harris, Kasabian, Snow Patrol and Vampire Weekend.
The Corn Exchange suffers from not having quite the same character as some of the grander concert halls in the city centre, being a long and rectangular room which is also used for exhibitions and conferences. Yet it’s also the only all-standing concert venue in the city, and a three thousand strong capacity crowd can fill the place with a terrific atmosphere. Artists to have played here over the years include Blur, Primal Scream, Oasis, Grace Jones, The National and Disclosure.
One of the grandest historic concert halls in the nation, let alone Edinburgh, the Usher Hall these days is primarily known as the home of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, and regularly hosts concerts and recitals by this and other visiting orchestras, its three-tiered space and impeccable acoustics offering a perfect setting for such events. It’s also a key Edinburgh International Festival venue for classical concerts and theatre productions throughout the month of August, and is regularly used by rock concert promoters: artists who have played here include Rufus Wainwright, Bon Iver, Ed Sheeran and Ryan Adams.
Over the years this family-run venue has showed considerable staying power, remaining steadfast in the face of an ongoing regeneration programme around it, what with it being a couple of stone throws from the Royal Mile and Waverly Station. This endurance (and the fact it hosted Nirvana’s lone Edinburgh date) has given the rough and ready but atmospheric joint a certain elder statesperson role on the city’s live scene, although its tastes are eclectic. Expect to hear a blend of harder-edged techno and metal across the club and local live band programme, although only rarely on the same bill.
Seemingly intent on being all things to all people, the Voodoo Rooms does a good job of pulling the trick off in grandiose circumstances. In addition to a long cocktail bar and a somewhat ostentatious dining room, the venue also contains two internal concert spaces, both fairly compact and informal interior rooms that don’t echo the style of the rest of the joint, and their live programming – encompassing blues, folk, indie, electronica and burlesque – is eclectic.
Part club, part gig venue, part karaoke den, Electric Circus tries hard to live up to its playful moniker, and for the most part is largely successful. Since opening in 2009, it’s merrily slotted into Edinburgh’s late-night scene, with decent live music on most nights of the week (tickets start from around a fiver, music type varies) and dancing going on into the wee small hours.
Set up in the heart of studentsville, the quirky Queen’s Hall hosts an array of live music acts throughout the year. A converted church, this 900-capacity music venue has been on the Edinburgh scene for more than three decades. It has a loyal band of music followers who flock here for the unique space it offers (the original pews and high ceilings remain intact) and eclectic roster of acts. Acts to appear here include Mumford and Sons, Ravi Shankar, Michael Nyman and Eddi Reader.