It’s no secret that Scotland loves its pubs, but where you are traveling to within Scotland will dictate the kind of pubs you experience. Edinburgh is Scotland’s most touristy city, and, as such, it strives to offer a much wider range of experiences than the smaller towns and cities further afield. This means when you visit Edinburgh, you’ll come across all manner of alehouses, modern bars, breweries, cocktail bars, and small traditional pubs. Some of these are on the main streets and easy to spot, and some are a little harder to find but worth seeking out. To help you navigate your way around the many bars in the city and give you a taste of the most Scottish pubs, in no particular order, here are some of the can’t-miss authentic pubs in Edinburgh.
1. The World’s End
On The Royal Mile, The World’s End is a traditional little pub dating back to the 16th century and once marked the city’s perimeter. Back in the 16th century, when Edinburgh was a walled city, this pub stood just inside the walls, and anything out there beyond those walls belonged to a different world. So, this pub marked the end of the world for Edinburgh, the world’s end. It’s a quirky little place with a sometimes murky past. In 1977, two 17-year-old girls were murdered by serial killer Angus Sinclair after last being seen leaving The World’s End pub, giving the case the nickname “The World’s End Murders.” This draws in tourists looking for sensational places to visit, but the pub itself has its own charm, and there’s a lot more to its fascinating history. The lopsided walls and original beams let you know you are sitting in a very old inn, and the pinned up bank notes above the bar from all around the world tell a story of travelers from the far corners of the globe, all coming to visit The World’s End.
As a traditional pub, this one is no-frills. The choice of drinks is pretty regular, and you won’t find anything unusual stocked behind the bar. The seating is also pretty basic, and you might find yourself at a wobbly table on rickety chairs. But if you can accept all that, this is a fantastic pub for people watching. Grab a seat somewhere between the bar and the doorway and you have a good spot for watching pub life go by.
2. The Tollbooth Tavern
Across the road and down the hill from The World’s End is The Tollbooth Tavern. The building this pub now nestles into was once a 16th-century tollbooth house, where money was collected from anyone wishing to enter the city. After it was a tollbooth, the building was used as a police station and a prison before being transformed into a traditional pub. It’s rumored that the Tollbooth is haunted, but the only spirits I encountered there were of the whiskey variety! This beautiful building is full of intriguing history, and it’s a quaint and authentic little pub.
3. The Johnnie Walker Experience, Rooftop Bar
As we look forward to a more sociable year in 2021, I can’t wait for the new Johnnie Walker Experience to open on Princes Street in the city center. I include this one in the list because you can’t get more authentically Scottish than whiskey, and the rooftop bar alone looks amazing! This new visitor attraction and bar is set to open this summer and will feature private tours, tasting rooms, a restaurant, and a rooftop bar with Edinburgh Castle views. If you like whiskey, this is a brand-new attraction to put on your must-do list; if you’re not that familiar with the drink, this is the perfect way to get to know it a little better. This whiskey emporium will include a cocktail bar, a good list of whiskey-based cocktails on offer, and a whiskey bar, which will stock 150 different whiskeys. The terrace, which will open from the rooftop bar, will provide breathtaking views and will be the perfect place to enjoy a whiskey-laced coffee or a sample shot or two.
Doctors is a Victorian pub close to the medical university buildings and Surgeon’s Hall. The inn was built in 1874 to mark the opening of the royal infirmary. It’s a traditional pub with a great food menu and a good choice of ales. The cozy interior is perfect for relaxing, and the chef makes a great Sunday lunch. A coffin maker originally owned the building, and it was also used for the business of crafting surgical instruments. If you venture into the cozy, snug, little private room at the back of the pub, you’ll find some interesting medical-based displays! Take some time to look at the plaque that tells you the pub's history while you sample a few of the varied beers.
Most people come here for the food, as it’s so good, but this is also a great pub for soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying a quiet drink. Grab a spot in the backroom and you might be lucky enough to have it to yourself. There are some interesting talking points in the displays on the wall, including an old chemist’s cabinet and x-rays!
5. The Devil’s Advocate
Tucked away and hidden from street view is this former Victorian pump house, now a lively modern bar, The Devil’s Advocate. Situated on Advocate’s close, it’s aptly named, and it’s the perfect use of this traditional old Edinburgh building. The bar has a mezzanine dining area that feels private and separate from the bar itself. The bar stocks a good selection of mainly Scottish beers, and there are a staggering 300 whiskeys to choose from. These whiskeys range in price and come from all over the world, but the bulk are from the highlands and islands of Scotland, making this a bar that offers authentic Scottish drinks in a historical building.
6. The Last Drop
Situated in Grassmarket, not far from the notoriously haunted Greyfriars Kirkyard, The Last Drop is a double-fronted pub with pavement seating. Making the most of the pedestrian square, this is a lovely spot for a drink day or night, though the square does get quite lively in the evenings. You might think this pub’s name comes from a story about the last drop of drink, perhaps another nod to the temperance movement, but it refers to an altogether different kind of drop. This building was once an old tenement building that stood directly opposite Edinburgh’s gallows. The drop in question is the last drop the hangman ever made here. The pub is also said to be haunted, just like the churchyard. The resident ghost is said to like tugging on people’s hair and playing pranks. The bar itself is a good traditional Scottish boozer and offers traditional beers, a wine list, and a whiskey selection.
Visit in the afternoon and enjoy some people-watching from the pavement seating. Or, if you’re brave enough, go in the evening to see all of life unfold on the street and perhaps feel the tugging of a ghost or two.
7. Panda And Sons
If you like things quirky and unusual, you’re going to love Panda and Sons. Before you even arrive at the bar, there’s an air of mystery and secrecy surrounding this establishment. The official story is that this bar is not a bar at all, but a barbershop run by “panda and family.” Situated on Queens Street, Panada and Sons models itself as an old speakeasy and is a nod back to a time when the temperance movement in Edinburgh began to gain popularity. Panda and Sons is a modern bar, only opened in 2013, but it lays heavily on the vintage aesthetic, and it’s the place to go for anyone who loves all things retro, a well-made cocktail, and a good story!
Have your camera ready for this one, it’s an experience as much as a bar, and it’s something you don’t often see. The interior and decor are quite beautiful. Once you get back home, you’ll want to tell everyone you went to a hidden speakeasy masquerading as a barbershop run by a family of pandas! Without your photos, they might not believe you!