Grassmarket/Victoria Street, Edinburgh
Sitting on a bench and drinking a pint in the exact same spot where for the past 5 centuries weary travellers and merchants have sat, drinking a pint just as I am now... that's what the pubs in the beautiful heart of Edinburgh are all about.
Even if you're not in the mood for a drink or food, the White Hart Inn is more than a pub, it’s an Edinburgh experience!
The White Hart (hart is another word for stag, as seen carved into the green wood exterior over the pub's door) is one of the six pubs along the north side of Edinburgh's Grassmarket. It is rumoured to be this area's oldest pub, with parts of the building and cellar dating back to 1516. Much of the rest of the building however is slightly younger, dating back to 1740. In 2005 it was voted Edinburgh's Most Haunted Pub!
The interiors are a lot smaller than you'd expect, with space for about 50 seated and another 30-40 standing... needless to say, it gets tightly packed in here on a busy evening with live music! So don't be shy: if you've been lucky enough to get a table and have some space, let others join you and sit down (and vice-versa).
It stands just a few hundred steps from the spot where public hangings took place and was popular among spectators. Robert Burns and William Wordsworth were among its famous patrons, and the infamous body snatchers Burke and Hare found some of the victims of their murder-for-body-parts scheme here (see my separate "General" Tip for more details). Their 2 faces each with a noose around their neck greet you on either side of the pub once you walk inside.
One of the two is said to still haunt the pub: a shadowy figure has been seen behind the bar many times over the years. It often goes down into the cellar, but if you follow, you won't find anybody there. Other things have been seen in the cellar: staff have reported seeing a ghostly pair of legs, doors have slammed, barrels have moved by themselves, beer taps have been turned off and gas bottles have been disconnected...
Dress Code: Like most traditional pubs in Edinburgh, groups of rugby/football fans wearing their teams' jerseys and also stag / hen nights in fancy dress will be denied entry. Children are not permitted on the premises.
This isn't a 'trendy' place and that's a good thing, trust me! That's what a love about Edinburgh: if you want to feel young & hip you can go to a modern wine bar or cocktail-serving nightclub. But to mingle with the locals and to just enjoy a great evening in a relaxed atmosphere, where nobody will judge the brand of jeans you're wearing or your no-name handbag and shoes, that's what the city's ancient pubs are all about!
The food and drinks are the standard pub-grub and bar snacks (food is served until approx. 9pm), tasty and reasonably priced (I've heard they do very nice desserts here by the way!). But it is the daily foot-tapping, knee-slapping live music that will have you coming back for more. Sundays to Thursdays there's traditional Scottish folk music (Ceilidh, pronounced "Kaley") and on the weekends it's cover bands singing anything from Elvis to the Beatles to Cold Play.
Friday & Saturday: 11.00am-01.00am
I closed me eyes and just listened... let the spirit of past merriment and present joy just wash-over me. The band finished a song, there were a few approving claps. They started playing again; this time a faster rhythm. Hang on, I know that tune... the patrons in the pub started to turn around & look up from their conversation; broad smiles formed on many faces, lips started to silently mouth the lyrics along to this well-known tune, as a young girl grabbed her boyfriend, hooked her arm into his and started to spin: it's Scotland the Brave!
I have a short video from our night in the White Hart Inn here:
Situated in the historic heart of Edinburgh's Grassmarket, The Beehive sits right below the castle and can be proud of the fact that they've held a drinks license since it was a 16th century coaching inn. The present building replaced The Beehive Hotel in the 1860s.
Wonderfully unassuming interiors conceal a true treasure box (or tardis) inside - it's deceptively spacious: there's the main bar, where we enjoyed some drinks from their huge list. There's the 100 seat dining room, a function room for private parties and one of the city's most secret gardens, at the back of the building with a stunning view onto the looming castle above!
The pub is reputed to have numerous ghosts residing in the cellar (as most pubs in the Grassmarket, the Beehive also has its resident spectral beings) and is a popular stop on the Haunted Pub Tours.
We really enjoyed the cosy atmosphere and the very friendly staff during our visit. We were here on a quiet night so I don't know how they cope when it's really busy. We didn't eat here but I've heard mixed reviews from some friends who live in the area, so you'll have to give it a try yourself. Also, as it was a rainy day we didn't get a chance to enjoy their garden... perhaps next time!
Dress Code: Dress-code is smart casual. Like most historic pubs in Edinburgh, football/rugby colours are not really appreciated.
Monday to Saturday 09:00am - 01:00am.
Sundays 12.30pm - 01:00am.
(Food served until 10:00pm)
Most people do not come here for the huge variety of drinks, the Scottish pub food or the relatively low prices: the Last Drop has one main selling point 'screaming' out above all others: its gruesome history and tales of ghosts still haunting the cellars below. I could talk to you about what we ate or drank, how much it cost, whether the bartender was friendly or not, but that's not why you should come here:
The Last Drop is located immediately next to the former spot of the gallows; public hangings took place here until as recently as the 1800s. In fact, the Grassmarket was one of the main gallows in the city and crowds would flock in huge numbers to see the public executions.
According to legend the pub got its name due to the fact that the hangman would bring the condemned man or woman into the pub for one last drink of their choice...
--> (For the full history of the Grassmarket, see my separate "General" Tip.)
This pub attracts a different kind of crowd: sure, there are many tourists (just like myself on this occasion) but there are also plenty of Edinburgh locals and some of the more mature-twenties-crowd, not here to get drunk and forget all about the previous day, but here to remember the macabre past and to soak-up the incredible atmosphere of the Grassmarket (they also have outdoor seating in summer).
Despite its famous history & prominent location the Last Drop has reasonable prices, and this in turn also attracts many young backpackers. One result is the amount banknotes adorning the walls, many donated and signed by visitors. Just as I was rummaging around in my wallet, looking for a 10 Dirham note John spotted plenty of them on the wall already. We used to be the first ones in pubs like these around the world with a UAE Dirham note. I guess Dubai isn't as 'exotic & remote' a place as it was a few years ago...
Dress Code: This is a small place - like most historical taverns - so if you're in a big group you better arrive early! The low ceilings and booths give the Last Drop a warm & almost cosy feeling... but in a place like this I don't want to feel cosy. I want to feel dread & the hairs on the back of my neck tingling. I want to believe that there are still ghosts of tortured & publically humiliated soles living in the cellars below.
I could have kept on snapping photos for hours & hours (also hoping to see something eerie in the photos later, perhaps?) I hope the photos I've posted here share the general feeling of this small, candle-lit space. Oh boy, if these walls could talk...
Monday-Saturday: 11:am-01:00am (food until 9pm)
Sundays: 12.30pm-01:00am (food until 7.30pm).
TIP: If you like to feel all the sinister emotions that this pub's history has to offer, visit after dark...
I would almost rather classify the White Hart Inn under "must-sees" instead of "night life", "restaurants", or "accommodations" for several reasons.
We stumbled into this small, cozy pub while walking around in the Grassmarket looking for one that wasn't quite so packed with people. This place was as full as the rest of them, but we were drawn in for some reason by the warm glow and the soft sound of live music. What a stroke of luck!
Established in 1516, the White Hart is the oldest pub in Edinburgh. When you sit and have a drink, you can imagine people have been drinking in this very spot for the past 500 years.
Famous Scottish poet Robbie Burns stayed at the inn and drank at here. Other famous patrons include William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy, and notorious Edinburgh serial killers William Hare and William Burke. It's said that from 1827 to 1828, Burke and Hare found many of their 16 victims here; people they later murdered and whose corpses they sold to the university for use as medical cadavres. Ghosts sightings by staff are abundant in this building and ghost clubs frequently do investigations. Make sure to read some of the interesting stories posted on the walls.
At the pub, people sing and play instruments directly from their tables without amplification. The atmosphere becomes so friendly, comfortable, and merry that by the end of the night we found ourselves singing along with everybody else in the place! And they try to keep it that way--they refuse drinks to hooligans. There is no smoking inside, and no rowdy people, louts, hen or stag parties are not allowed. A warm, friendly, historic pub that's the not only the oldest in town but doesn't blast music, or serve jerks? Incredible!
Dress Code: They really don't appreciate groups of rugby fans wearing the team names. They will be likely be denied service.
Not sure what to say about the Frankenstein pub, it probably won't make the CAMRA National Inventory of Pub Interiors but if you like wacky refurbishments and strange theme pubs this is a place not to miss. It is basically a church with a pub based on a Frankenstein theme built inside it. One can only imagine the thought process by which they arrived at this juxtaposition between good and evil, but it works perfectly.
Based on three levels, the crypt, the main bar and the gallery, it is quite obviously a church with the pulpit visible behind the main bar where a DJ performs in the evenings. The lower bar has a lifesize display of Frankenstein's monster and the toilets have spooky sounds piped into them.
The signage says that it was established in 1818 but those in the know will realise that that was the year that Mary Shelley wrote the novel of the same name. Frankenstein movies are shown on TV's dotted around the bars and there are two big screens used for sports. The food is good and service is attentive and friendly. Very popular Friday and Saturday evenings.
If you are visiting Edinburgh, search it out and go there, if only for curiosity value.
Apologies for the title but it was irresistable.
This bar and nightclub complex includes 4 bars on 5 levels, each based on a spy theme:
Lizard Lounge (Chart & grooves)
KasBar (Chillout, Chart & 80s music)
Pravda (Commercial House)
Mata Hari (Chart & Commercial House)
This place is huge but can be a bit of a rabbit warren - despite the scale it can feel quite packed and if you lose your mates it could take quite some time to find them again. Having said that the only reason it feels so full is that it's so damn popular. That's partly to do with its 3am license, partly explained by it being free to get in, and a lot to do with the fact it attracts a lot of cute 18-30 year old guys and girls.
Not the best place for a historic night's clubbing but for midweek fun or a drunken weekend it fills the gap. Outside of the university term time it may be less busy.
Espionage is a cheesy yet fun place to go to on a Saturday night after a few drinks and you're feeling a little sloppy. This place is five floors of bars and dance spots, playing everything from uber-cheesy Euro dance to hard-hitting hip-hop. The place can get especially crowded with the locals and some tourists, so be aware of the crowds! Inside, it also can get quite crowded and stuffy.
Dress Code: None that I know of. Just look nice and presentable. This ain't Ministry of Sound or anything...
Located on the steep little Victoria Street (also known as West Bow), the Bow Bar is tucked away behind its unassumingly blue exteriors and glass windows. It would be very easy simply to walk past it without noticing, but thankfully my husband is a true "Reekie" (resident of Edinburgh) and has always held the belief that this is one of Edinburgh's best pubs.
The Bow Bar is famous for its large, superb range of real ales and even more so for its impressive collection of Single Malts!
The gantry on the wall behind the bar would have originally housed casks of whisky. It is now more usual to find them housing whisky in bottles... to be exact, 150 different kinds!
I loved the old advertising signs and mirrors in this little room, with creaky wooden floors and comfortable low chairs. There are even still some old match-striking pads on the wood-clad wall, from the days before the UK's indoor smoking ban.
All of these knick knacks add to the pub's charm, and we spend a lovely 2 hours here, huddled together in a corner, looking out at the pouring rain, trying its best (but failing for centuries) to wash "Auld Reekie's" stained stone walls clean...
If you are a lover of the Single Malt, then a visit to Edinburgh's Bow Bar is a must!
Dress Code: Dress code is smart-casual and relaxed. As with most of the historic pubs in the old part of town, I don't think they appreciate large groups in rugby/football colours or hen/stag nights.
Dogs are allowed.
Fridays & Saturdays 11am-midnight.
"Come, let me know what it is that makes a Scotsman happy!"
(James Boswell ordering a glass of whisky in 1773)
in the grassmarket/cowgate an area of about 200 square metres there are probably fifty pubs fifteen night clubs fifty restaurants fifteen hotels ten hostels,basically eveything for everybody but beware it is very busy at the weekend. my favourite place is the three sisters pub lots of room inside and out
Dress Code: this area caters for everybody no matter what you wear there is somewhere for you to go from very posh to rocking goths.
It was still early evening when Amy, Nicole and I arrived at Finnegan's Wake but we decided to go in for a beer anyway. The musicians were beginning to set up for their night's work so there was a lot of activity. We really weren't there to party hard--just wanted to enjoy our drinks, people watch and maybe catch some music.
By the time we left, the place was pretty crowded and everyone seemed to be having a good time.
Finnegan's is an Irish theme pub and has live music from 10pm every night.
Dress Code: We did not observe any special dress requirements. People were mostly casual.
Without a doubt one of the best bars in Edinburgh. Relaxed, cosy and very cool.
It occupies the premises formerly held by The Old Fire Station pub and the owners won Scottish Style Awards 2005 for the interior design - Scotland’s Most Stylish Bar!! Kungfu walls, Adidas shoes, crystal chandaliers, an open fire, huge plants and trendy staff makes every visit fun and games.
Dragon Fly is THE place for good cocktails! In April 2006 Dragonfly’s bar manager did represent the UK at the Calvados Cocktail competition, so they know their stuff!
Dress Code: None - although the place is full of trendy fashion victims!!
The Last Drop takes its' name from the fact that the last public hanging in Scotland was conducted outside. It’s said that the executioner took the condemned man here for a drink just before hanging him.
It’s a traditional bar that attracts a lot of tourists and the result is the large range of real and spoof banknotes adorning the walls, many donated and signed by visitors.
In summer, many like to sit outside in the sun and enjoy the Grassmarket atmosphere.
Amongst the Last Drop's residents are at least one ghost, in the cellars and among the staff several had heard him calling them when they’re all alone in there…
Typical bar food - students and backpackers get great deals!!!
Opening hours: 11.00am to 1.00am
Opening hours, Sunday: 12.30pm to 1.00am
Dress Code: None...
The Grassmarket. I used to live right in the middle of this melting pot. And I loved it. The Grassmarket is great for a breakie, brunch, lunch, dinner, snack, coffee, beer, tea, sodas, pizza, pasta, scottish, french, a sandwich or just a wee packet of crisps.
Come on your own, with mates, family, children or even bring your dog!
These are the places everyone must visit when in Edinburgh:
- The Last Drop. Learn some local history while sipping a pint. Learn all about the hangings that once took place on the Grassmarket. Friendliest staff in Edinburgh...
- Maggie Dickson's. Find out about this woman who miraclulously cheated death. And while you do, enjoy a "Nail on Mary's coffin". Fun cocktails. Fun interior. Fun staff.
- Mama's. Best pizzas in town! And if you're like me and can nae decided what toppings you want, then this IS the place for you. Have 2-4 toppings on on half and 2-4 different toppings on the other half. Pay no extra for this great service. Great staff!
- Made in Italy. Good sandwiches. Good coffees. BIG coffees. Open late, so a perfect spot for that nighttime slice of pizza. Only downside is staff is friendly and all but SO slow!
- The Beehive. Pub itself is not much to brag about. But do not judge it until you seen the beergarden!
Dress Code: Come as you are.
This a relatively new bar to the area (was formerly the Fiddlers) and is quite a stylish place to start your pub crawl. The music is always ambient and there is a strong cocktail list.
The bar sponsors the Edinburgh Uni Ladies Rugby and they can be often found drinking here.
Dress Code: Casual
One of the original bars in the Grassmarket and is still full of charm. If you're in a large group at a weekend you will likely be turned away but this is because of the small size of the bar so don't get offended.
Dress Code: Casual