Edinburgh may be an UNESCO City of Literature, and a huge university town, but it still knows how to have a good time. After you’ve seen Edinburgh Castle, the Dungeon, and climbed Arthur’s Seat, there’s plenty of pubs and clubs to keep you busy. Edinburgh’s nightlife scene is a unique blend of old and new, with traditional, dark, subterranean pubs in the Old Town, and trendier, more upscale clubs across the bridge in New Town. The beauty of Edinburgh is how easy it is to get around; you can easily hit two or three pubs in Old Town (or five, or six, if you start early), and then cross the bridge to end your night in New Town. With an endless trove of stressed-out university students, it’s no surprise Edinburgh is one of the most fun places to party in the UK.
Most bars have a gimmick of some kind, but chances are you’ve never seen a gimmick quite like this. Frankenstein is housed in a 19th century church, and in many respects is a pretty typical bar with a dance floor and weekday trivia nights — but it also has a giant TV that plays the original, black and white Frankenstein movie on repeat. Oh, and a massive animatronic Frankenstein monster that descends from the ceiling once-an-hour, with flashing lights and smoke pouring from its body. So if that’s your thing (and why wouldn’t it be?) this bar is definitely worth a try.
2. Three Sisters
In the middle of Cowgate, a street that cuts through the heart of Old Town, Three Sisters is a popular venue for students, sports fans, and travelers. A spacious Irish pub, Three Sisters is known for its cheap drinks and its large outdoor beer garden, which often hosts food festivals, comedy shows, or major sporting events on a large projector screen. The pub doubles as a hotel, and therefore is always bustling with a blend of tourists and locals.
3. Ensign Ewart
Located near Edinburgh Castle on the Royal Mile, this traditional pub is perfect for anyone looking for a ton of Scottish charm (and whiskey). Dating back to 1680, the Ensign makes you feel like you’ve gone back in time, especially once the scotch kicks in and you get swept up in their live folk music. There are performances every night, so the Ensign is great for a casual weeknight drink.
Ox184 flies under the radar because it’s primarily a restaurant. But once the dinner crowd disperses, the place really livens up. One of Cowgate’s classier bars, Ox is incredibly spacious, with an upstairs seating area and one of the latest last calls of any bar in Old Town. Ox’s best-kept secret is that the kitchen doesn’t close until 3am on weekends, making it a great late-night food stop.
5. Beer and Skittles
Looking for a sports bar that also specializes in fruity cocktails? Who isn’t? Beer and Skittles in New Town has all the trappings of a sports bar, with big TV’s, pool tables, and a dart board, but they’ve also got a selection of totally unique cocktails. Their house special is something called a Skittle Tipple — vodka infused with actual skittles — which is actually worth a try… if you don’t mind the merciless mocking of your friends.
This upscale hotel in New Town is known for its huge downstairs bar and lounge. Located on George Street, alongside many trendy bars and clubs, Tigerlily’s atmosphere is modern and eccentric. The drinks are pricy, as the crowd tends to be slightly older, but you’ll always find lively groups of students dressed for a fashionable night out.
7. The Standing Order
If you’re looking for casual drinks in a unique environment, you’ll love The Standing Order. An old bank building converted into a bar, The Standing Order has high vaulted ceilings and a small library-themed room filled with books. Located in New Town, it’s the perfect place to grab a few drinks before heading to the clubs on George Street.
8. Bar Tonic
Don’t let its intimate atmosphere fool you. Tonic has the look of a dark, relaxing lounge, but it’s as lively as any club on the weekends, and their cocktails pack a punch. It’s open late every night, with great DJs and live music options, and it’s considered one of Edinburgh’s best hidden nightlife gems.
9. Why Not Nightclub
There are several nightclub options in Edinburgh, and if you asked everyone to pick their favorite, you’ll get a different answer each time. For me, Why Not Nightclub stands above the rest. With a spacious main dance floor playing chart music, LED room usually devoted to hip-hop classics, two bars, a big outdoor patio, and ample VIP seating, Why Not has something for everyone. And you can’t deny they pretty much nailed the marketing on their name choice.
In contrast to Why Not’s relatively upscale vibe, Hive is the dive-bar version of a nightclub, and it’s hugely popular with younger university students. DJs play popular chart music, the bar is cash only, and the atmosphere resembles a sparse, high-ceilinged basement. If you’re in Old Town and don’t feel like trekking to George Street to go clubbing, Hive can be the perfect option.