Have a Wild Night Out in Edinburgh's Historic Old Town

It is the cosmopolitan mix of people that makes Edinburgh so alive at night and there’s nowhere in the city more lively and bustling than the Old Town. Tourists and locals populate the pubs, bars, and night clubs in search of a great time, and, more often than not, they find it. Traditional taverns and contemporary bars sit side by side and you won’t have to walk more than a few steps to get a drink.

The crowds in the Grassmarket spill out of a row of bars and create a wild atmosphere in the street. If you head towards the Cowgate or walk up the cobbled streets towards the Royal Mile, you’ll find clubs like Cabaret Voltaire. Further down, past the cathedral and beyond the bridges there are cavernous vaults full of merrymakers dancing the night away.

Of course, not everyone wants to throw shapes on the dance floor, and there’s no need because the Old Town is also home to a wide range of pubs. If you want a quiet pint or a good malt whiskey Bow Bar, is worth seeking out. For live music and a venue that falls between club and pub, you should make for Whistle Binkies. Check out our list for more options.


The Hive
Photo courtesy of Simon Hill

This labyrinth club is very popular with students and it offers a couple of dance floors and several bar areas. It tends to be very cheap in comparison with most of the other clubbing options in the city but it is also loud, crowded and sweaty. The music is a mixture with an occasional live performance but generally, you'll find pop and chart, indie and electro, rock and metal or drum and bass so check what's on before you go. It does get raucous so it definitely won't be to everyone's taste but it's good for a fun-seeking group on a budget.

Recommended for Best of Edinburgh's Old Town because: The Hive is a great destination for anyone seeking a rowdy night on the dance floor.

Simon's expert tip: If you go out be prepared to be herded into a small designated smoking area. Don't argue with the bouncers.

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Bow Bar
Photo courtesy of Simon Hill

Once named "best drinker's pub in Britain," the Bow Bar is known for its huge selection of ales, malts and whiskeys. At last count, there were 140 kinds of malts on the menu! The bar staff are friendly and always ready to help newcomers choose a suitable tipple. Decked out in traditional pub style, this is an unpretentious, friendly place with comfortable booths. You'll find it on Victoria Street which curves down from the Old Town and stretches into the Grassmarket. If you want to soak up some of the lively atmosphere without braving the crowds then the Bow Bar is close enough.

Recommended for Best of Edinburgh's Old Town because: Bow Bar is a good choice for a more sedate evening of chat and drink.

Simon's expert tip: This is a great place for curious people to try out new whisky, such as the delicious Glen Scotia Double Cask.

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This busy Grassmarket pub is at the heart of Edinburgh's nightlife. It's a cozy pub that's always packed to bursting. It's popular with locals and visitors alike. The name derives from the gallows which once stood nearby, where there were public executions back in the 18th century. It's a friendly place with a great selection of whiskey and a decent wine list. You'll enjoy a taste of the sinister side of Edinburgh's past and the interesting interior, with low ceilings and lots of eye-catching decor is a lovely place to while away a few hours. You can also get a decent meal here.

Recommended for Best of Edinburgh's Old Town because: The Last Drop has a fun, historical side and a lively clientele.

Simon's expert tip: You'll need to get here early if you expect to secure a seat because it gets very busy.

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Sandy Bell's is a world-famous folk bar situated in the heart of Edinburgh's Old Town, close to the Royal Mile. Folk and traditional musicians travel from all over the UK and Ireland to take part in live jamming sessions in the afternoons and evenings. The pub opened in the 1920s and has hosted live music since the 1940s. A list of regular players reads like the "who's who" of traditional music over the last few decades â€" including Aly Bain, Barbara Dickson, Dougie McLean, Gerry Rafferty and Billy Connolly. Unlike most venues, the musicians and signers are not separated by a stage, making for a very convivial atmosphere.

Recommended for Best of Edinburgh's Old Town because: Sandy Bells is the perfect place to enjoy traditional and folk music in Scotland's Capital

Simon's expert tip: It has a very loyal local following and gets very busy during the Edinburgh Festival, so turn up early if you want a seat

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The Devil's Advocate is a delightful bar and grill nestling in the shell of a Victorian pump house in Advocates Close, just off the Royal Mile. You could almost miss this little gem if it were not for the delicious smells emanating from within. The bar area is cavernous and boasts an impressive selection of around 400 whiskeys. There is also a mezzanine dining area where they serve fresh seasonal dishes. The offerings from the grill are more tempting than the usual pub fare, and they also have some pretty impressive vegetarian options. All in all, the location, the atmosphere and the tempting food and drink make this little pub well worth hunting down.

Recommended for Best of Edinburgh's Old Town because: The Devil's Advocate is a great place to eat and drink while soaking up the Old Town atmosphere

Simon's expert tip: The dining area gets very busy at the weekend, be sure to book ahead.

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This club is a bit more accessible than many of the crazier places in Edinburgh, but it still maintains its hip edge. Descend into the underground venue and you'll find a massive dance floor with plenty of room to roam. Some of the best new bands on the scene take the stage here before their big break. Well known acts from Scotland and beyond are also regular performers. This venue has one of the most impressive sound systems in the country. Doors generally open about 7 pm for live music gigs. You'll also find regular club nights with various themes from indie to dance music.

Recommended for Best of Edinburgh's Old Town because: The Liquid Room can be relied upon for a great atmosphere.

Simon's expert tip: The smoking garden out back is a good place to cool off and have a chat if you need a break from the music.

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Wash Bar is a friendly and unpretentious bar nestling in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle at the top of the Mound. The bar is split over two levels and on a sunny day, the tables and chairs outside make for some great people watching. Downstairs there is a contemporary and uncluttered bar with two large booths extending from the large picture windows and a number of smaller tables and stools dotted around the polished wooden floor. Upstairs there is a smaller bar and seating area and a small dance floor which also serves as their function room and is a great place to party with friends.

Recommended for Best of Edinburgh's Old Town because: Wash Bar has a cool, friendly vibe and is very reasonably priced

Simon's expert tip: The bar also serves tasty bar snacks including healthy hummus and rather less healthy (but very tasty) burgers.

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Tucked snugly away under the catacombs of the Royal Mile near the trendy Grassmarket nestles Bannermans Bar, a fixture in the Edinburgh rock scene for many years. The venue still sports the original rough-hewn stonework of the original building and some even claim there is a ghost in the cellar! Despite (or perhaps because) of its underground location, Bannermans is always jumping and plays host to a huge number of acts throughout the year. The bar serves reasonably priced drinks including a number of real ales and an even larger number of whiskeys and the atmosphere is electric. This is simply a great place to see live bands.

Recommended for Best of Edinburgh's Old Town because: Bannerman's has a great atmosphere and is very popular with fans of rock and alternative music

Simon's expert tip: If you need a break from dancing, or just fancy a quiet drink, the Jager Lounge is a great place to relax

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Whistle Binkies
Photo courtesy of Simon Hill

Whistle Binkies is a relaxing bar that offers live entertainment seven nights a week. It hosts folk, country, rock, and blues bands, with an occasional comedy act. Don't be surprised if you run into a local folk musician that you just heard playing up the street because this is a favorite hangout of local musicians after their performances. It manages to combine a pub and club vibe, with plenty of caverns to sit in and a large open area for dancing and chatting. The parties run well into the night at this venue and it typically has a very late license during the summer.

Recommended for Best of Edinburgh's Old Town because: Whistle Binkies combines a well-stocked bar with some live music.

Simon's expert tip: Get here before midnight on Friday or Saturday and entry is free, you'll also find drink promotions every day before 8 PM.

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Just off the Royal Mile, Cabaret Voltaire has long been one of the best underground dance clubs in Edinburgh. With a string of popular DJs playing sets to packed dance floors, it has always been a popular venue with locals. A friendly atmosphere and great music made it one of the top choices for most clubbers in the area. With a warren of cavernous caves, a plethora of comfortable booths, surprisingly reasonably priced drinks, and a great chill-out room, it ticks all of the boxes for a great night out. It is open from noon and offers a stylish bar environment with club nights running until 3 AM.

Recommended for Best of Edinburgh's Old Town because: Cabaret Voltaire is always busy and it's full of interesting nooks and crannies.

Simon's expert tip: If someone big is playing you can expect long queues so get there early to avoid disappointment.

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Meet Simon Hill

Simon has lived in various corners of Edinburgh over the last 18 years. He fell in love with the city as a small child after visiting the castle and returned to study Scottish History.

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