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 whisky's and the atmosphere is electric. This is simply a great place to see live bands.
You'll find drum and bass, hip hop, electronica, funk and soul, house, disco and the occasional live gig at The Bongo Club. Club nights are regular and various different clubs run at this venue, so always make sure to check their website or Facebook page to see what's on before visiting. The club has recently moved to a new location, just off the Grassmarket under George IV Bridge, and seems to be settling in very happily. Leaving behind the rather shabby, but charming Moray House, the Bongo Club has found a new confidence and it's a great place to dance the night away.
The HMV Picture House (formerly the Caley Palais) has been hosting live bands since the seventies, but in 2008 it received a much needed refurbishment which included the renovation of many of the original Art Deco features such as the beautiful arched stage and huge stained glass window depicting a lion rampant. It is now one of Edinburgh's best live music venues with a capacity of 1,500 and a wonderfully diverse range of acts – from punk legends The Damned to the chilled out jazz soul fusion of Gil Scott-Heron. The venue has a mid-sized wooden dance floor and three bars, but is also features a seated balcony which offers great views of the stage.
Henry's Cellar Bar is perhaps best associated with jazz and blues, but is actually home to a much wider variety of musical styles. It is one of the capital's lower cost venues and only has a small stage and fairly basic décor so it is less likely to host the big name acts you would find at other venues. However, this fact is easily balanced by the intimate friendly atmosphere, the reasonable cost of drinks and the much more eclectic range of acts that perform here. Unlike many city center venues there is often no charge at the door and there is also a real sense of community.
The Voodoo Rooms is composed of six large rooms: the main bar, the dining room, the speakeasy, the ballroom, and the ballroom bar. Each is decorated in opulent fin de si?cle style with rich dark mahogany, black leather and ornate gilded cornicing. Although the venues for live music are not large, they make up for this by being positively brimming with atmosphere. The walls of the Ballroom are festooned with tiny lights which twinkle beguilingly in the dark adding to the magical ambience and the Speakeasy has an effortless cool which fits perfectly with both the cabaret style acts and the blues and jazz bands that often play here. Add to this an award winning bar and restaurant with some truly delicious and decadent cocktails and you have a recipe for a great night out.
The Queen's Hall was originally known as Hope Park Chapel. It was built in 1823 and converted into a live music venue in 1979, with many of the original Georgian features retained. It has a beautiful auditorium with excellent acoustics which seats nine hundred people. The Queen's hall is the home of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, but during their busy touring schedule the hall also plays host to a wide variety of classical, jazz, blues, pop, rock, world, folk and comedy performances. It is also one of the main venues for the Edinburgh International Festival, Edinburgh Festival Fringe and the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival. Whether it be a string quartet, a full orchestra, or a rock band, the Queen's Hall is a great venue for live music.
Whistle Binkies is a cavernous bar that offers live entertainment seven nights a week. Descend the steps from the Old Town and you'll find yourself in a large bar with a few private seating areas carved out of the rock. Whistle Binkies 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 is open until the wee small hours and it generally gets very busy towards the end of the night.
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 3AM.
For musical performances of every description, the Usher Hall is one of Edinburgh's most popular venues. It is also one of the most dramatic structures in the city. It was funded by the son of a whisky distiller who donated 100,000 pounds and, after a competition to choose a design, it was finally opened in 1911. Decorative plaster panels within depict famous Scots like Robert Burns alongside famous international musicians like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. It is owned by Edinburgh Council and has been refurbished a few times over the years at great expense. It can hold just shy of 3,000 people and it generally hosts music of all types, but it also serves as an Edinburgh International Festival venue.
This club is a bit more accessible than many of the crazier places in Edinburgh, but it still maintains its hip edge. Head down the cobbled Victoria Street towards the Grassmarket and you'll descend into the underground venue. Inside there 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 7pm for live music gigs.