When you’re a tourist, it’s sometimes hard to find places to eat and drink that give you a true flavour of the place you’re in. Some real atmosphere and authentic food.
I’m not breaking any new ground when I tell you Edinburgh has plenty of cosy pubs with good beer and roaring fires. Here, they’re not that hard to find. We went to a handful, which I’ve listed below, but I’m sure there are more.
Food can be more difficult. Again, we found a couple of gems when we were there over New Year, but there were several we didn’t get chance to try out on our short visit.
See where all of my suggested places are on my nifty map, below.
Where we went
Worth the short walk through a less salubrious part of town, The Holyrood 9a (9a Holyrood Road) may have the best burgers in the city, alongside 20 beers on tap and an impressive range of spirits. Perfect for warming up on a cold day, and on the way to Holyrood Park, Holyrood Palace and the Scottish Parliament building.
More central and a more convenient pit stop if you’re in the Princes Street part of town, Red Squirrel (21 Lothian Road) has the same owners as The Holyrood 9a, hence the same menu. It has a good atmosphere and friendly staff, but it’s a pub more geared up for eating than drinking in.
In the shadow of Edinburgh Castle, The Blue Blazer (2 Spittal Street) was a handy stop on our way to the Grassmarket, our regular haunt. Popular with locals, students and visitors, it’s a cozy, corner pub with a good range of whiskies, rums and ales (or, for less educated drinkers like us, Staropramen served in frosted glasses).
In the Grassmarket, we spent a few happy hours in The Last Drop (74-78 Grassmarket). It’s named after the square’s previous role as the scene of public hangings, but don’t let that put you off. It’s a small place, and short on seats, but its atmosphere is warm and it’s more authentic and reasonably priced than other Grassmarket drinking holes. Good food too, apparently, but we didn’t eat here.
I know you shouldn’t go to an Irish bar when in Scotland, but we were still finding our way around when we came across Malone’s (14 Forrest Road) and this one has quite a special hall-style drinking area with a gallery and live music.
When you’re around Princes Street and in need of a break from shopping, please give the main coffee chains a miss (they will probably be full anyway) and go to Henderson’s Vegetarian Deli (92 Hanover Street) instead. If you’re after a snack, we recommend the stromboli.
Where we didn’t go
There were a few places on my list we didn’t manage to try out but are definitely worth a look at.
Without doubt at the top of the list for our next visit is Mother India’s Cafe (3-5 Infirmary Street). It serves Indian tapas and it smelled divine; your nose will know it’s there from a street away. We tried to book in for 1st January but they were closed.
We also tried on a couple of days to lunch at Edinburgh Larder café (15 Blackfriars Street) – thanks to Leeds food blogger Becca for the recommendation – but with only 5 or 6 tables, it was always full.
The Oxford Bar (8 Young Street) is where fictional detective Inspector Rebus sinks malt whiskies, and where his creator Ian Rankin drew inspiration for his novels over a pint.
If you’re anything like me, you often want to soak up a previous night’s drinking with a good serving of fish and chips. L’Alba d’Oro (7 Henderson Row) is reported to have the crispiest batter and freshest fish. Unfortunately, it was just too far for us to walk after being welcomed at the bottom of Arthur’s Seat by driving rain. We made it as far as the North Bridge where we fell into Prezzo (and had an excellent meal, actually). L’Alba d’Oro would be a good place to try if you have a fine day or are planning on browsing the charity shops in pretty Stockbridge.
Also closed when we passed, but seeming to be good prospects for a lunchtime takeaway bite, were Appetite (42 Howe Street) – a catering company that became so popular with office workers they opened a shop – and Broughton Deli (7 Barony Street), another recommendation from Becca. Even if you’re not going to Edinburgh, visit their website anyway: they put their recipes on there, and they sound delicious.
Unusually named, The Dogs (110 Hanover Street) was the first restaurant opened by David Ramsden. Soon after he launched Amore Dogs (Italian) and Seadogs (fish). I read that the original, casual eatery is the best of the three and the menu looks good value, especially during the day.
Probably the oldest pub in Scotland, established in 1360, is the Sheep Heid Inn (43-45 The Causeway, Duddingston). It’s a little out of town, tucked behind Arthur’s Seat, but apparently Mary Queen of Scots and her son James VI were regular patrons and there’s a 19th century skittle alley, which can be hired for the evening.
Thanks to the following articles for many of the recommendations above, you may find them helpful further reading:
Gemma Elwin Harris, 20 best things about Edinburgh
Has all that whetted your appetites?