Our Five Favorite Proper Pubs in Edinburgh
So now the Totally Tailored team has shown you how to spot a proper pub in Edinburgh, it’s time for you to benefit from our days (and nights) spent getting to know Edinburgh’s pubs.
Edinburgh has over 700 pubs that caters for all tastes and budgets, but finding pubs that tick all the boxes has been a challenge that Scott (our resident writer) happily accepted!
Totally Tailored Local: The Jolly Judge
The Jolly Judge
Where: 7 James Court, 493 Lawnmarket, Edinburgh EH1 2PB
When: 12:00 – 00:00 Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday
12:00 – 23:00 Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday
Always known to the Totally Tailored team as ‘The Judge’, this is our local. It’s on the Royal Mile a few hundred yards from Edinburgh Castle. This pub has it all. The décor is traditional with low oak beams, a crackling log fire, a good selection of gins and whiskies, real ales on tap and draught Scottish beers and ciders. It’s cosy and welcoming with good pub food. What more could you ask for?
The staff here are friendly and know everything you need to know about whiskies and local events. After all, whisky is Gaelic for ‘water of life’ and is Scotland’s national drink. Try the whiskies and quiz night. The beers are well-kept. We know because we have tried them all.
Tour Guide Tip: You are likely to find a bagpiper in full regalia from Princes Street having a drink here after 9pm.
Her Majesty the Queen’s Choice: The Sheep Heid Inn
The Sheep Heid Inn
Where: 43-45 The Causeway, Edinburgh EH15 3QA
When: 11:00 – 23:00 (midnight Friday and Saturday)
12:00 – 23:00 Sunday
The Sheep Heid Inn is Scotland’s oldest pub dating back to 1360. It has a skittles alley where you can have a game while you’re having a drink.
You can expect real ales, good food and an outdoor space to enjoy it all weather permitting.
It is thought that the pub got its name from sheep being reared nearby in Holyrood Park. They were slaughtered before being taken to the Fleshmarket on the Royal Mile. There was no demand for the sheep’s heads (heids), so they were used to make broth and other dishes by nearby residents.
Another version is that King James VI of Scotland gifted the landlord an ornate ram’s head snuff box. This was given as a mark of gratitude for the landlord’s hospitality. It is believed that he and his Mother, Mary Queen of Scots stopped by many times to play skittles in the Courtyard.
Tour Guide Tip:
The Queen dined here in July 2016. If it’s good enough for the Queen, who are we to argue?
The Tourist’s Choice: Ensign Ewart
Where: 521-523 Lawnmarket, Edinburgh EH1 2PE
When: 11:00 – 23:00 Sunday – Thursday (1am Friday and Saturday)
The Ensign Ewart is the nearest pub to Edinburgh Castle.
This cosy pub dates back to 1690 and offers everything a tourist would look for and enjoy. This is the closest pub to Edinburgh Castle and the highest pub in Edinburgh. You will find live folk music here most nights, good locally sourced pub food, real ales and a wide selection of gins and whiskies.
The Ensign Ewart is named after Charles Ewart, who, single-handedly captured the standard of the famous French Invincibles at the Battle of Waterloo. You are likely to find a bagpiper here enjoying a drink after playing nearby at the Castle each night.
Tour Guide Tip: Try the venison casserole – it is legendary.
The Shopper’s Choice: The Guildford Arms
The Guildford Arms
Where: 1 West Register Street, Edinburgh EH2 2AA
When: 11:00 – 23:00 every day (23:30 Friday and Saturday)
The Guildford Arms is opposite The Balmoral Hotel tucked behind Princes Street and close to Waverley Train Station. This Victorian bar is something of an institution and is popular with locals and tourists alike.
This pub harks back to an era that time forgot. Think ornate decorated windows, large crystal chandeliers, floor to ceiling wooden décor, table service, a selection of newspapers and smartly dressed staff.
This pub has been owned by the same family since 1896. Princes Street nearby has virtually no buildings on the south side, so you can enjoy panoramic views across Princes Street Gardens and the Castle skyline. This is protected by a Parliamentary Order.
Real ales are a speciality with a wide variety of whiskies and traditional pub grub.
Tour Guide Tip: Try the haggis, neeps and tatties with a whisky sauce – it is divine.
The Musician’s Choice: Sandy Bell’s
Where: 25 Forrest Road, Edinburgh EH1 2QH
When: 12:00 – 01:00 Monday – Saturday (12.30pm – 00:00 Sunday)
Sandy Bell’s is something of an institution with a rich musical history. It is a hub for live folk music and is popular with musicians, students, creative types, tourists and locals from all walks of life. Scottish and Celtic folk music is a speciality in this casual and traditional pub.
This pub was once a shop and has been a pub since at least the 1920s. Folk music has been played here since the 1940s. A wedding was held here on the day of the Scottish independence referendum in September 2014.
You can expect a galley-style bar, a small stove fire, real ales, a wide selection of whiskies and hot pies with unusual combinations such as lamb curry and mango and steak and Stornoway black pudding.
Folk music sessions are held every night and some afternoons with accordions, fiddles, flutes, guitars, ukuleles and mandolins being played with abandon.
Tour Guide Tip: This pub is near the Greyfriars Bobby – just don’t rub his nose for luck!
Enjoy the best of what Edinburgh has to offer on your own private sightseeing tour with Totally Tailored.
Do you fancy a private proper pub tour? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Scott is our resident writer for Totally Tailored Scotland. He is a foodie, writer and author living happily near Arthur’s seat in Edinburgh. He has published a consumer book titled ‘How to Complain: The Consumer Guide to Resolve Complaints and Motoring Disputes’ based on his own personal experiences that has been featured by BBC Radio Scotland and the Daily Mail. He knows where the best pubs are and is a font of unusual facts and figures on all things Edinburgh.
His Amazon Author Page can be found here and see www.awriterinedinburgh.com for other examples of his writing.