Nightlife in Edinburgh: clubs, cocktail bars and live music.

by Alison Craig

So many clubs and bars but so little time? Let me guide you through Edinburgh's vibrant nightlife with this guide to the best party spots in town - no matter what turns your crank.

Cocktail Bars

Manolo's on? Looking good? Ready to hit the town?

Harvey Nichols 4th floor – glass walls, and a panoramic view across the city. This is the Sex in the City cocktail bar perfect for a Champagne cocktail to start the night off (

Oloroso has an incongruous entrance at the top of Castle Street at the west end of George Street. You go straight into a lift and whizz up to the top floor where you can take advantage of a unique view of Edinburgh Castle. They have a wonderful terrace in the summer; the moment the sun comes out everyone runs up here. Inside or out though this is a top spot to enjoy your Manhattan (

Bramble is seconds from George Street on Queen Street, but unless you know where it is you would never find this chilled, low-key, subterranean bar. Dark, intimate and a great wee place to hole up (

Rick's has a low key vibe but full of the fashionistas in town. It's on Frederick Street just off George Street ( You can stay at Rick's as well.

Tigerlily is like being transported back to the 1980s' glitz, shine and fun on George Street again ( If you want to go the whole hog for a big party weekend you can stay here too - Tigerlily.

DragonFly - West Port, on the road that runs up from The Grassmarket. Cocktails are the speciality in this cracking wee spot. Mixologists come to your table to talk you through the imaginative cocktail menu and you can buy spirits by the bottle too; it's stylish, chilled and fun fun fun (



During August in Edinburgh it seems there are more comedians than locals. Happily, The Stand on York Place is here all year and delivers constant hilarity on a daily basis. Sometimes even at lunchtime. Centrally situated it's a minutes' walk from Princes Street, George Street and St Andrews Square with a great eclectic mix of stand-up (


The first 3 listed are glam, mainstream, all in George Street and attract a sophisticated crowd.

Lulu - under hip hotel and bar Tigerlily, it's full of West End girls and boys. Often queues on Friday and Saturday nights. Open seven nights til 3am (

Opal Lounge; it's just a few steps down to this moody, dark and sophisticated venue. Open all day for coffee, drinks and snacks, later on it turns into a club. Lots of different rooms give it a very intimate and somewhat confusing layout. Famously, it's where Prince William partied when down from St Andrews University for the weekend (

Shangai Club - under Le Monde Hotel, this is the late night dancing spot (

This next group are more niche with a mix of club nights, DJs, gay and straight.

The Bongo Club just off The Royal Mile. Open daily til 3am; it's been going for years and has a great mix of clubs and music covering all genres. If clubbing is your thing you will find your way here (

Cabaret Voltaire - Set in underground vaults in the Old Town. It includes a gay club called Dare. Small, dark and some might say claustrophobic, though it is a really great intimate venue for live music. You can literally reach out and touch the stage (

Citrus Club, just off Lothian Road on Grindlay Street. (Wed, Thurs, Fri, Sat 10.30pm–3am;

GHQ - a sexy gay club at the top of Leith Walk, Broughton area. There are three main bars with loads of club nights; very popular (Tues–Sun til 3am;

Liquid Rooms - does it all. There's an endless list of up and coming gigs: DJs, reggae,a Led Zeppelin tribute band, ska, folk; the club covers all genres so the best thing to do is check out the website (it looks wrong but is in fact correct - It's in Victoria Street close to Grassmarket and The Royal Mile.

Live Music

The Jazz Bar - not so much a bar as a way of life. Three gigs a day, seven nights a week; it's a basement jazz bar that's friendly with brilliant live sessions. Open til 3am every night and - gulp - 5am during the festival. Note: they take cash only and due to planning restrictions on listed buildings in the city, there is sadly no disabled access. It's in Chambers Street, two minutes from The Royal Mile

Loopy Lornas - do a gentle Sunday afternoon jazz session at Churchill Theatre, Morningside Road, you can drink tea and eat scones or sip wine a gentle way to spend the day of rest.

Sandy Bells. Despite the picture postcard image, traditional Scottish music isn't on every street corner, but this is a great place to pop in to hear a session. Between The High Street and the Meadows, a foot-tapping extravaganza is guaranteed. There are lots of bars where you can see traditional music and drink with the locals, have a look here for more information: Nightlife in Edinburgh: traditional bars, music and dancing.

Liquid Rooms, see above. A major music venue.

These next ones are the big venues where your household name acts play. You might as well see if your favourite is here.

The Queens Hall is a venue full of character on Edinburgh's Central south side. There's a gallery area of seating above the main auditorium, which is all on one level but often laid out with tables so you can enjoy a drink whilst listening to the band. Depending on the time of year and act, it can also be laid out in rows to accommodate bigger crowds. Enquire when you book as it will dictate where you sit and in what configuration (

The Usher Hall, another landmark building in Edinburgh, recently refurbished and revealed looking splendid. On Lothian Road directly opposite The Sheraton. There are great acoustics in this purpose-built concert hall, which means an equal numbers of classical, rock, choral and accoustic concerts grace the stage here (

The Corn Exchange is a little out of town, so it's a taxi ride to an old abbatoir - the glamour. This place is popular as it is easy to access from all sides of town and has lots of parking. Again a good venue for major bands (

The Picture House in Lothian Road is a mix of club nights and live music and some major artists appear here. It's a good venue, not too big and when it gets rocking it's hard to beat. The only downside is Lothian Road is wild at the weekend, so I would bail out sharpish when you exit - whether clubbing or gigging (

The Edinburgh Playhouse in Leith Walk is one of the biggest venues in Europe with a capacity of 4,500 people. The big West End musicals play here but so do artists such as Sting, David Byrne and Steely Dan. Big shows like Mamma Mia, We Will Rock You and Spam A Lot also decamp to Edinburgh to play here (

You can also read advice on Nightlife in Edinburgh: traditional bars, music and dancing or visit Edinburgh nightlife.

Where to stay

You can see my full list of recommendations here – Edinburgh Hotels – Award winning expert hotel reviews, from cheap to luxury hotels in Edinburgh.

Alison Craig

I am a writer and broadcaster from Scotland. I have been lucky enough to live and work in Edinburgh for most of my adult life and I love it. Aesthetically I believe it to be the most beautiful city in Europe. Culturally rich, it is buzzing with great restaurants, bars and lively venues. Music, art, history and architecture are everywhere and, frankly, shopping is a joy. The choice is dazzling from the local cheesemonger, antique jewellery shop and hidden boutiques to the high-end world-renowned designer shops. It’s all here and what’s more I’ve made it my business and passion to know where you can find the Edinburgh that interests and excites you. You can enjoy Edinburgh on a shoestring or a Platinum card once you have the’s entirely up to you. is my daily blog, all about Edinburgh Scotland and life!

My Edinburgh

Where I always grab a hot drink: There are endless choices but for a top skinny latte with homemade cakes my favourite is Cent Otre on George Street. Situated in a converted bank building, it has a sense of grandeur as well as some remarkably tasty cupcakes and a zingy atmosphere thanks to the warm Italian hospitality that abounds.

My favourite stroll: If the weather allows, I love to walk along the Water of Leith, starting at Stockbridge and heading towards the Modern Art Gallery - you could be in the middle of the countryside. Keep an eye out for the Antony Gormley sculptures en route and the resident heron.

If it’s too darn cold and wet, The National Gallery on the mound in the centre of Princes Street has a permanent stunning collection of art with a top class coffee shop and gallery shop to browse too. When the weather clears, you are in the heart of everything.

Where to be seen: In Harvey Nichols' cocktail bar all year round. On warm days, on Oloroso roof terrace and dancing in Lulu.

The most breathtaking view: From Edinburgh Castle ramparts, the top of Calton Hill or Arthur's Seat. Both Calton Hill and Arthur's Seat take a bit of puff to get to and if time is tight then head for the Castle from where the city of Edinburgh is laid out at your feet.

The best spot for some peace and quiet: The Royal Botanic Gardens are stunning and are a lovely place to sit and watch the world go by. There are several vantage points from where you can look out over the city if gazing at your navel becomes tedious.

Shopaholics beware: So many shops, so little time! If you are restricted to one day, go along Thistle Street from end to end, back along George Street, along Rose Street and finish on Princes Street. Phew! End to end shops, all in a square mile - great.

Don’t leave without...walking top to bottom or bottom to top of The Royal Mile with Edinburgh Castle at one end and Holyrood Palace at the other. Right along this street you will find myriad treasures architecturally and culturally as well as some eccentric quirky little shops for this and that.