Walking the beautiful streets of Edinburgh is the perfect way to learn more about Scotch whisky, from the bartenders who mix it into cocktails through to a distillery that’s producing its own water of life.
In ‘Auld Reekie’, modern bars and new whiskies rub shoulders with traditional boozers and their extensive selections.
Here are 12 Edinburgh whisky bars not to miss
Don’t be put off by the Albanach being part of the Belhaven pub chain – the bar on the Royal Mile oozes character and atmosphere and is an ideal spot to become better acquainted with Scotland’s national drink. If you can, grab one of the tables at the back, with a view looking out from the New Town across to the Old Town. Its location means it’s extremely popular, especially in August during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the world’s largest arts festival.
- 197 High Street, EH1 1PE
- +44 (0)131 220 5277
For a taste of whiskies from Scotland’s newer distilleries – including Nc’Nean, Kilchoman, and Kingsbarns – head to Holyrood Distillery, based in a converted railway engine shed in the shadow of Salisbury Crags and Arthur’s Seat. While Holyrood’s own Scotch continues to slumber in its casks, you can sample the distillery’s gin, along with mother’s ruin from Electric Spirit Co and Port of Leith Distillery. The distillery’s bar also offers a little-seen view into the picturesque slopes of neighbouring Holyrood Park.
- 19 St Leonard’s Lane, EH8 9SH
- +44 (0)131 285 8977
The new kid on Edinburgh’s whisky block is an impressive sight; Johnnie Walker has turned a former department store on Princes Street into the flagship visitors centre for the world’s biggest Scotch whisky brand. Think the Guinness brewery in Dublin, but with less stout and more visual clout, with panoramic views of Edinburgh Castle and the city’s skyline from the 1820 Rooftop Bar, and classy brushed metal and amber lighting in the Explorers’ Bothy, which boasts everything from big brands to single casks.
- 145 Princes Street, EH2 4BL
- +44 (0)131 376 9494
Scotch is about so much more than a simple dram in isolation. Whisky cocktails are an essential part of Edinburgh’s bar scene, and aficionados are spoiled for choice for venues. Enter Panda & Sons through a barber’s shop on Queen Street and descend the stairs to find a 1930s speakeasy. Equally thrilling libations are also served at Mothership’s trio of bars, with Bramble and Lucky Liquor in the city centre and The Last Word Cocktail Saloon down the hill in Stockbridge.
- 79 Queen Street, EH2 4NF
- +44 (0)131 220 0443
The place to pick to impress the in-laws. The Balmoral Hotel’s Scotch bar is decked out in tasteful tartan and overstuffed armchairs, all surrounded by library shelf after library shelf full of whisky. The most spectacular bottles are even kept behind bars. The kilted staff will guide you through the extensive range and will climb the ladders and stools to retrieve bottles from the highest shelves, adding a bit of theatre to the occasion. Check out other whisky hotels around Scotland.
- 1 Princes Street, EH2 2EQ
- +44 (0)131 556 2414
Hidden away on William Street in the West End, Teuchters is mobbed when the Six Nations is in town but, when rugby fans aren’t slowly winding their way to Murrayfield, it offers an ideal spot to enjoy a whisky and a beer chaser – or a ‘hauf an’ a hauf’ as it’s known in Edinburgh. Its sister pub, Teuchters Landing in Leith, was once the waiting room for the steamboat to Aberdeen and now boasts a large beer garden and pontoon.
- 26 William Street, EH3 7NH
- +44 (0)131 225 2973
Rose Street might have a reputation as Edinburgh’s equivalent of Dublin’s Temple Bar for stag and hen parties, but The Black Cat proves there’s real whisky expertise on the cobbled lane too. Small but perfectly formed, The Black Cat is an ‘Ardbeg embassy’, and so stocks an exciting selection of special-edition peated malts from the Islay distillery. What’s equally impressive is its new and fast-growing range of Scotch from independent bottlers, which is a great way to explore unique casks from lesser-known distilleries.
- 168 Rose Street, EH2 4BA
- +44 (0)131 225 33491
‘Eclectic’ doesn’t do The Canny Man’s justice as a description. Its walls are adorned with everything from dolls to typewriters, while musical instruments and bikes are suspended from its ceiling. That same eccentricity in its decor thankfully extends to its whisky selection too, with more than 240 examples on its ‘malt list’ from around Scotland. Its open-top Danish sandwiches are second to none, and worth the journey up the hill from the city centre to leafy Morningside on their own.
- 237 Morningside Road, EH10 4QU
- +44 (0)131 447 1484
Tucked away on Advocate’s Close, one of the lanes leading up to the Royal Mile, The Devil’s Advocate is as famous for its food as it is for the 300-plus whiskies on its menu. Its whisky flights are creative, while its sharing platters up on its mezzanine dining level make for an intimate supper. Run by the people behind The Bon Vivant on Thistle Street, worthy of a mention in its own right for its great-value Scottish tapas dishes.
- 9 Advocates Close, EH1 1ND
- +44 (0)131 225 4465
The Scotch Malt Whisky Society was once a members-only institution, but now non-members can enjoy a dram and a meal in its Kaleidoscope Bar on Queen Street. The society buys single casks, which are identified by numbers, rather than the names of the distilleries – although several websites now offer clues. Its legendary tasting notes are guaranteed to raise a giggle, while its tapas and whisky matching is great fun. Members can also enjoy food and drink at The Vaults in Leith.
- 28 Queen Street, EH2 1JX
- +44 (0)131 220 2044
Forget baked potatoes and cold pizza slices; the Bonnie & Wild food hall within the brand new £1 billion St James Quarter shopping centre showcases the best Scotland has to offer – including its whiskies. Nine top restaurants from around the country are running stalls in the food hall. The whisky list has real credibility too, thanks to drinks merchant Inverarity Morton. For a more intimate dram, head for The Tryst instead of the main Hauf & Howff or Dookit bars.
- Bonnie & Wild, Fourth Floor, St James Quarter, 415-417 St James Crescent, EH1 3AE
- +44 (0)131 560 1800
Perched on The Mound – one of the streets linking Edinburgh’s Old Town and New Town – Whiski Rooms combines a bar with a restaurant and a shop next door to one another. Start your journey in the bottle shop before sneaking downstairs to the bar and grabbing a window seat to enjoy views over the New Town as you nurse your dram. The smell of the food will be enough to tempt you to book a table in the restaurant too.
- 4-7 North Bank Street, EH1 2LP
- +44 (0)131 225 7224