We’ve lived in Edinburgh for just over a year now, and in that time I’ve cultivated a solid list of favourite pubs, bars and eateries. While Glasgow certainly ticks all the nightlife boxes and gets most of the attention on that front, it’s for that reason that I’d like to share some of Edinburgh’s quirky, unusual and unique spots – especially because a lot of people seem to think that Edinburgh can be too “prim and proper” to let its hair down as much as Glasgow!
This is a collaboration with hotels.com. They provided me with some spending money to discover more places, but all editorial content, ideas and opinions are my own. If you’re looking for hotels in Edinburgh’s city centre for your Scotland adventure, look no further.
When I was approached to take part in a collaboration focusing on hidden gems in Edinburgh, I jumped at the chance to revisit some of my favourite quirky places, as well as discovering some new ones!
The thing is, there are so many great hidden places in Edinburgh that it’s hard to pack it all into one single post – so I’ve decided to narrow it down to bars, pubs and restaurants around the city, but I’ve added a few other unique places you should also see.
Here are 15 of the best ones, plus hidden gems nearby each place!
1. Paradise Palms
One of my favourite discoveries has been the colourful and wacky Paradise Palms, just off Bristo Square, making it a prime student haunt and a great place to go during Fringe. You certainly don’t have to be a student or a Fringe-goer to enjoy it though – it’s one of the quirkiest places in Edinburgh, and does fantastic cocktails and also top-notch vegetarian food (I went here for food with a vegan friend a few months ago, but I’ve also been just for cocktails a few times since).
One of my favourite concoctions is the wonderfully named Hurricane Bawbag, complete with half a passionfruit shell (shell? Is that the right word?) with a shot of rum set on fire.
Well – you know, we’re definitely off to a quirky start with this list!
Things to do nearby: Paradise Palms is only a 5 minute walk from Greyfriar’s Kirkyard, which is one of my favourite (possibly quirky?) places to visit in Edinburgh. You can find Harry Potter references abound, including a literal Hogwarts just outside the cemetery, and a great view of the castle. One fun night-time activity is a haunted tour of the graveyard (I recommend one that also goes to the Southbridge Vaults), and what better place to recover than a cocktail bar?
2. Banshee Labyrinth
My absolute favourite pub in Edinburgh – perfect if you’re a rock fan, and definitely something unique and different if you’re not. When I first visited this place, I couldn’t tell if it was gimmicky or awesome, but I’ve very much come to terms with the fact it’s the latter!
It’s pretty much a spooky themed pub set deep in the vaults of Southbridge. In fact, it takes a little while to explore the whole place, because there are so many nooks and crannies, including three downstairs bars, a pool room (that’s a pool table, not a swimming pool – I know I said quirky, but come on now!) and even a cinema room, so you can go and chill out with a drink to watch a movie! They have regular nights of stand-up comedy, karaoke, bands and much more.
Things to do nearby: Banshee’s is right off the Royal Mile, which makes it a perfect end to whatever day you’ve just had. It’s also right next to the entrance to some of the Southbridge vaults (in fact it IS a Southbridge vault itself), so if you’re doing one of the haunted tours, you can pop straight in here afterwards to continue your spooky theme!
3. Panda & Sons
You can’t really write a post about quirky places to drink in Edinburgh without mentioning Panda & Sons. Firstly, it’s disguised as a barbers. Secondly, you have to go downstairs and enter through a bookcase. Thirdly… wait, there’s a thirdly?! Damn right, there is, and we’re only just getting started.
Panda & Sons draws influences from bars all over the world – every cocktail is based on a unique ingredient from another cocktail bar. They work their magic on it, et voila – a cocktail menu where you have no idea what you’re really looking at, but it’s probably going to be delicious.
I’m not sure if they still serve them in ridiculous ways, as all the cocktails I saw this time were in normal glasses. My first visit? My cocktail was served in a Chinese takeaway box. My friend’s was served in a teacup and handed to her on a book. Ash’s was in a glass… boring, right? Yeah, until he had a shot poured into his that slowly turned the entire drink black.
With an ever-changing menu though, it’s hard to tell what concoctions are going to be on offer – but one thing’s for sure; it’ll be unique!
And did I mention that you get free popcorn? And that there’s a phone booth to take fun photos in?
(Also worthy of a mention: Panda & Sons have even created their own gin – incorporating the botanical pandan, of course – which they donate a percentage of profits from to the panda programme at Edinburgh Zoo!)
Things to do nearby: Panda & Sons is just a ten minute walk from Stockbridge, a beautiful neighbourhood on the Water Of Leith. If you want some pretty photos, head to Circus Lane. Stockbridge is best experienced on a Sunday when the markets are there!
4. The Boozy Cow
We happened across The Boozy Cow with some friends a few years ago, but I decided to rediscover it for this collab. From starting off this list with a vegetarian place, I now give you the extremely anti-vegan Boozy Cow, which is essentially set up to look like an abbatoir.
While it’s not for the faint-hearted, it is a really cool bar set right off Princes Street (there’s also an entrance on Rose Street) so it’s about as central as you can get in the New Town of Edinburgh.
They also serve great-looking burgers, and even serve boozy milkshakes. I also love their drinks menu – with names like Moo Tai and Mooberry Bluffin!
Things to do nearby: Princes Street Gardens is one of the best places to relax right in the heart of Edinburgh and to get away from the hustle and bustle of Princes Street itself. With stellar views of the castle, it’s easy to just sit somewhere and take it all in.
5. The Dog House
Continuing with our animal-themed pubs, The Dog House is a lot less controversial and, dare I say it, a whole lot more quirky. The Dog House is one of my favourite pubs in Edinburgh, and it’s quite close to my work so we quite often pop in on a Friday.
The Dog House is one of those brilliant dive bars that is full of stuff. A pile of vintage lampshades on the ceiling? It’s got it. A table shaped like Pickle Rick? Tick. Creepy dolls in cages? It sure does. They also serve butter beer, which is good for a few sips! I couldn’t manage a whole one, though.
It wasn’t until last month that I realised they serve food, so I had to try it! It’s actually delicious, and really good value.
Best of all? Not only is there almost always, fittingly, at least one dog in there to make friends with, but one of the regular patrons… is a ferret!! (No, I’m not joking.)
Things to do nearby: Looking for something different to do in Edinburgh? The Surgeon’s Hall Museum will offer exactly that! If you fancy looking at some brains, or legs with bullet wounds, this is the place to be.
6. Makar’s Gourmet Mash Bar
No, it’s not a whisky bar. It’s literally a gourmet MASHED POTATO RESTAURANT! We’ve been here a bunch of times when people are visiting, and we love it. Because who doesn’t love mash?
There’s a restaurant in the West End, but we’ve only ever been to the one on the Mound, just off the Royal Mile.
Things to do nearby: Given that it’s only a few minutes’ walk from Edinburgh Castle, this is a great place to go afterwards. However, there are also plenty of hidden gems nearby, including the Writer’s Museum and the Bank of Scotland Museum.
If you’re headed to the West End one, I can always recommend a wander down to Dean Village, and also Dean Cemetery.
Another food place just off the Royal Mile, hidden down one of its closes, Wings offers exactly what you’d expect: chicken wings.
While this might not be quirky in itself, it’s full of fun pop culture references, including a Jurassic Park table, Star Trek quotes, and a wall full of characters to find. It’s also fantastic for some cheap eats in the city centre, as each set of 3 wings will cost you £4.50 (I recommend ordering two lots, and definitely not three as we found out the hard way, unless you’re really hungry).
Their menu is really extensive too, with tons of options from fresh, barbecue, hot & spicy, and happily it’s also full of puns. We tried the Oh Canada (BBQ maple syrup, obviously), the Jamaican Me Crazy (jerk chicken), the Skywalker (ranch)…
Things to do nearby: Again, this is right off the Royal Mile, and Wings is minutes away from St Giles Cathedral. Which for months I enjoyed taking photos of from the outside, before remembering that, you know, it’s possible to go inside for free too.
8. Hoot The Redeemer
Hoot The Redeemer is another brainchild of the owners of Panda & Sons – but I have a secret: I actually prefer Hoot’s! While the entrance isn’t quite as quirky as Panda’s, it is incredibly easy to miss. Case in point: I couldn’t tell you how often I’ve walked past it and I didn’t even know it was there.
It’s right off Princes Street, tucked between a couple of high street shops – but this is about as far from “high street” as you can get! Once you’ve found it, venture downstairs and you’ll be welcomed by… well, you’ll see. She’ll tell you that you need to have a dance-off with Gandalf the Grey.
Unfortunately, that didn’t happen (at least not this time), but I much preferred the chilled out atmosphere here.
All the cocktails here are based on tarot cards, which makes for a fun theme (and not many child-friendly photos I could take of the menu…!!).
The bar is also full of its own quirks – like Panda’s, you still get free popcorn, but you can ALSO treat yourself to a boozy ice cream from a vending machine, or choose flavours for your own cocktail from one of those claw-grabby arcade machines! It’s as ridiculous and awesome as it sounds.
Things to do nearby: The imposing gothic structure of Scott Monument towers over Princes Street just around the corner. But did you know you can climb it for stellar views over the city? It’s something I’ve been meaning to do for years, and I still haven’t done it!
I apologise, because Frankenstein’s is by far the most touristy venue on this list. Next to Greyfriar’s Bobby, Frankenstein’s is hard to miss because… well, there’s a massive lumbering Frankenstein standing in the doorway. Is it gimmicky? YES. Is it also kinda cool? I’m gonna go with… yes!
As a local, I would not go here on a regular basis, but it’s been a fun visit whenever we have been with friends visiting. It’s done up really well, and even has a bier keller. In the main bar, they project Frankenstein movies onto the screen and there’s a whole bunch to look at around the venue.
Things to do nearby: The National Museum Of Scotland is practically right opposite Frankenstein’s, and it’s well worth a visit. To the other side, Victoria Street is a couple of minutes walk away; a colourful inspiration for Diagon Alley, and by far my favourite street in Edinburgh.
10. Pop Up Geeks
One of two places on this list that I haven’t made it to yet, but it’s worthy of a mention! Now a permanent fixture along from Waverley train station, Pop Up Geeks changes its theme every few months. At the moment, it’s on a Star Wars theme until March!
They’ve also had the blood of Westeros on their hands with a Game Of Thrones theme, jumped through portals with a Rick & Morty theme, entered the upside down with Stranger Things, and there are whispers of a Harry Potter theme too…
Things to do nearby: In keeping with a geeky theme, why not do a Harry Potter walking tour? I also always enjoy a visit to Museum Of Context (especially the one on Victoria Street with a fun photo opportunity on the top floor!). If you want to get a Star Wars reference in, did you know a pizzeria in Grassmarket is owned by Angus MacInnes, aka the Gold Leader in Star Wars? And if you’re an Avengers fan, the scene with Vision and Scarlet Witch was filmed right on the Royal Mile and Cockburn Street, as well as in Waverley station itself!
11. The Mousetrap
The Mousetrap is a little further out of the centre of town, along Leith Walk. It’s one of our local pubs though, so we’ve been there a lot!
So what makes this quirky? The decor! Mousetrap, as the name may give away, is themed around games. Operation on the ceiling, mouse traps everywhere, arcade machines at the back, and of course a whole shelf of board games. There’s even a SNES in the corner, so if you fancy playing video games with a pint, grab a corner seat if you can!
Oh, and it’s called The Mousetrap, so they serve up a mean grilled cheese. Ah-mazing!
Things to do nearby: The closest tourist attraction is the HMS Royal Britannia, but honestly Leith is just a lovely neighbourhood to explore, especially around the Shore. If you haven’t stuffed yourself with a grilled cheese, there are plenty of great fish and seafood restaurants along the Shore to try!
12. Dirty Dick’s
This is the other venue I haven’t yet been to on this list apart from popping my head in – Dirty Dick’s sits along Rose Street amongst plain bars and pubs, looking much like a plain pub itself. And indeed it probably is as close as you’ll get to a plain pub on this list. Except it’s got stuff everywhere. The ceiling is covered – yep, it’s one of those pubs! Full of character and full of stuff.
Things to do nearby: In case you hadn’t noticed, Edinburgh’s houses are lovely. Just around the corner, you can explore a Georgian townhouse in a museum.
13. El Cartel
I’m not sure if El Cartel counts as particularly quirky, but it caught my eye and has some unusual bits and pieces on the menu if you fancy something Mexican with a twist.
I’d also never ventured down Thistle Street in the New Town, so this excursion was a great excuse to go and explore.
Anyway, my tacos had sweet potato, broccoli, almond sauce and sheep’s cheese. You can also try pork and orange if that’s more your thing, or mushroom with pecan salsa and cashew creme. The pork ribs have a kick to them, but the antidote is a delicious Mexican slaw on the side. Delicioso!
Things to do nearby: The Scottish National Portrait Gallery is one of the most beautifully decorated buildings in Edinburgh, and it’s taken me years to discover that! And it happens to be just around the corner.
While I tend to consider Pilgrim to be a setting for a more “typical” night out on the town, there’s no denying that it’s one of the more quirky bars in Edinburgh. And considering the entire bar is made out of hundreds of suitcases, it makes absolute sense to feature it on a travel blog!
There is also a row of seats that are old cinema seats, sofas made of jeans, and they offer tiki-style cocktails.
They do offer food, although I’ve only ever tried the nachos which were pretty average. This is definitely a funky place to come on a night out, regardless!
Things to do nearby: A couple of minutes up the road is a music museum set in an old concert hall and part of the University Of Edinburgh. It’s actually pretty much right opposite Banshee’s (#2 on this list!).
15. Mary’s Milk Bar
While not strictly a restaurant, I can’t talk about quirky places to eat and not mention Mary’s Milk Bar. Mary’s Milk Bar is an institution, and as well as serving absolutely delicious ice cream, they are also famous for creating incredibly unusual flavours.
Case in point? The first time I went there, I had goats cheese and pickled cherry.
Things to do nearby: Mary’s Milk Bar sits right on Grassmarket, one of my favourite areas of central Edinburgh! Right next to it is The Vennel, which I recommend climbing up for a fantastic photo opportunity of Edinburgh castle.
There you have it! 15 of my favourite unique discoveries around Edinburgh – here’s a handy map with all of these places on, too.
Crazy pub crawl, anyone?
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