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This is a list of what many consider to be among Edinburgh’s finest pubs for the real ale connoisseur. It’s often said that Edinburgh is a conglomeration of villages, rather than a city. So this looks at the city by area, starting outside of Edinburgh, as there are one or two in the environs that are just too good to miss.
Edinburgh’s suburbs - One of the best pubs anywhere in the Lothians is in Musselburgh. Its real name is the Volunteer Arms but everyone calls it Staggs. Staggs sets a consistently high standard and has been Camra’s national pub of the year. While in Musselburgh, visit Luca's for some of Scotland’s best ice cream. To the west of the city, the Bridge Inn in Ratho is located on the Union Canal and is a good venue for meals - you can even take a dinner cruise on a canal boat. In South Queensferry, in the shadow of the Forth Bridge is the Hawes Inn. Although many regard the town’s Ferry Tap as the premier real ale pub the Hawes lays claim to be the inspiration for the Admiral Benbow Inn in R L Stevenson’s Treasure Island.
Edinburgh East & North - Portobello is the Edinbutgh holiday area of old, on the Firth of Forth. Visit The Three Monkeys on Portobello High St. 8 mins on bus from city centre. Music 3 times per week with friendly welcome. Try Ormelie, which is actually in Joppa. Leith has a better selection, among the best of which is the Malt and Hops on The Shore, which usually has a good beer range and has a welcoming atmosphere – not something you could have said about a Leith pub 20 years ago! The Kings Wark is also a very good house now and Carriers Quarters also serves good beers. Head further west towards Newhaven and Granton and you’ll find two cracking pubs. The first is the Starbank, which serves consistently good quality beers with a selection of guest ales on tap. The food’s pretty good too. A little further along the road is the Old Chain Pier. Since being taken over a few years ago by Drew Nichol (one of Edinburgh’s renowned cellermen) this place has taken on a new lease of life and has great views over the Firth of Forth. The Telford Arms on Telford road is a great pint of real ale - duechers IPA is always on offer as well as great food and a real coal fire. The Auld Inn in Davidsons Mains rounds off this tour of the city’s northern and eastern boundaries.
Edinburgh West & South - Corstorphine is one of Edinburgh’s genteel ‘villages’ and has many pubs. Sadly most of them would not carry a recommendation. The exception is Winstons Bar, which is a very small single-room bar. The Deuchars IPA ranks among the best-kept in the city and the steak pies have to be seen to be believed! Heading towards the city from Corstorphine, the Hampton Hotel at Murrayfield has a spacious, comfortable bar. The Spylaw Tavern (formerly the Royal Scot) in Colinton – another charming village where R L Stevenson grew up – is run by the former owner of Winstons Bar and, in addition to good beer is also a popular choice for meals.
Tollcross and the South Side - Cloisters is a converted parsonage. It attracts a mixed crowd – students, Camra types (Camra is the Campaign for Real Ale) and professionals. It has 9 cask ales on tap at any one time and no music. Also good for malt whiskies. In the South Side, there are several to choose from – Leslies, the Old Bell and the Southsider rank among the best. Drouthy Neebors is a Belhaven pub and is a little studenty but it has a welcoming feel to it. A little further afield in Duddingston, special mention must be made of the Sheep Heid, a genuine mediaeval building nestling at the foot of Arthur's Seat. It lays claim to Mary Queen of Scots and Bonnie Prince Charlie as regular customers (not now, of course!). It’s a quirky pub but definitely worth a visit. Oh, and it has a skittle alley – one of the few remaining in an Edinburgh pub. New on the scene is The Montague Bar on Montague Street/ St leonards Street, were they serve a fantasic pint of Stewart's Ale amongst others, Stewarts Ale was found on Montague Street.The Staff also know their whiskies and make tourists feel very welcome. They speak Spanish, french, German, etc
The Old Town - Despite a plethora of pubs in the Old Town, there aren’t that many that satisfy the criteria of a good real ale pub. In the Grassmarket, the Last Drop is interesting for visitors because of its gory history. The Bow Bar in Victoria Street is one of Edinburgh’s best-known real ale haunts. Tourists should take a detour down George IV Bridge to Greyfriars Bobby’s. A little further on is Sandy Bell,s, a must for lovers of traditional folk music. The Halfway House in Fleshmarket Close used to offer a discount to Camra members on their first pint, until the Scottish Government stopped it! It was Camra’s pub of the year 2005. Further down the Royal Mile are the World's End and the Canon's Gait.
The New Town - Starting at Haymarket, Thomson's has a great range of beers but the seating leaves a lot to be desired. It’s very popular with the after-office crowd. Bert's Bar in William Street was renovated recently and has a more open feel, across the road is Teuchters. Rose Street was always Edinburgh’s best-known pub crawl but it's best avoided these days. It has been taken over by stag and hen groups. Milnes is still worth a visit to soak in its literary heritage if nothing else and the Abbotsford (sister pub to the Guildford Arms) has a good range of beers and a restaurant upstairs. Behind the east end of Princes Street are the Guildford Arms and the Café Royal. The Guildford is without doubt one of Edinburgh’s best real ale pubs and the Café Royal is quite simply beautiful, with its Doulton tiled walls. The Cask and Barrel in Broughton Street is worth a visit. Rounding off this tour of the city is the Cumberland Bar in Stockbridge. This is a gem that visitors to the city are unlikely to stumble across. It’s off the beaten track but it's worth beating a trail to its door! In addition, the company behind the Bow Bar has opened up a new pub named the Stockbridge Tap on site of Bert's Bar. Stockbrige. As you'd expect, it maintains a large selection of quality real ales, an impressive bottled selection and a whisky selection that's second only to the Bow itself. It also has a rather different selection of pub grub. For the more adventurous drinker, there's also the near mythical Kay's Bar. It exists somewhere in the New Town and is said to pour some of the capitals best ale, but even Edinburgh residents have trouble finding it.