This top ten is a list close to my heart: where is best spot to relax and go for a drink? The list isn’t as easy as you might think, given the number of venues which just appear overnight. Nevertheless, it is possible to make it because the Festival is so atmospheric that there are definitive locations that bring out the best.
- Tron Kirk
A firm favourite, the cavernous and usually vacant church very much comes alive when its doors are opened at Festival time. Usually home to live bands it is rustic in the best Spartan tradition of the season and houses a bar, lots of seats in a building that’s falling apart. It’s brilliant for a pint and a chill-out, but beware that it can usually be packed if you’re going at peak times of day during August.
- The Pleasance Courtyard
Another favourite with a bit of history: going to Edinburgh University means that the Pleasance was always part of the day-to-day life of university, but is still special at Festival time. It’s not too out of the way if you’re day spent is centrally located, but this might be exactly what the doctor ordered if you want to participate in the Festival but have had enough of being caught up in a stampede everywhere you go.
- Jekyll & Hyde
Just off Princess Street, Jekyll & Hyde is a wonderfully faux gothic establishment that is a treat throughout the year but also a great Festival venue in the evening. It’s good to chill in, with a lively nightlife and serves as a wonderful plan B if you’ve had enough of a busy Princess Street and predominant Festival areas up the south side of town.
- The Jeremiah Weed Cow Shed
Our first proper late night Festival haunt. This is very seldom a place that you go to by design but rather as a result of passing it in-between shows or rather on the walk home. Like the Tron Kirk and in the best traditions of the Festival, it’s simply a hollowed out space in Edinburgh’s Cowgate that never exists until you blink around August time. Empty space, haystacks and a bar, it even has a good flat pack pizza stand next door.
- The Captain’s Bar
I’ve written elsewhere how much I love the Captain’s Bar and it is, possibly, my favourite bar in Edinburgh. Around Festival time it is the perfect retreat for a pint, full of life and music and it’s usually brimming with people. For this reason, it’s not our number one, but it remains the single best place in the city for live music, even if it is teeming with people in August.
- The Royal Dick
This one’s a little off the beaten track up in Newington or about a ten-minute walk from the main George Square hub. A former vet school, this converted pub is adorned with memorabilia and a charming place to sit and enjoy your afternoon. It also serves an impressive array of ales and while it’s weak on its food selection, it’s location in Newington makes is an excellent launching pad to move on elsewhere.
- Assembly George Square Gardens
This is the first visible sign of the Festival season is in town. The 2015 Festival was a confusing one this year with the works in Bristol Square and the Udderbelly’s Pasture being packed into George Square gardens which is normally reserved for Assembly bars. Anyway, there was still a dichotomy of sorts and the Assembly George Square Gardens were as atmospheric as they always are. Although food is often overpriced, it is nevertheless full of delicacies of the finest order when you’ve had one too many in dire need of nourishment. It’s full of tables and wide open spaces that is just a perfect source of Festival feeling.
- The Gilded Balloon / Teviot
A close third, Teviot (or the Gilded Balloon at Festival time) is usually teeming with people and is ideal for a pint and as place to gather your breath from everything else going on with the Festival. In Edinburgh’s student union, Teviot is a hallowed place of memories and nostalgia and an excuse to indulge it all while you either sit and either take in a show or enjoy a bite to eat and drink (with three bars, you’ll easily find a good spot to sit).
- Udderbelly’s Pasture
This was a sorry case this year for the reasons above, but normally it is the definitive place for a spot of Festival feeling. So let’s remember it at its prime: the Udderbelly Pasture is the first place to first check out the Festival and is normally a series of stands of food and drink in Bristol Square next to the huge purple Udderbelly. You’ll be lucky to ever get a bench, but you can squeeze in somewhere. If you’re looking to meet people from across the world and be socialable this is the place. The food is great, particularly for burgers, and a cheeky pint of cider for good measure is always advised. As an optional extra, and if you can get invited in, the VIP lounge at the top of the Udderbelly is a lovely spot to view what’s going on down below and to take in a view (and even a celebrity too if you’re fussed about that sort of thing).
- Underbelly, Cowgate
This, this and this is the place to enjoy the Festival. It has the advantage of being quiet during the day and consisting of three bars which come alive at night in a way that makes the Festival such a legendary season.
Accessed from the top of Victoria Street and through the Cowgate, it’s the bottom bar that’s a big highlight. Compact, it is impossible not to meet new people and have a good time. The venues are intimate but spacious and there is a wide variety of shows on.
It also holds the distinction of being the place where a good friend of mine suggested a job in Spain…so is a source of happy memories.
Have we missed anything? Let us know below.