5 of the Spookiest Bars in Edinburgh
14 October 2021
Edinburgh is certainly not short of pubs or bars – there’s gin bars, music bars, whisky bars, not to mention some fabulous cocktail bars. But’s it’s not just spirits of the liquid kind that you’ll find in the city’s pubs and bars – some are reputedly the home of spirits of the other kind as well.
Read on to discover the Edinburgh bars where the drinks are definitely served chilled!
The Last Drop
Today known for its wide-ranging selection of real ales, The Last Drop can be found in one of the city’s oldest areas, the Grassmarket.
Named after the 14th century practice of using the large enclosed area for agriculture fairs, such as corn, cattle and horse trading, the Grassmarket has also a darker side. Its wide open space made it ideal for public executions, with the last hanging taking place here in 1784.
The Last Drop, takes its name from this grisly part of Edinburgh’s history.
Once home to tenements where many families lived, the pub you see today was rebuilt using the buildings’ original 17th century stone. But it seems that some of the residents are still there – the ghost of a young girl has been seen causing mischief in the bar and cellar….
74 - 78 Grassmarket, Edinburgh, EH1 2JR
The Banshee Labyrinth
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Declaring itself “Scotland’s most haunted pub” The Banshee Labyrinth was once part of Edinburgh’s infamous underground vaults where some of the city’s most unsavoury residents, including thieves and criminals, were to be found.
The neighbours didn’t really fare much better either – the building next door was at one time home to Lord Nicol Edwards. A 16th century aristocrat, he is said to have shared King James VI views on witchcraft, ie that it existed and the only way it could be stopped was to punish and torture suspected women, and so he turned the basement of his house into a dungeon where he interrogated many innocent women. Reports have been cited of a ghost of a woman crying out in fear, could she be the spirit of one of Edward’s victims?
Edward himself is also said to haunt the walls of this ancient building – watch out for drinks thrown from tables as he stalks his old territory!
29-35 Niddry Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1LG
The Tolbooth Tavern
Built in 1591, the Tolbooth Tavern has seen many uses over the years – at one time it was the main public entrance to the Royal Burgh of Edinburgh, where tolls from incoming travellers were collected. It has also been used as a council chamber, police station and a prison. It was in 1820 that it became a tavern, remaining remarkedly unchanged to this day.
With such a varied history, it’s no surprise that they’re might be one or two spooky sightings here.
One such spectre is a man who was accused of witchcraft and held prisoner, who is said to be seen climbing the stairs to the clock tower; there’s a shadowy figure, who wanders around pushing glasses off tables and knocking pictures off walls; and playful children's voices and footsteps have been reported floating through the bar’s ancient walls.
167 Canongate, Edinburgh EH8 8BN
The White Hart Inn
Another Grassmarket bar, The White Hart Inn is probably the oldest pub in Edinburgh, with parts of the building dating back to 1516.
The bar is named after an event that took place in the city in 1128 on Feast Day of the Holy Rood. Against the advice of his priest, for this was considered a holy day, King David I set out on a hunting trip, but was soon separated from his party. A large, beautiful white stag, also known as a white hart, appeared from nowhere and knocked David from his horse, lowered its antlers and seemed intent on killing the king. The story goes that a fiery cross appeared between the stag’s antlers before it vanished from sight. The grateful King built a shrine upon the site of the miracle, founding Holyrood Abbey, the ruin of which may be seen today at the rear of the Palace of Holyroodhouse.
The White Hart Inn has seen many notable patrons over the years, including poets Robert Burns in 1791 and later, Dorothy Wordsworth. It is also believed to have been one of the watering holes of murders William Burke and William Hare who spent much of 1828 enticing several of their fellow drinkers back to their nearby lodgings only to murder them and sell their corpses to Edinburgh Medical School!
Sightings of a dark shadowy figure heading down to the cellar, doors mysteriously slamming shut and barrels in the cellar inexplicably moving around, have been sited over the years.
34 Grassmarket, Edinburgh, EH1 2JU
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Housed deep in the South Bridge vaults and open every night ‘til the wee small hours, Whistle Binkies is an Edinburgh institution, providing the city with a host of top quality live music.
But this lively bar is also known for the spooky presence of two ghosts – known as “The Imp” and “The Watcher”.
“The Imp”, as the name suggests, is a mischievous thing that moves things around the bar, locking doors and changing clocks. “The Watcher” is said to be dressed in 17th century clothing and simply watches people from afar, before disappearing into thin air.
4-6 South Bridge, Edinburgh, EH1 1LL
Prefer your drinking experience to be less of a spooky affair? When it comes to choice, Edinburgh is spoilt for choice – take a look at some of our favourites in our Guide to Edinburgh’s Bars>