Edinburgh Old Town: Student Venue Guide

Our pick of some of the best student-friendly bars, cafes and venues in Edinburgh's Old Town

Feature by Kate Pasola and Peter Simpson | 08 Sep 2017

Bar 50
50 Blackfriars St
Bar 50 is Smart City Hostels’ in-house watering hole, so if you’re back from your gap year and missing that laid back, everyone’s-a-potential-pal vibe typical of travel hostels, give this one a go. 

Bread Meats Bread
92 Lothian Rd
If you're skint but still feel compelled to go out for dinner, hit up Bread Meats Bread. Not only are the prices totally reasonable, the burgers and sides are big enough and tasty enough to get you through the rest of the day, and well into the next.

City Cafe
19 Blair St
Hungover but worried you’ll feel like a failure if your dickhead flatmate snapchats you in Snax for the third brunch running? Enter City Cafe, a cracking American diner by day and drinks spot at night. Oh, and they’re generous when refilling your cup of coffee. Or ‘Joe’, if you will.

5 Hunter Sq
The location’s great, the vibe is great, and the sourdough pizza at Civerinos is great. You can now grab their great pizza in two spots on opposite ends of the Old Town; their main base at the Royal Mile, and their new Civerinos Slice spot at the edge of the Meadows (49 Forrest Rd).

Ting Thai Caravan
8-9 Teviot Pl
0131 225 9801
Cheap, sumptuous Thai food, smiley service with lovely haircuts, an oddly endearing communal dining style, and utilitarian cardboard food boxes. Ting Thai is great, but small, so be ready to queue. It's worth waiting for, trust us, and look out for their new Vietnamese joint Ting Thai Saboteur opening just down the street this autumn.

Brass Monkey
14 Drummond St
0131 556 1961
This one used to be a local secret, but we’re just so proud of it that everyone’s now in on it. A perfect location between Pleasance and the Bridges, with pub quizzes and cheap bevvies, what more could you possibly require? 

Mary’s Milk Bar
19 Grassmarket
Y’know when you’re in the mood for ice cream but Phish Food just won’t do? That sort of mood where the only thing that’ll scratch the itch is Italian gelato created by someone who trained in Bologna at the prestigious Carpigiani Gelato University? We feel you. Get yourself to Mary’s.

155 West Port
Lovecrumbs is the Instagram filter Valencia embodied in cafe form. It’s a cake-filled fairyland where ‘gluten free’ is double Dutch. There’s even literally a window seat where you can lounge and smugly munch away for the viewing pleasure of the Edinburghian public.

Paradise Palms
41 Lothian St
Charismatic staff, cheap cocktails for students, vegan soul food for dinner and live entertainment, all in a comfy and exciting bar that feels a bit like the result of an explosion in a party supplies shop.

184-186 Cowgate
A mile-long bar stocked with a legion of beers, ciders and spirits. The nightly DJing and live music. The dealbreaker? Ox184 has its own wood-fired grill and serves a handsome BBQ menu until 2.30am. Sold – to the hungry fresher at the back.

Union of Genius
8 Forrest Rd
Six different soups on offer every day, pulling out the stops to suit vegans, veggies and gluten-free eaters. Seasonal, locally sourced, and blummin’ delicious.

The Jazz Bar
1A Chambers St
Alright, alright, let us include one spot where you’ll need more than shrapnel to pay for a beer. Shh, listen. For a couple of quid, you can hang out in this sexy little cave and listen to some of the best jazz, funk and soul around until the Reekie sun rises.

Sneaky Pete’s
73 Cowgate
Sneaky’s reputation as a tiny wee club now precedes it entirely – but don’t let that put you off. Size isn’t everything, it’s what you do with it. And if you’re cranking out 150 decibels of sweet, melodious funk into the ears of sweaty happy people, then size actually means nothing at all.

The Bongo Club
66 Cowgate
This one’s so popular that basically the entire student population rallied on its behalf when it faced closure. Probably something to do with its gloriously diverse selection of clubs, its wicked resident DJs, and finally, the student kryptonite: I Love Hip-Hop on Tuesdays.

The Hive
15-17 Niddry St
Appalling in all the right ways, the Hive is one of the best dive clubs in town. The music is mainstream, the drinks really, truly flow, and you’ll see more disco winches than you can shake a Jägerbomb at. 

Boteco do Brasil
47 Lothian St
A nice wee Brazilian bar upstairs, a hurricane of Shakira and tequila downstairs, Boteco’s your saviour when you’re thoroughly done with being forced to dance to Disclosure. Reclaim your night out and take it to Brazil. And by Brazil, we mean Boteco.

The Liquid Rooms
9C Victoria St
Every cloud has a silver lining. Even your club burning down. The Liquid Rooms recovered like a champ and lives on to dazzle and deafen its punters with a bespoke lighting and sound system – and some impressive DJ appearances too.

Wee Red Bar
Lauriston Pl
0131 651 5859
The ECA bar churns out great gig after great gig. It also hosts the brilliant Hey QT, an LGBTQI night with a safe space policy ‘because boogie-ing is for non-jerks only.’

Cabaret Voltaire
36 Blair St
Nestled beneath the anxiously touristic Royal Mile lies a staple of alternative music culture. Drinks are a bit pricier but for your dollar you’ll get a classy dram, with regular guest DJs bringing the noise in the subterranean main room.

The Caves
8-12 Niddry St South
You get a bit desensitised to stuff happening in caves when you’ve lived in the ‘Burgh long enough, but c’mon! Clubs in a cave! It’s also a magical place to hold a ball, so bear that in mind when you’re social sec for the Ultimate Frisbee society or whatever.

Henry’s Cellar Bar
16 Morrison St
One of the city's few low-cost hire venues, Henry's attracts a diverse bunch of musicians that you wouldn’t see in conventional haunts. It's got that awesome community vibe where you can talk to strangers without feeling creepy/getting your head kicked in. And it’s below Lebowski’s – perfect for post-gig White Russians with your new pals.

Lighthouse Bookshop
43-45 W Nicolson St
So, you’ve had your mind wrenched open by that guy on your floor who keeps talking at you about 'the man', where to now? Lighthouse Bookshop, of course. FKA Word Power books, this reincarnation stocks a huge range of political, arts and cultural literature; and you can also grab magazines and zines that are hard to come by elsewhere.

Shrub Swap and Reuse Hub
13 Guthrie St
A wee hub promoting all things warm and fuzzy and good for the environment/your purse-strings. Take along your old belongings and directly swap for new things, or collect tokens to save up for a treat. 

Bedlam Theatre
11 Bristo Pl
Home to Edinburgh University Theatre Company, with its iconic red door and newly spruced interior, Bedlam is exciting for punters and performers alike. If you want a belter of a Friday night, grab a ludicrously cheap pint and laugh your spleen out at homegrown improv troupe The Improverts.

Traverse Theatre
10 Cambridge St
A theatre affectionately known by its many supporters as the Trav, this one’s a mainstay on our list of recommendations. It’s regarded as one of the best Scottish platforms for new writing, so you’d be foolish not to pop over and take advantage of their student concession prices.

88 Lothian Rd
Indie cinema Filmhouse skims the cream of everything from arthouse to blockbuster (and the weird stuff between). Grab a pint and a comically cheap student ticket, and watch the kind of film that will make people think you're all intellectual and that.

The Fruitmarket Gallery
45 Market St
If sculpture’s your thang, Fruitmarket Gallery will see you right. Along with two floors of exhibition space, they’ve got an incredible selection of art and photography books and magazines, a quirky wee gift shop and a damn good cafe. 

12 Bank St
0131 622 7246
Coda stock everything from golden oldies to platinum newbies, and should you want something a little more niche, they’ll consult a bunch of databases and try to sort you out. Their vinyl selection isn't to be sniffed at either.

248 Canongate
0131 558 9019
When the self-mutilation urge hits, go to Tribal. It’s cheap for students, clean, professional, and they’re lovely enough not to laugh at you if you chicken out. Not that we’d know anything about that...

27 Marshall St
Contemporary pizza joint in the heart of Edinburgh's university district (ie: directly behind Potterrow) with ingenious toppings, gorgeous Italian tapas and cichetti to die for.

Baba Budan
17 East Market St
Baba Budan specialises in artisan coffee and freshly baked doughnuts from its wee cove in the New Waverley Arches. Also nestled into these renovated arches you'll find the likes of meaty haven Chop House, its herbivourous neighbor Juice Warrior and indie winery Vino.

Brew Lab Coffee
6-8 South College St
Great coffee, outrageous sandwiches and soups, and cakes and teas from some of Edinburgh’s best producers all find a home at Brew Lab.

Monkey Barrel 
9-11 Blair St
Comedy club open seven nights a week and home to an eclectic mix of stand-up, tours, sketch and improv shows, as well as the popular Big Show.

93 Lothian Rd
Beyond the nice lighting and lovely fonts, a menu of Mexican street food classics and small sharing plates awaits. If you haven't time for a big ol' sitdown (or hate sharing food) the lunchtime special Torta sandwiches will be right up your street.

105 Fountainbridge
Dinky little cafe just off Lothian Road, all dark wood, exposed brickwork and old school desks. Head down for delicious cakes and pastries, coffee from Steampunk roastery, and chill-ass vibes.

Palmyra Pizza
22 Nicolson St
0131 667 6655
Superfoods and quinoa come and go, but falafel wraps are here to stay. Flash your student card and a bounty of reasonably priced, delicious Middle Eastern food (or, alternatively, pizza) will fall into your hands. And they’re open till god knows when...