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Edinburgh's Best Kept

Edinburgh, the second busiest city for tourists in Britain, is a treasure trove of secrets and hidden corners. You may be on first name terms with the guards at Edinburgh Castle, and know the Royal Mile like the back of your hand – but there’s a wealth of attractions and venues just waiting to be discovered…

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A Yorkshire lass with an obsession with the Tudor monarchy. Used to fancy the man from Aqua. Now has a fear of the dark, hoovers and ghosts.

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01. The Devil's Advocate

Three tiled images of The Devil's Advocate, Edinburgh - including one of the exterior with the door open, people sat at the bar and the interior with the mezzanine level

You don’t simply stumble upon The Devil’s Advocate. This bar and restaurant is tucked away in the historical and buzzing Old Town, set in a former Victorian pump house, hidden away in Advocates Close. This building is steeped in history, and has no shortage of space. In fact, it doesn’t even look like a bar at all – it’s all bare brick, beams and wood, with a mezzanine dining area and a 200 strong whisky shelf – including the award-winning Ardbeg Uigeadail. It may be all about the whisky, but this place also boasts a love for gin. Make sure you try the intriguing House of Advocates…

02. National Museum of Scotland - Rooftop Terrace

Two tiled images - featuring one of the National Museum of Scotland rooftop terrace, and Edinburgh Castle during the day

We know the National Museum of Scotland is not really a hidden gem, but there’s a reason we have included it in the list – the gorgeous rooftop terrace. The panoramic views of Edinburgh are unparalleled from the sky-high terrace. You’ll see the city’s roofscapes, spires, domes, towers, turrets and the best view of the crown spire of St Giles’ Cathedral – often hard to see when dodging the crowds in the bustling Royal Mile.

03. Bramble Bar

Three tiled images of Bramble Bar, Edinburgh - including an orange cocktail next to a small bottle of orange liquid, people sat at the bar with bartenders serving, and the dimly-lit interior

This gorgeous cocktail bar is discreet and achingly hip, with seriously skilled bartenders. It’s, probably, the most hidden bar in the whole capital, buried deep underneath a dry cleaners on Queen Street. It may seem a little off-putting taking the stairs to a New Town basement, but once you descend – you’ll be greeted by a speak-easy, cosy and cave-like bar. This is seriously popular - it was even voted ‘one of the top 20 cocktail bars in the world’ – and boasts an ethos to cocktails with a sense of humour. From the classic Bramble, to the outrageous Molly Ringwald, in honour of The Breakfast Club star, featuring gin, vodka, raspberry syrup, honey, yoghurt and granola milk – this is a cocktail bar like no other.

04. The Real Mary King's Close

Three tiled images of the Real Mary King's Close - including the underground passages, a woman screaming to camera, and the silhouette of a woman in a doorway

We’ve all heard the stories of Edinburgh’s terrifying and seriously haunted vaults, but are you brave enough to explore the Real Mary King’s Close on your last night of freedom? Of course you are. This warren of underground streets and houses was home to thousands of residents, from the 16th to the 19th century – and it’s a legend in Edinburgh, with tales of ghosts, horrifying murders and poor innocent victims of the plague left to die alone in the streets… And, if that's not scary enough - you can take our most haunted bar crawl on the Royal Mile.

05. Panda & Sons

Three tiled images of the Panda & Sons, Edinburgh - including one of the barbershop sign, cocktails placed on a table, and bartenders making cocktails

You could easily miss Panda & Sons if you weren’t in the know. Moonlighting as a vintage barber shop – with a haircut at just 25 cents – this is a concept cocktail bar for cocktail connoisseurs. Just step inside, walk over to the bookcase and take the stairs to the basement premises. Panda & Sons has all the traditional markings of a cosy Edinburgh bar – it’s all wood panelling, eccentric antiques and old-fashioned touches – but with a cocktail list that screams creativity. If you like your drink with a side of pun – you’re in luck. The menu boasts cocktails such as Miss American Rye, Häagen-Glass, Petal to the Ketel and, our personal favourite, Monet Talks.

06. Cabaret Voltaire

Three tiled images of Cabaret Voltaire, Edinburgh - including one of people queuing outside, the interior and seating area, and a DJ's hand on the DJ decks

This club is, basically, in a cave. This underground venue, spanning two floors, is renowned for hosting upcoming bands from around the world. And, this staple of alternative music culture has seen everyone from Los Campesinos to Mumford and Sons play. The cavernous gig space is dimly-lit, buzzing and draws in hundreds every weekend.

07. Wild West Alleyway

Three tiled images of the Wild West Alleyway, Edinburgh - including one of the saloon, a sign and the wooden shacks

One of the strangest gems in Edinburgh is the hidden Wild West, tucked away in Morningside. El Paso, the unique city within a city, was built in 1995/6 as part of the ambience of the sales area for a furniture business (yes, really). There’s a saloon, a jail, stables and a Native American mural on one of the walls; it takes you back to a simpler time - the 90s. This site is now part of the city’s crazy history, although parts of the ‘city’ are still in use. The door of the Cantina is still a fire door for the Morningside Library. Olé.

08. The Last Word Saloon

Three tiled images of The Last Word Saloon, Edinburgh - including one of a man and woman singing, a cocktail and chairs with fur throws on top

From the creative heads of Bramble Bar, let us introduce you to The Last Word Saloon. Boasting the same dedication to drinks as its established and sophisticated big sister, this bar is a laid-back, cool and cosy spot to indulge your sweet tooth. It’s discreet, with staff that can turn regular old booze into magic. The cocktails range from the honeyed Crème Brulée, to the fragrant Paradise Misplaced, to the elegant Madame Pavot – this is a secret crowd-pleaser, with a real ethos to drinking well. Cheers.

09. Thomas Riddle's Grave

Two tiled images - including one of a grave at Greyfriars Kirkyard, and one of Thomas Riddle's grave in Edinburgh

Edinburgh is not only famous for brandy and haggis, but it’s also the supposed resting place of Harry Potter villain and all-round bad guy, Voldermort. You can leave tributes at the 19th century grave in the famous Greyfriars Kirkyard, which carries the name of Thomas Riddle – the Dark Lord’s actual name. Riddle died in 1806 at the age of 72, but J.K Rowling has stated that she may have been subconsciously influenced by the grave…

10. Gilmerton Cove

Three tiled images of the caves at Gilmerton Cove, Edinburgh

Get ready for the fright of your life. Gilmerton Cove is a series of seriously scary and hand-carved passageways and chambers, set deep under the heart of Gilmerton – an ex-mining village. The origin of these tunnels is still a mystery today, and there have been a whole load of theories over the years. Just some of the rumours include a drinking den for 18th century gentry, a lair inhabited by the Knights Templar, and a refuge for Covenanters fleeing persecution. Whatever the tale – are you ready to go underground?

11. The Oxford Bar

Three tiled images of The Oxford Bar, Edinburgh - including one of a man sat at a table and holding a pint, the sign and spirits on the shelves

You’ll need the skills of a detective to find this place. The Oxford Bar is a low-key venue, tucked away in the heart of the New Town – just two minutes’ walk from Princes Street. The history of this place dates back years, and it is, in fact, Inspector John Rebus’ favourite watering hole… To this day, it remains Rebus author, Ian Rankin’s, most-loved bar – you may even catch him with a wee dram o’ whisky. The bar has long been associated with Scottish writers and artists, including the likes of Willie Ross, and it’s a tradition that continues to this day. The pub is so snug and traditional – it’ll take you to another world. And, be on the lookout for the almost-antique pie machine built around the 1950s, which is still in use.

12. The Secret Garden

Two images of the Secret Garden at The Witchery by the Castle, Edinburgh - including images of the seating areas

The clue is in the name – this place is a secret. In fact, it’s one of the best kept secrets in the capital. The Witchery by the Castle is a lavish, Gothic and boutique-style hotel with gorgeous guest suites, and a beautiful utopia. The elegant, enclosed garden is hidden down an historic Old Town Close, and you enter via the pulpit reception. As you descend the stone stairs – you’ll be greeted by the stunning painted ceilings, and French windows leading onto the secret terrace.

If this has whet your appetite for bonny ol' Scotland - you can experience even more on our Edinburgh stag weekend and hen weekend page, or attempt the notorious Rose Street pub crawl.