Nine Edinburgh pubs and bars with literary connections

Edinburgh is well known for its pubs and its literary credentials. So it's no surprise many authors have found inspiration in the capital's numerous bars.

Wilkies, Leith
Wilkies, Leith

The Cumberland Bar

A classic New Town pub, The Cumberland Bar regularly features in Alexander McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street series. The Edinburgh-based author thought his favourite bar would be the perfect local for his refined New Town characters, with Bruce, Pat, Angus, Matthew, Stuart and even Cyril the dog visiting regularly throughout the novels. Visit: 1-3 Cumberland Street, EH3 6RT

The Hawes Inn

Robert Louis Stevenson reportedly stayed in Room 13 at The Hawes Inn while writing part of his famous novel, Kidnapped, in 1886. The seaside setting at South Queensferry provided lots of inspiration for this adventurous tale, and The Hawes Inn even appears as a key location in chapter five of the book. Visit: 7 Newhalls Road, South Queensferry, EH30 9TA

Milne’s Bar

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Milne’s Bar is known as the “Poet’s Pub” because it was a favourite haunt of some of the most important writers of the Scottish Renaissance movement of the mid-20th century. Writers like Norman McCaig, Hugh MacDiarmid, Sorley MacLean, Iain Crichton Smith, George Mackay Brown, Sydney Goodsir Smith, Edwin Morgan and Robert Garioch all used to meet there to discuss literature, politics and culture, and to get inspiration for their work. Visit: 35 Hanover Street, EH2 2PJ

Sandy Bell’s

Another pub which inspired one of the Scottish Renaissance writers, Sydney Goodsir Smith, was Sandy Bell’s. This traditional folk pub was also a meeting place for Edinburgh writers, and Smith included a fictionalised version of it (the comically-named Sunday Balls) in his 1947 novel about Edinburgh, Carotid Cornucopius. Visit: 25 Forrest Road, EH1 2HQ

Cafe Royal

The novel Complicity by Iain Banks is set in Edinburgh, with the main character (journalist Cameron Colley) frequenting many of the city’s pubs. One memorably racy scene takes place in the grand Victorian Cafe Royal pub as Colley and friends indulge in the bar’s speciality, oysters. The Cafe Royal was also another favourite watering hole for the writers who were regulars at Milne’s Bar. Visit: 19 West Register Street, EH2 2AA

Wilkies Bar

A Leith pub which provided inspiration for Irvine Welsh is Wilkies Bar, which was mentioned in his novel, Filth. Welsh even brought James McAvoy – who starred as main character, Bruce Robertson, in the film adaptation of Filth – to Wilkies Bar for a celebratory pint after the film was released. Visit: 1-3 Henderson Street, EH6 6BT

The Oxford Bar

The Oxford Bar is a favourite haunt of Ian Rankin’s fictional Detective Inspector Rebus, who has appeared in 22 novels set in Edinburgh since Knots and Crosses was published in 1987. The bar has long been a favourite watering hole of the author himself, and he can regularly be found enjoying a quiet pint in the bar with other loyal customers. Visit: 8 Young Street, EH2 4JB

Deacon Brodie’s Tavern

This historic pub has been around since 1806, named after the infamous Deacon Brodie – a respectable Edinburgh businessman who moonlighted as a burglar and gambler. The true tale (and no doubt the pub itself) inspired Robert Louis Stevenson. After penning an unsuccessful play called Deacon Brodie, The Double Life, Stevenson further explored the duality of man in one of his most famous works, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Visit: 435 Lawnmarket, EH1 2NT

The White Hart Inn

The White Hart Inn has lots of literary connections. William and Dorothy Wordsworth stayed there while visiting Sir Walter Scott in 1803, and the infamous murderers Burke and Hare – who have inspired countless stories over the years – were regulars at the bar. Robert Burns also famously stayed at the White Hart on his last visit to Edinburgh in 1791, where he parted ways with his love, Nancy, and was inspired to write the poem Ae Fond Kiss. Visit: 34 Grassmarket, EH1 2JU