Whether you’re looking for good beer, good atmosphere or just a great location, Scotland has so many excellent pubs it’s difficult to choose the best.
The Clachaig Inn
Nestling in the very heart of Glencoe, the Clachaig Inn is almost as famous as the hills that surround it. A haven for travelers for more than 300 years, you don’t have to try very hard to imagine wet and weary Highlanders from yesteryear staggering up to the door of this refuge on a cold night. The fantastic location hasn’t changed, but today you’ll find three bars each with a distinct, friendly atmosphere, rustic wooden tables and stone floors, open fires, live music, hearty food such as cloutie dumpling, and an excellent selection of drinks. www.clachaig.com
The Drovers Inn
A proper old coaching inn, established in 1705, and once used by the Highland drovers who used to drive their cattle down the side of Loch Lomond to the markets in the south. As you enter the reception hall you are faced by a full grown, stuffed grizzly bear – and this is only the beginning. The decor and furniture of this place look as though they have not changed for a couple of hundred years at least. A cozy and historic choice, topped off with an accomplished menu featuring all the favourites (haggis, neeps and tatties anyone?) and a good selection of beer, wine and whisky. www.thedroversinn.co.uk
The Old Forge
Recognized in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most remote pub in mainland Britain. But for all its remoteness, it’s a surprisingly lively and popular venue. Seafood is done here extremely well, try scallops straight from the ocean washed down with the well kept beer and wine. Or gorge on the excellent seafood platters, organic produce and estate venison, while you rub shoulders with the locals in one of the frequent and impromptu ceilidhs. Hospitality here is second to none. www.theoldforge.co.uk
The Port O’Leith Bar
A wonderfully eccentric Edinburgh pub, ruled over by Mary Moriarty – arguably the most famous landlady in Scotland. This pub isn’t of the pretty coaching inn design, but a practical pub for the rugged sailors that once peopled this busy port. The sea is still a heavy influence – ship’s flags completely cover the ceiling and caps, postcards and other naval paraphernalia deck the walls, all gifts from visiting sailors over the years. It’s not exclusively for sailors or for locals, though, travelers from all over are welcomed here and, unusually, most of the world’s major currencies are accepted behind the bar. This is a real pub – so don’t go expecting fancy food. You’ll get a pie or a bridie and plenty of beer and friendly banter on the side. Perfect.
The Halfway House
Hidden away in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town is one of Britain’s smallest pubs. Its secluded position, halfway between Cockburn Street and Market Street, up the steps of Fleshmarket Close, makes it rather hard to find but, once inside, you’ll be glad you did. This tiny pub features a regularly changing range of cask beers, malt whiskies and a delicious menu of home-cooked food and some daily specials. Because of its size, this pub can get a little congested at times, but it is well worth squeezing inside. www.halfwayhouse-edinburgh.com
The Bon Accord
You’ll find an impressive selection of whiskies here (170 different bottles in fact) but it’s beer that really made this pub famous. The Bon Accord, on Glasgow’s pretty tree-lined North Street, is serious about its beer. Casks are lovingly tended for in the cellar and dispensed with skill. A varied selection is always available and it is frequently the first to feature new brews from established Scottish breweries as well as some newer names, such as Isle of Mull, Purple Moose and Stewart’s. The Scottish Ale Festival happens here every year in autumn. www.thebonaccord.com
If this bar is indeed ‘Glasgow’s best kept secret’ then we might be letting the cat out of the bag…. Kilted staff, stags heads and church pews, the interior of the Uisge Beatha is charmingly reminiscent of a traditional Highland bothy. As you’d expect from a bar named after Scotland’s national drink, (it’s pronounced ooshka beyha, by the way, and means ‘water of life’) there’s an impressive collection of whisky from which to choose (more than 140 malts) and a good selection of beer. The comfortable atmosphere, friendly staff, cozy sofas in front of open fires, and live music make this bar one of Glasgow’s, if not Scotland’s, best. www.uisgebeathabar.co.uk
Café Royal Circle Bar
Hidden down an alleyway just off bustling Princes Street is a spectacular looking venue – a veritable snapshot of Victorian grandeur. The spectacular plasterwork ceiling and large island bar are immediately impressive, but explore further and you’ll discover the same high quality throughout. Floors and stairs are laid with marble, mahogany panels on the walls, and the high-ceilinged Vienna café style rooms drip with chandeliers. An especially beautiful feature is the tiled portraits showing inventors at the moment of their discovery. It’s definitely more of a refined bar rather than a busy pub, and the drinks choice is not exactly overwhelming, but the food is excellent. It’s a must see.
A bar, hotel and restaurant that’s been doing pretty well in recent years, picking up awards all over the place. You’ll find more than 100 Belgian beers at this fire-lit country pub (which is something of an anomaly in Scotland), as well as British cask ale, real cider from Somerset and an extensive wine list featuring 11 by the glass and 85 by the bottle. The dedicated whisky bar has – count them – 218 single malts. The Anderson likes to do things its own way. Recently the pub has introduced Knitting Nights, whereby seasoned knitters or complete beginners can sit about in the comfort of a really good pub as they knit. Bonkers, but we love it. www.theanderson.co.uk
Another wonderfully remote pub, reached by an extraordinarily scenic drive along the Bealllach na Ba (pass of the Cattle) – the highest mountain pass in Britain, rising to more than 2,000 feet in a hair-raising six miles. But when you arrive you’ll find a lovely traditional pub with a beautiful waterside location – a great choice in summer when you can sup a beer in the garden and look out across the water towards the Cuillin Hills on Skye. Inside, this no nonsense country pub offers up a friendly mix of locals and visitors, as well as some excellent local seafood. www.applecross.uk.com/inn