The Guildford Arms: an Edinburgh institution

The Guildford Arms stands proudly on West Register Street, Edinburgh
The Guildford Arms stands proudly on West Register Street, Edinburgh

Pubs near railway stations can be transient places. A revolving door of those killing time before the train home, a lonely businessmen tucking into a deserved pint or a stag or hen do slowly assembling for the weekend ahead. The Guildford Arms, near Edinburgh’s Waverley station, welcomes all of these groups and even boasts the revolving door. Thankfully, it also treats locals and visitors alike to a taste of a real, well-run Edinburgh pub that is one of my most visited bars in this great city.

Tucked slightly up a side street, opposite the luxury Balmoral Hotel at the east end of Princes Street, the Guildford is the epitome of a proper Scottish ale house. You can enter the main bar off the lane to the side of the pub or through the delightful, if slightly tight, rotating door at the front. Many a day I’ve stood at the island table nearest the door and marvelled at humanity’s inability to operate this revolutionary technology.

The revolving door confuses many and baffles those with luggage
The revolving door confuses many and completely baffles those with luggage

Busy throughout the day, getting to the bar can sometimes be tricky and certainly avoid after work on a Friday near Christmas, but once there you’re greeted by a vast array of taps, with the pub always sporting 10 real ales (the photograph here appears to show three that are off but this was temporary as a glass situation was quickly dealt with). You’ll also get excellent service. There’s nothing worse than a pub with not enough staff on but the Guildford always manages to have the right number behind the bar. Not only that, they’re well dressed, friendly and many have been there a while so it’s always a pleasure to arrive here, sometimes after a few months’ break, and be greeted by a familiar face.

A wide selection of ale is always available and the staff know their stuff
A wide selection of ale is always available and the staff know their stuff

Seating is mainly round small tables at the edge of the main bar area but there are more modern tables and often more space, to be found at the back of the pub. There is even a delightful table tucked right up the back with its own set of stairs down to it for those wanting to feel slightly exclusive for the evening. I’m a creature of habit though, and this means standing at the island between the bar and the door. Many a lunchtime or evening I’ve spent here, enjoying fine conversation and the odd Fyne ale – Jarl is pretty much an ever-present here. Even better is arriving at the Guildford when it’s one of its £2.50 a pint weekends when four taps are given over to a particular brewery and all four are sold at this reduced price from Thursday till Sunday. Advance warning of these weekends is usually given on the pub’s Facebook page.

The Guildford can get very busy, particularly after work in the run up to Christmas
The Guildford can get very busy, particularly after work in the run up to Christmas, but the bar is well run

There is a restaurant part to the Guildford with stairs at the back of the bar leading up to the Gallery on a mezzanine level. I ate here once, years ago, and it was fine. If you do go here to eat, try to get the table at the front of the upper level that commands a fantastic view of the bar below and also a closer view of the fabulous Jacobean-style ceiling that constantly surprises when you look up.

The ceiling at the Guildford Arms is pretty impressive
The ceiling at the Guildford Arms is pretty impressive

Run by DM Stewart, owners of the nearby Abbotsford, the Canons’ Gait and the Cumberland Bar, the Guildford Arms is a solid, well-run city centre pub that is perfect for a quick drink before catching a train in the afternoon or a more prolonged evening session. A true Edinburgh institution and highly recommended.

The Guildford Arms is at 1-5 West Register Street, Edinburgh, EH2 2AA

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