The ultimate hotel guide to Edinburgh
Far from resting on its laurels, the historic Scottish capital is embracing a new age of bold, brilliant hotels, from revamped grande dames to slick design dens in centuries-old buildings.
Edinburgh is famously a city of two historic halves: the Old Town’s forbidding castle and jagged skyline squaring off against the New Town, all pleasant crescents and leafy boulevards. But the Scottish capital is far from preserved in aspic — forever reinventing itself, the city has been moving with the times over the past few years, with work underway to extend the tram network and a multimillion-pound redevelopment of the St James Quarter at the end of Leith Walk. In fact, there were even rumblings that the city might lose its UNESCO World Heritage status with all the modernisation. This state of flux is reflected in the constantly evolving accommodation scene, too. Sleek boutique hotels have popped up in grand Georgian townhouses, former banks and historic tenements have been converted into designer aparthotels, and a raft of hip hostels now offer excellent value for money. Big names are wanting a slice of the action, too: W Edinburgh is set to open this winter in a building wrapped in burnished metal ribbons (dubbed the ‘Walnut Whip’), bringing some more modern pizzazz into this timeless cityscape.
1. Best for petrol heads
The Dunstane Houses
This family-run pair of Victorian boutique hotels — Dunstane House, and its sister, Hampton House, across the road — have a smart, home-from-home vibe. Interiors reflect owners Shirley and Derek Mowat’s Orkney heritage, via black-and-white photographs of traditional island life, and rooms with names inspired by Orkney (splash out on the Scapa Suite, with its contemporary four-poster bed and copper bathtub). There’s all-day Scottish dining in the restaurant, as well as a sumptuous lounge and bar to enjoy, too. It all feels rather like staying with well-to-do friends, albeit ones with a passion for classic cars: up the staircase are framed photos of Derek’s collection and, during summer, guests can book a private tour with him in a Rolls-Royce or Bentley. Rooms: From £187.
2. Best for traditionalists
Edinburgh’s original grande dame, this opulent Victorian railway hotel stands proudly at one end of Princes Street near Waverley station, and can’t be beaten when it comes to elegance. From the tam o’shanter-clad doormen who usher you into the marble foyer, to the ‘scent butler’ who provides a masterclass in fragrance for guests staying in the botanically inspired Bowes-Lyon Suite, it ticks all the luxury boxes. There’s even a Gaelic poet-in-residence. The Balmoral has plenty to appeal to gourmets, too: guests can sip Champagne in the Palm Court dining room, settle in for a dram (500 varieties and counting) in the bijou whisky bar, Scotch, or tuck in to AA Rosette-winning fare at Number One restaurant. It’s sheer class. Rooms: From £200.
3. Best for local living
Yoga classes, fire-dancing workshops and complimentary walking tours every Saturday with guides who have been affected by homelessness — these are not your average hotel perks. But then aparthotel Eden Locke is all about taking the ‘living like a local’ concept to a new level. Check into one of its bright, pastel-toned studios, apartments or suites in a six-storey Georgian townhouse and you’ll find a yoga mat in the wardrobe, for a class at nearby East Side Yoga, and a cocktail kit in the kitchen. Downstairs, the Mayvn cafe dishes up pastries and great coffee by day and natural wines in the evening. Rooms: From £89.
4. Best for design gurus
Market Street Hotel
Between the Old and New Towns, just steps from Waverley station, you’ll find the capital’s first representative of the Design Hotels group. Its striking, angular stone facade is topped by an irregular, geometric roof with a reception, unusually, on the top floor. Interiors are contemporary and pared-back, and rooms are on the compact side — in categories such as Cozy, Roomy and Vista — but the sleek bathrooms are spacious. The place to be, however, is the seventh-floor Champagne lounge, Nor’Loft. Nursing a cocktail while looking out over the rooftops of Edinburgh’s handsome skyline takes some beating. Rooms: From £168.
5. Best for trendsetters
Swapping golfing greens for the city, Gleneagles’ first urban outpost opens this spring. It comes with serious pedigree: completed in 1846, the grand, listed building on St Andrew Square was originally home to the British Linen Company. The present day 33-room hotel and members’ club has preserved the building’s original features, from its ornate facade to the tiles and cornicing. There are wellness suites in the old vaults, all-day dining in the magnificent banking hall and a rooftop bar called Lamplighters, in a nod to the Robert Louis Stevenson poem. Rooms: From £495.
6. Best for news hounds
The Scotsman Hotel
For nearly a century, The Scotsman newspaper was based in this baroque building — all stained-glass windows, wood panelling and a striking marble staircase. It was converted into a hotel in 2001, and then revamped in 2017, with rooms now decked out in cappuccino tones, each with a nod to the building’s heritage — choose from the likes of Reporter Rooms and Headline Suites. It also hosts the Scotsman Picturehouse, with its eclectic programme of cult classics, new releases and live theatre screenings. Rooms: From £210.
7. Best for big kids
The Grassmarket Hotel
In the heart of the Old Town, The Grassmarket Hotel will draw out your inner child during your stay. It lists distances from the hotel to Edinburgh’s main sites in footsteps (the Castle is 420 steps away, for instance), while there’s plenty to keep you entertained indoors — all rooms have sudoku puzzles on the wall, comic-strip wallpaper, free Tunnock’s teacakes, a packed lunch and a giant magnetic map of the city. Shelves in reception are stacked with games and copies of The Beano. Rooms: From £60.
8. Best for homebodies
On the edge of the New Town, you’ll find Stockbridge, one of Edinburgh’s ‘village’ neighbourhoods. Its pretty streets are full of delis, cafes, bookstores, food shops — and one boutique hotel. In a 19th-century listed building, The Raeburn’s 10 rooms feature solid wooden floors, an atmospheric colour palette and rolltop tubs. There’s a traditional Scottish vibe to the furnishings, too, with tweed headboards and throws, as well as stylish tartan fabrics from contemporary Scottish brand Anta. Rooms: From £105.
9. Best for drama queens
After a day exploring the Old Town’s narrow, atmospheric wynds, eke out the fantasy with a night at this sumptuous bolthole near the castle. Sequestered within two ancient buildings at the top of the Royal Mile, each of the hotel’s nine rooms is embellished with antiques, the walls are hung with tapestries, and grand four-posters are draped in opulent silks, velvets and brocades. Add romantic bateau baths for two, hidden doors leading to secret studies and the odd suit of armour, and you’ve got the ingredients for a fabulously over-the-top stay. Rooms: From £595.
10. Best for history buffs
Cheval Abbey Strand
At the bottom of the Royal Mile, sandwiched between the Scottish Parliament and the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Abbey Strand has seen it all. Once a medieval almshouse, it has also served as lodgings for Mary, Queen of Scots’ courtiers and a sanctuary for debtors during the 18th and 19th centuries. Now it’s a quirky designer aparthotel featuring nine accommodations. Each is named after one of the Strand’s former inhabitants, and their sash windows frame views of Arthur’s Seat and the Scottish parliament building. Design-wise, expect duck-egg blue panelling juxtaposed with exposed stonework, and bathrooms with rolltop tubs and geometric black-and-white tiles. Rooms: From £145.
Rates quoted are for standard doubles, room only, unless otherwise stated.
Published in the June 2022 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)
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