Edinburgh has always caused a fuss. Consider the medieval riddle of its subterranean alleys or the sublime drama of its fairytale castle, and it’s little wonder visitors fall under its spell. Arriving into this mind-boggling spectacle is the easy part. Figuring out where to stay is the real puzzle.

I’ve lived on a Georgian crescent in the West End for years – my family is from the city – and I’ve explored dozens of hotels for guidebooks, magazines and newspapers. The right bed and breakfast, or the right top-shelf dram before midnight, can be a highlight of any capital stay; but with the world’s biggest arts festival (nearly) every summer, and festivals bookending the year, competition is fierce.

So how to avoid ending up with a dud? Edinburgh is easily navigable by foot, but it’s still crucial to pick a neighbourhood that’ll suit your personality, so you can map out the perfect itinerary.


Graced with ornamental balconies, neo-Renaissance turrets and a landmark clock tower that runs reliably three minutes fast (so locals don’t miss their trains at nearby Waverley Station), The Balmoral is Edinburgh’s most prestigious address, at No 1 Princes Street.

It’s the flagship property in hotelier Sir Rocco Forte’s portfolio, and it shows. There’s Michelin-starred restaurant Number One for house-smoked salmon and a lifetime’s worth of single malts; restaurant Brasserie Prince from French chef extraordinaire Alain Roux; and a tartan butler (should you desperately need a bespoke plaid kilt hand-delivered to your room). Room decor runs the gamut from Hebridean armchairs and woodland wallpapers to Sean Connery James Bond prints and brass owl door knockers. Those mighty fine birds can be seen when splashing out on the JK Rowling Suite, where the Edinburgh resident wrote the final instalment of her wizarding saga.

Of the 188 individually designed rooms, pick a west-facing suite for heart-in-mouth views of Edinburgh Castle and the steampunk gothic aesthetic of the Scott Monument. A prospect good enough for the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney and Elizabeth Taylor no less.


Stride past the herd of Highland cows and strutting peacocks, past deer estate turned golf course, then greet the kilted doormen waiting on you hand and foot. This 23-room country hotel is set within the city limits, but a world apart in terms of architecture, art, antiques and ambience.

Located in eight hectares of parkland, with a croquet lawn and putting green, this grand baroque manor is more Highland hunting lodge than urban bolthole. Check out the Bonnie Prince Charlie-meets-Alexander McQueen design and riot of stag antler armchairs and gilded mirrors for proof. Then, in the middle distance, beyond the golf course, eye the gorse-trimmed ridge line of dormant volcano Arthur’s Seat, offering a Highland reverie in miniature. That shiver down your spine? This is Scotland, in all its brash, intoxicating glory.


Not many hotels can claim one of the most talked-about restaurants in the city, but this is the main attraction at Baba, a Levant-inspired charcoal grill and cocktail bar that dominates the ground floor at this sprawling collection of townhouses. It’s a seductive spot from Glasgow-based Ox and Finch, with Phileas Fogg travel souvenirs, ruby-red Persian wall rugs and medina-style glass lamps.

The hotel itself is geared towards a young, city-breaking crowd, wedged between the bar-hopping pubs of Rose Street and splashier clubs of George Street, making this ground zero for those with unruly beards, sailor tattoos and progressive hairstyles. That also explains the record players, candy-red bedside telephones and punked-up animal prints in the rooms. Which are just as cool as they sound. For rainy days, there’s a pool, sauna and steam room.


All the drama of gothic Scotland is on display at this frozen-in-time restaurant with rooms, secreted in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle. It’s a nine-room thriller, with lavish decor pitched between a Hammer Horror film set and Dracula’s boudoir, the attention to detail coming from owner James Thomson (the brains behind similarly-dramatic Prestonfield House). I particularly love the Carry On camp glamour of The Inner Sanctum, where my brother and sister-in-law hosted knock-out post-reception drinks on their wedding night.

Expect opulent eccentricity and second-to-none hospitality at the hotel’s signature Secret Garden restaurant, too – it’s hidden down a historic close and entered via a pulpit reception.


This historic railway grand dame was first built in 1903 before being swallowed by the Hilton empire, but don’t let that put you off. Nostalgia and whimsy are ever-present in the railway-themed Caley Bar, while the tartan-tailored bellhops and sensational views of Edinburgh Castle more than make up for the off-the-shelf decor.

There are plenty of diversions to be had: the UK’s only Guerlain spa, the culinary highs of headline restaurant The Pompadour by Galvin and an ABC of chain stores are moments away on Princes Street and George Street. In a country blessed with distilleries, Edinburgh still manages to surprise: Edinburgh Gin Distillery, across the street on Rutland Place, offers highly recommended tastings and tours.


Edinburgh is a go-to spot for outdoor purists, with almost half its area made up of parkland, gardens and little-known wilderness. For my money, the best of this can be found in the smart neighbourhood of Stockbridge, home to the Royal Botanic Garden and Inverleith Park, but also the Water of Leith, a trapped-in-time river off the main tourist trail.

In striking distance of the riverside is upcycled Georgian mansion The Raeburn, built in the 1830s and complete with kid-friendly bar, brasserie restaurant, cosy library and sociable garden. Upstairs, the 10 bedrooms are outfitted with plenty of frills – rainforest showers, monster TVs, espresso machines – while the window views highlight a great selection of independent coffee shops and bric-a-brac stores to explore at your leisure. A final perk of staying is Michelin-starred chef Tom Kitchin’s family-friendly gastropub, The Scran and Scallie, directly across the road.


St Andrews Square has had a complete rehabilitation in recent years, with a whole roster of new tenants parachuting in from London. First came wildly-popular restaurants The Ivy, Wahaca and Dishoom, now the square welcomes this luxury set of apartments in the former HQ of the Royal Bank of Scotland. Every detail will make you swoon, with no expense spared from the chessboard marble floor and dark wood panelling in the lobby, through to the 50 grand apartments with roll-top baths, mod con kitchens and caber-high ceilings.

Clearly, there’s plenty of ambition on display. Part of the development in the former banking hall is the first Scottish outpost of Hawksmoor, the most arresting steak restaurant in London for the past decade.


With a striking castle-façade and a gorgeous Georgian waterfront location, Malmaison is set within this former seamen’s mission in dockside Leith. It’s an on-fire foodie fave, with nearby pedigree provided by Edinburgh’s two most fabulous restaurants – Michelin-starred darlings The Kitchin and Martin Wishart are a brisk walk away. For crustacean lovers, there are also bumper-to-bumper restaurants where you can pick over the day’s catch. My firm favourite is Fishers.

Inside, its 100 bedrooms are bright and breezy, with harbour views, curlicue beds and mottled grey headboards. The standout design feature is the Signature Suite, with a tartan-red bathtub big enough to swim in. Downstairs, the foodie theme continues at brickwork-heavy Malmaison Brasserie, once where salty dogs and sozzled sailors downed dirty drams after dropping anchor.

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