Droning bagpipes, a soul-stirring castle and a 335-million-year-old volcano all set with Highland-in-miniature lochs, toothy ruins and spiny crags. Nowhere stimulates the senses quite like Edinburgh.
The decision to come to the Scottish capital has always been easy. It’s just getting a whole lot more complicated to work out where to stay. Accommodation used to be a binary choice between chintzy, five-star baronial hotels or bargain-basement brands. Not any longer. Fancy a Michelin-star dinner winner or a bed in a dock-rocking former lighthouse tender? You’ll find it all here and more.
When chef proprietor Paul Kitching and his partner Katie O’Brien unveiled this restaurant with rooms on what used to be the wrong side of Calton Hill, it was a pivotal moment for Edinburgh. Their vision was to marry the best of Scottish produce with refined, if slightly eccentric, hospitality, carving out a unique space in the capital. No-one has done it better since.
The main reason to come is Kitching’s Michelin-starred kitchen. Without fail, every week sees the arrival of a new menu, with Dali-esque dishes going all-out to flummox you. Expect the likes of haggis porridge, trout with tea crumpets, or English breakfast risotto, before heading upstairs to the gorgeous cocktail bar and four bedrooms — all with snug lounge, sexy bathtubs and chocolate-coloured trimmings.
Doubles from £115
Best for luxury: Fingal
Everyone loves the idea of being rocked to sleep by the lapping sea. The reality is a little different at this beautifully restored former lighthouse tender, now berthed in a sheltered mooring on Leith’s Albert Dock Basin. The 237-footer has had a seriously glam refit and is elegant, ambitious and every inch the floating palace.
Up the gangway, there are 23 rooms, all with cruise cabin furnishings and sloping floors, but the real spectacle can be found in the public spaces. There’s a top deck Art Deco restaurant-cocktail bar, with glitzy gold ceiling and jazz soundtrack. The hull has been recast as a lavish ballroom and the ceiling of the engine room has been peeled back to form one of the corridors. The mood is exultant and well-mannered, but what would you expect from the same owners as the nearby Royal Yacht Britannia?
Doubles from £300, including breakfast
Best for lovers: The Witchery by the Castle
Neighbourhood: Royal Mile
If you got any closer to Edinburgh Castle, you’d be sleeping in it. That’s just one of the USPs at this dolly mixture of townhouses, all of which hide palatial apartment-style rooms that are more atmospheric, more amped-up – dare I say it, even more macabre – than those secreted in the royal stronghold next door.
Wake up in a mixture of camp four-poster boltholes straight from a costume drama or more intriguing gothic suites filled with playful nooks, crannies and creaky furniture. If you like your bedroom to have a turret or battle armour, then this is the place. Want a private library? You can have one of those, too. The best bit is it’s all on the doorstep of the tartan-and-toffee-tin spectacle of the Royal Mile, the city’s wonkily brilliant street of tolbooths and trapped-in-time townhouses.
Doubles from £345, including full breakfast
Best for views: Rock House
Neighbourhood: Calton Hill
The postcard vantage point from Calton Hill, looking out across the Gothic spire of the Scott Monument and Edinburgh Castle, is the reason many people come to Scotland’s capital. It’s a view that’s also only a few steps away from the front door of this well-hidden retreat, located halfway up Calton Hill.
Great for groups of friends, this 14-bed period merchant’s house comes with a terrace apartment and photographers’ studio, with each cleverly designed to feel both modern and timeless. The lofty location can’t be beaten, but it’s the subtle touches of the property’s history – which capture moments from the history of Scottish photography and art – that are the stand-outs.
Rooms from £70
Best for peace and quiet: Dunstane Houses
The Orkney Islands are never far from mind at this uber-stylish hotel caught between the moneyed swagger of the West End and Scotland’s national rugby stadium. The owners moved south from the islands some years ago and it’s as though they bottled the islanders’ renowned happiness and took it with them.
The Victorian-era house has a choice of 16 rooms – a keep-you-guessing mix of traditional Orcadian touches and contemporary design flashes – while days can be spent lounging on extravagantly comfy beds, taking tea out on the front lawn, or soaking in the freestanding Victorian baths. A potter along the nearby Water of Leith pathway to well-to-do Stockbridge is also highly recommended.
Doubles from £129, room only
Best as an Airbnb alternative: Eden Locke
Neighbourhood: City centre
If the Scottish capital had more places like this, then Edinburgh’s Airbnb listings would experience a bookings slump. This Georgian-era six-storey townhouse starts with a welcoming lobby and laptop-friendly cafe-bar, before introducing a series of serviced apartment-style rooms blueprinted by a New York architecture firm – most with mod-con kitchens, sofas and plenty of cupboard space and bumper windows with views of George Street. Come 5pm, the area springs to life with the restaurants, pubs and bars packing out, particularly so on neighbouring Thistle and Rose Streets.
Studio apartments from £114, room only
Best for lording it up: Prestonfield House
If Bonnie Prince Charlie and Alexander McQueen had gone into the interiors business, this peaceful retreat would be the result. More baronial manor house than hotel, this one-of-a-kind stay is only a few kilometres from the city centre, yet a world apart in terms of vibe. Highland cows and preening peacocks hang out in the estate’s fields and front lawns; kilted doormen wait for you hand and foot; and huntsman armchairs and Snow White mirrors compete for your attention in the lounges. Rooms come in a catwalk scheme of burlesque red and kitsch purple with the odd splash of electric pink, plus there’s top-notch food and a tummy-tickling cream tea with all the trimmings.
Doubles from £345, including full breakfast
Best for a local vibe: The Raeburn
When it opened in 2014, The Raeburn had been a long time coming. Well-heeled Stockbridge locals, with their spoil of fabulous restaurants, gentrified knick-knack shops and Sunday farmers’ market, needed a local hideout for boozy beer garden afternoons and rainy day meals. And this 10-room Georgian mansion delivered.
In striking distance of the city’s best feel-like-a-local sights (namely the Royal Botanical Garden and Inverleith Park), The Raeburn is perfect for out-of-towners. Start with fish and chips at the buzzy brasserie downstairs – or people-watch with a pint out front if there’s a glimmer of sun – then head upstairs to rooms that tick all the boxes. Rainforest showers, humongous TVs, coffee machines all come as standard.
Doubles from £150, including full breakfast
Best for literature lovers: The Stevenson House
Neighbourhood: New Town
Leafing through the pages of a classic novel may well keep you indoors at this storied Georgian townhouse at 17 Heriot Row – particularly if it’s Treasure Island, Kidnapped or Jekyll and Hyde. Author Robert Louis Stevenson grew up in this early 19th-century B&B from the age of six and all the romance of his novels comes alive when sat among the antiques and period furnishings of his former home.
Unusually, there are just two rooms to pick from, but that’s because it’s still lived in by local family John and Felicitas Macfie. The brass bell pull by the entrance says it all: ‘Private house – not a museum.’ Our pick is the master bedroom with William Morris wallpaper and Victorian tub, and for an extra personal touch the owners offer insightful private tours around town.
Rooms from £115, including breakfast
Best for night owls: Tigerlily
Neighbourhood: City centre
Want to party? You’ll likely spot the queues at the chi-chi basement cocktail bar before you realise this is also an extravagantly designed hotel kitted out with plenty of night-out frills. Start with hair straighteners and an in-room music playlist to get the party started, move on to a cocktail class at the seen-to-be-seen bar downstairs, then recover with morning after on-demand DVD library and in-room breakfast.
The doubles and suites are as bling as you’d expect, with in-your-face colour schemes, plush sofas and heavenly beds, and there are plenty of other unexpected design quirks. How about a Georgian suite with snug fireplace? Or a room that’s decorated from floor to ceiling in black? Come for the location and party fireworks – just don’t expect a quiet night out.
Doubles from £125
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