Educated, cultured, hard-drinking and handsome, Edinburgh is a centre of learning, art, nightlife and some of the world’s most beautiful architecture. Pub drinkers rub shoulders with theatregoers, students and international tourists amid winding streets that overlap with Escher-esque bridges spanning narrow twittens. These in turn riddle between medieval squares lined with tenements and Georgian townhouses, all below the most archetypal example of a castle imaginable. Edinburgh’s best accommodation is often contained within the city’s many Georgian and Victorian properties. Whether they’re within the fairytale Old Town, elegant New Town, amid the city’s upmarket residential neighbourhoods, or in a commanding position with views over the area’s majestic topography, Edinburgh’s rooms are classy, classic, restrained and refined. With such a long and often macabre history on your doorstep, the brave-hearted can spend evenings exploring underground vaults, graveyards and the Edinburgh Dungeon, or on ghost tours aboard double-deckers that smack of JK Rowling’s Knight Bus. Fortunately the city has so many soporific sanctuaries that, even if you have to sleep with the light on, you’ll not be stirred.
For couples: Dunstane Houses
Truly a family business, Dunstane House
has been owned and run by Shirley and Derek Mowat for 20 years, with Hampton House added in 2008. They offer 35 rooms between them, but the best is decidedly Dunstane, a Victorian mansion dating back to 1852,
which has recently been refurbished with dark, neoclassical interiors and design flourishes. Definitely a spot for romance, some suites offer roll-top copper baths and enough mirrored surfaces to make Peter Stringfellow blush. In addition, Derek has an extensive classic car collection and can arrange airport pickups in an antique Bentley.
Rooms: From £174, B&B.
For the inside scoop: The Scotsman Hotel
Formerly the office building of national newspaper The Scotsman, this imposing structure is one of the city’s most recognisable landmarks. Its grand, Italian-marble staircase, wood-panelled rooms and enviable views across the city are emblematic of the halcyon days of publishing. In 2001 it was transformed into a five-star hotel, which retained the building’s muted Edwardian grandeur — all stained glass and baroque turrets. It’s recently been renovated into a four-star, losing its celebrated spa and swimming pool in the process, but making it a more accessible stay for those on a smaller budget.
Rooms: Doubles from £152, room only.
For sightseeing: G&V Royal Mile
With an excellent city centre location, and everything you need under one roof, G&V is a great option for first-time visitors who want to get around the sights easily. Rooms are funky and functional, while G&V’s Italian restaurant Cucina is an exceptionally good dining option. You can also pop into the onsite spa and have the mileage massaged off your sore feet at the end of a day’s sightseeing.
Rooms: Doubles from £209, B&B.
For a county escape: Norton House Hotel & Spa
Norton House sits just outside the city proper, so you can play lord or lady of the manor as you swan about the extensive 55-acre grounds. After that, you might want to soak it up in the spa or enjoy a Scottish take on afternoon tea (hint: there’s whisky involved). The rooms are spacious, with pleasantly traditional decor — the ideal retreat from the busy city.
Rooms: Doubles from £95.
For families: Old Town Chambers
Occupying an eclectic group of buildings including a 15th-century house, these luxury-serviced apartments are set in a quiet, secluded square, so you won’t have any trouble getting the kids off to sleep at night. Plus, each one comes with a compact kitchen, so you can rustle up something to eat if dining out every night isn’t an option. Location-wise, you’re a stone’s throw from the attractions of the Royal Mile, while next door is the Real Mary King’s Close, which uncovers the fascinating subterranean history of this buried neighbourhood.
Rooms: Apartments sleeping two adults and two children from £145, self-catering.
For greenery: The Gardener’s Apartment
Situated right next to the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, amid the Georgian villas of bucolic Inverleith, this three-bedroom apartment is a horticulturalist’s haven. A home-away-from-home, it’s full flowers and pots of fresh herbs adorning the kitchen windowsill. And outside, you can explore the RBGE’s private nursery where staff can be spotted tending blooms. Cupboards heave with food and wine, making a stay here feel as if you’re house-sitting for friends with exquisite taste.
Rooms: From £190, self-catering; sleeps six.
For gothic romance: The Witchery by the Castle
Every bit as gothic as the name suggests, The Witchery is named for the hundreds of women who were burned on Castlehill in the 16th and 17th centuries. The nine suites — drenched in red and gold — are seemingly prised from the pages of a gothic romance. Oak-panelled walls rescued from St Giles’ Cathedral, pipe-organ headboards, wall-to-ceiling libraries hiding secret doors and views directly over the Royal Mile, make this the Old Town’s most deliciously decadent love nest.
Rooms: From £355, B&B, including a welcome bottle of Champagne.
For ultimate opulence: Prestonfield House
Crammed with gilt bronze, brocade, candelabra and curios, this country estate hotel is visually stunning to the point of ocular exhaustion. Marble-floored and velvet-draped, Prestonfield House is a lavish lesson in luxury. Blood-red suites are as decadent as a vampire’s boudoir, or a belle epoque bordello. Every inch the libertine’s lair, doors are disguised with elaborate portières that match the curtains and rich fabric wallpaper, making rooms seem endless and inescapable.
Rooms: From £335, B&B, including a welcome bottle of Champagne.
For half-blood princes: The Balmoral
Its namesake castle may be the Scottish residence of the royal family, but The Balmoral is a hotel fit for a literary queen. Six books into Harry Potter’s adventures, JK Rowling’s personal fortune already outstripped that of HRH Elizabeth II, so rather than pen her final instalment in her favourite Edinburgh cafes, she was able to sequester herself away in one of the turreted Grand Suites at this grande dame instead. With a Michelin-starred restaurant downstairs, and elegant, understated luxury throughout, muggles and wizards alike can now stay in the very room in which Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was completed. It contains her writing desk and a marble bust of Hermes, the Greek god of travel, signed by Rowling.
Rooms: Doubles from £144, room only.
For foodies: 21212
Primarily a restaurant, which won its first star within a year of opening in 2009, 21212 lays claim to the caveat-laden honour of being Edinburgh’s only Michelin-starred restaurant with rooms (as opposed to a hotel with a restaurant). A stay here is a relatively exclusive experience with only four large, cappuccino-coloured contemporary bedrooms, each with a dedicated lounge area, and subtle, blanched baroque styling throughout. Located on the two upper levels of a four-storey Georgian townhouse, they offer either garden or city views. The main event, though, is the food, of course, and chef Paul Kitching keeps things fresh with twists on French classics and a menu that changes weekly.
Rooms: Doubles from £110, B&B.
Published in the Jan/Feb 2018 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)