Edinburgh’s top historic hotels, according to the experts

Scotland’s capital is a treasure-trove of historical wonders and its hotels are no exception. Here the experts pick the best accomodation for a trip back in time.

February 13, 2019

by Cora Harrison

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From abbeys and castles to ancient drinking holes, Edinburgh packs a lot of history into its square miles. So it’s no surprise that the city offers visitors the chance to stay in places where the past feels very much alive and tradition takes centre stage. In an age where the more Instagrammable a hotel, the better, the extravagant facades, period interiors, dark wood panelling and chandeliers of Edinburgh’s historic hotels make them an especially seductive getaway.

Our Experts’ Choice winners have all scored over 80 on TripExpert, representing the very best of the Scottish capital, according to expert sources. So check out our list of the top historic hotels in Edinburgh, for old-school charm combined with modern-day comfort, and for character without skimping on quality.


The Balmoral

Located at the east end of Princes Street, Edinburgh’s main thoroughfare, this top-end Edwardian hotel – with its iconic clock tower – is a true city landmark. A hotel of peerless class and quality whose motto “Nemo me impune lacessit”, or “no-one attacks me with impunity” would seem arrogant were it to come from any other hotel. From its lobby with its chandeliers, and towering columns to the 18th-century-style bedroomswith their marble bathrooms and castle views, The Balmoral Hotel 88 offers guests the luxury and elegance of a bygone era. Enjoy a dram in the whisky bar, boasting one of the largest selections in the world, or afternoon tea in the Palm Court where you might also participate in an etiquette class. But while it might be well-established, The Balmoral Hotel 88 far from stuck from in its ways. Ever keen to expand its offerings, as of November 2018, the hotel is offering personalised walking tours in partnership with Hunter, which guests can enjoy while wearing a pair of the classic wellington boot.

The Prestonfield


The Prestonfield

If it’s historic grandeur and unapologetic decadence you’re after, the Prestonfield is the place for you. Concierge sums it up nicely: “As far from minimal as you can possibly imagine, this restored Jacobean mansion is extravagantly rococo.” We’re talking bathrooms decked in Venetian glass mosaics, rooms overflowing with antiques, original tapestries, hand-painted wallpaper, and tassels and gilt galore. A mansion dating from 1687, its one-time owner Sir Alexander Dick can be thanked for introducing the rhubarb to Scotland in the 18th century – hence the name of the hotel’s restaurant. Today, the Prestonfield offers both an escape into an aristocratic past and a bolthole from the chaotic city-centre thanks to its 20-acre grounds complete with peacocks and Highland cattle. Fun fact for history buffs: Benjamin Franklin stayed here and was so taken with it he wrote a poem where he notes its “Neatness and sweetness all around”.


Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh – The Caledonian

This famous railway hotel is somewhat of a city relic, sitting at the west end of Princes Street and referred to affectionately by locals as “the Caley”. Taken over by Waldorf-Astoria in 2012, it was transformed from a slightly worn-down grande dame into something spectacular. And in the last year, it has been bought by Twenty14 Holdings, who plan to add a further 50 rooms to the hotel. Built between 1898 and 1902, today it features two exceptional restaurants – traditional French haute cuisine at Pompadour by Galvin, classic bistro fare at Galvin Brasserie de Luxeand plenty of red sandstone, restored marble, and rooms in smokey blues and greys. Of particular note for history fans is the show-stopping Peacock Alley, formerly the train station concourse, as well as The Carriage Queen rooms, with fixings that recall Victorian railway carriages. You can also delight in knowing that previous guests have included the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Elizabeth Taylor and Bing Crosby.


The Scotsman Hotel

This elegant fin de siècle building was formerly the headquarters of the ground-breaking national newspaper of the same name. Today The Scotsman is a luxury hotel but much of its allure lies in imagining the controversial headlines composed within its walls. Of equal charm is its magnificent sandstone façade and fairytale-esque towers. As Time Out puts it, there’s “No better place in Edinburgh to have a bath in a turret.” And its interior is also gorgeous: dark oak panelling, stained glass, columns, and a green-and-white marble staircase. Set over 9 floors, the hotel is a labyrinth that will lead you back to a time when its rooms were used as offices and its Penthouse Suite the pigeon loft. Top tip from Fodor’s: ask for an upper-story room with a view, both for peace and quiet and a visual treat. Rooms each include a Edinburgh Monopoly board game and a free daily copy of the Scotsman.


The Witchery by the Castle

For a heady hit of Gothic glamour, it doesn’t get better than The Witchery by the Castle. Nestled away beneath the castle in a merchant’s house dating from 1595, this is a portal directly back to the 16th century. Think oak-panels, low ceilings, wall hangings, red leather, and lots of candle-light. The suites have names such as The Turrent and The Inner Sanctum and are all as bewitchingly old-fashioned as you might hope: ornate four-poster beds, velvet, brocade, bathtubs designed for two, and here and there a suit of armour. Yes, it’s flamboyant and theatrical but everyone needs a break from the 21st century sometimes. Unfortunately this unique hideaway is no longer a secret. As Lonely Planet points out, you’ll have to book several months in advance to be sure of getting a room.


Malmaison Hotel

The Malmaison, set in a former Seamen’s Mission in Leith, is a historic building with a firmly contemporary interior. Located in the docklands area right on the seafront, this hotel is ideal if you’re craving broodingly beautiful views over the water. A majestic 19th-century building that used to be part of the Christian welfare charity, Missions to Seamen, it could house up to 56 sailors at a time – more, if there was a shipwreck. It was also a ‘house of ill-repute’ at one time – or at least legend has it. Today, however, it’s a design hotel, and part of the on-going gentrification of this part of the city as it transforms into a sophisticated and elegant waterfront hub. Here you’ll be close to many of Edinburgh’s culinary hotspots, including The Kitchin and Martin Wishart, both Michelin-starred and within walking distance of the Malmaison.


Hotel du Vin & Bistro

Part of the Du Vin chain, which has built its name on the refurbishing of unusual buildings, this hotel is as characterful as they come. Situated in a former Victorian poorhouse, which then became an asylum, this 47-room hotel is steeped in intriguing history. While the furnishings might be understated – with the occasional smattering of tartan – you can be sure the building’s past was far from uneventful, and there are some rather dark reminders of its former incarnation in the walls around the hotel. Nevertheless, the main emphasis of the hotel is on wine, with rooms named after different wines and champagnes, monthly wine-tasting sessions and a wine glass chandelier in the reception. Meanwhile, at the heart of the hotel is a bistro serving traditional Scottish fare and an overhanging mezzanine bar. Or, if you want to head out, the hotel is surrounded by great pubs and restaurants as well as many popular city attractions.