Destination Guide

Edinburgh

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edinburgh scotland
Courtesy the Waldorf Astoria
Beneath a dreamlike canopy of Gothic and Georgian steeples, spires, towers and turrets, Edinburgh’s cobblestoned streets wind uphill en route to a magnificent medieval fortress. Long hailed the “Athens of the North,” Scotland’s misty, collegiate capital is a profoundly lettered and storied city, from Hume to Harry Potter.

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Exterior of Balmoral Hotel

The Balmoral

Lovely vistas of Edinburgh Castle are among the Balmoral's many assets, though guests requesting castle-facing rooms should also be sure to admire the views of their hotel from the castle's upper battery. A palatial structure that is easily identifiable from the summit of Castle Rock, the Balmoral is the city's unmistakable center of gravity. In Gaelic, Balmoral means "majestic dwelling," and indeed the hotel, with its ornate Victorian facade and venerable clock tower, is a landmark in its own right, rivaling even the castle itself.

The North British Railway Company built the hotel at the turn of the 20th century to serve passengers arriving Edinburgh's Waverley Station (the station is still adjacent to the Balmoral though no longer linked by a dedicated passageway). Despite a series of renovations and the introduction of innumerable modern comforts, the hotel has retained much of its character. Its principal hallways are still wide enough for two amply bustled ladies to pass each other walking in opposite directions, and in keeping with a tradition that dates back to Britain's railroad heyday, its monumental clock is still set three minutes fast in order to help prevent passengers from missing their trains. The only day of the year that the clock runs on time is Hogmanay (Scottish New Year's Eve).

In 1988 the hotel closed for a comprehensive restoration and subsequently became the inaugural property in Sir Rocco Forte's collection. A 2004 makeover by Olga Polizzi saw its 168 rooms and 20 suites clad in gentle lavenders and greens, a palette purportedly inspired by the heathers and mosses of the Scottish countryside. The rooms are generally tasteful and very comfortable if slightly anticlimactic as a corollary to the building's dramatic exterior.

At least part of the Balmoral's appeal lies in its full-service ease, and the amenities do not disappoint. Number One, which is the most formal of the hotel's three eateries, has maintained its Michelin star for more than a decade. Afternoon tea in the lavishly chandeliered Palm Court is attended by a harpist and a flurry of fluted Bollinger champagne. Exercise fiends will be pleased with the well-provisioned gym, and those craving serenity will find an unexpected urban sanctuary by the hotel's lovely indoor pool. It seems no great wonder that this is where J.K. Rowling famously holed up to complete the seventh and final book of the Harry Potter series.

brown and orange tones lounge space

Waldorf Astoria Caledonian

The Waldorf Astoria Caledonian combines the glamour of the high-end hotelier with the old-world charms of Edinburgh.


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