Editors' Picks

The Balmoral

Old-world, historic, bustling

1 Princes Street, Edinburgh EH2 2EQ

44 131 556 2414

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At a Glance

Even travelers who typically gravitate to more intimate properties find it hard to resist Edinburgh's storied grande dame, whose prime location and historic setting have made it de rigueur for a proper introduction to the Scottish capital.

Indagare Loves

  • Historic landmark with views of Edinburgh Castle
  • Prime Princes Street location ideal for exploring both Old Town and New Town
  • Traditional afternoon tea, Michelin-starred dining and full-service spa under one roof


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.

Written by Cabell Belk

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