Elegant, cultured Edinburgh – Scotland’s history-infused capital is a striking sight to behold, a city draped across rocky crags that punctuate the landscape. The city centre is cleaved into two parts: the alleyways and narrow, steep closes of the medieval Old Town, and the sleek, Georgian-infused confidence of the New Town. However, this is a tale of more than two cities: beyond the centre, independent-spirited Stockbridge and nautically charming Leith offer entirely different perspectives.
Whether you plan on exploring Edinburgh Castle, scaling Arthur’s Seat or hunkering down in an old pub with a wee dram of whisky, this is a city where you’ll want to stay a while. Luckily, Edinburgh has more places to stay than anywhere else in the UK aside from London, with something for every budget, from smart self-catered apartments that feel like a second home to lively hostels tucked down atmospheric side streets.
Wherever you choose to stay, book well in advance, especially over Hogmanay and during the summer when prices and the squeeze on rooms peaks during August’s Edinburgh Festival. Inspired by the upcoming new edition of The Rough Guide to Scotland, here's our pick of where to stay in Edinburgh.
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Edinburgh’s well-worn thoroughfare from the Castle to Holyrood Palace is central to any visitor’s itinerary. Subdivided into four streets – Castlehill, Lawnmarket, High Street and Canongate – The Royal Mile is home to museums, churches, pubs and restaurants. Yes, it’s a magnet for tartan-stuffed souvenir stores but this is also Edinburgh at its most fascinating. Radiating off The Royal Mile is an atmospheric warren of narrow closes, steep lanes and hidden vaults. The architecture is a topsy-turvy blend of blackened sandstone facades, rubblestone tenements and merchant houses.
Best for a stylish second home: Old Town Chambers
Tucked down a narrow passageway just off The Royal Mile, Old Town Chambers is a collection of stylish, luxury serviced apartments set in a thoughtfully restored fifteenth-century building. Each is enlivened with modern comforts such as Nespresso machines and there's an on-site gym.
Best for atmospheric indulgence: The Witchery by the Castle
Just moments from the castle, the nine riotously indulgent suites at The Witchery promise a memorable stay. Expect antique furniture and tapestry-draped beds, roll-top baths, complimentary champagne and the chance to dine on a full Scottish breakfast at the famously spooky restaurant.
Once the site of Edinburgh’s public gallows, for a long time the Grassmarket was the city’s rather sordid hub, home to brothels and drinking dens. A wave of gentrification has shaken off the areas' grimmer connotations. Today it’s a lively place where bars and restaurants – many set in the shadow of the castle – spill out onto the pavements. Quirky, independent boutique shops cluster along the pastel-coloured swerve of Victoria Street. Come evening the area pulsates as the younger crowd – and often a gaggle of stag and hen parties – descend on the area’s pubs and clubs.
Best for pleasing the crowd: Apex Grassmarket Hotel
The Apex Grassmarket ticks a lot of boxes: a great location – with many of the rooms boasting castle views and balconies that peer down onto the buzzing Grassmarket below – plus a good on-site restaurant, pool and gym.
Best for buzzy fun: The Grassmarket Hotel
With its bright, colourful interior housed in a listed building, the Grassmarket Hotel is a fun-loving place to crash with a great central location set amidst the buzz and bars of the Grassmarket.
Something of a misnomer, Edinburgh’s New Town is actually well over two hundred years old. Confidence and elegance radiate from its broad, straight streets and graceful Georgian architecture. For a dose of culture you can visit the National Gallery of Scotland and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, however, the main lure here is the top-rate shopping. Gleaming designer stores stretch along George Street, popular chains dominate Princes Street and independent shops dot Thistle and Rose streets. And of course, after a hard day’s shopping the area comes alive with sleek restaurants and chic cocktail bars.
Best for a high-end hideaway: The Edinburgh Grand
Fantastically located with the best of the New Town on its doorstep, The Edinburgh Grand is housed in the elegant former Royal Bank of Scotland’s headquarters. Fifty luxury serviced apartments combine touches of the building’s heritage with modern luxuries like Nespresso machines. On-site there’s also aHawksmoor restaurant
and two buzzing bars.
Best for New Town indulgence: The Glasshouse
Incorporating the castellated facade of the former Lady Glenorchy’s Church, The Glasshouse is a seriously hip hotel, just the ticket for a stylish weekend away: think vast windows, push-button curtains, private terraces and a sprawling roof garden.
Edgy and local, Leith feels far removed from the tourist hustle of central Edinburgh. Here there’s an inescapably nautical air: seagulls whirl and screech through the air, low stone bridges criss-cross the Water of Leith and small boats bob at the opening of the harbour. Food and drink is the unmissable draw here. There's haute cuisine – the area is home to two Michelin-starred restaurants – and cool concept bars, time-worn pubs and organic-focused cafés that line the cobbled pavement of The Shore, Leith’s main waterside drag.
Best for a unique city stay: Fingal
Undoubtedly the most unique place to stay in Edinburgh, this luxury floating ship-cum-hotel was once a working ship that serviced lighthouses around Scotland’s west coast. A stay at Fingal makes for a truly memorable experience: from the sloping walls that follow the ship’s stern and the original porthole windows to the compasses above each bed. There’s an on-site restaurant/bar, plus you’ve got Leith’s fantastic dining scene on your doorstep.
Best for waterfront comfort: Malmaison
This was the first Malmaison to open in the UK. The boutique hotel brand kicked off in Leith in 1994, taking over the former Sailor’s Home, a grand 1880s building topped with a clock tower. It’s a lovely central location – perfect to enjoy the best of The Shore – with waterside views and an on-site restaurant, bar and gym.
Set astride the gurgling Water of Leith ford, Stockbridge was a little hamlet until the expansion of Edinburgh’s New Town gobbled it up. However, the area has managed to keep its self-contained village feel and appealing independent spirit. A popular home for young professionals, it’s a charming hub of activity from the Sunday farmer’s market to the string of independent boutique shops, cafés and restaurants. Head out to browse the stores along Raeburn Place – Stockbridge’s sweeping main street – and St Stephen’s Street, once one of Edinburgh’s worst slums and now a sleek, off-beat side street.
Best for listed-building luxury: Nira Caledonia
Set across two gorgeous Georgian townhouses, the rooms at Nira Caledonia vary in size but all share a commitment to luxury, comfort and a gently contemporary style. The fantastic restaurant uses locally sourced produce, while the best of central Stockbridge is only a short walk away.
Best for boutique-style beauty: The Raeburn
The ten lovely rooms at The Raeburn are centred on a popular restaurant and bar that hums with locals. Boutique style is the order of the day here. Rooms are modern but feature plenty of thoughtful touches from flashes of tweed and tartan to GHD straighteners, stand-alone baths and a menu that proudly namechecks its local suppliers.
Top image: Circus Lane, Stockbridge © Doubleclix/Shutterstock