With a wide array of new hotels supplemented by a string of high-profile renovations, the range of accommodation in Edinburgh is wider now than at any time in the city’s history.
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Choices range from venerable, old-school behemoths, such as the Balmoral and the Caledonian Hilton, to a wave of modish establishments that appeared in the mid noughties, chief among them the Glasshouse, Le Monde and Tigerlily. And no sooner had these latter upstarts got their feet under the table that the refurbished Rutland, Hotel du Vin, Apex Waterloo Place and Hotel Missoni brought even more upmarket competition to the city.
If you're on a tight budget or just up for partying, hostels can be a fun place to stay. All the following places have no curfew. See the Budget Backpackers, Caledonian Backpackers, the Edinburgh Backpackers Hostel and the Princes Street East Backpackers hostel.
The Scottish Youth Hostel Association (SYHA/www.syha.org.uk) runs a number of hostels in Edinburgh, including the Edinburgh Central SYHA Hostel, the Edinburgh Metro SYHA Hostel which is only open in July and August to cater for the summer crowds.
Budget chains have also been expanding: Premier Inn (www.premierinn.com) and Travelodge (www.travelodge.co.uk) now have as many as 15 properties between them.
A sense of occasion
In Edinburgh, you can bunk with backpackers on the Royal Mile, share a modern apartment with friends, bed down in lush rooms attached to a couple of the city’s finest restaurants, and even camp outside in a tent. But it’s the hotels in Scotland’s capital that really add a sense of occasion. At the Prestonfield, for example, you can rest easy amid the splendour of a late Jacobean mansion that’s been refurbished with contemporary fabrics and gadgets. The Howard jumps forward by more than a century, allowing guests to share in the class of a Georgian townhouse. And in the here and now, any number of design-led hotels have opened here since 1994, the year when the country’s first Malmaison created a stir in Leith.
If you’re working with a healthy budget and like the idea of staying in a home from home (but with more antiques), the Edinburgh Residence has suites rather than rooms. The landmark Balmoral, another five-star venue, is a more traditional hotel, and has hosted everyone from J Lo to JK Rowling. Away from the top end, the Hotel Ceilidh-Donia has quietly built a reputation for value and friendliness in the south of the city. And the Mercure Point, the most futuristic hotel in Edinburgh when it opened in 1995, often offers fine deals.
Bad news first. Edinburgh is the most expensive place to stay in Scotland. What’s more, it’s often busy. Average occupancy rates hover near the 75 per cent mark thanks to near-constant business travel, the city’s capital status and year-round tourism.
In truth, though, this average disguises an annual trough and peak. The habitual August festival rush sees nearly 90 per cent of rooms taken by travellers, often at extraordinarily high tariffs that reflect the clamour for beds. Other major events – Hogmanay, big rugby matches – have the same effect. Conversely, during the dog days of winter before Christmas and after New Year, trade slackens off, with more than a third of rooms empty. At times like these, there are definitely bargains to be had.
If you’re able to book ahead, preferably by several months, you should benefit from your foresight. Discounts can run to 50 per cent or more on standard advertised rates, especially out of peak season and even in some of the city’s more desirable and fashionable properties. Last-minute travellers may also get lucky with cheap rates out of season, but deep discounts are far from guaranteed.
When booking, always check the hotel’s individual website first; some deals are only available online. It’s also worth checking consolidators such as Hotels.com and Lastminute.com, which often offer good rates, but be sure to check the small print (especially with regard to cancellation charges).
If you do arrrive without pre-booking, the Edinburgh branch of the national tourist agency VisitScotland (www.edinburgh.org) runs an accommodation service and can usually find you somewhere to stay for a small fee. It has a desk at Edinburgh Airport and an office above Princes Mall at the east end of Princes Street. It’s a better bet than simply walking into a hotel and asking for a room, a method that may result in paying more than necessary.
Hotels have been placed into four price bands: Luxury, Expensive, Mid-range and Budget. For each property, we’ve listed a range of room rates for a double room or equivalent, but these are only for guidance: the variation within these rates, top to bottom and over the course of the year, can be staggering. Make a booking months ahead with a budget chain and you could get a double room, out of season, for the price of little more than two hostel bunks. On the other hand, a standard room for two in a Deluxe hotel in August, booked even a few weeks in advance, can easily top £300 or even £400 a night.
Best hotel bars
Hotel Missoni Suave and ultra chic.
Rick’s Cool urban cocktails.
Hotel du Vin Enjoy a single malt in the whisky lounge.
Whatever your budget and wherever your preferred location, it’s vital to book ahead, especially during the chaos of August and the run-up to Hogmanay.
Many hotels have disabled access and specially adapted rooms; the Edinburgh & Lothians Tourist Board (0845 225 5121/www.edinburgh.org) can provide a comprehensive list. Other advice is available from Edinburgh City Council and Grapevine (www.lothiancil.org.uk).
City-centre hotels don’t always have car parking, and those that do can charge high rates (and may not have many spaces). Central Edinburgh is fairly compact and well served by buses and taxis: unless you really need private transport, it’s best to just leave the car at home.
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