A weekend at the Balmoral, one of Scotland's most cherished hotels

A photo illustration of the Balmoral hotel in Edinburgh. There are illustrated stars surrounding the building.
The Balmoral hotel in Edinburgh.Kseniya Ovchinnikova/Getty Images, TomasSereda/Getty Images, Abanti Chowdhury/BI
  • The Balmoral in Edinburgh is one of Scotland's top-rated hotels.

  • Built in 1902, the hotel has an abundant history — and character to match.

  • BI's writer spent a weekend at the hotel, and can see why it's an institution.

True to form, I was welcomed to Scotland in the pouring rain.

A driver for the Balmoral hotel, sent to pick me up from a red-eye flight from New York City, did a good job of managing expectations. He said to expect it to rain for the next several days.

"But if it doesn't, then it's a bonus."

It was a warm, if not literally, welcome to Edinburgh — and to the Balmoral.

One of Edinburgh's crown jewels, the Balmoral is regularly honored among Scotland's top accommodations. In 2024 alone, it's been listed as one of the city's best hotels by Condé Nast Traveller, and made Forbes' five-star list. Suites can cost around $750 per night; Business Insider paid a media rate of $175 per night.

After just a few days, I can see why it's an institution.

Purchased by the hotelier Sir Rocco Forte in 1997, the hotel was the first in his Rocco Forte Collection, a portfolio that now spans 14 properties across Europe. But the Balmoral was a landmark destination long before becoming a boutique hotel.

The North British Station Hotel (now the Balmoral Hotel) seen on Princes Street in 1910.
The North British Station Hotel (now the Balmoral hotel), seen on Princes Street in 1910.Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Opened in 1902 as the North British Station Hotel, the Balmoral is new compared to neighboring Old Town. The oldest part of Edinburgh, I've been told that some of its buildings date back to the 12th century. And still, the hotel is dripping with history.

Built as a railway hotel, the Balmoral is home to a clock tower that's become a staple of the city's skyline. Balmoral staff seem to love to note that the clock is almost never right — it's set three minutes ahead to help travelers make their trains. It's only right on New Year's Eve (for obvious celebratory reasons).

The hotel has hosted several of Britain's VIPs, from Paul McCartney to J.K. Rowling. In 2007, Rowling finished "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," the final installment of the wizarding series, at the hotel.

A suite marked with a bright purple door is now named after the author. If the room has suffered from Rowling's recent controversies, it doesn't show: On a tour of the hotel, I was told the suite is regularly rented out — for around $4,000 a night. It was booked for the entirety of my visit.

When the hotel reopened after a massive refurbishment in the '90s, Sean Connery cut the ribbon. Now, bathrooms throughout the hotel are fitted with playful prints of the first James Bond actor. (Mine, which hangs across from the bathroom's heated towel rack, is of Bond playing poker with an eye-patched villain.)

A suite in the Balmoral Hotel, overlooking Edinburgh's Sir Walter Scott monument.
A suite in the Balmoral Hotel, overlooking Edinburgh's Sir Walter Scott monument.Jordan Parker Erb/BI

For all its history, the Balmoral doesn't feel stuffy.

That's thanks to Olga Polizzi, the deputy chairman and director of design at Rocco Forte Hotels. Tasked with designing spaces across the Rocco Forte portfolio, Polizzi has ensured that rooms match the vibe of the city in which they're based.

In the Balmoral's case, that meant creating a cottage-like retreat in the city's center.

The hotel's thoughtfully curated rooms feel like they belong in a countryside estate. Floral wallpaper and pillows marked with woodland creatures draw inspiration from the natural world, while tartan textiles give the hotel a distinctly Scottish feel.

But make no mistake: For as quaint and cozy as the rooms feel, they're not constricting. Soaring ceilings help the already large rooms feel even bigger.

I found that the homey rooms are the perfect place to hole up for a rainy weekend in Edinburgh.

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