Step into the lobby of Edinburgh’s Balmoral Hotel and your little Muggle will squeal. This luxury hotel is the perfect home base for exploring Harry Potter sites in Edinburgh, says Optimism TravelingMom Cathy Bennett Kopf. Why? It’s located close to the city’s major tourist attractions, has well appointed rooms and special treats for the grownups, including scotch tastings. And shirtless photos of Sean Connery in the bathroom. What more could you want?
Where to Stay When Exploring Harry Potter’s Edinburgh: The Balmoral Hotel
Imagine stepping from a train compartment through a billow of steam onto the platform. A kilted porter greets you, takes your bags and directs you to a lift that ascends from Waverly Station to your hotel.
Guests today don’t arrive in quite the same high fashion. But during our stay, my family felt pampered, 21st century style!
What Works for Families
- The Balmoral Hotel and Harry Potter are intimately linked. J.K. Rowling finished “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” in a suite on the 5th floor. My daughter’s a huge fan and she really enjoyed her brush with literary history.
- Rooms are extremely large and so are the bathrooms. There’s plenty of space for a family to spread out.
- The hotel’s location is ideal for arriving via train and exploring the city’s sights, many of which are within walking distance.
What Doesn’t Work for Families
- Connecting rooms are limited; if you need them, make sure your request is noted on your reservation.
- There was a large contingent of business travelers during my stay. In the past, I’ve found that there can be friction between executives and kids in the public spaces, especially “active” children.
- The on-site restaurants are high-end, fine dining establishments, not casual kid-friendly cafes.
The Balmoral Hotel
The Balmoral sits atop Waverly Station. My family and I arrived via Virgin Trains from London to Edinburgh, a pleasant 4 1/2 hour journey. There are several exits from the station and the signage is confusing. Ask someone for directions to the lift to take you to Princes Street.
The hotel will be on your right but the first thing to do is look up. The Balmoral is topped with a gigantic clock that’s permanently set 3 minutes fast. Why? To ensure travelers don’t miss their trains. It’s one of the many charming features of The Balmoral Hotel. Another is the traditionally costumed bellmen who greet you at the door.
My deluxe king room was enormous, elegant and chic. The Balmoral Hotel is part of the Rocco Forte group. I’ve stayed at their Munich hotel, The Charles. I find the furnishings at their properties to be traditional but with modern color schemes and unique touches that are sophisticated and fun. For example, I expected to see black and red tartan. But the Balmoral designed its own plaid fabric in shades of sage and purple in cooperation with Kinloch Anderson, Tailors and Kiltmakers to HM The Queen.
The room felt extra large because of the soaring ceilings. My guess is that they were at least 15-foot high. The bed was dressed with luxurious linens. It was a bit too soft for my taste, but I think I’m in the minority in regards to my mattress preference – I’d sleep on a plank, if given the option.
Large windows opened to an Edinburgh city view, flanked by drapes that are closed for guests during turndown service. That’s when the maid puts out your slippers, a petite card with the weather forecast for the next day and complimentary bottles of still and sparkling water. The Balmoral Hotel is definitely a luxury option for lodging in Edinburgh. Mid-week rates in the winter of 2017 for a deluxe room with breakfast were $396 per night (including taxes and fees).
Movie Star Bathroom
I vowed to never leave the Balmoral after stepping into the bathroom. Covered floor to ceiling in different patterns of Italian marble, the bathroom featured a deep soaking tub, large vanity with toiletries from Heeley and plush white towels.
The robes looked equally comfy but they were surprisingly stiff and heavy, so much so that they were pulling the hooks from the wall. I prefer robes that feel like a hug rather than a slap.
But the showstoppers in the bathroom were black and white prints of Sean Connery. Draw me a bubble bath, give me a martini – shaken, not stirred – and let me gaze upon the one and only 007. Now that’s a vacation for a traveling mom!
Exploring the Hotel
The spa, fitness center and pool are open to hotel guests, day spa users and members. There’s also a steam room and Finnish sauna. With only 48 hours in the city, I sadly didn’t get a chance to book a treatment. But we did reserve a bespoke session with the hotel’s whisky ambassador for a special Edinburgh scotch tasting.
That didn’t matter a bit to my daughter because we got to do something extra special. I asked the front desk clerk if it was possible to visit the J.K. Rowling suite. The author booked the 5th floor location to escape from her kids so she could finish “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.” Because there wasn’t a guest staying there, we were given a tour. The regular rooms have S-shaped brass door knockers; the Rowlings suite has an owl! Set upon a console table is Harry’s stag patronus and a bust of Hermes that the author scribbled with the date of the book’s completion.
Our room rate included a full hot and cold breakfast buffet, with eggs and omelettes cooked to order. In addition to standard buffet fare, there were exotic fruits (I don’t often get fresh figs for breakfast!) and traditional Scottish foods, including haggis.
For the uninitiated, haggis consists of animal bits Americans don’t usually eat (I’ll exclude the details out of respect for vegetarians) mixed with oats and spices. I gave a try; its taste and texture reminded me of a coarse, beefy polenta. Not my cup of tea, but now I can say I’ve tried it. Once.
Other than breakfast at Hadrian’s, we didn’t dine at the other restaurants at the Balmoral. My daughter is a picky eater; I thought she’d grow out of it, but, that’s not the case. She turned up her nose at the menus. So, instead of ditching her to try the Michelin-starred cuisine at Number One, I asked concierge Brett for recommendations. He directed us to a fantastic Italian restaurant called Amarone, located a short walk from the hotel and within sight of the Scott Monument. Another good dining destination for families is Byron, a fast casual chain, offering “proper hamburgers” and milkshakes.
Prime Location for Exploring Harry Potter in Edinburgh
Because The Balmoral Hotel is perfectly situated, we explored much of Edinburgh in a very, very short time. Before dinner our first night, we walked along the Royal Mile, checking out the prices on cashmere scarves so we could score the best deal. We also had time to explore the Camera Obscura. It’s an attraction that’s hard to explain. I visited when I was a college student many, many years ago and I remembered the experience fondly. I’m happy to report that it stood the test of time. My husband, daughter and I giggled our way through 6 floors of illusions, holograms and challenges to visual perceptions. The Camera Obscura also features a rooftop with the best view of Edinburgh Castle lit up for the night.
The next morning, we walked back up to the castle first thing in the morning to beat the crowds and get a tour. Then we set off to explore Harry Potter in Edinburgh. From the castle, we walked over to the Elephant House cafe, famous as the site where J.K. Rowling penned the first Harry Potter novel. We had warm bevvies and superb fudge brownies and then strolled over to Greyfriars Kirkyard. It’s whispered that Ms. Rowling lifted character names from the tombstones in this graveyard. We were able to find one for Thomas Riddell and one for a McGonagall with the help of a friendly groundskeeper.
Finishing 48 Hours in Edinburgh
We returned to the shops to pick up some of the scarves we’d checked out the day before and then headed back to the Balmoral to freshen up before dinner. Part of our freshening process was to tuck into Scotch, the hotel’s very special bar dedicated to the country’s national drink. We’d arranged for a bespoke tasting session with the hotel’s whiskey ambassador Fraser Robson.
As we waited for our train in the lobby, we chatted with Brett the concierge as if we were old friends. He warned us about the huge crowds that descend for the city’s annual Festival Fringe and how to score tickets for the Royal Military Tattoo at Edinburgh Castle. When we said our goodbyes to The Balmoral Hotel, they weren’t final; it felt more like we were saying “until we meet again.”
In addition to touring Harry Potter sites in Edinburgh, fans of the J.K. Rowling books visiting the UK might also be interested in taking a Harry Potter road trip and touring Warner Bros. Studio in London.