Words by Jade Braham
The UK’s invention of railways made leisure, opulence, and adventure widely accessible, with gleaming stations both warmly welcoming passengers and bidding them goodbye. Some even housed grand hotels to accommodate disembarking travellers, where enchanting galas, delectable feasts, sumptuous bedchambers, and an intoxicating social scene awaited guests. The Caledonian pocketed such traditions and offered stays with a fabulous movie-magic style.
Now, the rose-tinted sandstone façade acts as a gateway to the heart of Edinburgh, with its deluxe features and historic legacy adding character to the prestigious Waldorf brand. The Caledonian exudes a modern Victorian style; Hollywood glamour splashed with a wee bit of Scotland’s friendly hospitality.
The charismatic tartan-clad, bowler-hatted doormen greet travellers at the entrance to a luxurious haven – one where the only Guerlain Spa in the UK sends guests into a hearty repose. The Peacock Alley serves afternoon tea – shadowed by the station’s original Victorian clock – and meals devised by an award-winning chef kindle all five senses. All the while, Edinburgh city invites even the quietest recluse to breach the hotel’s borders to experience moments of pure wonder.
Situated on Princes Street, the V-shaped hotel straddles the city’s cosmopolitan scene and its historical sites. It’s a superb location for short weekend retreats and long-haul breaks, and is an expedient alternative for suits looking for quick power lunches and conference rooms sporting a grandiose style.
For larger events, the Castle Suite, Castle Lounge, or The Versailles Suite emanate a regal essence introduced by their apt names. Their hand-painted neoclassical murals, golden eagles, and Scottish wildlife frescoes, along with grand pianos and glimmering chandeliers, add an element of romance, ideal for wedding bells or festive gatherings.
But, admittedly, these don’t hold a candle to its expansive lobby, decked with an elegant staircase bordered by magnificent Grecian-style marble columns. This staircase is an original feature of the hotel; and, as one ascends its soft carpet, exquisite stained-glass windows depict the coats of arms of numerous cities and towns in Scotland. These were stops frequented by the trains departing this station.
The railway references continue in the Queen Carriage Room’s decor, featuring dramatic, dark, mahogany-oak tinted walls, and earthy pillows and plaid throws which fringe the bed’s Egyptian cotton linens. The copper washbasins and metalwork trimmings further evoke the atmosphere and image of an old Victorian train carriage.
And the Scottish heritage doesn’t stop there – it’s taken on a life of its own, with each of the suites taking their names from famous and influential Scottish individuals, including Sir Walter Scott, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Alexander Graham Bell. Like all 241 rooms, these suites include black-out curtains that make afternoon naps a delicious treat. The complimentary swish bathrobes and slippers are irresistible for lazy mornings, while the Nespresso machines and minibars are a wonderful indulgence.
For example, the Sir Walter Scott Suite perfectly frames Edinburgh Castle, and has unique artwork inspired by the author. The separate living room has sleek hues of blue and grey, and its velvet chairs are fit for royalty, ideal for in-room dining and seating large families.
Of all the dining experiences, the one to write home about is the spacious, yet surprisingly intimate, Peacock Alley. Set within, and preserving, the original railway ticket office and station concourse layout, Peacock Alley radiates a smooth jazz ambience mixed with a New York speakeasy appearance. Its pastel-pink-and-turquoise aesthetic, round tables, trees, bushes, and grand piano will make you want to don your feather boas or two-toned brogues.
The sophisticated, multi-tiered afternoon tea includes pastries that are second to none, and the Irn Bru-infused scones are an exciting twist on a classic recipe. Breakfast, light lunches, cocktails, and trying your hand at the art of Sabrage are equally thrilling pastimes here. Before you leave, feast your eyes on the stonework which shows you the crest of the Caledonian rail line with Scotland’s national animal, the unicorn.
The dining comes into its own with award-winning chef Mark Greenaway’s menu, dedicated to sourcing local ingredients and honouring Scotland’s food and drink. Grazing by Mark Greenway can easily be accessed from Peacock Alley. For more Scottish and Caledonian Railway heritage, head to The Caley Bar, which is a chic setting for a nightcap, displaying over 100 different whiskies (some of which are added to their special whisky cocktails).
The Caledonian boasts the only Guerlain Spa in the UK, which spans five treatment rooms. These offer everything from full-body scrubs to facials and mani-pedis; but the body wraps and exfoliation treatments are the best for refreshing jetlagged skin.
The hotel also focuses on fitness, including an extensive exercise room full of resistance and cardiovascular equipment. With excellent views of Edinburgh Castle, the heated indoor pool is excellent for morning laps or splashing time with the family. The whirlpool is as fun as it sounds, while the sauna or steam room quieten the mind and allow for some quality you time.
Edinburgh Castle, erected on an extinct volcano, is within walking distance of the hotel, bringing with it the cobblestone streets of the Royal Mile, fantastic pubs and shops, Holyrood Palace, and a litany of Edinburgh’s best museums and art galleries.
During the summer, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival brings the haunting notes of bagpipes, lulling melodies of violins, and singers to the streets, and all manner of theatrical performances saturate the Royal Mile. But, for a truly incredible evening, opt to experience the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo as pipes, drummers, fiddlers, singers, and dancers perform on the Edinburgh Castle Esplanade. The rest of the city revels in modern designer boutiques and department stores, should you wish for some retail therapy.
In a nutshell
The Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh is a hotel wrapped in Scottish heritage and infused with intricate references to, and the preservation of, a railway station’s best features. The superb Guerlain Spa and recreational facilities make you want to ‘jump all aboard’ and leave no experience untested, proving that the hotel has found the sweet spot between rest and recreation, which was once present in Victorian railway journeys.
The lead-in rate is £190 per room per night (room only). This rate varies throughout the seasons.
Address: Princes Street, Edinburgh, EH1 2AB, Scotland
Phone: 0131 222 8888