The Balmoral: 120 Years and Counting

Rocco Forte Hotels

Even though The Balmoral’s famous tower clock runs three minutes fast, here we take a look back in time to explore how The Balmoral became an icon of Edinburgh.  This is a tale of a legendary grande dame of a hotel, a journey of 120 years culminating into what is today one of the world’s greatest hotels.     

Custodian of The Balmoral since 2016, General Manager Richard Cooke accompanies us as we time travel through personal anecdotes, treasured memories and a secret insight or two. The first hotel in the Rocco Forte Hotel group, The Balmoral also holds a special place in Sir Rocco Forte’s heart.

Golden Beginnings

In search of respite following a long train trip, guests arriving at the North British Station Hotel in 1902 gasped at the grandeur and ambitious scale of the building with its turrets, towers and balconies – a mix of European styles of French Renaissance, Dutch dormers. Anyone who was anyone frequented the hotel at Edinburgh’s most prestigious address, 1 Princes Street.

Designed by W. Hamilton Beattie and A.R. Scott, the building immediately became an architectural symbol linking Old Edinburgh with the New Town. Named The Balmoral since 1988, the hotel is indeed a “majestic dwelling” –‘balmoral’ in Gaelic – founded in the golden era of steam.

Dig down and you’ll discover the hotel’s roots lie deep within Waverley station, its lower floors adjacent to platform 19. Ascending stairs, polished by generations of kilt-wearing luggage handlers, guests were greeted by the full Edwardian splendour of the foyer.

Cooke, Richard
“The Balmoral transcends time. It has seen everything"


Favoured corners & insider stories

General Manager Richard can usually be found in his favourite corner at Bar Prince, a theatrical space created by Martin Brudnizki in collaboration with Director of Design at Rocco Forte Hotels, Olga Polizzi. “I could dine there all day,” says Richard, “it’s designed in line with my personal taste – and I love the entrance to the bar and brasserie, a cosy spot where you can relax with a coffee and the paper.”

It’s the small touches around the hotel that Richard loves, “like the Shinola record player” in the lavish Glamis Suite, named after The Queen Mother’s childhood home. On vintage vinyl soaring arias, jazz or rock ’n’ roll can be played by guests staying in the signature suite – a nod to musical royalties who’ve stayed at The Balmoral from Sir Paul McCartney to The Rolling Stones. They provide the perfect soundtrack to a gin and tonic or dram poured by one of the hotel’s whisky ambassadors, served with a spectacular view over Princes Street.

If walls could talk

From royal families and heads of state to cultural icons from every era, The Balmoral has been a home to eminent figures over its 120 years. 

Rewind through the microfilm of our archives to 1932 when comic geniuses Laurel and Hardy were swept along the streets by crowds of adoring fans from the station to our hotel. Scotland’s answer to James Bond, Sean Connery cut the ribbon as the hotel reopened six decades later while, in 2012, fashion icon Karl Lagerfeld, “made The Balmoral his base during the Chanel Metier D'arts show”, Richard reveals. “The Queen Mother used to come to The Balmoral for lunch, J.K. Rowling finished her final book in the Harry Potter series in one of our suites, and Oprah Winfrey famously interviewed her in another.”

Planning for the next century and beyond, The Balmoral continues to reinvent itself with unique initiatives for guests to discover, from world-renowned whisky ambassadors and speedboat rides on Loch Lomond to stories told through fragrance by their Scent Butler. In Richard’s eyes, “The Balmoral transcends time. It has seen everything – the development of the city, two world wars, Calcutta cup victories. It’s the anchor to so many different things.”

To mark our grand anniversary, join us for a memorable two-night stay or, for the most memorable 2023, join our 120th New Year’s Celebrations and raise a glass as our famous bagpiper signals the start of the end-of-year celebrations. For further information or to book, please contact our team at or +44 (0)131 556 2414.

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