Hotel Review: A King Deluxe Room at the Hilton Edinburgh Carlton
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.
In a previous life as a food critic, I explored all kinds of terrain in Scotland — whisky distilleries, golf courses and castles — but never Edinburgh. So I was thrilled earlier this summer when I found a cheap way to get there thanks to the inaugural flight from New York (SWF) on Norwegian Air. Once the dates were set, I started looking at hotels and was drawn to the Hilton Edinburgh Carlton for a few reasons: It's centrally located, near the train station (I needed to go to London after my stint in Scotland), operated by Hilton (where I have Diamond status) and was completely refurbished in 2016. Years ago, it had been marketed as part of "Amaris Hospitality’s Hotel Collection" and was once, a long time ago, a department store called Patrick Thomson’s, or PT’s. Today, it's a 211-room Hilton with an impressive façade. And with that, my vacation suddenly came into focus.
I booked four nights in a Queen Guest room using the Citi Prestige Card because I wanted to capitalize on its 4th Night Free benefit. Specifically, I searched online for the best possible price I could find at this hotel, then I called the Citi Prestige concierge at the number on the back of the card and they confirmed the price I found — note that while they won't match prices found on Kayak or Expedia, they will match whatever you find on Hilton's website. In this case, that was $1,252.26 for four nights minus the fourth night ($275.98), for a total of $976.28. Which means I paid $244 a night — a serious savings considering rooms here can easily cost more than $600 a night.
Immediately after the call, Citi Concierge sent me an email with all the details. It's important to remember that you must pay for the entire stay using the Citi Prestige Card or else you won't get the fourth night free. Also note that this particular perk changed in July; the 4th Night Free is now calculated based on the average daily rate, not including taxes and fees (it used to be based on the actual 4th night cost and included taxes). I also called the hotel reservations desk and gave them my Hilton loyalty number so this would count toward my Diamond elite status.
This hotel could not be any more centrally located; it's on a corner in the Old Town where North Bridge meets the Royal Mile and about halfway between Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace.
The train station is a five-minute walk down a lot of spiral stairs, and across the street from The Scotsman Hotel — that's the hotel on the right in the photo below — literally just off the Royal Mile, a quick walk from Edinburgh Castle and near a ton of shops. That said, it's also admittedly in the center of tourist craziness.
What this means is that you may hear some random revelry (ie. drunk singing) or bagpipes in the distance, but noise was not an issue for me. As you can see, management hasn't done anything to ruin the glorious early-1900s façade.
The lobby, however, does not match the exterior at all. It feels, well, corporate. But hey, it's a Hilton and it's tidy — and for many people, that's a reassuringly good thing.
Check-In and Lobby
Step past the two glass doorways and you will see a striking stairway leading to the "first" floor with the executive lounge, the Nineteen Hundred Bar & Lounge, and the Marco Pierre White Steakhouse & Grill — the British celebrity chef actually sold the rights to the name a long time ago, so don't expect to see him hobnobbing with diners.
Make a right at the flowers and you'll hit the front desk. The color scheme is white with gold trim. The staircase runner, like the curtains in the rooms, has a camouflage-meets-faux-leopard-skin pattern that does not scream sophisticated but chortles cheesy with a hint of '80s style.
There was never a long line to talk to someone at the front desk, though there were always a few people, mostly American travelers, hovering in the lobby area. As I approached and introduced myself, the desk clerk found my name, recognized my Hilton Diamond status and explained how my Diamond perks worked: I'd be getting complimentary Wi-Fi (like all guests), breakfast in the restaurant, entry to the Executive Lounge and a special card for 24-hour access to the gym.
The red-eye flight got me into Edinburgh at about 10:00am — way before any room is usually ready for check-in. I expected to leave my bags with the porter and explore the city for a few hours, but the front desk agent told me they did indeed have a room ready now. I should have known this was not necessarily a good thing.
The hotel has many quirks, especially since it was not originally built to be lodging. Some rooms, for example, are located at the end of a hallway and down some stairs, which is a jarring surprise when you're exhausted and carrying several bags.
Our Queen Guest Room was clean and neat but also very small, with low, awkward ceilings and oddly positioned windows that let in very little light — the view also revealed bird crap on the roof (photos kindly omitted here).
I asked about the possibility of an upgrade and the agent promised they would show me something else the following day. Sure enough, my wife and I were moved (they transported all the luggage for us) to a bigger room — a King Deluxe — with a lovely view of a picturesque lane... and the Radisson across the street.
While this room was a vast improvement compared to where we had spent our first night, it really didn't look like something that had been created in August 2016, when the hotel was renovated. What I liked: the comfortable king-size bed, 40-inch TV, room safe, tea kettle and the desk for writing.
This is not a modern look by any means, but the integrated wardrobe and wet bar matched the desk — and they got the job done.
In fact, there was a dedicated charging station area with plugs and USB ports that kept the clutter from being entirely on the desk or bedside tables.
The bathroom felt more luxe. While it didn't have his and her sinks — or a tub, which can be a deal-breaker for some people — it did have ample counter space for toiletries.
The toilet was opposite the sink. Like so many hotels, this one also keeps a needlessly tiny metal garbage can in the corner and whenever you use the foot petal to open it, it slams against the wall, making a crashing sound. I keep a plastic bag for trash on a door handle instead; no stooping required and no clanging.
The no-frills shower was very tall, and would surely pass the TPG shower test.
Shampoo, conditioner, lotion and body wash were made by Peter Thomas Roth, a company launched in 1993 with products sold at Sephora and Nordstrom — not sexy enough to steal for your own stash, but completely respectable.
The Executive Lounge
There were a dozen or so people in the Executive Lounge when I visited around 11:00am.
Two-top tables line the walls; this is a good alternative to the restaurant if you want a small breakfast and don't want to deal with hosts, servers and bills.
Elsewhere in the lounge, there were refrigerators with food and drink options including beer, wine and soda, plus cereal and hot food like eggs, sausage and other breakfast fare.
Freshly cut fruit and meats were also available.
The good news: There's a bar counter and some stools. The bad news: A lot of other people seem to have access to this lounge so good luck finding a seat at peak hours.
The Fitness Center
The spotless gym had a combination of machines and free weights, which I, sadly, did not actually use. Is photography considered a sport?
There were clearly enough benches, mats and space to accommodate groups of people — probably people who work out while I'm still sleeping.
Food and Beverage
Not including the private Executive Lounge, the hotel hosts two places to eat and drink: the Nineteen Hundred Bar & Lounge and the Marco Pierre White Steakhouse & Grill.
One of the things that drew me to this hotel was the restaurant. Marco was one of the first celebrity chefs, supposedly the youngest to receive three Michelin stars, and a notoriously difficult person. If you wonder where Gordon Ramsay gets his bad-guy persona, well, he worked under Marco early in his career.
Is it worth eating here knowing that Marco is present in name only? Not if you're expecting Michelin-star service and cooking, but the prices are surprisingly affordable and the menu has enough selection that everyone can find something to eat, even meat-averse vegans and vegetarians.
Past the gaudy, bespeckled entrance, there are two large rooms for eating. The first (pictured below) features a banquette and chairs that are so low that all the men — who, by the way, take the seat so their dates have a better view — seem six inches shorter than they really are.
The other room, in a larger space, features tables for two and four. This is also where breakfast is served.
The Governor's Fried Haddock and Triple-Cooked Chips with mushy peas and tartar sauce was not especially refined or even different from what you can get elsewhere, but it was crisp, not greasy, and tasty. At 15.50 pounds (~$17), it's a fine alternative entree at a hotel steakhouse.
The steak, which should have been the pièce de résistance, was merely OK. The meat hails from the Campbell Brothers butchers — a company that has been around for more than 100 years. On the menu, the beef is described as having been reared on a natural grass diet and aged on the bone for a minimum of 35 days. I ordered it medium-rare and it was underdone in some areas, and too pink and chewy, with some parts inedible. The knives provided were not sharp enough to tear through the rougher spots of the meat.
The other in-house place to eat, the Nineteen Hundred Bar & Lounge, is located in the open lounge space just outside the steakhouse and on the same floor as the Executive Lounge and you can sit at the bar or in one of many cozy nooks. The menu is reasonably priced; all but one dish is under 20 pounds (~$22) and all but one of the appetizers/snacks was between two and 10 pounds (~$2–$11).
Breakfast, on the other hand, was consistently marvelous. It's served buffet-style and there are dedicated stations for every food group you can think of. This includes fruit and yogurt (which is what I eat when traveling)...
...meats and cheeses, which you'll find at most European hotels...
...pastries and waffles...
...and hot food like sausage, eggs and baked beans. Some of these dishes (and OJ and coffee) are also served in the Executive Lounge for breakfast.
For reasons inexplicable, the food coming from room service seemed more elegant and fussy than what we ate at the restaurant. This avocado salad, for example, is colorful, balanced and had a delicious dressing.
The Chicken Caeser Salad, simple as it sounds, had crunchy croutons (not soggy and not so cold that you knew the dish had been sitting in the fridge for a day), with a liberal sprinkling of cheese and bite-sized portions of lettuce (I hate it when lettuce comes uncut in salads).
I'd be remiss to not try Scottish Salmon while in Scotland. Good thing I did: This dish came with toasted bread and asparagus as well.
If you want to be close to old cobblestone roads, whisky bars, tour-guide meeting places, trains and many, many tourist shops, this hotel is as central as it gets. Room prices may vary from reasonable to high but the Citi Prestige 4th night free feature will save you money either way. But make sure you know which room you're getting and if it requires walking up and down more stairs — and don't be afraid to ask for alternatives if you find yourself in a veritable cave. Skip the steakhouse, check out the restaurant instead for breakfast and prepare to walk off the calories as you'll be pretty much near a dozen major attractions.
Have you ever stayed at the Hilton Edinburgh Carlton? Tell us about your experience, below.