A Night Onboard Fingal, Edinburgh

It's fair to say that the past year or so has meant some huge changes for us all. Whether you were someone who was fortunate to be able to travel overseas regularly or just enjoyed visiting and staying in different places around the UK we've all had to adapt massively. Over the time we've lived in Edinburgh we've kept a (long) list of places, restaurants, bars etc. both in the city and further away that we'd like to visit, included on that are a few hotels or similar that we also thought would make a good base for a break or a night away. This past year has obviously meant that going to a lot of these hasn't been possible but with things starting to open up a little more we've looked again at all the names on that list, one being Fingal, the luxury floating hotel at Leith.

Before Fingal became the gorgeous hotel she is now she was originally commissioned in 1963 by the Northern Lighthouse Board (NLB) to ferry lighthouse keepers, essential supplies and maintenance staff to some of Scotland's most far flung lighthouses. She subsequently spent thirty years based in Oban and then six in Stromness. Fingal was retired in 2000 spending a number of years in private ownership in Cornwall with the new name of 'Windsor Castle'. She came to Edinburgh in 2014, having been acquired by the Royal Yacht Britannia Trust, where the work to convert her into the hotel eventually began. 

Fingal had one final role to play before being converted into the hotel though, temporarily being painted as a World War l dazzle ship. Dazzle camouflage was used extensively during the First World War and consisted of complex patterns and shapes in contrasting colours. The idea behind it was not to hide the item but rather to mislead the enemy by making it difficult to estimate the target's range, speed and heading. Each ship's pattern was also unique to avoid making any type of ship instantly recognisable. 

Leith docks had been home to many of these dazzle ships and the World War l commemorative charity, 14-18 Now asked for Fingal to be painted in dazzle camouflage as a tribute to the Royal Navy and Merchant Navy ships that had been painted this way. The Turner Prize finalist, Ciara Phillips was subsequently commissioned to design Fingal's dazzle camouflage and the ship was painted like this between May 2016 and January 2017. By coincidence at some point during that period we had been for a walk that way and spotted Fingal, though we didn't know then what she was to become, all painted up which my husband took a photo of (see below). There were several ships painted this way by different artists as part of the centenary commemorations for the First World War across the UK and the launch of Fingal's design was timed to coincide with the centenary of the Battle of Jutland.

Fingal painted as a World War l Dazzle Ship ahead of her refurbishment (photo courtesy of my husband)

Back though to our stay onboard Fingal, an overnight one which was something of a last minute surprise for me. We stayed on the ship on a Friday night and I was only told on the Wednesday that we were going away and not told where. I had a couple of ideas based on that list I mentioned before but was determined not to find out beforehand and to let it remain a surprise. Obviously as we got closer to the hotel it was fairly clear where we were going, but by that point I was very excited to finally be going there and I couldn't wait to see onboard.

As Fingal was originally a Northern Lighthouse Board ship all the rooms are named after Scottish lighthouses, ours was Kinnaird Head which I later learnt is in Fraserburgh off the Aberdeenshire coast. Our room was set over two floors with a spiral staircase connecting an upstairs living space with the sleeping area and bathroom below. Just in case you forget you are actually onboard a ship and not in a regular building there are plenty of little reminders all around you, including the porthole windows and, as you can see in the bathroom photo below, the obviously sloping walls of the ship's sides. The taps and fittings in the bathroom have a distinctly nautical theme too looking like little ship wheels and there are ship rope styled handrails throughout the main public areas onboard. 

I loved the luxurious touch of underfloor heating in the bathroom, whilst it wasn't cold when we were there it was still nice to feel that little bit of warmth underneath your feet. The bed was amazingly comfortable but, as I often find in hotels, the room did feel quite warm overnight. Asides from that though I don't think I heard a thing from outside or elsewhere onboard and I slept incredibly well, something I often don't manage on my first night in a new place. As you'd expect too there are all those extra little touches, including scrumptious chocolates in the room and lovely smelling toiletries in the bathroom, that all go towards making a luxury hotel stay especially nice and a real treat away from home. Whilst we didn't need it one thing that did strike me though as not being available in the room was any information about local places of interest etc., I'm pretty sure the staff on the front desk would be more than willing to help but it surprise me not to find anything.

Once we were onboard we stayed there until we left the next day, for a special treat such as ours was there really was no need to leave Fingal. When we arrived our room wasn't quite ready due to the extra cleaning measures currently in place but we were taken to the bar where we were able to enjoy a complimentary drink whilst we waited. I decided to choose one of their signature cocktails settling on a Yard No. 140. The Scottish rum based cocktail was given its name in tribute to the name that Fingal was given when first commissioned. It was sweet but definitely a very enjoyable drink for a Friday afternoon onboard a luxury hotel with nothing to do but wait for your room to be ready.

My afternoon cocktail, a Yard No. 140

Of course we weren't just there for some drinks in the bar we also had dinner booked for later in the evening and wow what a dinner it was! After that complimentary drink in the bar and some time in our room we started the evening with a couple of drinks outside on the ship's deck. There weren't many of us out there but those of us who were brave enough to risk the evening chill as the sun lowered in the sky were actually rewarded with a mild early summer evening even with a bit of a breeze blowing in from the Firth of Forth.

On to the main event though and to start for dinner I enjoyed the Isle of Wight tomato salad with basil sponge, gordal olives and burrata whilst my husband had the smoked salmon which is smoked onboard and comes highly recommended both by him and the member of staff looking after us in the restaurant. This was followed for me by the lamb rump with smoked yogurt, wild garlic, potato gratin and a red wine sauce and dessert of Perthshire strawberries with coconut dacquoise and vanilla ice cream. All the courses were sublime and the restaurant is definitely worth booking as a treat whether you are staying onboard or simply considering visiting the hotel as a non-resident.  

Breakfast by contrast did feel a little more limited, however that may well have been due to the Covid-19 restrictions currently in place. Ordinarily at a hotel breakfast you'd expect to have a range of lighter options that you can help yourself to and then several more substantial options to choose from. As you'd imagine there were no help yourself buffet options (I honestly don't know though if you would have got this option pre-Covid or not) and whilst, having both opted for the full Scottish breakfast, it was delicious both my husband and I did agree that it was quite small compared to many other full Scottish breakfast options that are available in cafes etc. across Edinburgh. On the other hand though maybe a smaller sized cooked breakfast isn't necessarily a bad thing either, what do you think?

The service and attention to detail throughout our stay was exactly what you would expect of a luxury hotel. Whether you are visiting Edinburgh and looking for a luxury base for your stay or are more local and simply looking for a special treat Fingal is definitely somewhere worth considering. Even if you aren't sure about a night (or more) onboard the hotel is also open to non-residents for drinks, afternoon tea or dinner and would make a lovely treat for any special occasion.

Whilst our stay was brief and was over much too quickly it was just so lovely to get away for a complete change and a night of luxury.  We may not have been far from home but it really felt like we were miles away.


  1. It looks so beautiful, and so lovely for you to have a 'get away'

    1. Yes! It was fabulous, we enjoyed it so much.


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