Beth Forsyth checks into Virgin Hotels‘ first European opening in Edinburgh and discovers heartfelt service, contemporary-luxe interiors and a stunning wedding space that is blowing couples away
I ditched my Dry January resolutions almost as soon as my partner and I stepped over the threshold of Virgin Hotels’ brand-new outpost in Edinburgh – we’d been offered a glass of prosecco to ‘accompany us’ on the walk to our room. How could I resist?
It was the right decision, as it turned out our home for the night was essentially the hotel’s honeymoon suite, a glamorous set of rooms named after Eve Branson, mother of Virgin owner Sir Richard. It’ll certainly see plenty more celebratory fizz popped from April onwards, when the hotel hosts its first wedding.
Built into the octagonal bell tower of a former church (of which more later), this spacious suite would guarantee a blissful first night of married life. It’s plushly decorated in dusky pink, gold and marble and has a fun ostrich-feather chandelier and spectacular lighting installation suspended over the gigantic bed. It’s not a case of style over substance, though; careful consideration has been given to what a bridal squad might need, so there are lots of full-length mirrors, acres of hanging space and a large double vanity area with two illuminated makeup mirrors in the massive bathroom.
There are also plenty of sockets, two smart TVs that can sync with Spotify and other apps, and a very cute little red Smeg fridge containing an array of snacks and drinks (at retail prices – no exorbitant mini-bar rates here). The Edwards and Junior suites next door and 15 neighbouring bedrooms can be block-booked to give exclusive use of this section. Much like the surrounding Old Town itself, the hotel stretches across myriad levels and visitors are encouraged to explore its interconnected buildings.
After marvelling at Oculus, a magnificent Victorian circular atrium, browsing coffee-table books in the ‘Funny Library’ and being impressed by cool, contemporary decor and artwork at every turn, we made our way to Commons Club, the hotel’s fine-dining restaurant. There we were treated to a seat at the Chef’s Table and were bowled over not only by the food and drink, but by the attentive and friendly service we received.
Our server paired wines with my starter of cured sea trout, mango and pineapple and my partner’s refined take on a chicken Caesar, and with our mains (beef and smoked mash for me, and Gigha halibut with confit vegetables for him), and the matches were superb. In fact, all the staff we spoke to were passionate, knowledgeable and went the extra mile. We retired to our room convinced that any wedding here would be in very safe hands.
Next morning, after a quick breakfast in Eve, a vibrant, all-day dining and drinking space that hosts DJs and live entertainment, I met with Emma Jackson, Virgin Hotels’ sales director, and Jo Mckinnell, the hotel’s in-house wedding planner, who took me to see the just-completed wedding space, Greyfriars Hall.
This converted church, which has its own entrance on the Cowgate, has an incredible vaulted ceiling, from which hangs the world’s first 3D-printed bioplastic chandelier. The hall’s lighting can be changed to match colour schemes; there’s an in-house florist, Pixie Rose Flowers; and there’ll soon be access to a sheltered terrace for post-ceremony drinks. In short: if you’re looking for a wedding venue in the capital that marries traditional ecclesiastical architecture with contemporary flair and luxury accommodation, this is it. And that’s without even mentioning the roof terrace that’s available for wedding photos and unobstructed views of the city’s iconic skyline, castle included.
Virgin is well known these days for offering trips into space, but I can’t see myself booking an intergalactic flight just yet – why bother, when its Edinburgh hotel is already completely out of this world…
Need to know
The numbers Greyfriars Hall can hold 130 for the ceremony and meal and a maximum of 200 for an evening reception. The adjoining Founder’s Room can accommodate 30, but it would also make a peaceful breakout area from the party next door.
The packages Prices for 2024 start at £145 per head (rising to £155 for 2025), although this is flexible and customisable depending on your needs and wishes. These costs typically include a red-carpet arrival, toastmaster, sparkling wine for the toasts, a half-bottle of wine per guest, three-course meal, use of a cake stand and knife, and some ‘on-the-day’ stationery such as place cards, table plan and menus. Newlyweds will also get access to the rooftop terrace for photographs and a guarantee that no other wedding will take place the same day. Expect a £1,500 room-hire fee for a ceremony in Greyfriars Hall.
The accommodation The Eve Branson Suite is usually reserved for the happy couple, but the rest of the crew can bed down in one of 222 chambers (as the bedrooms are known here), 18 of which are suites. Special rates are often available.
The food and drink As you might expect, the wedding menu has a focus on top-notch Scottish produce and is updated seasonally. Couples will be invited to a tasting. A sample menu could feature the likes of langoustine with heritage tomato tartare and gazpacho to start, a main of braised lamb shoulder with sweet potato and miso mash, rounded off by a crisp lemon tart or chocolate and blood-orange crémeux.