After years of construction, the bold and beautiful Virgin Hotels Edinburgh is now fully open with Sir Richard Branson jetting in to cut the red ribbon. The hotel’s restaurant Commons Club opened last summer and lively bar Eve in the autumn, but now all 222 suites are ready to welcome guests.

On the day of the grand opening I asked Sir Richard why he chose Edinburgh for the first Virgin Hotel in the UK. “The city has already been transformed,” he said. “It’s this centre for arts and entertainment. It’s a fun city and it just fits with the Virgin brand completely.” It’s a return to Edinburgh for the Virgin brand, though in a very different guise. “Many years ago we had a record shop on Princes Street. Now it’s great to be able to create a hotel that is great for local people with the bar and the restaurant, and with the wonderful hall we’ve here, right in the centre of Edinburgh. We’ve created a hotel that is arguably the nicest in Edinburgh and brings an old building to life again.”
Branson has a local connection. He explained: “My roots are Scottish. My grandmother was from Edinburgh, my wife’s from Glasgow. Technically, I’m about three-quarters Scottish.”

However entrepreneurship was firmly at the heart of his decision. “Virgin normally goes where we feel the need for us. We felt we could create something original and different,” said Sir Richard. “If you can come in and do something original and different, you’re likely to make a good business. Edinburgh is one of the most important cities in the world for international travel – for me it’s the perfect opportunity to introduce the brand to the UK and Europe.”


Transforming the India Buildings on Victoria Street was a challenge few companies would tackle or be able to finance: the restoration and integration of three separate ‘at risk’ listed buildings was in the winding multi-level UNESCO World Heritage site of Edinburgh’s Old Town. “I like to think I have vision but I must admit two years ago when I saw it, I did gulp somewhat,” Sir Richard said. Virgin worked with hotel architects Ica Studios and interior design studio Four-by-Two on the hugely ambitious project. Construction had to be paused when significant archaeological finds were unearthed, some dating back to the Tenth Century, including cannonballs, a human skull and a portion of the original city walls. For their work on the hotel Ica won the Architectural Excellence Award at the 2023 Scottish Property Awards. 

Fusing the Virgin luxury brand with the local culture was always the aim. “We want to be hyper-local. It’s bringing alive the local spirit,” Sir Richard said, “and bringing some Virgin flair to it. You’ve the right balance between tradition and modern day comfort -- and fun. We are the opposite of a stuffy hotel in what could’ve been a very stuffy building, but the teams have brought it alive.” I asked whether Greyfriar’s Hall, which has been restored as part of the project, will attract more live music to Edinburgh – a competition the capital always loses to Glasgow. “If I had my way – then yes,” he replied, “and it shouldn’t just be for a month. We need to think about people who live here. It should be year-round. Greyfriars can be a rock venue, a folk venue, it can do weddings and conferences.” 

In addition to Greyfriar’s, colourful Cowgate-facing bar Eve has a full stage and hosts live bands, DJs and poetry readings, so the venue is off to a brilliant start. Meanwhile, Sir Richard’s Glasgow hotel, a newly-constructed building due to open on the Clyde, has been inspired by shipbuilding and the “edgier cultural vibe” of the city. There’s additional pressure on Branson for this project: his Glaswegian wife Joan Templeman. “My wife is quite critical about anything I do,” he said. “It’s got to pass the Lady Joan test. They’ve been good enough to name a suite after Lady Joan. I think we’ll swing it on that one. It wasn’t my idea but it’s very kind of the team.
“It’ll be lovely to be able to bring her back to Glasgow and stay in the hotel.”