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A lesson not to rush a hotel opening: 2 nights at the Virgin Edinburgh

Oct. 24, 2022
20 min read
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The Virgin brand — whether at sea, up in the sky or at its hotels — is known for trendy, youthful vibes with offbeat amenities galore.

Virgin’s latest hotel in Edinburgh, Scotland, might have all that ... one day. However, a recent stay there, nearly four months after the hotel first opened its doors, revealed a property that feels like it opened prematurely.

Guest rooms are complete, but important chunks of the hotel were still under construction, with wishy-washy projections on the timeline for their openings.

While the room was comfortable and relatively affordable compared to a stay around the corner at the Gleneagles Townhouse, there were too many friction points when it came to service and even the appearance of the hotel to make up for its moderate price tag.

The issues ranged from first being assigned a guest room that clearly hadn’t been cleaned to design flaws like a minuscule check-in area (confined welcome areas do appear to be a burgeoning brand standard) for a hotel with more than 200 rooms.

Hopefully, the Virgin team will be able to address these faults as the brand begins to add more locations (future openings are planned for Glasgow, Scotland, New York City and Miami just to name a few).

That's not to say the hotel, which officially opened June 1, doesn't have the right ingredients for a successful run. The recipe just hasn't been perfected yet.

CAMERON SPERANCE/THE POINTS GUY

Booking details

Virgin Hotels aren't part of the major hotel chains, but most of them participate in the Virgin Red loyalty program as well as the hotel-specific The Know guest preference program. From there, it gets a little confusing — namely, you won't earn Virgin Red points staying at the Edinburgh property. It isn't clear why.

Virgin Red is the umbrella loyalty program across a variety of Virgin brands while The Know is Virgin Hotels' personalized platform for loyalty and guest choices that keeps track of preferences on everything from needing a bowl for your dog to wanting a unique amenity sent up to a room for a special occasion. The Know is offered at Virgin Edinburgh.

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The platforms do play off each other, as Virgin Red members can earn 2,000 Virgin points if they book a Virgin Hotel stay and sign up for The Know. Again, however, this wouldn't apply to Virgin Edinburgh. While The Know is about preferences, for room upgrades and goodies like free cocktails at the hotel bar, Virgin Red is where you earn and redeem points for a variety of travel experiences.

I initially booked a nightly cash rate for a Chamber King room with a flexible cancellation policy for 316 British pounds per night ($366 at the time of my booking earlier this summer), which was the most affordable option, directly through the hotel's site. Capital One cardholders benefit from Virgin Red becoming a transfer partner this year. You can also link your Virgin Red account to your Virgin Atlantic Flying Club account to combine rewards — not a bad option considering Flying Club is a transfer partner of other programs like American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards.

Because the British pound dropped in value while the dollar remained strong during our stay, it ended up being cheaper than expected for a Grand King Chamber, two tiers up from the bottom category (a Chamber Balcony room between the two offerings wasn't available the nights of our stay). By the time it got closer to check in, the rate for the Grand King Chamber was going for 327.60 pounds ($360) per night, so I changed my booking to that option to get a little more room for less than what I had originally planned to pay for a smaller room.

It should be noted that prices may not be as kind to American travelers who book a stay here in the future, based on currency fluctuations.

Getting there

The Virgin Edinburgh is a 10-minute walk from the Edinburgh Waverley train station, which features service to points throughout the U.K., like London to the south and Inverness to the north. There are also rental car facilities here if you’re wanting to drive to other parts of Scotland, like we did.

The hotel is about a half-hour drive from Edinburgh Airport, and a ride between it and the hotel costs about 20 pounds ($25).

Standout features

  • The property gets high marks for its design scheme blending the historic and the cool, as this very trendy brand’s Edinburgh location is spread across three former city registry office buildings.
  • There are no wasted spaces in the hotel. Even hidden corners are maximized as small sitting areas where you can unwind with a book or take a meal from the bar. The Virgin team clearly had fun selecting works from contemporary local artists for the decor, but the hotel still leans into its historic features, including plentiful wood paneling, a magisterial library and its location in the Old Town neighborhood, just a block off the Royal Mile.
  • The staff skews younger, and it was fun to see how cheerful those staffing the Commons Club (the main hotel bar) were whenever we dropped by for a drink or a meal. They even remembered attractions we planned on visiting during the day and put us in a special private room for a quick bite to eat for dinner when other seating wasn't available.
CAMERON SPERANCE/THE POINTS GUY

Drawbacks

  • Why did this hotel open so soon and without everything ready to go? Signs throughout the Virgin Edinburgh directed guests to things that had yet to open. Didn't anyone at Virgin ever hear the lesson "slow and steady wins the race?"
  • A hotel this young shouldn’t be showing signs of wear and tear this early in its lifetime — especially when certain parts of the property still aren’t open. Along with an elevator panel held together with tape, the cold water tap in the bathroom in our room was already loose, and there were already snags on the closet curtain. For a hotel charging $360 a night, certain fixtures, including the toilet, felt generic and shoddy.
  • Even simple requests or queries seemed to fluster the laid-back staff. The exception was at the Commons Club bar, where the manager clearly runs a tight ship while still having fun with her staff.
  • Due to the limitations of building out a hotel within a historic space, getting to certain public spaces and amenities like the gym felt disjointed, and guest room layouts could be awkward, such as entering directly into a dressing area rather than a foyer or the main room.
  • While I enjoyed the modern touches of the hotel, it probably isn't for everybody — especially those looking for a high-end historic hotel in the heart of Edinburgh. The Balmoral or the Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh — The Caledonian are around the corner for those kinds of travelers.
CAMERON SPERANCE/THE POINTS GUY

The vibe

The Virgin Edinburgh feels like staying with a fabulous, trendy friend who bought a historic townhouse, then did a gut renovation and redesign that wows many, but likely annoys the conservative neighbors who have lived on the same street for decades. The art is fun and, at times, risque. Hallways and other public spaces are begging to be shared on Instagram thanks to their funky design, and it all pulls together in an old-meets-new eclectic scheme that works.

The guest profile was all over the place during my stay, from a wedding group to airline crews to young couples and older guests. There were even a few buttoned-up travelers who appeared to be in the city for business.

It will be exciting to see this brand grow, and the Edinburgh property makes me wish the Virgin team would start doing more historical building renovations in the U.S. instead of their more recent and upcoming streak of modern glass buildings.

CAMERON SPERANCE/THE POINTS GUY

The room

Check-in is limited to a small desk area that can quickly amass a line of people waiting to get to their rooms or just seeking assistance from Virgin staff. The confined space also leads to congestion with luggage and with people passing through for the hotel bar. I was eventually directed to a room on the eighth floor. It was during this commute I noticed the elevator panel was already damaged and held together by tape — not exactly the cool vibes Virgin Edinburgh probably wants.

I opened the door to my Grand King Chamber room only to see it had not been serviced. There was a dirty plate on a table and a used towel across the vanity. The bed also looked like it had been slept (or at least rolled) in.

I went downstairs to ask for a new room, and the front desk staff members were all very apologetic and seemed surprised that the assigned room hadn't been serviced. Again, because of the small check-in area, there was a bit of a wait to fix the problem, but I was on my way to a new room soon enough.

CAMERON SPERANCE/THE POINTS GUY

The next Grand King Chamber room — also on the eighth floor — was an upgrade when it came to public areas. It was just off an atrium sitting area with a slew of cream and pale pink velvet couches and chairs, potted plants and a soaring dome above. It was also next to the “Sir Richard’s Flat” suite reserved for Richard Branson whenever he visits (I was told he has yet to visit this property. By the end of my stay, I figured that might be for the best until operations run less hot and cold). The room could even be adjoined to that suite to make for a larger space.

Similar to the first room, the second room was a mix of trendy furnishings and historic charm with what appeared to be original crown moldings and space where an old fireplace once roared mingling with funky furniture like the curved bed and low-backed, velvet stool by the vanity. The shower and toilet room were built into wood paneling just inside the room, and the vanity and dressing area also made up this entryway. A closet in this entry comfortably fit one of our small carry-on suitcases, but not both.

While it was all very pretty, it was also jarring to walk immediately into a bathroom area from the outside hallway. Further, it didn’t offer much in the way of privacy beyond a curtain if someone was trying to get showered and ready for the day while a travel companion was still in the room. This was disappointing since the booking system claims there would be a privacy door — not a curtain — in Grand King Chamber rooms meant to separate the dressing room from the sleeping area.

Virgin Edinburgh provides Arran products for the shower and bathroom, and, like many other hotels, has moved to using larger dispensers in the name of sustainability rather than offering up mini bottles of shampoo and soap.

The bedroom area was in the rear of the room and included Virgin’s signature bed style that looks like something out of the Jetsons with its flared corner footboard and tufted, upholstered headboard. The bed was very comfortable and dominated the room significantly more than the one in the first, uncleaned room I had seen. There was also a curved couch and black granite table that comprised a small sitting area across from the bed, and there was a minibar crammed into the corner near the adjoining door to the adjacent suite.

While there was a sign saying Virgin didn’t charge more than typical “high street prices” in its minibar, I couldn’t find a list anywhere of what these specific prices might be. But some of the local spirits offerings did seem interesting, like a bottle of Lind & Lime Gin, which is distilled right in Edinburgh and the brand the bar manager downstairs introduced to us in delicious gin and tonics. There was also Ogilvy vodka, which is distilled about 1.5 hours north of the city.

CAMERON SPERANCE/THE POINTS GUY

While travelers might associate red as a leading color of Virgin cruises, airlines and hotels, it only really appeared on the guest room doors and minibar refrigerator. Otherwise, the room was a fairly muted color mix of lighter wood paneling, white and cream. Rather than veering toward bland, the design team could have had more fun making the room pop like the public spaces.

CAMERON SPERANCE/THE POINTS GUY

There was a retro rotary phone on one of the nightstands to make phone calls or relay any requests to the front desk, but the room also included multiple panels of buttons to control lighting across the room, put up an electronic do not disturb sign and control the temperature settings. These were hard to access, however, because the bed was so massive with its curved headboard.

There was daily housekeeping during our stay, but even that seemed a little disjointed. The room was certainly clean, but it appeared as though a pillow slipped down the side of the bed while it was getting made. Rather than fully make the bed, the housekeeper just left the pillow against the wall — not a big deal on its own, but just another example of where the staff seems to be a little overwhelmed getting this property off the ground and running.

Food and beverage

Not every restaurant at the hotel is open yet, so the food and beverage scene centered around Commons Club during my stay. The team members at Commons Club were fun to chat with, knew the city very well and were helpful with recommendations and remembering taste preferences on subsequent visits.

CAMERON SPERANCE/THE POINTS GUY

Breakfast is definitely the winner here on the food front, though we were told the Commons Club component is only temporary and another permanent full-service restaurant, Eve, was expected to open the week after our departure. In the meantime, breakfast was served in the open-concept kitchen dining area of Commons Club downstairs from the bar area.

I hope they haven't changed too much about this in the move across the corridor to Eve because the 25 pound ($27) per person spread was delicious and served up beautifully. My quick scan of the Eve breakfast menu this week indicated a few items have changed (more on that in a second).

CAMERON SPERANCE/THE POINTS GUY

While our breakfast here was more expensive than the one included in our stay around the corner at the luxurious Gleneagles Townhouse, I found the Virgin Edinburgh offering more exciting and more varied. You had the option to pick from a variety of hot and cold items and then pair your selection with coffee, tea, juices and a pastry basket starter.

Over the span of our visit, we tried whipped, scrambled eggs on sourdough with truffle and chives —a hearty start to a day of walking around the city. Peat-smoked Peterhead haddock kedgeree (curry-spiced rice with parsley) came with a poached egg and curried cream on top. We also indulged in smoked salmon and caviar because why not have a little decadence for the most important meal of the day? Sadly, the smoked salmon and caviar were nowhere to be found on the Eve breakfast menu I perused since checking out of the hotel. The Commons Club-hosted breakfast also came with a pastry basket, fruit, juice, tea and coffee.

Dinner fare at Commons Club was pretty simple, as we just went with bar bites. We split a chicken burger for 15 pounds ($17), cauliflower fritters for 13.50 pounds ($15) and a burger for 16.50 pounds ($18). All were tasty enough bar grub, but they did not exactly warrant a trip specifically to Commons Club for dinner.

Instead, I found afternoon cocktails in the bar and cozy sitting areas an experience I’d repeat when back in Edinburgh. The bar is richly decorated with fashion photography and art inspired by famous women in Scottish history, like Alan Macdonald's "Queen of Dreams" paying homage to Mary Queen of Scots over its mantle. Plus, the afternoon staff was highly entertaining with their experiences living in the city and offering tips on what we should do while quickly passing through (sadly, a rainstorm nixed plans to hike to the top of Arthur’s Seat, an ancient volcano that’s supposed to offer amazing views of the city).

To Virgin’s credit, it has made the most out of just about every nook and cranny of the building. A library off the lobby is stacked with books ranging from “Game of Thrones” to Jane Austen novels to a coffee-table book on the designer Yves Saint Laurent. There are even tables where you can take lunch and dinner, which seemed like an ideal spot for solo travelers. Eye-catching pieces of contemporary art, including a chair with antlers crowned with a neon “Oh deer!” sign overhead, worked surprisingly well in the otherwise stately space.

CAMERON SPERANCE/THE POINTS GUY

A small cafe off this library offered much-needed fuel in the way of espresso drinks each morning. The floor-to-ceiling windows coupled with hanging plants created a nice greenhouse vibe. Unfortunately, the great design didn’t offset my annoyance that signs on the walls pointed to venues like a rooftop that has yet to open.

CAMERON SPERANCE/THE POINTS GUY

Service and amenities

The service at Virgin Edinburgh was very hit-or-miss, unfortunately. Some members of the staff genuinely seemed overwhelmed at times based on their consternated facial expressions. Even trying to access the gym, which was complicated to get to given the hotel’s disjointed layout, was a production. One staffer didn’t seem to know whether the gym was even open or why a room key wasn’t working. Eventually, someone had to accompany me to open the door. Given that it’s nearly four months in, one would hope for a remedy to some of these opening pains sooner than later — perhaps in time for the rest of the hotel to open.

Once at the gym, I was impressed. It wasn’t as nice or sprawling as the one at the nearby Gleneagles Townhouse, but it’s a major win for hotel gyms. Free weights, machines, cardio equipment and other gear like medicine balls and kettlebells were available. There were towels provided as well as chilled water.

Out and about

If “location, location, location” is at the top of what you look for in a hotel, Virgin Edinburgh is hard to beat. The location just a block off the Royal Mile means Edinburgh Castle (plus a bounty of gift shops hawking everything from tartan everything to stuffed corgi toys) is walking distance from the hotel.

It doesn't take long to walk up to imposing Edinburgh Castle, perched protectively over the city, and it would have been nice to get a chance to hike Arthur’s Seat had it not been for the rain. Even closer is the Real Mary King's Close, a preserved alley dating back to the 17th century that's only a three-minute walk from the hotel. Underground tours here take visitors through important parts of UK history as well as a few myths, as a street this historic is bound to be haunted — or so they say.

When we got caught in the rain, we popped into White Horse Oyster & Seafood Bar on the Royal Mile, about an eight-minute walk from the hotel. The seafood was extraordinarily fresh and a great respite from the bad weather — and the New England snob in me was actually quite delighted by Scottish oysters.

If weather works in your favor and you happen to make it to Arthur's Seat, you'll pass the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the British monarch's official Scottish residence that dates back to the 16th century. The Queen's Gallery is also here and features art from the Royal Collection. Both spots are about a 15-minute walk from the hotel. You can find more information on guided tours and attractions at a Scotland Welcome booth located a block from the hotel at the Royal Mile intersection.

Accessibility

While it seemed like a stairway was always involved in any effort to move around the hotel, Virgin Edinburgh does offer accessible rooms and most areas seem to be generally accessible via elevators throughout the property.

Chamber King Accessible rooms include walk-in showers with a built-in bench and handheld shower fixture on top of the rainfall shower head.

Checking out

CAMERON SPERANCE/THE POINTS GUY

Checking out was again a reminder of how the front desk area is far too small for a hotel this size, especially with airline crews and other guests trying to leave at the same time. But the people working check-out that morning were still very attentive to details, noting on my bill that I had left a 250 pound ($275) tip at breakfast one morning and asking if that was intentional.

While I like to think of myself as a generous tipper, I’m not quite at that level. She was quick to correct the charge, and we were on our way to the rest of our vacation. Since leaving, the hotel has sent me multiple requests to fill out a customer survey but not the actual receipt for my bill, which I had to ask for twice.

All that said, there are so many things that do, or at least could, work for this hotel that I can’t fault it too much. It's simply frustrating that the hotel has been open for several months already but still seems to be having customer service issues. After also reviewing the Graduate Roosevelt Island earlier this year, I'm fearful there's an emerging mix of hotels in the $300 entry price range that excite at booking and fail to deliver after check-in.

Ironing out the staff training and opening more of the hotel's amenities (There's that supposedly fabulous rooftop garden in the works. When will it open? Nobody could give me a firm answer.) would make the Virgin property a great option for those visiting Edinburgh.

In its current incarnation? I’d maybe shop around.

Featured image by CAMERON SPERANCE/THE POINTS GUY
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
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  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
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Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
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Rewards Rate

4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

    60,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $250
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees