The Grand Central Hotel Belfast is back on the scene, reopening after a £53m refurbishment. So what’s it like? And how does the rest of Belfast look as part of a relaxing weekend away?
A luxury weekend in Belfast didn’t used to be the kind of thing you’d hear yourself saying. But things have changed in Northern Ireland, this place where the valleys run deep and the passions run high.
I caught my first view of the skyline from the bathtub on the 22nd floor (sneaking into the city under cover of darkness on a short hop flight from Cardiff only the night before.)
The Grand Central Hotel reopened in 2018, a symbol of much of the change in the city.
Once upon a time, this was the place to stay in Belfast.
Winston Churchill stayed here and the walls display grand cutlery and crockery from an earlier era, around the time when a ship called Titanic was being built with a sense of excitement, piece by piece on a Belfast gantry.
But then came war, in its various forms, making most of the rest of the world go away.
The Grand Central became a barracks. The Titanic sailed off and then sank (locals are quick to say that she was fine when she left here.)
And while tangible things, like the UNESCO stones of the Giant’s Causeway, remained, the rest of Belfast’s beauty became harder to see.
But that’s all history now.
Now, the Titanic Quarter glints in the morning sun as the metal hull of the museum earned the title of the world’s largest Titanic visitor experience.
The Grand Central serves champagne on the sky bar and fine wines and dining in the Seahorse bar and restaurant.
Fire-toting, cloak wearing characters from the hit show The Game of Thrones roam the streets and energetic start-ups make the most of old traditions: Jawbox gin, cheese and of course, traditional Irish music.
So what is it like to stay in the new old Grand Central Hotel Belfast?
Let me tell you all about it.
Clean, slick, contemporary lines and a vision of the future without glossing over the past. The seahorse theme reflects Belfast’s coat of arms and maritime history – and poetry about The Troubles lines the walls of the lifts.
Located in Belfast’s Linen Quarter, this is just a short walk from the city centre where you’ll find Belfast City Hall, shops, the Merchant Hotel and bars like Apartment and the famous Kelly’s Cellars.
This is a quieter, more working area of Belfast. It’s also possible to walk to the Titanic Quarter but a bus or taxi would be more comfortable.
As a member of the Hastings Hotels collection, rooms come with a Hastings Hotels Cloud Bed (although, these days, I’m so tired after getting up so much in the night that I think I’d sleep anywhere!).
Rooms are decorated in muted tones in a contemporary style.
The Grand Central lives up to its name in terms of size. It has 300 rooms and 10 suites. All with all the amenities you’d expect for a five star hotel.
You have three distinct options when it comes to dining at the Grand Central Hotel Belfast.
On the ground floor is the spot with the best design: the Grand Café which serves coffee in the morning and a glass of wine in the evening (or possibly both, I don’t know. There is whiskey served with the breakfast menu upstairs!)
The first floor sees the Seahorse Bar & Bistro, where hotel guests also have breakfast.
The décor matches the rooms in some regards: quiet and understated but the food here really shines.
Look out for the slow cooked blade of northern Irish beef, served with horseradish crust, potato croquette, beetroot and red wine.
(Also, I kid you not, there is an invitation to add whiskey to your porridge in the morning. A whole bottle is set aside for the task. )
Finally, there’s The Observatory, up on the dizzy heights of the 23rd floor and the highest bar in all of Ireland.
The most luxurious suite in the hotel (and rumoured to be the most opulent in the whole of Northern Ireland) is the Sir William Hastings Suite. It’s located on the 21st floor and was officially launched by Lady Joy Hastings as a tribute to her husband of 57 years.
I would expect so but didn’t get to test this out this time. But everything else ran smoothly and with a friendly eye so I’d expect staff to manage the arrival of children with ease.
Slick, modern reincarnation of an old classic hotel in Belfast, within walking distance of the main city sights.
Disclosure – my stay was hosted, but as ever, all editorial views are my own.
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Abigail King is an award-winning writer and author who swapped a successful career as a hospital doctor for a life on the road. With over 60 countries under her belt, she's worked for Lonely Planet, the BBC, National Geographic Traveller and more. She is passionate about sustainable tourism and was invited to speak on the subject at the EU-China High Level summit at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris.Here she writes about food, travel and history and she invites you to pull up a chair and relax. Let's travel more and think more. Welcome!
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