Is there anything better than being a tourist in your own town?
Well yes, actually. If you’re a Londoner at heart living the quiet life in a small coastal town in Northern Ireland, ‘better’ is leaving your small town blues behind you to spend 24 hours being a tourist in the big smoke. That’s Belfast, on this occasion.
I’ll be honest, Hastings Grand Central wasn’t on my hit list of hip hotels to visit. Silly, really – it should have been. I’d heard good things – especially about the bar with fabulous views on the 23rd floor – but amid all the hype and chatter about the latest must-see hangouts in this city, Grand Central just hadn’t quite made it on to my radar until now.
Billing itself as ‘an ode to a city’, Grand Central Hotel is an imposing building that you can’t miss as you head into town from Great Victoria Street train station. It looms overhead, which means there’s no chance of losing your way.
Its location in the Linen Quarter couldn’t be more perfect for exploring Belfast. It’s steps from the station and within skittering distance (that’s the excitable walk you do when you’re exploring a new city in heels, you know) of pretty much everything you could want to see or do in Belfast. From the history and intrigue of the Titanic Quarter to the quiet quaintness of the Cathedral Quarter, everything this city has to offer is quite literally on your doorstep.
With 300 bedrooms, this is the largest hotel in Northern Ireland. The reception area is big and bustling, much like the rest of the hotel, but staff are warm, welcoming and efficient so you never feel that corporate vibe that larger hotels can sometimes emit.
We were treated to a room on the 22nd floor. In the lift, another guest nodded approvingly when he asked which floor I was heading to. I was a little worried that being so high up might feel odd, but the view instantly put my fears to flight. Wow! A word of warning – be sure to check in while it’s daylight if you’re booking a room with a view. We visited in winter and as night fell, the view grew a little less impressive – one city looks much like any other in the dark.
Dinner in the Seahorse Bar and Restaurant was outstanding. Foolishly, I forgot to scribble down a note of what we ordered but it’s saying something that the memory of that meal lingers long after the exact details have been forgotten. Nothing was too much trouble for staff and when we decided to check out the famed Observatory bar on the 23rd floor, we were ushered to a roped-off lift and treated like VIPs.
The cocktails were good, as was the overall experience and the jazzy, exclusive vibe. But much like our room, I felt the Observatory would be better experienced during daylight hours. There’s not all that much to see when it’s dark and rainy outside, so I’m determined to come back to sample Afternoon Tea before sunset sometime.
Breakfast the next day was a relaxed but indulgent affair and we made the most of being in the heart of the city by shopping until we dropped, pausing only to refuel.
These days, we’re spoiled for choice when it comes to somewhere classy to stay in Belfast. But if, like me, you’ve overlooked Grand Central when weighing up your options, allow me to suggest that it’s time to look a little closer at what’s within this imposing building. You won’t be disappointed.