A great hotel in an up and coming tourist city.....
My Wife and I stayed at the Premier Inn Belfast for 3 nights this past weekend. We paid £60 for the weekend nights and £65 on Monday night.
Belfast itself has been on our "to do" list for a number of years now but we always chose somewhere different when it came to booking, however the lure of £10 return flights on Ryanair from Stansted was too much, so we went ahead and booked up.
The Premier Inn is on Alfred Street, a long road which leads up to the City Hall area of Belfast. We flew into Belfast City Airport and took the 600 airport bus for £1.30 single, although return fares are available also. The bus took an hour to get to the hotel on a Saturday lunchtime, but this was due to a traffic accident which blocked a lane. Normal times into the city are 20-30mins, coming back to the airport yesterday it took about 10 mins. Buses leave approximately every 20mins both ways and drop off at a couple of city centre stops before finishing up at the Europa Bus Centre, about 5-10 mins walk from the hotel. We actually hopped off on Donegall Square South, a mere 5 mins from the Premier Inn.
The hotel itself looks relatively new and is immaculately clean. The staff are awesome, enough said really. They are so friendly and keen to help with directions etc. There are 8 floors, with 20 rooms on each floor.
The room is typical Premier Inn, but slightly nicer than others I have stayed in. The bed was very comfortable and firm, although Premier Inn have started doing away with the king sized beds, often dubbed the biggest bed in budget class. Ours was just a double, but was sufficient in size. The bathroom area was spotlessly clean, with a good, if not brilliant shower and plenty of towels provided.
The windows do not open at all in the Premier Inn rooms so the room can feel a bit stuffy, even in January. There is a heater/air con unit which helped cool the room down a little, but I would expect it to be reasonably warm in the room during the summer months. All in all, I could not fault the room, and the housekeeping was first class. Premier Inn rooms have always been far better than Travelodge rooms and with Travelodge going the minimalistic route (but with some good deals) it is good to see Premier Inn sticking by their principles and providing a first class budget room. Yes we may not spend a great deal of time in a room, but when we are in it, we do want comfort.
We opted to eat away from the hotel for breakfast the first two mornings but did opt for the all you can eat buffet on our final morning. For £7.50 you get a very decent selection of hot and cold items, all of which are extremely fresh. I would say compared to similar buffet breakfasts I have had in the UK, this is one of the better ones and provided reasonable value. However, in saying that there are plenty of cheaper options within a few minutes walk in any direction.
Location was excellent. 5 mins walk from the City Hall area, and a bit longer to the main shopping areas. Also 5-10 mins to the Europa Hotel area, where the Crown Liquor Saloon amongst other bars are situated.
Belfast itself is up and coming and isn't quite the ideal tourist destination yet. However, it is still well worth a couple of days sightseeing in and around the city centre and of course further afield are the delights of the Causeway coast and Giants Causeway itself.
Inevitable comparisons are going to be drawn with Dublin, a city we have visited 7 or 8 times in the past decade. Dublin is far more touristy and Belfast does not have a Temple Bar area as such, although some people will think that a good thing. What Belfast does offer is some great pubs, most within a reasonable walking distance, serving quality pub food. It also offers plenty of sights to look at including a marvellous city hall, unfortunately closed for tours inside for the time being, and when the Titantic Quarter regeneration is complete, a real draw towards the shipbuilding roots. At the moment it is very much in its infancy, aside from the huge Harland and Woolf cranes which helped build the Titanic.
The sightseeing tours available are plentiful with the standard open top bus option, and the famous black taxi tours. We took the open top bus tour and for £11pp had a great 90mins tour of the city centre and the outskirts, including of course the areas of Shankill, The Falls and Crumlin, areas of Belfast made famous by the troubles. The murals are amazing. The bus option also takes you out to Stormont between the hours of 10am and 2pm, so make sure you go during these hours.
One word of warning about Belfast. If you are there on a Sunday, don't expect much life in the morning. We went out about 10am and the only places open were a Centra convenience store and McDonalds. Shops are only open between 1pm-5pm on a Sunday, so the city is dead first thing. However we found this a great way of just walking around with no crowds. We also did the sightseeing bus tour at this time, and when we returned everything was open.
Bars I would recommend are Basement Bar and Apartment on Donegall Square, although waiting for food in Apartment on a Saturday night is not an option. Irene and Nan's, Fibber Magees, Robinsons and of course the Crown Liquor Saloon, all towards the Great Victoria Street area of the city centre. A little bit more of a trek north is the Northern Whig, absolutely top notch pub grub at reasonable prices.
Everything is within walking distance in Belfast. It is a city very much on the up and in years to come will be a top tourist destination. My advice would be to get over there now and appreciate it for what the city is now, and then of course head back in a few years, just to see how much redevelopments and improvements have been done. Well worth a 2 or 3 night break.