Hilton Belfast has the city at its feet.
Standing twelve stories high, it overlooks the downtown area of Northern Ireland’s capital city on one side, a short five-minute walk from such entertainment highlights as the Waterfront Hall, where major concerts are held, Victoria Square Shopping Centre and the Titanic Experience, a museum devoted to the ill-fated cruise ship built at the local shipyard.
On the other side, this 4-star hotel presents views over the winding Rover Lagan, the Mountains of Mourne and Cavehill featuring a rocky ridge known as ‘Napoleon’s Nose’ which supposedly resembles the profile of the French emperor.
I know all this as I spent lingering moments enjoying the cityscape by day and night from my upper floor suite which featured large viewing windows.
Opened 22 years ago, the 202-room Belfast Hilton underwent a 10 million pounds sterling refurbishment over the last 18 months, including a well-lit, high-ceilinged lobby, riverside restaurant and its No. 4 Bar with booth seating, a centrepiece bar in art deco style. Ten meeting rooms, all on the mezzanine, cater to 450 people, or 300 for dinner service.
Not only is the hotel beside the city’s International Convention Centre, it actually has a covered walkway, an extension of the bar, to the centre itself, leading many top corporations to choose it as their accommodation base during conferences there.
Shortly after arrival, we dined at the hotel’s Sonoma Bar & Grill where we learned that the ceiling of the restaurant is a recreation of the ceiling of the 1st class dining-room on the Titanic. Even the shape of the room resembles a ship, wide at one end, narrower at the other, with pillars along its length. Natural light floods in through floor-to-ceiling windows.
Impressed by the wide range of local produce on the menu, we began with starters of whipped goats cheese with beets and radish from the southwestern village of Fivemiletown, an hour away and black pudding on soda bread croute with balsamic apple cider dressed leaves from the village of Gracehill thirty minutes northwest of Belfast.
A variety of mains cater to most tastes, including a ‘From The Grill’ selection featuring piri piri wing on chicken supreme with garlic parsley potatoes, tomato salsa and sour cream and 21-day aged sirloin and ribeye steaks. Two special burgers are named after twin mammoth cranes that served the local shipyard, known locally as Samson and Goliath.
For vegetarians there is the ‘rainbow bowl’ comprising harissa, chickpeas, roasted peppers, raw young spinach, sesame carrots, grilled red onion and tofu, as well as mixed vegetables cooked in selected spices with basmati rice and fresh coriander leaves.
How we managed to avoid diving headlong into desserts is beyond me, perhaps it was the lateness of the hour. Fear not, however, a rich selection awaits the sweet-toothed including sticky toffee pudding with Bailey’s butterscotch sauce and nude ice cream and citrus lemon tart, cream meringue with berry compote and raspberries. Feeling guilty, though I cannot imagine why, you can always visit the hotel’s gym, open 24 hours.
While Hilton Belfast doesn’t have its own parking facilities, convenient independent underground parking is a mere 100-meters away.
There are many interesting walks near the hotel either along the River Lagan towards the former dockland district now known as Sailortown and the Cathedral Quarter, both featuring historic restaurants and pubs. Or you can walk directly across the street to the award-winning St. George’s Market built in the late 19th century which hosts around 200 market stalls selling fruit, vegetables, antiques, books, clothes, hot food, cakes, antiques, crafts and fresh fish. Five minutes beyond that is the City Hall with exhibitions inside depicting the development of the area, the Ulster Hall, well known for its classical music concerts, and the city’s main shopping street, Royal Avenue. A scenic coastline with soft sand beaches lie less than an hour north or south of Belfast.
As Mark Walker, the hotel’s general manager since 2010, said, “Belfast has become an ever more popular tourism destination, with good travel connections and a variety of cultural events. It has also become a popular TV and film location with ‘Game of Thrones’ being just one popular series shot here.” Indeed, such is the city’s growing popularity for location shooting, millions of pounds have been invested in Belfast Harbour Studios with plans for further expansion.
So if you are culturally curious and want to visit an Irish city that is walkable and also close to beaches and mountains, try Northern Ireland and the Belfast Hilton.