The Europa is Belfast’s best-known hotel. Past guests have included Bill and Hillary Clinton (check out the photographic evidence in the lobby), Lionel Richie, Bob Geldof and Elvis Costello.
Following no fewer than 33 explosions at the property between 1970 and 1994, it became known as the most bombed hotel in the world. “Or, as I like to think of it, the most renovated hotel,” Caitriona Lavery, group sales manager at Europa’s parent company Hastings Hotels, tells me in the popular Piano Lounge.
The Hastings group acquired the Europa in 1995 for £4.4 million and spent £10 million rebuilding it (though it has had several refreshes since then). The Piano Lounge and ground-floor Lobby Bar were both refurbished this year for £500,000.
Hastings has seven upmarket properties in Northern Ireland, including the nearby Grand Central, which opened in June 2018.
Where is it?
We took a shuttle bus (£11.50 return, 30-minute drive) from directly outside the airport to Europa Bus Centre. As the name suggests, this is right next to the hotel, as is Great Victoria Street train station.
Belfast is a small city and extremely walkable, and the hotel is central, if not directly in the centre. City Hall is an eight-minute walk away, and the Cathedral Quarter and convention centre ICC Belfast are about 15 minutes’ walk away. Characterful pubs are on your doorstep, with Crown Liquor Saloon (which opened in 1826) and Robinson’s Bars (1895) both over the road.
What’s it like?
The building is certainly distinctive. Around the entrance is all sandy-toned brickwork and a set of grand-looking columns. Above this, emerging as if a totally separate building, are ten floors of neat glass rectangles. The whole thing is angled slightly in a wide V shape and topped with a large and somewhat austere sign reading ‘EUROPA’.
Inside channels the more classical style of the lower exterior, with light marble-effect floors and more columns. The lobby was warm and welcoming, and there was always a doorman waiting to greet us and a concierge to the right of the entrance manned by two people. On the left of the entrance is the Lobby Bar, and both evenings of our stay we heard live music wafting out.
The staff on reception were very friendly. There was no queue and the process was quick. Aside from the F&B options the hotel doesn’t actually have many public facilities (note there is no gym) so there’s not much for the staff to explain.
There is a fancy lift system which sees you press your room number on a screen before you get in. While in theory it’s straightforward, in practice it seems to cause a bit of confusion among guests. The lift also seemed to take a fair while to come, though whether this was because of the screen or just because the hotel was busy I’m not sure.
Corridors are softly-lit and have varnished dark wood panelling. It reflects the vibe of the rest of the hotel, which is luxurious in a retro way.
There are 266 rooms split between Classic (18 sqm, pictured below), Superior (22 sqm) and Executive (36 sqm). Across the higher floors there are five 55 sqm, two-room suites with views of Great Victoria Street. There is also a Presidential Suite, though there’s no option to book this through the website.
All rooms have tea/coffee making facilities, a safe, hairdryer, 32-inch TV, free wifi, phone, iPod docking station, Espa toiletries, iron and dressing table.
We stayed in the Shannon Suite on the eighth floor. The lounge area was spacious, with a large dining table and chairs, a sofa, mirror and chest of drawers. To the side, under a TV, was a digital radio, coffee maker, tea bags, kettle, water and minibar. There was a selection of magazines (Radio Times, Ulster Tatler and a few city guides) which was a nice touch.
While there were two armchairs and a two-person sofa, it felt like more of a space that would be useful if you were on a long stay or needed extra room to work in rather than a cosy living room to chill out in.
All mattresses are by King Koil, which is apparently approved by the International Chiropractors Association, and beds are fitted with Egyptian cotton sheets.
In the suites, beds are king size (6 ft) and ours was firm and comfortable. The four pillows were more on the soft and squishy side, which suited me.
The bed had a leather headboard and faced a large wooden wardrobe.
Either side of the bed were side tables with clocks, lampshades, a pad of paper and a pen, while the bedroom also had an armchair, full-length mirror and another digital radio.
Full marks for the bathroom, which had a large, well-lit mirror, powerful self-contained shower and a bath (plus a little signature Hastings rubber duck).
Throughout the suite the furnishings look and feel high-quality. In places the design feels more that of a country manor than a modern hotel, though I don’t mean that as a criticism. It feels fitting given the property’s storied past.
That being said, some may find a few elements a bit dated. For example, there are no USB charging points, the TV is fairly small with limited channels (at least compared to some new hotels) and controlling the heat means turning the radiator valve.
Food and drink
Breakfast is served on the ground floor; grab a window seat for people-watching. We sat down with a local paper from the front desk and were quickly offered tea or coffee.
The breakfast spread is solid. I was very happy with my Irish breakfast, tucking into a hearty (if not healthy) plate of black and white pudding, soda bread and locally-sourced bacon and sausage. The hot plates were constantly being topped up by a friendly chef who wished us good morning.
There was a bit less on offer for my vegetarian companion, though there was of course fruit, yoghurt, toast, eggs, beans and porridge.
By evening this space is restaurant the Causerie, which is open till 2230, but we didn’t eat here.
Light meals and afternoon tea are available in the Piano Lounge (see the menu here), as well as cocktails, wines, whiskeys, craft beers and more. The lively Lobby Bar (below) is also a very nice space, and is open till midnight, or 0100 on Fridays and Saturdays.
As mentioned, the Lobby Bar and Piano Lounge were both recently refurbished, which added extra seating. We had a drink in both and found the ambience pleasant, staff friendly and drinks reasonable for a hotel (£7 for a glass of wine, £10 for a cocktail, £5.60 for a local craft beer).
Unusually for such a big hotel, there is no gym, spa or pool.
There are 17 meeting rooms, a business centre and a 1,200-capacity ballroom.
I had a great weekend stay here on a leisure trip, and particularly appreciated the friendly staff, convenient location and good options for a pre-dinner drink.
It’s clear this would also be a good hotel for business trips, conferences or big events, although the lack of gym may put some off. Read up on the history to get the full experience.
- Best for A grand hotel in an excellent location
- Don’t miss A drink and live music in the Lobby Bar
- Price A Classic room in January starts from £80. Suites start from £405
- Contact+44 (0) 28 9027 1066; Great Victoria St, Belfast, BT2 7AP; hastingshotels.com/europa-belfast