I like Belfast city and visit on a regular basis but my my experience of hotels in Belfast over the last five years has not been great and I have tried at least five different hotels. During my first visit I stayed in the IBIS in Castle Street and was kept awake at night because of on-the-street drinking but there is no way that the hotel could be blamed for that problem. To be honest I found the experience to be acceptable but I decided that I would never again book a room in a budget hotel at a weekend. I visited the same hotel a second time and the experience was a good deal better mainly because I was there Tuesday and Wednesday.

On my third visit I needed to be in the city at the weekend so I decided to stay in the Europa and I now cannot understand how it can be considered to be a four star star hotel. Bearing in mind the price I was more than disappointed by all aspects of the service.

In June of this year I decided to visit Belfast on strict budget and the ETAP [owned by the same group as IBIS] was by far the cheapest available. Since returning from my visit I have read many reviews and noticed that many people mentioned location as being a major positive but I cannot fully agree because the location was at best very downmarket and seedy. Filthy McNasty is located next door to the hotel and to some degree the name describes the location which does not present the city at its best. I suspect what they, the reviewers, actually mean is that the hotel is well located relative to all places of interest in Belfast and I cannot argue with that. In my case, because I was there to photograph the city, the location was excellent but ugly. However, it should be noted that it is not easy to find a reasonably priced hotel in Belfast that is not in or near an ugly unattractive location. Also, as street photography is my interest and the purpose of my visit ugly is what is interesting.

On my arrival I found the gentleman at the desk to be unfriendly especially when I indicated that I was planning to pay in advance with cash. He said that I could not pay with cash unless I could produce my passport or driving licence and unfortunately I had neither. I can understand the requirement but as I had booked online they had my credit card details so I could not avoid paying for extras or damage to the room. The requirement for ID was not the real issue but the gentleman’s attitude was. However to offset this I found the ladies that I dealt with afterwards to be excellent and I did have interesting conversations with one of them who advised me as to where I should visit. While, I was booking in a Japanese visitor was complaining about the lack of shampoo in her room and she was advised by the unfriendly gentleman that he could sell her a very small bottle at an inflated price or better still she could buy some across the road [the last bit was in fact being helpful rather then rude].

When I got to my room I was horrified because it was obvious that it had been designed by an accountant or an industrial engineer [who specialised in high rise parking] in order to extract the maximum revenue from the guest by offering the least possible value to the client. “Just Good Enough” and not a bit extra is the most appropriate description. Don’t be surprised if the same organisation introduces an even more stripped down facility within the next few years. A friend of mine claims to have stayed in a hotel that did not have any staff on site other than cleaning staff for three or four hours every day.

If you read any of the other reviews that mention the quality of the rooms you will notice that the manager’s response was typically as follows: “I am sorry to hear that you were not happy with the design of the room but this is the standard design in all ETAP / Ibis Budget Hotels”, so basically the manager is not accepting responsibility for the design of the rooms [which is reasonable because he has the job of managing what he had been given] and his response does not address the basic problem. Having stayed in a number of IBIS hotels I do not agree with the manager’s claim because the rooms in the IBIS Castle Street were much better.

The hotel is clean but that should be a given and possibly it is a legal requirement.

The toilet had a really annoying feature in that in order to conserve energy the lights switched off if there was no movement and what is wrong with that, you may ask. Well, the lights switched off within 17 seconds in most cases first time and then within 9 seconds thereafter regardless. Okay, I do admit that it may be a bit strange that one could be bothered to time such events but the designers must have also do so. I am assuming that this problem was specific to my room.

The cubical door did not have a lock and tended to swing open which is not a problem if you are alone. The door was also amazingly thin almost on the verge where wood became a sheet of cardboard or paper.

The next problem was that during the night [on both nights] a tapping sound began within the outside wall under the window. This sounded like a really big woodpecker trying to escape from within the wall or trying to gain entrance from outside.

On the first night I could not sleep because of noise from a night-club and this continued until about 4am. Originally I was under the impression that Filthy McNasty’s was the source of the noise but after photographing the general area I am not all sure because the complex in question was on the opposite side of the building from where my room was located. I should mention that I have stayed in a many hotels in Ireland and noise from nightclubs or pubs has usually been a problem especially on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. My advice is that if you plan to stay in a city centre hotel in Ireland you should check customer reviews to see if noise has been an issue.

The couple in the room beside me had an argument and someone stormed out of the room slamming the door as they left and as a result the walls of my room vibrated like a loudspeaker cone. The walls must be paper thin, less thick than the bathroom door, and even when someone in the next room used the main door under normal conditions my walls acted as a piston producing enough of a disturbance to annoy me.

Many reviewers have indicated that this hotel is good value for money which could be true depending on what you are charged and what you expect. I say this because they appear to operate the “Ryanair Model” when it comes to charging. I booked online many weeks in advance and it cost me less than €100 for two nights but while I was there I met some people who had been charged much more but they had not booked in advance. I could be wrong but you might get the best price by visiting the groups own website. When I arrived at about noon on a Monday they were advertising rooms from £50.00 per night [about €63.00].

So do I recommend this hotel or not? If you are in Belfast on business and you wish to keep costs to a minimum then this may be ideal for one or two nights but bear in mind that if you wish to impress a potential client don’t arrange to meet with them here.

In my case I was there with a specific purpose and all that I needed was a base to operate from so the ETAP was the most suitable hotel available to me at the time.

If your lifestyle involves staying in hostels this may be for you but I have little knowledge as to what a hostel would normal cost so in order to get an idea I checked the price for two nights at Isaacs in Dublin and it amounted to €32 for two nights and the ROI is supposed to be expensive relative to the UK [this may not be a fair comparison].

If you are planning a romantic weekend you should go elsewhere as there is no sense of occasion about this hotel or location.

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