As an Edinburger, I’ll always prefer Glasgow’s Queen Street Station.
The train from the capital to the west coast’s Central Station is to be avoided, since it takes nearly double the time.
Once, when one of these pulled up to the Haymarket platform, I heard the station guard announce over the tannoy; “If you’re getting this train to Glasgow, you’ll need your sleeping bag and a flask”.
Very wise. Everyone gets it by mistake once, then never again.
However, Central Station does have one bonus, and that’s the fact that it’s joined to 19th-century category A-listed railway hotel, voco Grand Central.
After being taken over by InterContinental Hotels Group under its voco brand, this space re-opened in April 2021 after a major refurbishment.
They’ve been sympathetic to its grandeur, and the subtle and contemporary new decor doesn’t detract from the original features.
Built in 1883, this hotel, with Kenny Hunter’s statue, Citizen Firefighter, standing guard outside its front door, was designed by architect Robert Rowan Anderson, whose other works include the Scottish National Portrait Gallery and Mount Stewart House on the Isle of Bute.
Unlike some railway hotels, it’s integral to the station – it wraps around it, with 230 bedrooms and six meeting rooms and a restaurant.
The things this vast property must have seen. These might include shenanigans from its starry guests, including The Rolling Stones, Diego Maradona and Winston Churchill (not all at once, though that would be fun). You’ll see their portraits on a feature wall in the stairwell, opposite a display of vintage train trunks and luggage.
You can also watch many of the station’s comings and goings from inside the hotel, where certain areas, like the bar, look out onto the concourse.
In common with every city’s train station, there’s a lot of colour. We enjoyed watching spray-tanned women (and men) in luminous and tight Tubigrip outfits arriving for weekend nights out in this party city. They’d grab a chippy from the Blue Lagoon, or bagsy a lift from the taxi rank outside, and off they’d speed into the night.
However, we were completely oblivious to this from the vantage point of our room.
It’s a Premium Deluxe, with a view of the roof of the station, which looks a bit like the bleached skeleton of a whale. (If you’re into your roofs, you may be interested to know that this one contains 48,000 panes and dates from 1879). From here, we could also see the jaggy silhouette of Glasgow’s south side, which is punctuated by the occasional spire, crane or high rise.
Amazingly, there was no clack or rumble of train tracks, sounds from the tannoy, or any noise at all. It’s almost completely silent up in our luxury third floor garret. Our dove grey painted boudoir was decorated with framed pictures of the Glasgow coat of arms, hung above the bed. There’s a small living room attached, with a telly in both spaces, and a huge bathroom with roll top bath, walk-in shower and Antipodes toiletries. (They also offer the Premium Deluxe rooms with two double beds, so they’re particularly suitable for families).
Breakfast is served in Champagne Central, downstairs and with some areas overlooking the concourse.
This restaurant and bar consists of a series of high-ceilinged and grand rooms, most of which feature original cornices and columns, as well as paperback-book-themed decor and abstract locomotion wallpaper.
Although Glasgow is our oyster, with the best shops and restaurants on the station’s doorstep, we return for dinner. The Champagne Central menu is global and casual, with dishes including the Hawaiian-inspired poke bowl, which features salmon, edamame beans and sticky rice. There are also burgers, including a Korean chicken number, salads and dishes including shawarma wraps or crab linguine. Of course, whatever you’re eating, you have to accompany it with a glass of proper bubbly, rather than prosecco (though they have that too). Prices start from £10.50 for a glass of Moet & Chandon Brut Imperial and go up to £250 for a bottle of Louis Roederer Cristal.
We were very tempted to go down that route on our last night, but money is an object, and we had an early train to catch the next day.
Queen Street Station, naturally (even if Central is my new favourite).
voco Grand Central Glasgow, 99 Gordon Street, Glasgow, www.ihg.com. Room start from £110.