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I could give you a million reasons to visit Stoke-on-Trent. If it’s culture you’re looking for, the city’s got bags of it – from discovering our rich pottery heritage through dozens of factories and museums, to theatre productions about legendary locals.
Legendary locals like who? You ask. Well there’s Nello, of course, the famous clown-turned-Stoke City kit man and all-round marvellous bloke. Then you’ve got rockstars like Slash and Lemmy hailing from the area, Robbie Williams, too, as well as more historical figures like Titanic Captain Edward Smith and spitfire designer Reginald Mitchell. Need I name more?
For families and thrill-seekers, Alton Towers is a hop, skip and a jump from the city centre, with other fantastic attractions nearby, like Trentham Monkey Forest, Waterworld, Stoke Ski Centre and Biddulph Grange Gardens.
Speaking of gardens, the polycentric city is perfectly placed to offer residents and tourists the very best of both worlds – a thriving metropolitan hub of six towns surrounded by moorlands and countryside. To say I’m proud to live here would be an understatement – and it seems others are finally opening their mind to Stoke-on-Trent and seeing just what it has to offer.
In fact, new research by Airbnb named Stoke-on-Trent as the top ‘quirky’ destination for staycationers this year. With the current cost of living crisis, could we see more people ditch the beach holiday and flock inland to the pocket-friendly Potteries for a potter about? I hope so.
Whether you’re planning a visit to Stoke-on-Trent for pleasure or business, just for one night or a longer jaunt, you’ll be looking for somewhere to lay your hat – and The Hilton Garden Inn, Hanley, is perfect, duck.
The £20 million development opened in October 2020 – delayed by a few months as a result of the pandemic – and became the first Hilton-branded hotel in the city.
The 140-room hotel forms part of Hanley’s Smithfield development, a quarter of office spaces and apartments with a fantastic multi-use space for outdoor entertainment like a free ‘beach’, DJ and street food events, and open air cinemas. It aims to link parts of the the city centre, making it the ideal location for the Hilton.
While I’ve dined in Restaurant Six – the hotel’s in house bar and eatery – soon after it opened, I was intrigued to see what it would be like to stay as a ‘tourist’ and got Jake and I booked in for a one-night city centre stay. That said, it’s certainly not just tourists who would benefit from booking a hotel room in the city centre. Jake and I have done it on many occasions following a night out for a special occasion at The Regent Theatre or Victoria Hall – both just around the corner from the hotel – or after a gig at The Sugarmill or The Underground.
I arrived just after 3pm for check in and was greeted warmly by staff who told me everything I needed to know about mealtimes, where facilities such as the fitness centre was located, and how to use the lift. I picked up my keycard and headed up to the top floor where we’d been given a room overlooking Smithfield One, arguably the ‘marmite’ building of Stoke-on-Trent. It’s a colourful geometric glass structure which I personally love. It’s got character, and if that doesn’t sum up Stoke-on-Trent, I don’t know what does.
The King rooms are gorgeous, complete with a huge double bed I could roll over four times in, and pillows that are so light it’s like sleeping on air. The Hilton have used a number of local contractors to bring their vision to life, including Lidr Contract Furniture, in Campbell Road, Stoke, and Tunstall-based Johnson Tiles.
The room has a generous open wardrobe space, a chaise longue, a main table, side table and desk area. Here I also discovered a mini fridge, a tea caddy, and a hairdryer, along with a menu for the restaurant hanging neatly in a leather-strapped shelf. It’s the finishing touches that make the rooms extremely homely, though – with faux plants in wall-mounted planters, and framed prints nodding to the city’s heritage, including bottle kilns, maps and the mighty spitfire.
The bathroom was bright and modern with white tiles and a spacious shower. There’s also a great sink space with fantastic lighting for getting ready – I swear my makeup has never looked so good.
At Restaurant Six, dinner is served from 6pm to 10pm, however brunch and lunch is also available after breakfast until 5pm. Jake and I headed down around 7.30pm and were seated straight away and were well looked after by our servers.
The bar sells beer, wine, spirits, as well as locally produced beers from Titanic Brewery. I ordered a Six Towns gin, which is distilled in Staffordshire, while Jake opted for his usual Guinness.
I then discovered a fun ‘Six Towns’ cocktail menu which featured six carefully crafted and comically named cocktails, each named after the six towns of Stoke-on-Trent, including a Longton Ice Tea, Burslem Belini and Stoke Sunrise. I went for a Hanley Hawaiian Hooch, which was a blue rum-based cocktail and very much made me feel like I was on holiday.
The menu, which uses locally sourced ingredients, features a cosy array of starters, mains, salads, sides and desserts. Jake and I ordered chicken strips and a baked Camembert to share to start, and the slightly spicy strips were perfect for dunking in the gooey cheese, which also came with a ring of crusty rolls.
For mains, Jake went for the sirloin – a 6oz steak served with fries, charred little gem, slaw and a broccoli salad with peppercorn sauce. Meanwhile, after going back and forth between the chicken burger or beef burger, I went for the Six dog: a footlong hotdog smothered in a nacho-style cheese in a brioche bun, served with a bucket of fries. To give you an idea of price, starters were around £8 each, while mains cost anywhere between £12 and £25, depending on what you order.
Jake’s medium-rare steak was cooked to order and was extremely tender, and he was really pleased with the quality and execution of the dish. My hotdog was full of flavour, and had been expertly assembled with crispy onions and tangy pickles. There was simply no room for dessert, but if there had been, I had my eye on the overloaded sundae.
Another really lovely local touch was that all of the tableware is from Steelite International, based in Middleport, while other decor in the restaurant also tipping its hat to heritage – I particularly like the old ceramic moulds on the display cabinet. Heading back to the room, I also spotted famous faces including Reginald Mitchell, Josiah Wedgwood and Sir Stanley Matthews.
Back in the room there was free WiFi and a 49-inch TV so Jake and I could relax in the Serta bed with a Sandra Bullock movie that was showing. The room is also fitted with an adjustable air-conditioning, a safe and has an iron and ironing board idea for business trips where suits need ironing, or for people like me to knock a crease out of a dress for dinner.
In the morning, breakfast is served from 6am to 10am in the week, or 7am to 11am on weekends. Alternatively, there’s a small shop selling refreshments and snacks in the lobby for late risers or those who prefer a grab-and-go breakfast.
We were seated quickly in the restaurant despite it being much busier than the previous night. The breakfast counter is mostly self-serve, with a counter for cereals, toast, pastries and juices, and the kitchen constantly replenishing full-breakfast items like sausage, bacon, egg, hash browns and more. Jake opted for a cooked breakfast which looked incredible, while I had a huge dinner-plate sized waffle that I’d made myself in a handy little iron that cooks them in three minutes flat. It was pretty popular among the guests, but the queue went down quickly and it was worth the wait.
Checkout was at 11am, but I couldn’t leave without taking a look at some of the other facilities available to guests, like the meeting rooms and a 24-hour fitness centre filled with treadmills and free weights.
After check out, there’s plenty to see and do in Staffordshire, so there’s really no need to rush off. There’s Hanley’s buzzing Cultural Quarter offering shops, eateries, music venues and two fabulous theatres. The Emma Bridgewater Factory is within walking distance, as is the new Spitfire museum at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery. Stoke Rail Station and the Bet 365 Stadium are also nearby, and you mustn’t forget to try an oatcake while exploring the area.
The Hilton Garden Inn is brilliant for the city, and it was great to see it so busy among locals, tourists and business people alike this week. The restaurant is open to the public, and is a great place to grab a drink before a gig or theatre show, with cocktails priced at just £7.95.
Stoke-on-Trent is well worthy of being top of your staycation list this year, with the Hilton levelling up the city’s regeneration and development, creating jobs for local people, and a space for people to truly relax, unwind and enjoy what this incredible city has to offer.