Hotel architect and developer Jake Bush emphasizes that a personal touch is key when designing any accommodation, asking “Who is the guest and why are they here?” When it comes to lavish hotels with grand receptions and high ceilings, it’s safe to assume that these types of guests have more interest in the luxury status of the hotel than the rooms themselves. But what about guests who come to stay in more modest holiday digs? What does this say about them?
Not so long ago, choosing to stay in a small hotel usually meant settling for somewhere cheap and simple to rest your head, i.e. a place with no real atmosphere or charm. Today, though, hotels on the small side are close to usurping their large and grander counterparts by making inventive use of their modest space. Gone are the days when chandeliers and opulent staircases were the only way to say “deluxe accommodation.” These small hotels are selling guests on quirk and cultural touches that make for a memorable stay.
To peruse through some of the following oddball hotels, we’d guess that typical visitors are after far more than a gourmet breakfast and Swedish massage experience in their hotel—they’re on the lookout for a place that leaves a lasting impression. The best kind of accommodation should leave you with as many fond memories as the vacation itself (and these 20 teeny hotels definitely deliver on that score!). Living proof that big isn’t always better, here are 20 pocket-sized havens to try if you’re on a bigger budget.
20 Hippo Point, Kenya
If you feel like ground-level safari tents are so last century, then this creative and kooky Hippo Point hotel in Kenya may be the welcome change you’re looking for. This nine-story tower is like five glamping-style tents stacked on top of each other, offering unbelievable views of the savanah surrounding you.
Built between Lake Naivasha and Lake Oloidean, Hippo Point enjoys a perfect microclimate that invites 500 bird species and over 1,000 animals roaming the grounds below your window. Enjoy some morning yoga in the meditation room, or better still, go for a morning walk with zebras and giraffes in tow.
19 Sala Silvermine, Sweden
Steering a little further from the traditions of boutique accommodation is the unusual Sala Silvermine suite in Sweden. Deep in one of the most well-preserved mines in the world, guests with a thing for luxury cave dwelling can experience sleeping in the deepest bedrooms on the planet (155 meters underground, to be exact!).
Getting some shut-eye in a mine may not sound like the most relaxing vacation and the cold and dark journey down the corridor to your room may not sound so inviting. But make no mistake, this is a boutique cave. Rooms are thankfully heated at comfortable 18 degrees Celsius and are decked out with leather chairs and candelabras. Spooky yet stylish.
18 Magic Mountain, Chile
It sounds like something that wouldn’t be out of place at Disneyland. It even resembles a kind of fairytale castle of sorts. This bizarre hotel in Chile is plenty enchanting, but it’s probably not the place to take a young family on vacation. The Magic Mountain hotel slap bang in the middle of the southern Andes is for hikers, adventurers, and preferably people who don’t mind heights. (The reception is only accessible by a suspension bridge.)
The 13 hobbit-like rooms dotted around the conical structure are built within a man-made volcano, spewing a welcome waterfall instead of lava. You’ll be relieved to know! The constant trickle of water outside your bedroom sounds quite soothing (assuming you haven’t overdone it in the nearby tavern).
17 Plus One, Berlin
On paper, a studio apartment above a Turkish restaurant may not exactly scream luxury sleeping quarters, but the proof is in the pudding—the designers have really outdone themselves when it comes to making the most of a small space. Plus One is a catalog home come to life, with a friendly touch of handwritten greetings on a chalkboard.
The best and quirkiest feature of the hotel, though, is the above-and-beyond guest service for anyone new to the city. Upon booking their stay on the hotel’s website, guests at Plus One can choose from one of 35 local Berliners to be their bespoke guide around the city. Want to hunt down the best secondhand bookshop or take a tour of the best vegan eateries around? You got it.
16 Central Hotel & Cafe, Copenhagen
The Danish people are well-known for making the best of cozy nooks and crannies around the home, and by the looks of things, they’ve brought the concept of Hygge to another level with this quirky hotel in the capital—a one-bedroom hotel, that is. If it looks uncomfortably cramp, don’t be fooled. Designer Leif Thingtved has considered every amenity in this 12-square-meter space (if you know where to look).
The wardrobe hides a mini bar, a panel beneath the window has a pullout table and chair set, and a sizable TV screen is concealed in the wall opposite. This cute and cozy room was formerly a shoemakers studio, instantly giving it ten times the character of so many try hard hipster joints.
15 Honor & Folly, Detroit
If every element looks artistically arranged in this place, it’s no accident. The owner, Meghan McEwan, is a former magazine editor, and her eye for detail has transformed a once-ramshackle building into what you see here—a charming boutique inn where every angle could belong in a glossy interior magazine spread.
Meghan’s Honor & Folly Inn in the Corktown neighborhood of Detroit is Old-West-meets-modern-shabby chic. The place is filled to the rafters with local antiques and colorful homemade touches such as Michigan wool blankets draped over rocking chairs. If we didn’t know any better, we’d say we were in a western flick (albeit with WiFi and gourmet breakfast on site).
14 Featherbed Railroad, California
All aboard the Featherbed railroad for a particularly odd B&B stay. On the shore of Clear Lake in northern California, you’ll come across nine antique railway wagons that have been converted into mini luxury bedrooms. It certainly a refreshing alternative to the roaming 5-star suites you might find elsewhere in wine country.
Each of the nine renovated railroad cabooses comes with its own theme that’s sure to appease almost any traveler. One features an art-deco theme with vibes reminiscent of the Orient Express, while others have a Las Vegas bordello motif, a Casablanca-themed cabin and an Easy Rider room complete with Harley Davidson handlebars on the headboard (no, really) and a Jacuzzi for two.
13 Little Ongava, Namibia
‘Ongava’ may translate as ‘Rhino’ in the Namibian tribe language of Herero, but there’s nothing remotely intimidating or aggressive about this place. This stunning hilltop retreat in Namibia is made up of three luxury villas that look out on to a phenomenal 66,000 wildlife reserve, allowing guests to take in nature while sipping champagne from their private decking if an early morning tour in a land rover isn’t your style.
Whether you’re enjoying a late dip in one of the villa’s private plunge pools or sipping on tailor-made cocktails in the rustic chic bar and living room area, you are surrounded by the jaw-droppingly natural beauty of the African plains. Talk about a room with a view.
12 Les Chambres De Franz, Belgium
Proof that boutique has many faces is this delightfully modest three-bedroom townhouse in Belgium. The Les Chambres De Franz in Brussel’s artsy part of town is a strange one, in that it has the basic stripped-back design of a hostel with all the comforts and delights of a 4-star retreat.
Guests are spoiled for choice between the three rooms–La Terrasse, Le Studio, and Le Grenier–as they each have their own distinct character (if budget allows, you could always spend one night in each on a weekend break!). Guests on both brief and long stays are catered for here, and for those kipping longer, stay a while and watch the world go by from the charming decked terrace and tuck into some Belgian pastries and coffee. Ugh, heaven.
11 The One And Only Bedroom At Hotel Droog, Amsterdam
A recurring theme with many boutique hotels is transforming a modest ‘home above the shop’ into a full-fledged luxury pad and, as is clear from the name of this one, Hotel Droog is a luxury pad to be enjoyed exclusively by one guest. Customers frequenting the equally bright and eclectic cafe downstairs may want to extend their stay by retiring to this stunning apartment at night in the heart of Amsterdam.
Whether you’re feeling lavish or in a sharing mood, this renovated 17th-century textile hall boasts a generous living area and kitchen, perfect for hosting parties or work meetings in a trendy space that overlooks the canal and the pretty rooftops in the capital.
10 The Oyster Inn, New Zealand
Take the ferry for 35 minutes from Auckland to the island of Waiheke and you’ll find one of the country’s best-kept secrets (almost), The Oyster Inn. They say there are more sheep than people in New Zealand, so you’re pretty much guaranteed a peaceful low-key getaway anywhere in this corner of the world. But for those who want to escape the city hotel chain vibe, this is the perfect place.
Guests are met by a bright yellow 70’s camper van once they leave the ferry and are taken straight to the Inn. What was once Waiheke’s newspaper office is now a chic haven for seafood lovers and fans of designer beach gear in a homely yet luxury setting. Round off a day’s surfing and beach-bathing by washing oysters down with NZ microbrews and homemade lemonade. Bliss!
9 Delicious, Le Quartier Francais, South Africa
Fancy dining at the 53rd best restaurant in the world or staying in colorful rooms with names like ‘Teeny Weeny’ and ‘Itsy Bitsy?’ The latter part probably doesn’t sound like a huge selling point, and to look at the mesmerizing location, you wouldn’t expect rooms to have these kinds of names! But that’s the joy of this eccentric cottage in the village of Franschhoek in South Africa—a surprise at every turn.
The colorful rooms and odd decorative touches such as vintage typewriters and loud funky furniture may not be to everyone’s taste, but the hotel dining experience certainly will be. Delicious by name and by nature, the hotel’s own eatery, ‘Tasting Room,’ is a holiday for foodies. The view by the pool isn’t a bad visual feast either.
8 Livingstone Lodge, UK
If your budget doesn’t quite stretch to an African retreat but you’re in the market for some impressive wildlife and Serengeti vibes in Europe, this Safari-themed restaurant, and lodge in the heart of the Kent countryside is pretty close.
The Livingstone Lodge is more high-class glamping than traditional hotel. Guests staying in one of their 10 luxury tents can enjoy traditional African cuisine in the communal lodge or sip wine on their private decks while overlooking the surreal but welcoming view. Testimonials have admitted that upon waking up to the sight of zebra, giraffe, and antelope sipping from a watering hole just outside your sleeping quarters, it takes a moment or two to remember that you’re in fact in the English countryside.
7 Verana, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
This super luxurious hotel built into the southern cliffs of Yelapa has been described by House Beautiful magazine as having “a jungle view resembling a heroic television screen permanently tuned to nature, the owners report a constant feeling of exhilaration.” Phew! If that doesn’t at least make you curious to visit Verana on your next trip to Mexico, you may want to check your pulse!
As it turns out, the owners–a former movie set builder and a set decorator couple–intended this gorgeous getaway to be their dream house, until later deciding to share its beauty with others. The intimate guesthouses jut out into the forest canopy, overlooking a view of the Bay of Banderas. This looks so relaxing, it’s unreal.
6 Arctic Treehouse Hotel, Lapland
If you prefer your treehouse accommodation on the cooler side (temperature and style-wise), then these wonderfully-weird hotel ‘cubes’ in Finnish Lapland are the way to go. Built into a hillside on the Arctic Circle, the ingenious designers of the Arctic Treehouse Hotel really want their guests to feel a world away since it seems like these cubes are almost part of the scenery themselves.
Each cubic chalet has a wide north-facing window to let guests take in all the surrounding nature, and this generous vantage point comes in particularly handy for catching glimpses of a certain natural wonder. This is like having your own deluxe viewing tent to see the northern lights with hot chocolate and a roaring fire. Yes please!
5 Le Voyage Extraordinaire, France
Built in loving tribute to pioneering sci-fi author, Jules Verne, comes this strange and imaginative hotel. Tucked away in Verne’s own hometown city of Nantes are two small rooms that are perfect for family stays and for big kids (particularly sci-fi fans).
The rooms are cleverly designed to make guests feel like they are stepping in the shoes of Verne’s literary characters. For instance, a giant wooden suitcase opens out into a double bed and the kid’s bedrooms feature a magic mirror and are only accessible by ladder. Likewise, adults will appreciate the collection of Verne’s works in the lounge area, friendly staff, and a sleek modern kitchen downstairs. A sweet celebration of sci-fi and childlike imagination.
4 Mira Mira, Australia
Australia’s deluxe Mira Mira accommodation lies 120 km from the buzz of Melbourne to offer guests seclusion and fantasy in three very different retreats, including a Japanese Zen escape and a treetop balcony room nestled in the bushland of rural Gippsland. The strangest one of all, though, has to be their elaborately-decorated cave.
No dark and dreary corners here. Natural light floods the rooms from every angle and spotlights in the bathroom ceiling create a romantic starlight vibe. If Australia’s creepy crawlies put you off camping out for real, then this gorgeous luxury cave retreat is the way to go—think The Flintstones but with better decorative tastes!
3 The Egyptian House, UK
In the quintessentially English seaside town of Cornwall–home to seagulls and clotted cream scones–an Egyptian motif is probably the last thing you’d think of when designing a hotel. But it wasn’t the modern owners who took on this strange design concept. The Egyptian house hotel in Penzance actually dates back to 1835 and was inspired by Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt in 1798.
The original temple-inspired décor took a battering by the 1960’s but was lovingly restored in the early 70’s, and what was once the home of a 17th-century Mineralogist is now a chich historical hotel. Guests weary of the beach-inspired décor of nearby inns and cottages can sample Ancient Egypt in the middle of Cornwall—sharing their room space with grand Eagles and Sphinx busts instead!
2 B&B De Waterzooi, Belgium
Upon first glance, this Belgian B&B looks like a cozy cottage living room or a trendy cafe hangout, but it actually hides an interesting history in plain sight. This hotel in the heart of the historic town of Ghent is actually a renovated 18th-century restaurant that was built on the foundations of a medieval church.
Quite literally steeped in history, the De waterzooi B&B is an unfolding step back through time, and its blend of carefully-preserved medieval architecture with contemporary lighting and muted monochrome furnishing make this place seem like its always halfway between the past and the present.
1 Riad 9, Morocco
This colorful holiday home-turned-boutique-bed-and-breakfast hotel is the work of former fashion director, Stephen di Renza. Stephen was eager to take on the project when he thought about the amazing potential a smaller space can offer. “This way, I think guests can relate to all the personal details.” And he certainly gives guests a plentiful feast for the eyes at Riad Numero 9 in the vibrant Moroccan quarter.
There is an odd mix of intricate and beautiful cultural details and some upcycled personal touches that blend surprisingly well together. Eye-catching 18th-century mosaics and hand-carved plaster are right at home with old reworked barber’s chairs, tree trunk stools, and a sunken Japanese table area where guests can enjoy Moroccan wine or mellow out with mint tea and meditation.