Inside 7 of the world's most enigmatic hotels

Rough Guides Editors

written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 14.03.2019

Often enormous and smack­bang in the centre of things, hotels are, it's fair to say, very, very there. But they're not easy presences: public yet exclusive, both welcoming and a little off­-putting at once, they’re some of the most enigmatic, story­-generating buildings around.

Here, we delve into seven legendary hotels that have been talked about more than most.

1. Raffles, Singapore

As a colonial-­style hotel in Singapore, Raffles sounds like one of its own guests. You can imagine a Mr Raffles breakfasting on kedgeree, his handlebar moustache twitching as he chews, before heading out for, ooo, a spot of big­-game hunting, perhaps?

And it’s a strange manifestation of the latter that secured Raffles' place in this list: in 1902, a tiger found its way into the hotel and was shot as it lurked under the billiards table. Some accounts say it was wild, others that it was an escapee from a circus.

Ponder that as you sip a Singapore Sling, the cocktail invented at the hotel’s Long Bar – no doubt Raffles fan Ernest Hemingway once did just that.


Raffle's Bar © Thomas Nord/Shutterstock

2. The Peninsula, Hong Kong

The rooms are spectacular, the interiors opulent, but this Hong Kong hotel is perhaps most famous for something that is often an afterthought: its car concierge.

But then the cars in question are Rolls­-Royce Phantoms, which are more like a merging of jet plane and Thor than mere, mortal "car". The hotel has a whole fleet of them – the largest single order in Rolls-­Royce’s history, apparently – which it uses to ferry guests about.

The Peninsula hotel exterior, Kowloon, Hong Kong.

3. The Ritz, England

The Ritz, glowering regally down at the hoi polloi scuttling past its Mayfair address, is certainly very there, but what really set it apart when it opened in 1906 was that its staff were sort of ... there-­but-­not.

This perfectly judged discretion came down from the hotel’s Swiss founder, César Ritz, whose philosophy was to "See all without looking; hear all without listening; be attentive without being servile; anticipate without being presumptuous."

Great Britain, England, London, Ritz, tables set for dining

4. Jamaica Inn, England

Jamaica? No, she wanted to come. The old joke’s sort of pertinent here because once you've heard about the goings­-on at Jamaica Inn – both criminal and ghostly – you might well need a little cajoling to stay the night.

A long, squat, slate-­and-­stone affair of 1750, the inn was used as a store by Cornish smugglers back in the day – as immortalised by Daphne du Maurier’s eponymous novel of 1936 – and is regarded as one of the most haunted places in the UK.


© Alexa Zari/Shutterstock

5. Burj Al Arab, Dubai

This hotel’s story is, really, the fabric of the hotel itself. Sure, it's supposedly one of the only "seven-­stars" in the world and Federer played tennis on the helipad, but that sail­-like shape has come to symbolise the gleaming face of modern Dubai.

And in this young city where buildings can sometimes be seen to stand in place of culture, the Burj Al Arab is perhaps unique in its significance.

Burj Al Arab, Dubai

Image via Pixabay/CC0

6. Icehotel, Sweden

Everyone knows that the coolest building ever invented is the igloo, a stone­-cold fact that the Icehotel exploits with panache.

Of course, it doesn’t just close out of season, it disappears, to be rebuilt annually using some 130,000 tons of ice and snow from the Torne River.

This year, however, plans are underfoot to construct a year-round hotel – pushing boundaries even further.

Northern Europe, Sweden, Northern Norrland, Jukkasjarvi, Icehotel, Icebar in hotel built of ice and snow during winter months, interior

7. Chelsea, New York

Here's a little experiment: think "rock 'n' roll"; now switch those brain waves to "hotel room". Do you see a television set arcing gracefully out the window?

Whether or not that classic band-­on-­tour gesture was ever performed here is not recorded, but NYC’s Chelsea is undoubtedly the ultimate rock ‘n’ roll hotel all the same: Iggy Pop and Bob Dylan are associated names; Arthur C. Clarke wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey there; Dylan Thomas died there; and it was the site of the murder of Nancy Spungen, girlfriend of Sid Vicious.

A more recent rival for the Chelsea’s dubious crown is London’s Columbia, immortalised by the Oasis song of the same name.

USA, New York, Chelsea, West 23rd Street, Chelsea Hotel, brass sign at entrance

Top image © Phillip Maguire/Shutterstock

Rough Guides Editors

written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 14.03.2019

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