World's Most Unusual Hotels
On a Sri Lankan riverbank stands a lone, slightly misshapen, enormous elephant. As you approach cautiously, you realize this creature isn’t some freak of nature; it’s an eco-lodge of grass and twigs that sleeps up to 10 people in its belly.
Kumbuk Hotel belongs to a peculiar breed of hotels that continue to crop up worldwide, winning over travelers with their sheer novelty. Some of these unusual hotels have never-knew-you-needed-them amenities like an in-room sailboat, while others go for shock factor: ever slept in a coffin bed or a rescue pod? Still others are in improbable locations: the depths of a silver mine; atop a coral reef. But what all the world’s most unusual hotels promise is that you’ll be talking about your stay long after you check out.
Make no mistake: while these unusual hotels may look crazy, they aren’t the result of hoteliers gone mad. The owners are often forward-thinking architects or tinkerers inspired to make their small hotel creations into quirky destinations in and of themselves. They’re well aware that anything strange attracts publicity and curious travelers.
Berlin’s Propeller Island, for example, has become popular among artists, who seek stimulation among the green padded walls, floating beds, and fun-house interiors, which, not surprisingly, have been featured in many music videos. While it jives with Berlin’s artsy reputation, some other unusual hotels go to more radical lengths to blend in with their surroundings. The salt pans of Bolivia make the Palacio de Sal hotel—constructed entirely from salt blocks (even the beds)—a true product of the environment.
Sure, your usual tastes probably run sweeter—say, to a hotel pool, a king-size bed with a down comforter, and tasteful décor. Yet there’s something liberating about letting loose and giving in to a strange suite once in a while—just as there’s something reassuring about knowing these properties exist and thrive. In cases like Sweden’s futuristic all-suites Treehotel, unusual hotels can even be beautiful examples of out-of-the-box design.
Still, that doesn’t account for a life-size hamster hotel where guests are greeted with masks on arrival. That’s just downright strange—and you need to see it to believe it.
Liberty Hotel, Boston
You don’t have to commit a crime anymore to earn acceptance into Boston’s famous Liberty Hotel, which used to be home to the Charles Street jail—inmates once included Malcolm X and shamed Boston mayor James Curley. Built in 1851, the jail, which resides in the heart of Boston’s Beacon Hill, sealed its doors due to overcrowding in 1990. In 2007 it was brilliantly converted into a 298-room high-end dwelling, which still showcases parts of the original structure. Dine inside remnants of original jail cells at the hotel’s restaurant, Clink, and enjoy a drink at Alibi, the bar that once doubled as the jail’s drunk tank. The Catwalk, a walkway once patrolled by prison guards, and part of the 16-floor tower structure, now houses the Liberty’s newest bar. Even the “Do not disturb” signs say “Solitary.” If you want the real lockup experience, ask to stay in one of the 18 rooms that feature parts of the real jail. Investigate local architecture by taking a guided tour of historic homes like the Harrison Gray Otis houses and the Nichols House Museum. Shop Charles Street, which offers terrifically unique shops. Or get wet at the community boat dock, which is just a seven-minute walk from the hotel. Kayaks are free to rent when you show your room key. 215 Charles St., Boston, Mass.; libertyhotel.com
Strahov Monastery, Prague
Though you may not see any nuns or monks in the hallways, staying at the Monastery Hotel might make you feel one step closer to a higher power. Built in 1142, the national historic monastery landmark–turned–dwelling is located in the peaceful garden of Strahov Monastery, part of the city center of Prague’s Mala Strana neighborhood. The four-star standard boutique property offers 12 rooms and suites in an ancient-meets-modern 17th-century building. Each has been given a true upgrade, featuring polished-wood floors, plain white walls showcasing photos of Prague and all the comforts of the millennium: flat-screen TVs with satellite channels, mini-bars, high-speed Internet. A huge draw are the exquisite views of Prague Castle, the Lesser Town and the Old Town, embroidered by Vltava River. Enjoy a quiet stroll to Clementinum-Prague National Library, Prague City Hall, Prague Castle and Charles Bridge. Strahovske nadvori 1/132, 118 00 Prague 1, Mala Strana; hotelmonastery.cz
Aydinli Cave House Hotel, Göreme, Turkey
Explorers looking to quell their inner speleologist can stay at the Aydinli Cave House Hotel, which opened in 2008. Located high above the old village center in the heart of old Göreme, Turkey, the 14-room family-run hotel is carved from natural rock and the traditional stone of Cappadocia, where parts of the cave’s structure date back 750 years. Rooms are decorated in natural, earthy decor and are named after their origins. The former pigeon nests and food storage room, referred to as Divanhorne, or the Living Room, offers original carvings and a private terrace with the best view. The Sirahane, or Wine Place, comprises two large rooms connected by a mini stairwell. One was used to squash grapes for the production of wine and pekmez, a Turkish grape molasses, and the other, Cardark, is where bread was baked. Before exploring Cappadocia, experience a traditional Turkish buffet breakfast or take in the panoramic views of Göreme and Rose Valley from the hotel’s rooftop terrace. Visit the Göreme Open-Air Museum or hike through Pigeon or Rose Valley. There are also Turkish cooking classes, a kilim-weaving tour and belly dancing for those wishing to connect with Turkish culture. Aydinli Mahallesi, Aydinli Sokak No. 12, Göreme, 50180 Nevsehir, Turkey; thecavehotel.com
21c Museum Hotel, Louisville, KY
The goal of 21c Museum Hotel, a boutique property situated in historic downtown Louisville, Ky., was to immerse art into everyday life. And it has done just that since 2006. Most of the contemporary art is found within the multiple galleries that encompass the 9,000-square-foot space. Each of the 90 rooms includes a photo, painting or collage. Originally a 19th-century tobacco and bourbon warehouse, the hotel offers emerging and internationally acclaimed artists a place to be showcased. Its award-winning restaurant serves farm-to-table fusion fare that rotates as often as the artwork itself—twice a year. If you get lonely, you can request one of the hotel’s mascots, a three-foot red penguin, to be placed in your room to keep you company. (The hotel owns 30, which can be spotted on the roof, in the restaurant and throughout the galleries.) Since 21c is part of Museum Row, continue your educational experience by visiting the Louisville Slugger Museum, Kentucky Science Center, Muhammad Ali Center and Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft, to name a few. You can also experience this brand's unusual blend of art and hospitality in Cincinnati, Bentonville, and Durham. 700 West Main St., Louisville, Kentucky; 21cmuseumhotels.com
V8 Hotel, Stuttgart, Germany
Found in the center of Stuttgart’s Meilenwerk, an international hub for car dealers, is the V8 Hotel, an oasis for car lovers. The former Bauhaus-style, 1928 airport site–turned–four-star property (partners with the Porsche Museum and Mercedes-Benz) offers 34 magnificently and authentically decorated rooms and suites. Themed accommodations, such as a ’70s Cadillac drive-in cinema, a Mercedes-Benz car wash and a Morris Minor garage, are musts for those who adore all things automotive. The hotel also offers a house brewery, cooking school, restaurant and legend hall, which displays classic cars. There’s even a glass viewing box for collectors who want to show off their four-wheeled babies so envious onlookers can visually partake in the repair process. Keep the automotive theme in high gear by visiting the Porsche and Mercedes-Benz museums and touring the Mercedes-Benz factory. For a car-free experience, try the Kunstmuseum art museum and the Stuttgart Planetarium. Graf Zeppelin Platz, 71034 Böblingen; v8hotel.de
Propeller Island, Berlin, Germany
Lars Stroschen is the German artist behind this quizzically named Berlin hotel, where each room is stranger than the next—and offers amenities you never knew you needed. One room has a bath in a giant plastic bag; another uses an oversize guillotine to divide a king bed into two singles. There’s a jauntily painted prison cell, a room with coffin beds, and a suite completely decorated in mirror fragments. One of the most requested is an apparently ordinary bedroom. It’s unremarkable except for the fact that it’s completely upside down: all furniture is suspended from above, except for a sunken Murphy bed, a table, a couch, and a TV, which all fold out from the smooth floor. propeller-island.com; single room from $77.
Treehotel, Harads, Sweden
Childhood treehouses never looked like this. Leading Swedish architects give the backyard staple a strange futuristic makeover at the Treehotel (opened in 2010, it was inspired by a film about three men who rediscover their roots by building a treehouse). Each treetop suite has its own look, whether resembling a bird’s nest or a flying saucer, or seemingly constructed entirely from Lego blocks. The most ingenious appears constructed from nothing at all: the mirrored exterior reflects the forest on all sides—as if creating a gap in the space-time continuum. Eight to ten additional rooms are planned for the surrounding forest area. treehotel.se
Hang Nga Guesthouse, Dalat, Vietnam
In what could be seen as an homage to either Antonio Gaudí or mental illness, this trippy hotel by Vietnamese architect Dang Viet Nga has become a popular attraction. Mushrooms, spiderwebs, portholes, and tree roots are sculpted into the organic concrete form, and each of the 10 guest rooms at “The Crazy House” boasts an equally odd name: Bamboo, Gourd, Kangaroo, and Termite, for examlpe. Choose wisely; those burning-bright eyes in the Tiger suite will surely keep you awake. 011-84-063-822-070, 3 Huynh Thuc Khang St. crazyhouse.vn
Palacio de Sal, Uyuni, Bolivia
Hotels made with ice blocks are a dime a dozen, but salt blocks? Now, that’s unusual. But Palacio de Sal is no gimmick. Located in Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat, this 30-bedroom hotel was built from the only construction material readily available. It’s an architectural embodiment of the environment. OVer 4,500 square meters of salt has been mortared together with salty water to construct everything—even the tables, chairs, and dining room, where guests can enjoy salty specialties, such as the salt chicken. Just pray it doesn’t rain. palaciodesal.com.bo
The Beermoth, Inverness-Shire, U.K.
Part carnival camper, part parade float, the canvas-sided Beermoth is an ingeniously converted Commer Q4 1950s fire truck that began hosting overnight guests in 2011. The pieced-together approach resulted in a Victorian brass double bed, an oak parquet floor (taken from a Tudor mansion), a wood-burning stove for those chilly Scottish nights, a fire escape for a staircase—and all the fresh air you could want. canopyandstars.co.uk; Truck for two from $103.
Earthship Biotecture, Tres Piedras, New Mexico
Before we abandon Earth for another planet, it’d be useful to test out the potential new digs. The Earthship Project has been at it since the 1960s and in 1997 began allowing guests to sleep in its sustainable pods (for periods of less than an eternity). Made from recycled or sustainable materials, the earthships recycle their own gray water, generate their own power, and grow their own food. They’re also equipped with amenities unlikely to be found in outer space: Wi-Fi, Apple TV, and streaming Netflix. Check out the greenhouse-inspired Phoenix, with an outdoor fire pit, fish pond, and and a garden teaming with banana trees, birds, and grape vines. earthship.com
La Balade des Gnomes, Durbuy, Belgium
The proprietor of this Belgian hotel has taken inspiration from myths, fairy tales, and quite possibly his psychiatrist to create 10 fantastical guest rooms. The Trojan horse is just the beginning. One surreal room on the third floor even has a wooden sailboat floating in its very own pond. labaladedesgnomes.be
Seaventures Rig Resort, Pulau Mabul, Malaysia
An oil rig is planted on top of the Coral Triangle, one of the world’s most spectacular dive locations. But this is no environmental disaster waiting to happen—rather, it’s an avid scuba diver’s dream hotel. A lift lowers divers into the water below to wend their way through the reef system, and all dives are included in the cost of your stay. But not all the entertainment is underwater: the hotel also offers live bands and BBQ nights. seaventuresdive.com
Sala Silvermine Underground Suite, Västmanland, Sweden
At 500 feet underground, this hotel, hewn from the rock by 18th-century silver miners, is the deepest in the world. Comprising only one room, with silver furniture (naturally), the suite in the abandoned Sala Silver Mine is not for the claustrophobic. On check-in, a guide provides a brief tour of the mine then leaves guests to endure the constant 36 degrees, with possible side effects of loneliness and paranoia, until morning. salasilvergruva.se
Kumbuk Hotel, Buttala, Sri Lanka
On the banks of the Kumbukkan Oya River stands a lone, slightly misshapen elephant. This odd eco-hotel has been constructed from grass and twigs and gently sways in the wind like a lumbering pachyderm. Inside the two-story structure are accommodations for up to 10 people. And real-life elephants can be viewed at nearby Yala Wildlife sanctuary. kumbukriver.com. Doubles from $140.
Bubble Tree, France
These transparent inflatable pods are not for guests requiring either privacy or pitch black to get some shut-eye. The airy architectural bubbles were designed by Pierre Stéphane Dumas and have proved popular all across Europe. Thirteen locations currently use them as guesthouses in FRance, including one on the grounds of the 16th-century castle Château de la Forêt, and bubbles have also appeared in Spain and Switzerland. Ideal for stargazing; maybe not so much for honeymooners. bubbletree.fr