A hotel, for many travellers, is usually just a place where one rests for the night, after a whole day of exploring. Spending a fortune on your accommodation while travelling is perhaps unnecessary for some, especially since it’s really the destination that holds the allure.
However, there are some hotels around the world that are so iconic, they are star attractions in their own right. That prominence could be by virtue of the property’s illustrious heritage. Or perhaps it’s the zany architecture of the place that makes it so buzzworthy, or rather in today’s world, “social media gold”.
Hospitality writer L. Aruna Dhir believes that iconic hotels have a story to tell.
“A unique hotel must have what I call a ‘story’ about it. You can call it history or legacy,” she wrote in an opinion piece.
Aruna went on to list Raffles Singapore and The Imperial in New Delhi as prime examples of hotels with rich heritage.
The former for instance, played a pivotal role during the Japanese Occupation in Singapore. It was reportedly used to room and entertain senior Japanese military officers.
“A rich past lends an outstanding personality to a hotel. The history helps weave a web of stories in which the guests can be fascinatingly ensnared,” Aruna said.
Turkiye’s Ciragan Palace Kempinski general manager Ralph Radtke concurred that iconic hotels have a storied past.
“First, an iconic hotel is a hotel that has a story to tell. Second, it is a hotel where strange things, anecdotes, history has been made. Third, it has to have timeless elegance. What does that mean? An iconic hotel has style and doesn’t lose its style over time,” he said in an interview.
A former Ottoman palace, Ciragan Palace Kempinski is an example of a grand and famous hotel. The building also features an interesting architecture that blends European neoclassical themes with Ottoman and Moorish styles.
Malaysia also has her fair share of iconic hotels. Some of these venues hold their reputation thanks to their inclusion in history books. The Federal Hotel in Kuala Lumpur stands tall today as part of Malaysia’s illustrious history as it helped usher in the country’s independence. Completed three days shy of the country’s independence in 1957, the hotel was intended by Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj to be a world-class accommodation that would host distinguished guests attending the handover ceremony of Malaya from the British.
Then there’s also the Majestic Hotel which was built in 1932. It was a prominent venue for glamorous social events and official receptions back in the day. The hotel today is documented as a national heritage site under the Malaysian Antiquities Act.
In Penang, the Eastern & Oriental Hotel (commonly referred to as E&O) is synonymous with the British colonial era. There’s also the Cheong Fatt Tze mansion (popularly known as the Blue Mansion), a government-gazetted heritage building that has now become a boutique hotel. The Chinese courtyard-style mansion is steeped in both luxury and history.
It was also prominently featured in the Hollywood film Crazy Rich Asians.
We checked out other iconic hotels around the world that you can plan your travel itinerary around.
Since it opened its doors in 1907, this hotel has become an iconic New York City building. For over a century, The Plaza hosted the most distinguished guests and lavish social affairs. Celebrated novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald even reportedly claimed: “Nothing unimportant ever happens at The Plaza.”
Its iconic status has been cemented in pop culture with movies such as The Great Gatsby, Home Alone 2: Lost In New York and 101 Dalmatians. The hotel served as the setting of author Kay Thompson’s Eloise series, too. Today, fans of the book will be able to stay in a special Eloise-themed suite.
With its marble and white brick facade, the 21-storey, French Renaissance-inspired building has been hailed as an architectural landmark. The location of the hotel, facing Central Park, adds to its allure as a top attraction.
This heritage hotel may be better known by most people today for its 2008 terrorist attack. But that tragic history shouldn’t discount over a century’s worth of legacy. Opened in 1903, the hotel – which, of course, is named after the Taj Mahal – has been considered one of the finest hotels in the East.
Regarded as India’s first luxury hotel, the Taj Mahal Palace was the first building in the city (then known as Bombay) to have electricity. Its location overlooking the majestic Gateway of India monument makes it the preferred accommodation for kings, dignitaries and eminent personalities from across the globe.
The hotel’s opulent facade also makes it the talk of town.
Standing on a man-made island, the Burj Al Arab is one of the tallest hotels in the world. Its domineering height aside, the hotel’s unique design also garners the venue plenty of attention. Burj Al Arab is designed to look like the sail of a grandiose ship.
The building has a dramatic helipad near the roof, on the 59th floor, which has hosted some amazing events. US golf legend Tiger Woods teed off from the helipad in 2004 and in 2017, Danish professional kitesurfer Nick Jacobsen, jumped off the place with his kiteboard.
Inside the hotel, guests will find the largest Swarovski crystal ceiling in the world. Burj Al Arab’s interiors are also gilded in 24-carat gold. The hotel pulls out all stops when it comes to opulence.
London’s most exclusive hotel has also been cheekily referred to as an “annexe to Buckingham Palace”. This is because Claridge’s has an illustrious history with royalty. It started in 1860 when Britain’s Queen Victoria visited the hotel to see Empress Eugenie of France. This marked the beginning of a tradition of royal visits.
During World War II, the hotel hosted exiled royalty and heads of state. The kings of Greece, Norway and (the then) Yugoslavia, and the Queen of the Netherlands reportedly sought sanctuary at the hotel.
Tucked away in London’s Mayfair neighbourhood, the hotel today stands tall as an art deco landmark. It is still beloved by statesmen and global dignitaries.
Located opposite the Kutubiyya Mosque (the largest mosque in Marrakesh) is the five-star hotel La Mamounia. Mamounia means “safe haven” in Arabic, and that’s exactly what it has been for guests who’ve walked through its grand entrance over the years – a sanctuary to unwind.
One such guest was Britain’s former prime minister Winston Churchill, a regular who was said to be enamoured by the garden there. The grounds of the garden is home to hundreds of orange trees and thousands of rose bushes.
The hotel has three riads (a traditional house) for rent too. One of these riads was highlighted recently in the Netflix series Inventing Anna, about the Russian-born German con artist Anna Sorokin.
The hotel is so famous that it has begun to accept visits from day guests. Some online reviews, however, pointed out that a few tourists have been turned away for dressing too casually.
When winter comes every year in the village of Jukkasjarv, the season brings with it a new stunning reincarnation of the Icehotel. The world’s first ice hotel was built in 1990. Since then, Icehotel has been rebuilt each year from December to April with snow and ice blocks from the Torne River.
All of the interior and furnishing (yup, even the beds!) are also sculpted from ice blocks. It’s worth noting, however, that the rooms do not have any bathroom facilities – guests would need to answer the call of nature in a warm building nearby.
Over the years, the hotel has built a reputation for being a work of art. About 50 artists all over the world are invited every year to sculpt the hotel. Since these artists imbue their own artistic flair, no two rooms are ever the same.
The northern hemisphere’s aurora borealis can be seen from the hotel’s location too, so that’s a big bonus point for guests.