Chain hotels offer a predictable experience. You know what you’re getting yourself into when it comes to chain hotels, which is why many travelers reach for them time and again. But for the airbnb-loving, couch surfing, boutique-hotel-staying adventurers out there, a chain hotel can feel large, bleak, and impersonal—the last thing anybody looking for an authentic experience would want.
But every so often, a chain hotel can surprise you. Not every chain hotel property is cut from the same mold; here are a few of our favorite properties that break free from their cookie-cutter counterparts. These amazing retreats may just make you rethink your hotel choice.—Kristy Alpert
JW Marriott El Convento Cusco
Where: Cusco, Peru
Built on the grounds of a 16th-century San Augustin Convent, the JW Marriott El Convento Cusco is a luxury hotel doubling as a museum. During the renovation, the hotel uncovered ancient Incan remains and defied convention by preserving the site and building around the existing walls and historic framework. The local ambiance about this chain hotel is authentic, with a staff composed almost entirely of locals and 153 Inca-inspired guest rooms, all of which feature built-in oxygen enriched systems to help guests adjust to the altitude.
Insider Tip: Skip the pisco sour at the Quesbi Bar and go straight for a lesser-known Peruvian pisco concoction called the chilcano, a refreshing blend of pisco, simple syrup, lime juice, bitters, and ginger ale.
PLAN YOUR VISIT: Fodor’s Cusco and the Sacred Valley Guide
Where: Barcelona, Spain
Managed by Starwood Hotels and Resorts and marketed under the W Hotel brand, the W Barcelona sets a new standard for the chain. Although it still has traces of its W Hotel roots (Bliss Spa, W Insider, etc.), the hotel definitely stands on its own personality. With an all-glass exterior looking out over the sea, the W Barcelona was designed by world-renowned architect Ricardo Bofill to look like a silver sail arching over the Barceloneta boardwalk. The hotel offers 473 rooms, and even has its own swimwear line named after it by British fashion designer William Tempest.
Insider Tip: Splurge on a private WOW Cabana on the rooftop sun lounge for the most VIP experience in Barcelona and the best views of any hotel terrace in the city.
PLAN YOUR VISIT: Fodor’s Barcelona Guide
Conrad Bora Bora
Where: Motu To’opua, Bora Bora, French Polynesia
Formerly the Hilton Bora Bora Nui Resort and Spa, this tropical paradise is undergoing a multimillion dollar refurbishment and rebranding within the chain that will produce an even more opulent hotel in March 2017 when it reopens as the Conrad Bora Bora Nui. Still part of the Hilton family of hotels, the resort will be a far cry from its all-business siblings. It will open with 28 tropical garden and beach villas and 86 overwater bungalows created by BLINK Design to offer an effervescent flow from wall to water.
Insider Tip: Book a day trip out to the resort’s private islet, Motu Tapu, for a romantic picnic or candlelit dinner.
PLAN YOUR VISIT: Fodor’s Bora Bora Guide
DoubleTree By Hilton Amsterdam
Where: Amsterdam, The Netherlands
The only clue that this hotel is a DoubleTree by Hilton brand is the signature chocolate chip cookie guests receive upon check-in; the rest is pure Amsterdam. Each of the 553 rooms looks out over the historic city center or the IJ River, and all the food and beverage is overseen by celebrated local chef Marcel de Leeuw. In pure Amsterdam style, the hotel is within walking and biking distance to many of the major public transportation options (it’s only a two-minute walk from the Centraal Station, and it takes 20 minutes to get to the Schiphol Airport by train). The icing on the cake for this sweet hotel is its rooftop bar, the SkyLounge Amsterdam, which has been rated the best hotel bar in the city by numerous outlets.
Insider Tip: Call ahead to reserve a table at the SkyLounge, as this place has become the chicest spot for sunset sips and late night lounging.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Fodor’s Amsterdam Guide
Mandarin Oriental Bangkok
Where: Bangkok, Thailand
Not only has this flagship hotel set the standard for luxury in Bangkok, but it set the standard for the entire country when it opened in 1876 as the first hotel in Thailand. The Mandarin Oriental Bangkok was the property that gave birth to the chain, and has kept its characteristic charm throughout the years. Guests are still greeted with a traditional Thai flower hand garland before being escorted to one of the 393 guest rooms by a member of the sizable staff (the staff currently outnumbers the guestrooms three to one).
Insider Tip: Enjoy an afternoon tea at the Author’s Lounge and gaze at the pictures of the famous writers who’ve stayed at the hotel throughout history, including Noël Coward, James Michener, Somerset Maugham, and Joseph Conrad.
PLAN YOUR VISIT: Fodor’s Bangkok Guide
Where: Berlin, Germany
This stylish hostel is a far cry from any budget bunkhouse. Even among its trendy “poshtel” cousins, the Generator Berlin Mitte location stands out. This ultra-chic hostel occupies two former 19th-century office buildings that have been redesigned to house up to 552 guests. Custom wood and copper touches accent the rooms and the historic common spaces, and the Thierry Noir artwork lining the hallways was inspired by Berlin’s famous graffiti.
Insider Tip: Don’t knock hostel food. The Generator Berlin Mitte actually serves a killer currywurst. Pair it with a craft brew at the on-site bar for a local meal on the cheap!
PLAN YOUR VISIT: Fodor’s Berlin Guide
Hilton Prague Old Town
Where: Prague, Czech Republic
In a city famous for its architecture, the stark exterior of the Hilton Prague Old Town doesn’t stand a chance. But it’s not the façade that lures visitors to this surprising chain. After Hilton purchased the 13-year-old property in 2007, they hired David Collins to radically transform the public spaces, and the rooms were all updated with modern comforts. This is one of the only Hilton hotels to receive a name-brand makeover, and it opened in 2008 with 303 freshly updated guest rooms and stunning Czech Cubism–inspired public spaces.
Insider Tip: Take advantage of the hotel’s fitness center at the LivingWell Health Club & Spa. The high-tech gym is massive, and it offers TRX, yoga, cycling and pilates classes throughout the week.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Fodor’s Prague Guide
Best Western Weston Hall
Where: Bulkington, England
Owned by the world’s largest hotel chain, the Weston Hall Hotel looks like something straight out of a fairytale. This three-star hotel is housed in a 16th-century Elizabethan manor house on more than seven acres of pristine countryside. The hotel feels boutique with only 37 rooms, each decorated with period furniture. The Leyland Restaurant on site offers traditional country-style English cuisine that’s perfect after a day exploring the Midlands.
Insider Tip: Don’t miss the original fireplace in the Middlemarch Bar. The stunning feature is lined in blue and white tile with a copper roof that makes the bar a cozy spot for a nightcap.
PLAN YOUR VISIT: Fodor’s Coventry Guide
Hotel Opera Paris
WHERE: Paris, France
You’d never know you were in a Hilton when you walk into the lobby of the Hilton Paris Opera. Sure, the American businessmen still occupy the executive lounge sipping free booze and taking conference calls, but you’ll find locals sipping espressos and chatting over craft cocktails in the Belle Époque Grand Salon beneath a ceiling of original hand-painted frescoes. It took a $50 million renovation to transform this 1889 landmark into the hotel it is today, and it now offers 268 guest rooms and suites designed by Richmond International.
Insider Tip: Look up from your cocktail at the Grand Salon to try to find the famous cherub “cheeks” [hint: all but one angel painted in the corners of the ceiling are facing forward] an eternal show of discontent from the 19th-century artist for not getting paid for one day’s work.
PLAN YOUR VISIT: Visit Fodor’s Paris Guide
Hotel Metropole Hanoi
Where: Hanoi, Vietnam
Although it may seem fitting that the number one hotel in a former French colony is owned by a French hotel chain, there’s nothing cookie cutter about this glamorous Hanoi hotel. The Sofitel Metropole Hanoi has been an icon in the city since it opened in 1901, and the hotel’s original wood floors have greeted the world’s biggest names in politics, movies, and literature over the years. During and after the war, the hotel was a base for press and diplomats, and the history is present in each of the opulent 364 guest rooms.
Insider Tip: Take advantage of the hotel’s free Path of History tour to hear about the hotel’s amazing past. The tour includes a visit beneath the property into the air raid shelter that was uncovered by chance in 2012 during a reconstruction of the hotel’s Bamboo Bar.
PLAN YOUR VISIT: Fodor’s Hanoi Guide
Le Royal Monceau Ruffles Paris
Where: Paris, France
Most people would be surprised to learn that this Parisian icon is managed by a Singaporean chain (Raffles Hotels and Resorts). Le Royal Monceau first opened in 1928, but after it was renovated by Raffles Hotels and Resorts in 2010, it somehow became even more Parisian. The interiors were completely reimagined by French designer Philippe Starck, including the 85 rooms and 64 suites, and the master of pastry himself, Pierre Hermé, oversees all of the hotel’s desserts, pastries, macarons, chocolates, and more.
Insider Tip: Book a stay that includes a Sunday night so you can join the exclusive “Royal Monceau Film Club.” For €40, movie buffs can head to the hotel’s private 99-seat cinema to watch a deluxe screening with a chilled glass of Champagne and gourmet popcorn by Pierre Hermé.
PLAN YOUR VISIT: Fodor’s Paris Guide
Where: Bali, Indonesia
It’s no accident that this property was named after the Sanskrit word for temple. The Mandapa is the sanctuary in the Ritz Carlton portfolio of hotels, and features 60 villas and suites with a personal butler for each. Set in the lush jungle of the Ayung River valley, this hotel was modeled after a traditional Balinese village and operates as one as well. The on-site rice paddies are farmed daily to supply the kitchen and spa with fresh rice, and the resort infuses its spiritual surroundings into its programs with daily yoga classes and traditional Balinese healing therapies.
Insider Tip: Book a villa facing the river so you can soak in all the peaceful sounds of the reserve, from the exotic chirping birds to rafts floating by on the calm waters below.
PLAN YOUR VISIT: Fodor’s Bali Guide
Ararat Park Hyatt Moscow
Where: Moscow, Russia
Even if the Ararat Park Hyatt Moscow didn’t offer such a unique hospitality experience, it would still stand apart from its Park Hyatt counterparts just for the fact that it is the only Park Hyatt with a name. The hotel was named after Mount Ararat in Turkey, and pays homage to the hotel’s Armenian roots. The five-star hotel features 208 rooms, and is home to the only hotel chapel in Russia, which happens to be one level below the hotel’s famous rooftop lounge that features panoramic views over Red Square and the Bolshoi Theatre.
Insider Tip: Don’t miss out on authentic Russian experiences like the blini and caviar at the breakfast buffet or the genuine Russian banya experience at the Quantum Spa & Health Club.
PLAN YOUR VISIT: Fodor’s Moscow Guide
Where: Dubai, UAE
For a brand known for creating the “first ever seven-star hotel” when it opened the Burj Al Arab back in 1999, it’d be hard for a single property to stand out from the iconic hotel’s shadow. But that’s exactly what the Madinat Jumeirah has done. The Madinat is not just one hotel, but rather five individual hotels linked together by a series of canals and stone walkways. The property operates as its own world, with a private beach, a real souk, and more than 40 restaurants to choose from throughout the property. Guests are transported by traditional abras (wooden boats) or by a fleet of buggies, each decorated by one of five local artists.
Insider Tip: Book your room at the Madinat Jumeirah Al Qasr to get a glimpse into the royal family’s lifestyle. The hotel was designed after the Sheikh’s summer residence and features both small and grand royal touches throughout.
PLAN YOUR VISIT: Fodor’s Dubai Guide
Omni Parker House
Where: Boston, Massachusetts
Owned by a Dallas-based chain, the Omni Parker House is the oldest continuously operating hotel in America, boasting 551 guest rooms and decades of historic moments. The hotel opened in 1855, and since then has hosted every U.S. president since Ulysses S. Grant. Parker’s Restaurant was a favorite of President John F. Kennedy, who proposed to Jackie at Table 40. The hotel’s restaurant is also the birthplace of the Boston Cream Pie and the Parker House Rolls.
Fun Fact: The hotel has a history of employing soon-to-be luminaries, including Emeril Lagasse, Ho Chi Minh, and Malcolm X.
PLAN YOUR VISIT: Fodor’s Boston Guide