The first thing every hotel developer considers before construction is “who is the guest, and why are they here,” says Jake Bush, a hotel architect and developer at Braun & Steidl.
Accommodations must be tailored to the needs of the traveler; an overnight business trip doesn’t require the same amenities as a two-week luxury vacation. Similarly, to the more daring traveler, the flower-quilted double bed and lacquered furniture of a typical hotel room is just plain boring. For the intrepid, quirky and adventurous globetrotter, here are the world’s 18 strangest hotels.
Where: Harads, Sweden
What It Is: A lightweight aluminum 4 x 4 x 4–meter box suspended around a tree trunk and covered in mirrors. Accommodates two people at a time, with a double bed, a small bathroom, a living room and a roof terrace. Access to the cabin is by a rope bridge connected to the next tree.
Why it’s Unique: Camouflaged within the tree canopy, the one-way mirrors provide a 360-degree view of the surroundings. To prevent birds from colliding with the reflective glass, an ultraviolet color visible only to birds is laminated onto the glass.
Where: Jukkasjärvi, Sweden
What It Is: ICEHOTEL is the world‘s largest hotel made from snow and ice. Guests can sleep in a bed made of snow and ice (like most of the other furniture), at temperatures around minus 5 degrees C.
Why It’s Unique: The entire building melts and gets reconstructed every year. Each November, a team of architects rebuilds the rooms, bar and chapel from several hundred tons of ice. If your ideal vacation consists of walking around in snow pants and fur, ICEHOTEL is worth a repeat visit—it is, after all, a different hotel every year.
Where: Antalya, Turkey
What It Is: 208 rooms overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, the Taurus Mountains and city of Antalya.
Why It’s Unique: The world‘s first revolving hotel, the Marmara Antalya’s spinning 24-room loft provides guests with a constantly changing view. Floating in a pool of 478 tons of water and aided by six electric motors, it turns a full 360 degrees on its foundation several times a day.
Dog Bark Park Inn
Where: Cottonwood, ID
What It Is: A beagle-themed B&B that sleeps up to four guests at a time. Guests enter the body of the giant dog through a balcony. The dog’s head houses a loft bedroom and an alcove within the muzzle, with a toilet disguised as a fire hydrant.
Why It’s Unique: The larger beagle, named Sweet Willy, is 30 feet tall, 34 feet long and 14 feet wide. It’s made of wood (the owners are chain-saw artists) and painted stucco, with flaps of carpeting for ears.
Jules Underwater Lodge
Where: Key Largo, Fla.
What It Is: A retired research laboratory and the world‘s first underwater hotel. It rests on stilts 5 feet off the floor of a tropical lagoon, surrounded by swarms of aquatic wildlife.
Why It’s Unique: To get inside, guests dive 21 feet under the sea and enter through the floor of the apartment. Compressed air keeps the water from rising up and flooding the rooms. A 3-hour scuba course is required for uncertified divers.
Where: Hebei Province, China
What It Is: Built in 2000, this 10-story building depicts Fu, Lu and Shou—Chinese gods symbolizing good fortune, prosperity and longevity.
Why It’s Unique: The Tianzi Hotel is the largest image hotel in the world. Shou, on the left, is holding a peach that contains a suite. Enter the hotel through his right foot.
Where: Weymouth, UK
What It Is: This seaside resort was made entirely from sand—about 1100 tons of it. A team of four sculptors worked seven 14-hour days to finish the hotel in late July of 2008. It held up until the next big rainstorm.
Why It’s Unique: For about 15 dollars per night, guests fell asleep under the stars and woke up to the tide lapping at the door. Not appropriate for people who disliked getting sand in their bathing suits, or who required indoor toilets.
Where: Liepāja, Latvia
What It Is: A former military prison built in 1905, Karostas housed revolutionaries, enemies of the people from Stalin’s time, and more recently, the KGB.
Why It’s Unique: “A good hotel has got to be safe, clean, and have good staff,” says Bush. Karostas breaks that fundamental rule of hospitality, inviting its guests to “live the part of a prisoner on a dismal night”—by sleeping on grungy prison bunks, eating prison food and taking abuse from prison guards.
Kokopelli’s Cave Bed and Breakfast
Where: Farmingon, N.M.
What It Is: This one-bedroom cave home was blasted out of a cliffside in 1980, with three holes drilled for ventilation and electricity.
Why It’s Unique: At 100 feet underground, access this bed and breakfast by shimmying down a steep cliff and ladder. Guests must sign a liability waiver in order to stay.
Godiva Chocolate Suite
Where: New York, New York
What It Is: Godiva designed this suite entirely from chocolate—including the armchairs, the bed, the artwork, the lamps and the walls. The chocolate room was moved to the Bryant Park Hotel for Valentine’s Day in 2008.
Why It’s Unique: Sweet as this suite sounds, this hotel room is more for eating than for sleeping.
Palacio de Sal
Where: Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
What It Is: A living room, a dining room, a bar and 15 bedrooms made entirely from salt. The hotel is built of salt blocks hauled from the vast surrounding salt plains, and held together by a cement-like mixture of salt and water. In fact, the only things that aren’t made of salt in this hotel are the toilets and tin roof.
Why It’s Unique: The owners ask their guests not to lick the walls.
Where: Buttala, Sri Lanka What It Is: On 16 acres of wilderness along the Kumbukkan Oya River, visitors sleep in the belly of a giant elephant.
Why It’s Unique: This two-story eco-lodge is built from grass and twigs. Visitors can feel it swaying in the wind on gusty days.
Where: Nairobi, Kenya
What It Is: This elegant six-room hotel, modeled after a Scottish hunting lodge, wouldn’t belong on our strangest-hotel list if it weren’t for the giraffe poking its head through the window.
Why It’s Unique: The owners of Giraffe Manor are wild about giraffes. The manor has its own giraffe residents, who join guests through the open window at mealtimes to beg for food. The site also hosts a conservation center and elephant orphanage.
Where: Anywhere with ample public parking
What It Is: Hotelmóvil is a two-story trailer with 11 bedrooms. Drag it behind a truck and sleep up to 44 people in mobile luxury.
Why It’s Unique: Ever feel like packing your bags and leaving town? How about packing up your whole hotel?
Hotel Marqués de Riscal
Where: Rioja Alavesa, Spain
What It Is: The Marqués offers 43 uniquely shaped rooms in two sections connected by a spectacular suspended footbridge. The whole building is raised above the site on columns, which allows the space underneath to be used as an entry plaza.
Why It’s Unique: The billowing titanium canopies that bedeck the hotel are functional as well as aesthetic. Located on a sunny hilltop, the colorful metal ribbons act as sustainable sunshades and temperature modulators.
Hotel de Vrouwe van Stavoren
Where: Stavoren, Netherlands
What It Is: The De Vrouwe has remodeled wine caskets into four two-person rooms with standard amenities and an attached bathroom and sitting room.
Why It’s Unique: The 14,500-liter wooden caskets still smell like the Beaujolais wine they once stored. The rooms are small but airtight and strong.
Where: Pyongyang, North Korea
What It Is: Also known as the “Hotel of Doom,” the Ryugyong once aspired to be the tallest hotel in the world. The 105-story, 3000-room project was abandoned in 1992 for economic reasons, but construction resumed in 2008.
Why It’s Unique: Instead of becoming the tallest hotel in the world, Ryugyong is deemed by many to be the most poorly designed building in the world. The most absurd thing about this hotel is contemplating who on earth would want to stay there, when, and if it is ever finished.
Where: Stockholm, Sweden
What It Is: For those who have shopped until they’re about to drop, Sovhotell is conveniently located in the middle of this Stockholm shopping center.
Why It’s Unique: IKEA provides pillows, sleep masks and soothing music for weary customers to recharge. They offer single and double beds, and a bridal suite. Perhaps the company was sick of waking up customers who were “trying out” the mattresses.