Whether you're staying in a luxury hotel or a roadside motor inn, comfort and cleanliness matter. And free HBO is a nice perk, but most of the time you're in a hotel room, your eyes are either closed or focused on the television. So as long as the walls aren't paper-thin, does the design of the space even matter?
The people who run boutique hotels would reply with a resounding "Yes!" These creatively concocted places have personality to spare. They aspire to be more a "place to sleep;" they strive to be one of the main highlights of their guests' travels.
And no place does boutique better than the United Kingdom. From artsy urban hotels to centuries-old roadside inns that have been brought back to life, Great Britain's most creative accommodations will leave you with higher expectations from your next hotel.
Here are 10 of the coolest and most whimsical boutique hotels in the U.K.
1. Spitbank Fort
This former military base now houses a sauna and wine cellar. (Photo: Sian Abrahams/Wikimedia Commons)
The Spitbank Fort was originally built in the 1860s as a fortress to protect Portsmouth Harbor. The stone structure, which seems to float on the water, was recently bought by a hotel company and renovated. It is now an event venue with eight bedrooms, an open-air pool, a sauna and a wine cellar.
There are several man-made islands in the area owned by the same hotel company, a British firm called AmaZing Venues. Spitbank is the smallest of the island fortresses, but it's the most popular. It's used regularly for weddings and corporate events. You can book a room here when there are no events on the calendar. Prices are quite steep, however, at £450 per night (that's just shy of $700).
2. Malmaison Oxford
The Malmaison Oxford used to be a prison before it became a four-star hotel. (Photo: Douglas Neiner/flickr)
Oxford is known for its historic universities. This timeless English town also has one of the most interesting inns in the country. Malmaison Oxford is a luxury hotel in every sense. At first glance, it seems like it's housed inside a medieval castle. That is partially true, except for the fact that the building spent most of its life as a prison.
Despite its history, Malmaison is not a gimmicky theme hotel like so many other jails-turned-inns. Yes, some of the rooms incorporate exposed brick walls, bars and doors with heavy locks. At the same time, the furnishing, amenities and modern designs mean that this venue will never be mistaken for anything but a four-star hotel. Malmaison also has a fine dining restaurant and a classic bar and lounge.
3. St. Ermin's Hotel
St. Ermin's was a popular spot for spycraft during World War II. (Photo: Tim Fordham-Moss/Wikimedia Commons)
Sometimes, it is not a hotel's offbeat designs that make it an exciting place to stay, it's the stories that surround it. That is the case at the St. Ermin's Hotel in Westminster. This hotel has a long history, and many of its classic design elements were retained during recent renovations.
In the days leading up to World War II, the hotel and nearby Caxton Bar were filled with spies and would-be spies (intelligence services would literally interview new recruits in the hotel). Author Ian Fleming spent time here, as did Winston Churchill. Britain's wartime prime minister would meet the spy agency heads for drinks and updates at Caxton. Both the hotel and bar (now called the Caxton Grille) are still open.
4. House in the Clouds
This precarious-looking hotel has five bedrooms that must be booked as a group. (Photo: Karen Roe/flickr)
The House in the Clouds is like a fairy tale building brought to life. Located in rural Suffolk, this folly (a British term for a life-sized, habitable playhouse) has a top that looks like a regular country cottage. However, the cottage is placed on a narrower, tower-like section. The resulting design seems like something out of Mother Goose story or a Studio Ghibli anime film.
5. The Witchery by the Castle
Not far from Edinburgh Castle, the Witchery is a restaurant and hotel built inside of a 16th century merchant's house. Gothic design and a little bit of whimsey are on the menu for guests here, but so is plenty of luxury. For example, suites include complimentary champagne, turndown service and a roll-top bath that is large enough for two people.
Cosmopolitan Magazine named the Witchery one of the "seven wonders of the hotel world." The Gothic theme, complete with atmospheric lighting, drapery and velvet accents, give this hotel the qualities of a tourist attraction. No one who has stayed here would define the Witchery merely as a place to spend the night.
6. St. Pancras Renaissance London Hotel
The St. Pancras Renaissance spent 70 years as a railroad headquarters before becoming a luxury hotel. (Photo: garbagetime76/flickr)
The Victorian architecture of the hotel adjacent to St. Pancras Station in London is well known. Despite its almost-church-like appearance, seen in its exterior tower and spires and interior vaulted ceilings, this building was built as a hotel. It opened in the 19th century as the Midland Grand Hotel. However, it was closed in 1935 and spent the next seven decades as a railroad headquarters.
It wasn't until recently that the hotel reopened — this time under Marriott's luxury Renaissance brand. The modern incarnation has many of the original elements, including a large atrium and a clock tower that is well over 200 feet tall. The building also includes residential condos.
7. The Swan at Laverham
Despite its rustic appearance, the Swan has all the modern amenities you'd expect from a hotel. (Photo: Andrew Stawarz/flickr)
Old country inns are being reincarnated by hoteliers all across England. One of the most interesting of these places is the Swan at Laverham. Billing itself as a "hotel and spa," this Suffolk venue has 45 rooms and a spa called the Weaver's House. Despite the medieval exterior, the spa treatment menu and services are thoroughly modern.
The rooms harken back to the Middle Ages with their oak beams and whitewashed walls, but they also have plenty of modern twists, with flat-screen televisions and wireless Internet access. Even if you don't stay here, you can experience the Swan by stopping by the popular bar or eating at one of its two restaurants.
8. Brochs of Coigach
Brochs of Coigach has plenty of windows to give guests many different views of Scotland. (Photo: Luyken/Wikimedia Commons)
Brochs are stone houses from the Iron Age that have been uncovered in Scotland. Most of these buildings are protected as archaeological sites. Tourists can visit a few of them, and one hotel allows guests to stay in a modern version of these ancient structures.
The Brochs of Coigach look like the brochs of pre-historic times, except for their windows and the fact that they are not crumbling. The stone and earth buildings are set in a hillside. Only recently built, they have an abundance of windows so that guests can see Scotland's trademark landscapes from different angles.
9. West Usk Lighthouse
The West Usk Lighthouse is located on the Welsh coast not far from Newport and Cardiff. Now a bed and breakfast, this building was a functioning lighthouse when it was first constructed in the early 19th century. It's not the standard tower-style lighthouse; it's shorter and larger in circumference than you might expect.
This design means that four bedrooms fit inside the lighthouse. The views of the coastline are stunning from inside and from the grounds. The circular shape of the building is evident in each of the nautical-themed rooms. The surrounding coastline is especially scenic, making Usk a popular venue for weddings.
10. Hotel Megaro
The Megaro's exterior was painted by members of the street art collective Agents of Change. (Photo: Ewan Munro/flickr)
Located in the King's Cross area, Hotel Megaro is an interesting boutique hotel in the heart of London. The location is ideal, and the large rooms, rainfall showers and in-room espresso machines will appeal to people seeking something a little bit extra from their hotel.
Megaro has some unique traits. The exterior, painted with colorful patterns, looks like it was done by graffiti artists. In fact, it was painted by members of the street art collective Agents of Change. The bar and lounge is described by the hotel as "part classic film set and part fancy bordello." It's a popular watering hole for people who live or work near King's Cross.
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