What is a boutique hotel?

Have you ever wondered, what a boutique hotel is? Don’t worry, we’ve found out what characteristics make a boutique hotel and why we can’t get enough of them.

When looking for holiday accommodation, many people book a popular hotel chain without a second thought, knowing the property will meet their standards. But if you like finding hidden and unique hotels that exceed your expectations, it’s worth thinking about booking a boutique hotel. Chances are you’ve have come across the term “boutique hotel” before. But do you know what it means?

What is a boutique hotel?

The term boutique hotel was first coined in the 1980s by Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager, who opened the Morgans boutique hotel in New York and compared it to a boutique – a small store selling stylish clothing and luxury clothes. They were referring to the hotel’s intimate size, stylish décor, and the personalized service it offered. These days, it’s commonly accepted that a boutique hotel can be defined according to several important characteristics.

It’s all about the size and location

Boutique hotels are normally on the smaller side, offering between 1 and 100 rooms. This is to help create an intimate atmosphere. A stay in a boutique hotel should feel like being in a home away from home, rather than the anonymity of a chain hotel.

They’re often found in fashionable urban locations and within easy reach of local attractions, but off the main tourist drag. However, you’ll find lots of hidden hotels, where a remote location is twinned with boutique hotel features.

Stand out from the pack

One thing boutique hotels want to do is stand out from the pack. As a result, many of them have unique features and services you wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else. For example, you can ride a bike all the way into your room, or to the on-site restaurant, at Hotel Cycle, which is located on Japan’s Shimanami Kaido cycle path.

Other boutique hotels are housed in unique accommodation. This includes everything from treehouses to 17th-century castles, and even boats. The Off Paris Seine occupies two barges that float on the Seine. It offers luxury rooms, a plunge pool at the water’s edge, and a terrace where you can look out over the river.

Hotel Cycle sits off one of Japan's popular cycle paths in warehouses along the Onomichi channel. Image credit:  
Tetsuya Ito / Courtesy of ONOMICHI U2
Hotel Cycle sits off one of Japan’s popular cycle paths in warehouses along the Onomichi channel. Image credit: Tetsuya Ito / Courtesy of ONOMICHI U2

Everyone loves a theme

Boutique hotels often have a theme, which helps to make sure a stay there is a memorable experience. This theme often relates to the hotel’s location or history and should never feel over-the-top or tacky.

Take The Coleridge, a boutique hotel in Malta’s capital, Valletta. This hotel gets its name from the famous poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who once lived nearby. Each room is named after a character from one of Coleridge’s sonnets.

Meanwhile, The Press Hotel in Portland is located in the former headquarters of a local newspaper. It echoes the theme of 20th-century journalism in its design – you’ll find vintage typewriters on the walls, and retro writing desks in the rooms. There’s even the opportunity to request a custom poem from the hotel’s on-site writer.

The Coleridge exterior is simple and elegant. Image credit: The Coleridge
The Coleridge exterior is simple and elegant. Image credit: The Coleridge

Soak up the luxurious offerings

As well as priding themselves on their originality, boutique hotels want to provide a luxurious and personalized experience for their guests. You can expect hotel amenities such as state-of-the-art spas, Jacuzzis, and so much more.

Let’s take a look at Awarta Nusa Dua Luxury Villas and Spa, a resort in Indonesia that recently won the title of World’s Best Boutique Hotel at The Boutique Hotel Awards for 2018. Tastefully decorated villas offer private pools, outdoor showers, a 90-minute couples’ treatment at the spa, and a sound system with an iPod dock. What’s more, you’re picked up from the airport in a Chrysler, and given a free bottle of champagne on the way.

Of course, not all boutique hotels have the same amenities. For example, some of the smaller city hotels don’t offer airport pick-up. Book a Blacklane limousine service so you can travel to your luxury, boutique hotel in a style that matches your accommodation.

Personalized, intimate service

One of the most important aspects of a boutique hotel is its high commitment to personalized service. Many boutique hotels are privately owned or family-run, and staff are trained to look after their guests well.

The Carpe Diem in Santorini, an adults-only hotel catering to romantic breaks, provides 24/7 butler service. Your own private butler is on hand to provide you with whatever you need to make your trip perfect, be it bespoke cocktails or organizing travel excursions tailored to your specifications.

Keeping it local

A lot of boutique hotels are concerned with keeping it local. In some cases, this means preserving the original features of the hotel or picking a theme based on local history.

Many boutique hotels are also concerned with sustainability, and helping out the local economy. In some hotels, rooms are decorated with prints and soft-furnishings made by local artists. Other hotels champion local ingredients and processes in their restaurants.

Boutiquehotel Stadthalle, in Vienna, is the world’s first zero energy balance boutique hotel. Hot water is solar-powered and the hotel even keeps bees to make honey for guests’ breakfasts.

Enjoy the beautiful lavender gardens at this Vienna boutique hotel. Image credit: Tina Herzl / Boutiquehotel Stadthalle
Enjoy the beautiful lavender gardens at this Vienna boutique hotel. Image credit: Tina Herzl / Boutiquehotel Stadthalle

So, is it worth staying in a boutique hotel?

Some of the top hotels in the world are defined as boutique hotels. Small wonder, considering the care and attention that goes into the hotel amenities and the personalized hotel service. However, such attention to detail can come with a hefty price tag.

However, it isn’t always the case that you’ll have to pay more for a boutique hotel than a popular chain. Rooms in Home Hotel Buenos Aires, Argentina’s first boutique hotel, start at $114 dollars, which is a similar cost to other chain hotels. And there are lots of other similarly priced boutique hotels all across the world.

Going on holiday is all about seeking out unique experiences and pampering yourself, and boutique hotels offer the opportunity to do both.


Dani Redd

Dani Redd is a freelance food and travel writer based in Bangalore. She has bylines in National Geographic Traveller India, Intrepid Magazine, Ethos, Culture Trip and more.