Plush bedding. Infinity pools. Chocolates at turndown.
Even the most enchanting elements of a hotel experience lose some luster when they become de rigueur or predictable. And these days, as the internet turns the world into more and more of a global community, it’s more difficult than ever to discover something entirely different.
Enter a spate of truly unusual properties and guest room offerings, places where the unexpected is the norm and what’s standard is brand new. “The demand for unique and unconventional experiences has surged,” says Mohamed Huck, head of global sales at Kruger Shalati, a railway-inspired luxury hotel in South Africa. “Consequently, hotels . . . find themselves compelled to adapt, pushing boundaries and embracing innovation. A hotel’s distinctiveness emerges from surpassing expectations.”
An influx of unique hospitality experiences are doing just that. Coming down the pike in 2024: New wellness hotel SHA Mexico will open in Costa Mujeres—in the shape of a human genome (or DNA). A onetime department store and historic landmark in Oxford, England, will be converted into the Store Oxford, a new 101-room property by chic hoteliers from Paris’s Left Bank. In the art-centric Philadelphia neighborhood of Fishtown, Hotel Anna & Bel will launch in a former 18th-century women’s asylum—with no two identical rooms. On a riverbank in Paoli, Wisconsin, the Inn at Seven Acre Dairy Company is a new eight-room hotel set in an 1888 cheese factory, with an upcoming micro dairy plant on property.
In the meantime, we’ve rounded up eight truly outside-the-box destinations around the world that you can book right now. From a tree house stay to an underwater bedroom, these unique hotels are experiences unto themselves.
1. The Interlude Pentridge
- Location: Melbourne, Australia
- Why we love it: A former prison turned chic retreat
- Book now
Located in eclectic North Melbourne, the Interlude gives new meaning to the term “prison escape.” This upscale wellness destination and hotel opened April in 2023 with a reimagination of what was once Pentridge Prison from 1851 to 1997. Here, inside heavy stone walls and 19 suites in former cell blocks, experiences are meant to open the mind and stimulate the senses. Guests dine on meals made with local farm-to-table ingredients (crocodile tempura, anyone?) and glasses of Yarra Valley pinot.
The property creates personalized itineraries for guests, which can include tasting tours of the surrounding Colburg neighborhood, charcoal drawing sessions, classes on mindful movement or helicopter flying, semi-guided bathing rituals in the striking underground pool, and even sunset campfires in the Reflection Garden, where artisans, experts, and storytellers share local lore. From $499
2. Kruger Shalati
- Location: Kruger National Park, South Africa
- Why we love it: A train-inspired hotel set over a scenic river
- Book now
When Kruger National Park first officially welcomed visitors in the 1920s, itstrains would pause overnight on Selat Bridge, which overlooks the flowing Sabie River. Now, Kruger Shalati (named for an African warrior queen) is stationed here permanently without moving, offering 31 locomotive-style, earth-toned accommodations. The rooms are glass-walled, revealing animals like elephants, leopards, and buffalo roaming in the distance. From Kruger Shalati, visitors can experience everything from game drives and South Africa–inspired cuisine to lolling in their clawfoot tubs after in-room facials or by the circular pool, suspended as if floating above the wildlife-filled terrain. From $1,200
3. The Hotel Chalet at the Choo Choo
- Location: Chattanooga, Tennessee
- Why we love it: Victorian carriages in the original Chattanooga Choo Choo train station
- Book now
Rail buffs rejoice: You can now stay overnight in a landmarked American train station. Opened in October 2023 after a $19 million renovation, the Hotel Chalet is located on Choo Choo Avenue on the grounds of the original Chattanooga Choo Choo train station, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The 25 guest rooms are housed in restored Victorian carriages designed in the style of Pullmans with deco lighting, velvet upholstery, and doors with opaque curtained windows. Set in the middle of downtown Chattanooga, but also near the Tennessee River, this hotel offers diversions for urbanites and nature lovers alike. Don’t miss ordering evening cocktails at the courtyard’s bar, which was fashioned out of an original caboose. From $250
4. Henn na Hotel Kyoto Hackijoguchi
- Location: Kyoto, Japan
- Why we love it: High-tech hospitality in the middle of Kyoto
- Loyalty program: HIS Hotel Group
- Book now
The Guinness Book of World Records calls the Henn na Hotel Kyoto Hackijoguchi the first-ever robot hotel. Here, in the center of Kyoto, visitors are greeted by robot concierges and dinosaur robots (some of which act as bellhops and deliver bags), plus a light experience inspired by a Shinto shrine.
The high-tech elements don’t stop there: Mattresses are designed with a new-fangled “three-dimensional spring structure” said to increase relaxation, the pillows apply acupressure, and an in-room Sorachi foot massager comes in handy after long days walking through the city. Need entertainment? The hotel stocks more than 700 manga titles for your reading pleasure. From $80
5. The Muraka at Conrad Maldives Rangali Island
- Location: Rangali Island, Maldives
- Why we love it: A (luxurious) underwater wonderland
- Loyalty program: Hilton Honors
- Book now
At the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, the Muraka is a new, ultra swanky two-level residence decked out with multiple bedrooms, an ocean-view bathtub, and a private infinity pool on the top floor (not to mention 24-hour butler service, a private chef, and on-call spa therapists). But the main event is the master bedroom and bath, down a spiral staircase or elevator, which allows guests to sleep surrounded by turquoise water.
Sixteen feet beneath the surface of the Indian Ocean, under a transparent 180-degree curved acrylic dome, guests can lie in bed (or lounge in their sitting area) and have their own private viewing of real-time underwater life, watching the marine life—from powder blue surgeons to black tip reef sharks—swim as they’re lulled to sleep. From $9,999
6. Alila Fort Bishangarh
- Location: Jaipur, Rajasthan, India
- Why we love it: A former warrior fort with epic views
- Loyalty program: World of Hyatt
- Book now
Alila Fort Bishangarh sits atop a hill, surrounded by thick ancient walls with turrets as battlements like something out of storybook. Housed in a converted 233-year-old warrior fort that’s exemplary of Jaipur Gharana architecture, the resort has 59 suites in neutral colors to complement the landscape, marble floors, and oversize bay windows that overlook the Aravalli Hills and sprawling countryside.
Guests can visit a peaceful nearby village to peruse artisan crafts, go horseback riding, or stay on property for meals (prepared using ingredients from the organic garden), pool dips, sunrise yoga, herbal baths, or ancient Ayurvedic spa treatments based on local Rajasthani and also Western therapies. From $250
7. Twin Farms Treehouses
- Location: Barnard, Vermont
- Why we love it: Tree houses for grown-ups (with a luxury twist)
- Loyalty program: Always Be Expected (Relais & Châteaux)
- Book now
If you ever climbed trees as a child, you may recall the magic that comes from looking down at the world from above. That bird’s-eye view is just what Twin Farms had in mind when the beloved luxury retreat dreamed up its eight new Treehouse suites. The suites are the first accommodations Twin Farms has added in 30 years to its more than 300-acre estate.
Hovering between 14 and 20 feet above ground in the forest, these 800- square-foot hideaways on stilts are designed with the Japanese principles of wabi-sabi, or the celebration of imperfection in nature. Everything from rustic materials and floating fireplaces to floor-to-ceiling glass windows are meant to call nature inside for communing and calm. From $3,500, all-inclusive
8. Shipwreck Lodge
- Location: Skeleton Coast National Park, Namibia
- Why we love it: Shipwreck-inspired accommodations in an otherworldly location
- Book now
At Shipwreck Lodge, 10 chalets in the form of miniature wooden ships spring out of the sand dunes of Namibia’s Skeleton Coast, a haunting name derived in part from the remains of hundreds of ships that have run aground there. Dense mist often shrouds the wooden cabins, all furnished with wood-burning stoves, daybeds, and slanted picture windows that offer wide views of the ever-shifting skies and seas. Every brush with life in this seemingly desolate terrain feels like a small miracle. On a game drive, you might come across a herd of desert elephants, their quiet footfalls almost deafening in the silence that surrounds you. From $750, all inclusive
Related: The 20 Best African Safari Camps
Additional reporting by Kathryn Romeyn.