10 Of The World’s Most Iconic Hotels

By Phil Clarke, Editor of The Handbook website Phil Clarke |
5th August 2019

Some hotels are designed to make a statement. The Taj, by the Gateway To India in Bombay, would have been the first building visitors to the Sub Continent encountered back in the early twentieth century, it was designed to dazzle. In Vegas, a city devoted to money, the golden Trump Tower still makes a splash by being brasher and golden than any other. They can be propaganda, national symbols or architectural follies,  and there’s a special subset of hotels that are so iconic we can instantly recognise them. Here are the ten most iconic hotels in the world…

The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, Bombay

The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, Bombay

The Gateway To India, the victory arch that dominates Bombay’s southern waterfront. Built in honour of King George V and Queen Mary’s 1911 visit, the structure stands alongside one of the most recognisable and iconic hotels in the world, the Taj. The hotel is the epitome of luxury, not only the best known hotel in Bombay, but in the whole of India. Split into two parts, the original baroque interpretation of a Rajput palace, and the modern 1970s tower block.

Originally built by founder Jamsetji Tata after he was refused entry to Watson’s Hotel on account of not being European, Watson’s is now a dilapidated crumbling wreck, while The Taj is one of the world’s leading five star hotels. The hotel prides itself on incredibly attentive service, an afternoon tea that’s the height of gentility, plus either luscious, historical rooms in the main building, or floor-to-ceiling glass rooms in the more modern, business-oriented, tower.

The last time I visited security guards were roughly turning away a relatively poor looking Indian family as I walked past in my flip flops and t-shirt; I hope that Tata would not have approved.

Where: Apollo Bandar, Colaba, Bombay, Maharashtra 400001, India
Website: www.tajhotels.com

Burj al-Arab, Dubai

Burj al-Arab, Dubai

The giant spinnaker like structure of Burj Al Arab Jumeirah soars above Dubai and flaunts its unlimited luxury. It’s just as opulent as you’d expect; dripping with luxury, no-expense-spared rooms, lobbies and public spaces; they’ve even got a fleet of Rolls Royce Phantoms to ferry guests around (partly a necessity given the hotel’s nine miles from the downtown drag). Foodies will be delighted that British chef Nathan Outlaw has an outpost here and anyone racking up their stays in the world’s most iconic hotels, simply has to tick Burj Al Arab Jumeirah off their list.

Where: Jumeirah Street, Dubai
Website: www.jumeirah.com

Raffles, Singapore
Raffles Hotel Singapore

Raffles, Singapore

Recently given a total makeover, Raffles Hotel is open again and it’s just as smart as ever. Synonymous with luxury and elegance for over a century, Raffles is an icon, a Singaporean national monument; the address where the last tiger in Singapore was killed, the birthplace of cocktail the Singapore Sling famously the best place in Singapore to countdown to New Year with it’s gala ball held annually in the hotel lobby.

Founded in 1887, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles’ luxurious hotel has the air of an English country house, with wood panelling, high teas and heritage, but it’s also the gold standard for modernity and contemporary design. The stunning suites and rooms are some of the best in the world, epitomising style and sophistication.

Shangri-La Hotel, At The Shard, London

Shangri-La Hotel, At The Shard, London

Within a decade of shooting into the London sky, The Shard has become one of the world’s most recognised buildings as it looms over London, the design of architect Renzo Piano and the least subtle change to London since the blitz. Hardly a view of the capital exists that isn’t photobombed by the glass and steel pyramid photo, unless of course, you’re staying at Shangri La London The Shard. The hotel occupies the 34th to 52nd floors of The Shard, and boasts not only the tallest hotel in Europe, but also the continent’s highest infinity pool.

Where: 31 St Thomas Street, London SE1 9QU United Kingdom
Nearest station: London Bridge (0.1 miles)
Website: www.shangri-la.com

ICEHOTEL, Sweden

ICEHOTEL, Sweden

Founded in 1989, technically this is a new hotel every year, because ICEHOTEL in hewn anew each winter. 150 miles north of the Arctic Circle, the Swedish village of Jukkasjärvi is famous for its icey rooms. Set on the banks of the Torne River, the hotel is like something straight out of Narnia (pre Aslan’s return). Each suite is individually carved by ice artists and maintains a steady temperature of minus five to minus eight degrees. The bed (which isn’t made of ice) is covered in reindeer hides and guests are given thermal sleeping bags to ensure that they can combat the cold temperatures.

Where: Marknadsvägen 63, 981 91 Jukkasjärvi, Sweden
Website: www.icehotel.com

Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

With apologies to Moshe Safdie, the architect who designed the striking Marina Bay Sands hotel, this is the kind of drawing my four-year-old nephew might insist we put on the fridge. Seemingly three towers, with what appears to be a super-tanker beached on top, the design is extraordinary. Especially when you realise that the top structure includes a full-length infinity pool. The hotel itself is a relatively unassuming corporate five star hotel, albeit it very comfortable with with great restaurants and facilities, but it’s the bizarre architectural folly on top that makes it remarkable and memorable.

Where: 10 Bayfront Avenue, Singapore 018956
Website: www.marinabaysands.com

Caesar's Palace, Las Vegas

Caesar's Palace, Las Vegas

Even by Vegas standards, extravagance doesn’t even cover Caesar’s Palace. There are more comfortable hotels in Las Vegas, there are better views and better positions, but for sheer ‘iconic-ness’, Caesar’s Palace stands head and shoulders above the rest to the point where Caesar himself (the emperor, not the pet food dog) would be overawed. It’s vast, I spent over an hour trying to get out once, and it’s suitably opulent. A venue, casino complex, shopping mall, conference centre, and hotel all rolled into one, you don’t visit Vegas, you visit Caesar’s.

Ryugyong Hotel, Pyongyang

Ryugyong Hotel, Pyongyang

If Cornwall’s getting a bit too ‘samey’ then you might always try Pyonyang. The North Korean capital may be hoping for a Trump tower in a few years time, but in the meantime they’ve got Ryugyong Hotel. Except you can’t stay in it. Economic woes mean that the hotel, that looks like one of dictator Kim Jung Un’s nuclear weapons, has yet to open, thirty years after construction began. Despite never opening, the structure can still take its place in the world hotels hall of fame for sheer craziness.

The Savoy

The Savoy

London has more ‘iconic’ hotels than any other city, we can list them off by the dozen (The Dorchester, The Connaught, The Ritz, The Lanesborough, all the ‘The’s), but how many of them are instantly recognisable the world over? Likewise, Manhattan may have names we all know, the Waldorf Astoria, for example, but does it conjure an image? Probably not. The Savoy, however, is one of the few that we all can identify at a glance. Its memorable art-deco entrance is just the start of things, enter in and everything else is suitably iconic and memorable. Drinks at the American Bar followed by dinner at the grill are quintessential experiences.

Where: The Savoy, Strand, London, United Kingdom
Nearest station: Holborn (0.3 miles)
Website: www.fairmont.com

Trump International Hotel Las Vegas

Trump International Hotel Las Vegas

Let’s face it, there’s a lot that Donald Trump doesn’t know about. International diplomacy, how to wear white tie, the concept of democracy. But there are two things that are firmly in his wheelhouse, being racist and covering things in gold. And it’s the latter that can’t fail to impress at Trump Hotel, 64 floors of timeshares, flat and hotel. And it’s actually rather beautiful. Sure, it’s a masterclass in insecurity, but visually it’s incredible, shimmering in the desert sun. Inside a large lobby gives way to lifts which are fiercely guarded to ensure that only guests (many of whom are wearing Make America Great Again caps) can pass to visit the pool and upper floors. The interior is rather benign, corporate hotel fodder, though with more than a nod to the owner’s fixation with gold, and of course there’s a gift shop where you can buy copies of the President’s book and Trump memorabilia, much of it made in China.

Where: 2000 Fashion Show Dr, Las Vegas, NV 89109, USA
Website: www.trumphotels.com

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