What Are Boutique Hotels?

They're small, artsy, young in spirit. Are boutique hotels your style?

Palazzo Margerita, Francis Ford Coppola's southern Italian inn
••• Palazzo Margerita, Francis Ford Coppola's southern Italian inn with nine elegant suites. Courtesy of Palazzo Margherita

Everyone Talks about Boutique Hotels, But What Does that Really Mean?

Every hotel of the not-huge variety seems to call itself a boutique hotel. But what does this term actually mean? Leaving the hype and buzz aside, what is a boutique hotel?

Unlike the open-to-interpretation meaning of luxury hotel, the definition of boutique hotel is quite clear. Here are some elements that distinguish a boutique hotel.

  • 01 of 13

    A Boutique Hotel Is Intimate in Size and Feeling

    A suite in the Efendi Hotel in Akko, Israel
    ••• A suite in the Efendi Hotel in Akko, Israel, a restored Ottoman Pasha's palace. Courtesy of the Efendi Hotel

    The #1 Defining Aspect of a Boutique Hotel: It's Petite!

    First and foremost, a boutique hotel is small.

    Most hospitality pros agree that for a property to be considered a boutique hotel, it should not be much bigger than 100 rooms.
    (But not too small: if it doesn't have at least 10 rooms, it's not a boutique hotel but a B&B or inn.)

    A Boutique Hotel Is Small...But Has a Big Personality

    A boutique hotel's intimate size produces its characteristic personal feeling and heady ambiance. Some luxury travelers enjoy the compact size and enveloping atmosphere of a boutique hotel. Other travelers prefer feeling like observers in a big, busy grand hotel

    Some Unique Boutique Hotels

    Examples of boutique hotels with strong personalities:
    • The celeb-studded, 91-room Hotel Byblos in St. Tropez on the French Riviera
    • A stylishly updated former convent with only 20 rooms, the Amalfi coastline-hugging Monastero Santa Rosa
    • A 12-room, 400-year-old gem in ancient Akko, Israel, The Efendi...MORE Hotel
    • All 21 suites of Southern Ocean Lodge open onto the wild coast of Kangaroo Island, called "Australia's  Galapagos"

  • 02 of 13

    A Boutique Hotel Is an Independent Hotel (or Feels Like One)

    The Point Resort
    ••• Courtesy of The Point Resort

    A Boutique Hotel Strives to Be One-of-a-Kind

    A boutique hotel has an independent attitude and works hard to not feel like a corporate hotel.

    It may be independently owned. And/or it may be a member of a luxury hotel association. Such as:
    • The Point in the Adirondacks of upstate New York: 11 antiques-filled rooms in a former Rockefeller estate, now a Relais & Châteaux hotel
    Inn of the Five Graces in Santa Fe, New Mexico, also a Relais & Châteaux: 24 mosaic-walled suites nestled in the oldest homes in the United States, adobes from the late 1500s 

  • 03 of 13

    Or It's the Boutique Brand of a Bigger Hotel Label

    Hôtel Burdigala
    ••• Boutique room at MGallery Hôtel Burdigala in Bordeaux, France. Courtesy of Hôtel Burdigala

    Some Boutique Hotels Wear the Boutique Label of a larger hotel brand

    Sometimes, a boutique hotel belongs to the boutique brand created by a more conventional hotel company.
    An example: MGallery Burdigala in Bordeaux, France, a design-forward hotel that is part of Accor Hotels' MGallery boutique line

  • 04 of 13

    Or It's the Boutique Wing of a Big Hotel

    Nobu Villa Las Vegas
    ••• Nobu Villa. Courtesy of Caesar's Entertainment

    A Boutique Hotel Is Sometimes the Wing of a Larger Hotel

    Sometimes, a boutique hotel is "a hotel within a hotel" tucked into a bigger hotel.
    The boutique section feels like a separate hotel. It has its own reception desk, lobby, and decor.
    Guests quickly sense the boutique wing's more exclusive identity, better service, and (often) newer technology and connectivity.
    An example: Nobu Hotel Caesars Palace in Vegas, a quiet enclave within the massive Caesars Palace casino-hotel

    Continue to 5 of 13 below.
  • 05 of 13

    A Boutique Hotel Has a Contemporary Vibe & Spirited Guests to Match

    Condesa DF
    ••• Condesa DF, a hip boutique hotel in Mexico City. Courtesy of Condesa DF

    A Boutique Hotel is Not Generic, Blah, or bland

    A boutique Hotel strives to be one-of-a-kind, and has an independent attitude. Its clientele is individualistic, too.

    If a hotel has cookie-cutter décor and/or is filled with traveling suits, it fails the Luxury Travel boutique hotel test. Examples of no-doubt-about-it boutique hotels:
    • Thompson Hotel Toronto, a cutting-edge hotel in a forward-looking city, with a handsome, happening crowd
    • Mexico City's lively Condesa DF, whose rooftop lounge is one of the hippest hangouts in this going-out town
    Buddha Bar Hotel Prague, a 39-room hotel run by the global music club name, with see-and-be-seen restaurant and bars
    • Elma Arts Complex Hotel in Zichron Ya'akov, an Israeli arts village, has its own state-of-the-art theater

  • 06 of 13

    A Boutique Hotel Has Modern or Designer Decor with a Quirky Touch

    Crawford Hotel in Denver
    ••• Crawford Hotel in Denver, CO. Courtesy of Sage Hospitality

    A Boutique Hotel's Design Is in Keeping with its Up-to-the-Minute Attitude

    Décor in a boutique hotel is modern, often cutting-edge. Their style runs toward sleek materials and stark palettes with bold color splashes.

    Fussy furnishings like chintz, brocade, tassels, and swags are not boutique-hotel hallmarks. Some chic boutiques:
    • W St. Petersburg Hotel in Russia, whose fantasy décor resembles a space-age disco
    • Vila Joya in the Algarve region of Portugal, with Buddhist art and Asian motifs in its 18 all-different rooms
    • The Crawford Hotel shares a vintage-meets-trendy attitude with its  settting, Denver's Union Station, a mecca for foodies

  • 07 of 13

    A Boutique Hotel Usually Has a Bull's-Eye Urban Setting

    Hotel 48Lex
    ••• Hotel 48Lex mirrors its Manhattan surroundings. Courtesy of 48Lex

    Boutique Hotels Tend to be in the City

    Often, the small size of an urban boutique hotel affords it a chi-chi, dead-center location in the heart of town. The hotel's buzzy boutique ambiance feels just right in its lively location.
    • Hotel48 Lex, a small, all-suites hotel, sits steps from Grand Central in midtown Manhattan, NYC
    The Scarlet Huntington perches on tony Nob Hill in San Francisco
    • With 75 fashion-forward rooms, Quirk Hotel is the belle of the ball in  Richmond, Virginia, the South's latest style destination

  • 08 of 13

    But a Boutique Hotel May Be a Designer Country Villa

    Palazzo Margherita, Francis Ford Coppola's southern Italian inn
    ••• Palazzo Margherita, Francis Ford Coppola's southern Italian inn with nine elegant suites. Courtesy of Coppola Resorts

    Some Boutique Hotels are Sophisticated Country Inns

    You know a small town is upscale if it houses a fine boutique hotel.
    • Palazzo Margherita (shown) in sleepy Basilicata in southern Italy, one of director-winemaker Francis Ford Coppola's Coppolaresorts, is a 1904 mansion imaginatively updated by designer Jacques Grange
    • In rustic-chic Sonoma County, California, The Inn at Occidental, a Victorian manse with 16 artfully eclectic rooms, is considered one of the Golden State's best small hotels

    Continue to 9 of 13 below.
  • 09 of 13

    A Boutique Hotel Is Rich in Local Flavor

    Hotel de la Cité in Carcassonne
    ••• View from the patio of Hotel de la Cité in Carcassonne, France. Courtesy of Accor Hotels

    A Good Boutique Hotel Reminds You of Where You Are

    Often, a boutique hotel conveys a strong sense of place. with a look that reflects the location's heritage.
    The Jefferson, an elegant property in Washington, D.C., is dedicated to bon vivant and third U.S. President Thomas Jefferson, with the kind of French furniture and Madeira winee he collected
    • Accommodations at Esencia in the Riviera Maya, Mexico, combine all-white minimalism with bright Mayan weavings and rugs
    • Bela Vista Hotel on Portugal's Algarve coast is a castle-like mansion with rooms done in sunny Iberian blue and yellow
    Auberge St-Antoine on the St. Lawrence riverfront in Quebec City, Canada, displays artifacts discovered when it was built
    • You have only to look out the window at Hotel de la Cité in Carcassonne, France, to know you're within an iconic medieval fortress

  • 10 of 13

    A Boutique Hotel Offers Ultra-Personal Service

    Phulay Bay Ritz Carlton Reserve in Thailand.
    ••• Phulay Bay Ritz Carlton. Courtesy of Ritz Carlton Reserve

    A Small Hotel Means Better Service

    And a good boutique hotel makes exceptional, personal, five-star hospitality service its mission. 
    • At Phulay Bay Ritz-Carlton Reserve in Thailand, every suite's private butlers is part personal assistant, part ladies' maid or valet
    • At Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi in Santa Fe, New Mexico, staffers know your name and hometown, and ply you with fresh-baked cookies

  • 11 of 13

    A Boutique Hotel Is Eccentric, with a Sense of Humor

    Maidstone clogs
    ••• The Maidstone in East Hampton, New York offers Swedish wooden clogs with every guest room. Courtesy of The Maidstone

    Boutique Hotels Are Full of Spirit

    Boutique hotels express their personalities in humorous, mildly rebellious room details and guest programs.

    A boutique hotel can surprise and delight guests with winsome touches: a tiger-shaped faux-fur rug before the fireplace;
    a chocolate treat shaped like your first initial; your own (and not very corporate) temporary business cards.
    • At Viceroy Riviera Maya in Mexico, a mock-serious "soap butler" comes to your room to slice you a bar of soap in fragrances like margarita or copal wood
    • A Swede owns The Maidstone in East Hampton, New York, where every guest room offers Swedish wooden clogs for your ABBA karaoke moment

  • 12 of 13

    A Boutique Hotel Focuses on F&B (Food & Beverage)

    Veladora restaurant at Rancho Valencia
    ••• Veladora restaurant at Rancho Valencia. Courtesy of Rancho Valencia

    You can count on a boutique hotel to house an outstanding restaurants and bar that draw a city-wide crowd.

    Often, the hotel boasts a celebrity-chef eatery in its lobby. And just as frequently, it offers a stylish bar or lounge with a delectable modern cocktail menu. Examples:
    • Rancho Valencia, a fashionable Relais & Chateaux near San Diego, draws non-guests to its stylish restaurants (shown)
    • In Spain's Ribera del Duero wine country, the 30-room Abadia Retuerta LeDomaine offers its own delicious wines and Michelin dining
    • Many Bahamians feel that their country's best restaurant is at Graycliff, a pirate's mansion turned boutique hotel

    Continue to 13 of 13 below.
  • 13 of 13

    A Boutique Hotel is Often Furry, Furry Pet-Friendly

    Horses at Las Alamandas hotel in Mexico
    ••• You can bring your pony to Las Alamandas. Courtesy of Las Alamandas

    Many Boutique Hotels Welcome Four-Legged Travelers 

    Boutique hotels tend to have fewer rules and restrictions than bigger, more conventional hotels. Many, perhaps most, boutique hotels are very pet-friendly, welcoming your furry friend.
    • See the elements of a truly pet-friendly hotel policy
    • See 29 adorable animals in our hotels with their own pets slideshow
    • Hotel Gault in Montreal, Canada not only welcomes dogs and cats, but will set up a tray with crunchy food, mineral water, and treats
    Las Alamandas on Mexico's Pacific Coast offers stables for your horse

    Boutique...c'est chic.