What Are Boutique Hotels?

What Is a Boutique Hotel?

TripSavvy / Theresa Chiechi 

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 exactly is a boutique hotel?

Unlike the open-to-interpretation meaning of luxury hotel, the definition of a boutique hotel is pretty clear. They are small hotels, often with 10 to 100 rooms, that have unique amenities or design choices.

Characteristics of a Boutique Hotel

Here are some elements that typically separate a boutique hotel from other lodging options.

It's Petite

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

It Has a Strong Personality

A boutique hotel's intimate size produces the one-on-one, five-star hospitality service and heady ambiance that they're known for. A boutique hotel strives to be one-of-a-kind. Whether it's independently owned or a member of a luxury hotel brand or association, it has an independent attitude and works hard to not feel like a corporate hotel. Though sometimes a boutique hotel belongs to a brand created by a more conventional hotel company, such as Hyatt's Andaz brand or Marriott's Edition Hotels.

A boutique hotel may also be tucked inside a bigger hotel. The boutique wing feels totally separate and has its own reception desk, lobby, and look. A good example is Nobu Hotel Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, a quiet enclave within the massive Caesars Palace casino-hotel resort.

It has a Contemporary Vibe and a Quirky, Modern Spirit

Boutique hotels are not stuffy. Their decor is typically modern and often cutting-edge, featuring stark palettes with bold color splashes. Fussy, glitzy furnishings are not boutique-hotel hallmarks.

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. 

It's Rich in Local Flavor

Often, the small size of a boutique hotel in a city affords it a stylish, dead-center location in the heart of town, and its spirited ambiance suits its lively location. You'll find boutique hotels in fashionable resort towns, too. But whether urban or rural, a good boutique hotel reminds you of where you are. Often, it conveys a strong sense of place and pride in its location's heritage. 

It Focuses on Food and Beverage

You can count on a boutique hotel to house an outstanding restaurant and bar that draw a city-wide crowd. (The hotel's eatery may be run by a celebrity chef.) A boutique hotel often offers a stylish bar or lounge with a modern cocktail menu and regional wines.

It's Pet-Friendly

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.

View of a hotel and pool at dusk. The hotel used to be a monastery.

Courtesy of Monastero Santa Rosa Hotel & Spa

Our Favorite Boutique Hotels Around the World

  • The Point in upstate New York occupies a onetime Adirondacks lakefront lodge built by the Rockefeller family. Its 11 sunny rooms are filled with antiques and creature comforts (almost every room has a wood-burning fireplace). As a Relais & Châteaux hotel, The Point has a special emphasis on dining with ultra-gourmet meals, an ultra-high-end open bar, and nightly cocktail party.
  • The Jefferson, an elegant neoclassical structure with 99 rooms in Washington, D.C., is dedicated to the third U.S. President Thomas Jefferson, a bon vivant and philosopher. His namesake hotel is laden with the kind of French furniture that "TJ" collected, and its Plume restaurant and bar serve newer vintages of the Madeira wines he relished. 
  • Inn of the Five Graces in Santa Fe, New Mexico is set in adobe homes that constitute the United States' oldest neighborhood, built during the conquistador era of the late 1500s. The hotel's 24 suites are all different, decorated with antique furniture and rugs from the Southwest, Bali, India, and Morocco. The bathrooms are works of art, covered with mosaic designs.  
  • Once a convent, Monastero Santa Rosa is now one of southern Italy's most upscale hotels. It hugs a cliff on the magnificent Amalfi Coast, and the windows and terraces of its 20 handsome, sunny rooms frame unforgettably rosy sunrises. Virtually every guest amenity here is locally produced, from the restaurant's wine and olive oil to the lusciously fragrant room soaps.
  • Carcassonne, France, is Europe's most famous medieval fortress town, and Hotel de la Cité is set within its high stone walls, offering painting-like views. The hotel's 60 rooms and suites combine the beauty and grace of early 20th-century architecture with cutting-edge tech. The in-house restaurant is a Michelin-starred French feast that pours hard-to-get southwestern French wines.
  • The 54 villas and pavilions at Phulay Bay Ritz-Carlton Reserve in southern Thailand come with a lavish bathroom suite, a plunge pool (in the villas), and a private butler who knows what you want before you do. Every detail of this resort pleases the senses, from the futuristic spa to the beach lapped by the Andaman Sea's turquoise waters.