What Is a Grand Hotel or Grande Dame Hotel?

They're the big name in town. But only if they maintain their reputations

Why Are There So Many Books & Movies About Grand Hotels?

Grand hotel and grande dame hotel sound romantic and capture travelers' attention. But what do these terms refer to exactly? 

"Grand hotel" and "grande dame hotel" mean the same thing, in masculine and feminine forms. In a word, a grand or grande dame hotel is an institution. It is the most important and most famous hotel in town, the one with all the stories (and a juicy scandal or two). The many ways a hotel can be important, and a grand hotel, are described below

  • 01 of 12

    A Grand or Grand Dame Hotel Is the Big-Name Local Landmark

    VIP portrait gallery at Hotel Sacher Wien in Vienna
    ••• A famous-guest gallery often marks a grand hotel ile the Hotel Sacher Vienna. ©Hotel Sacher Wien

    A Grand Hotel Is the Place Everyone in Town Is Proud Of

    A grand or grand dame hotel is the most famous hotel in its city. In a major metropolis, there may be several grand hotels, all rivals. And in many European cities, the grand hotel is called that: Grand Hotel Bordeaux, Grand Hotel Stockholm, and so on.

    A grand hotel is a landmark as architecturally notable as the city hall or opera house, and very often claims designated historical status. These grand hotels play a big part in their city's lore:
    • Alvear Palace, Evita Peron's elegant haunt in the palacio-filled Recoleta district of Buenos Aires
    • THE U.S. GRANT, San Diego's stunning downtown icon, the place where local society hs celebrated family milestones since 1910
    • The Plaza Hotel New York; its Champagne bar entertained "robber barons" of the 1890s and draws today's most bubbly Manhattan crowd

  • 02 of 12

    Or, a Grand Hotel Can Be a Country or Beachfront Estate

    The best hotel pools on Maui are at Grand Wailea
    ••• Grand Wailea on Maui is known for its profusion of pools. ©Grand Wailea

    A Grand Hotel Can Be in the City, on a Beach, in the Country 

    A grand or grande dame hotel need not be an urban property. It can be a super-luxe, patrician resort in a time-honored vacation area, whether beachfront or bucolic.

    You can bet that a grand hotel in a rural setting will be vast and magnificently landscaped, with pools, woods, ponds, gardens, horseback riding trails, tennis courts, and a golf course. Plus a ghost story (the most extreme of which is The Shining).

    Some Country Grand Hotels We Like

    The Sagamore, an elegant family resort majestically set on Lake George in upstate New York's Adirondacks
    • Omni Mount. Washington,  a mountain getaway for New England families, a tradition passed down through the generations
    • Congress Hall in New Jersey's Cape May: 200 years of social life

  • 03 of 12

    An Imposing Location & Views

    Quebec City's famous hotel, Fairmont Chateau Frontenac
    ••• Fairmont Chateau Frontenac, Quebec City's beloved landmark grand hote. ©Getty Images

    A Grand Hotel Has an Impressive Setting

    Location, location, location! A grand or grand dame hotel has a prime location in an august setting: the crest of a beach, or a hilltop, or overlooking Central Park, like the best hotels in Manhattan. The prime setting of a grand or grand dame hotel guarantees its guests unforgettable views.

    Grand Hotels with Look-at-Me Settings

    The Langham, Chicago is set in a Windy City architectural icon, a Mies van der Rohe skyscraper
    The Pierre New York: at Central Park's most fashionable corner
    Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa overlooking Disney World in Orlando 
    Palace Hotel Tokyo, standing tall and overlooking the Japanese royal family's Imperial Gardens
    • Regent Taipei, imposing set on a rise beside Taipei 101, Taiwan's answer to the Empire State Building, 

  • 04 of 12

    A Grand or Grande Dame Hotel Has a Historic Pedigree

    The Langham Hotel London
    ••• A grand entrance to a grand hotel: The Langham, London. The grand entrance to a very grand hotel. © The Langham, London.

    A Grand Hotel Has a Backstory Worthy of a Book

    A grand or grande dame hotel possesses history, legend, and lore.
    Sometimes, a grand hotel's charisma is heady enough for a whole book, such as Hotel by Arthur Hailey. The subject of this 1965 best-seller was a thinly fictionalized New Orleans hotel that is today the grande dame Waldorf Astoria New Orleans.

    Grand Hotels with Fabulous Stories

    Hôtel de la Cité sits inside the iconic rampart walls of medieval Carcassonne, France, the last stand of the doomed Cathar reformers
    • Radisson Blu Royal Copenhagen made hotel history when it opened in 1960 as the world's first designer hotel, by great Danish architect Arne Jacobsen
    • The Langham, London, where High Tea was invented in the 1860s, and still the home of London's best tea service
    • Gleneagles in Scotland, a Scottish estate castle turned into a fabled golf course and outdoorsy resort resort
    • Esplanade Hotel in Zagreb, Croatia's capital, a 1920s jewel beside the Orient-Express...MORE train station, with atmosphere straight out of an Agatha Christie mystery

    Continue to 5 of 12 below.
  • 05 of 12

    A Grand or Grande Dame Hotel Has an Army of Uniformed Personnel

    Hotel elevator man at The Pierre New York
    ••• Edmond Siu has manned the elevator at The Pierre New York for decades. The Pierre New York boasts uniformly good service. © Karen Tina Harrison

    Grande Dame Hotel's Service Is Elegant Yet Discreet

    A grand or grand dame hotel is amply staffed with employees scurrying about. In a well-managed property with great service, staffers devote themselves to serving guests, and not to strutting about self-importantly in their snappy uniforms.

    The Pierre Hotel New York, where an elevator ride with a charming staffer is a moment of grace
    St. Regis Mexico City, where suite butlers do your unpacking and packing, giving you more time to explore this fascinating capital

  • 06 of 12

    A Grand or Grande Dame Hotel Has A See-and-Be-Seen Lobby or Pool

    Elegant lobby bar of Hotel Kämp in Helsinki, FInland
    ••• Hotel Kämp's lobby bar is Helsinki's best place to toast over Champagne. ©Hotel Kämp

    A Grand Hotel's Lobby Is a Center of Social Life

    A grand or grand dame hotel has a lobby that is a hub of social life. It's a high-energy space with plenty of seating, waving, air-kissing, and an air of excitement. (These days, free wifi, too.) A grand or grand dame hotel's lobby is a place where a guest will want to camp out, pretending to work on an iPad, but actually just drinking in the social whirl.

    Where It's Hot, So Is a Grand Hotel's Pool Scene

    At grand hotels in sunny climes, the pool area functions as a beehive of networking. (May I present to the luxury travel jury: the Hollywood agent-beloved pink pool patio at The Beverly Hills Hotel).
    • Example: Taj Mahal Palace & Tower in Mumbai, India, whose lobby and pool are as glamorous as a Bollywood production

  • 07 of 12

    A Grand or Grande Dame Hotel Has a Claim to Fame (or Infamy)

    Nobis Hotel in Stockholm Sweden
    ••• Nobis Hotel, now a luxury hotel, was the site of the Stockholm Syndrome bank robbery. © Nobis Hotel

    A Grand or Grande Dame Hotel Has a Scandal in Its Past 

    What's a grand or grand dame hotel without a standout anecdote? Not grand. Picture this: every grand hotel tells a story. Or several. And a juicy scandal never loses its appeal. At Montreal's Queen Elizabeth Hotel, there's a waitlist for nights in the suite where John Lennon and Yoko Ono staged their "Bed-In" in 1969.

    Is Happened Here, at these Hotels

    • Example: Copacabana Palace in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where the rich and royal have partner-swapped since the hotel opened in 1923
    • Or Nobis Hotel,​ in the bank building where victims' reaction to a 1973 bank robbery birthed the phrase Stockholm syndrome

  • 08 of 12

    A Grand or Grande Dame Hotel Has Noteworthy Dining

    I Carracci, a great restaurant in Bologna, Italy
    ••• Famed for its food and frescoes: I Carracci restaurant in Grand Hotel Majestic, Bologna. © Eric Levin

    A Grand or Grande Dame Hotel Has a Restaurant Everyone Wants to Go To

    A grand or grand dame hotel is not only a lure for luxury travel visits. It is a citadel of destination dining, and houses one (or more) of its locale's very best restaurants. Often, the eatery is as famous as the hotel itself.

    You'll Chow Down Grandly at these Hotels

    • In Bologna, Italy, Grand Hotel Majestic gia Baglioni's  Carracci restaurant (shown) is one of the best in a food-obsessed town, and famous for its ceiling, painted by the Carracci brothers centuries ago
    • The San Tel Aviv, a grand hotel whose global breakfast buffet is where some of the town's top execs hold their first meeting of the day 
    • Foodie San Francisco's coolest retro eating and drinking spot is The Big 4, a let's-dress-vintage retro gem at The Scarlet Huntington Hotel 
    • At Fairmont Grand Del Mar in Southern California, Addison Restaurant has accrued rare honors from Relais & Chateaux and from hard-to-please LA Times cr...MOREitics 

    Continue to 9 of 12 below.
  • 09 of 12

    A Grand or Grande Dame Hotel Has an Ongoing Media Presence

    Zurich's he Dolder Grand Hotel in Switzerland
    ••• The Dolder Grand Hotel in Zurich, Switzerland. © Stefan Schmidlin.

    A Grand or Grande Dame Hotel Stays Fresh and in the News

    A grand or grande dame hotel stays in the public eye.
    It may be old in years, but it stays top-of-mind thanks to public-relations savvy.

    Grand hotels continue to in the media limelight thanks to a celebrity clientele and, often, as a movie and TV location. (What luxury traveler can even think of L.A.'s Beverly Wilshire Hotel without conjuring Pretty Woman?)

    Some Ever-Young Grand Hotels

    • Example: The Dolder Grand in Zurich, Switzerland, prominently featured in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
    • Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows in Santa Monica, California, whose palm-shaded pool has been the backdrop for Hollywood deal-making since it opened in 1921
    Hotel Kämp in Helsinki, Finland, built in 1887, now gets attention for its Champagne bar, sushi bar, and "Best Day Spa in Europe" award

  • 10 of 12

    A Grand or Grande Dame Hotel Has Art Everywhere

    Le Negresco hotel room n NIce, France
    ••• Design rules in the Art Nouveau Room at Le Negrsco, the French Riviera's grande dame hotel. ©Le Negresco

    A Grand or Grande Dame Hotel Has Art Everywhere

    A grand or grand dame hotel keeps up with appearances: its own. Its management does not skimp on décor. The hotel is refurbished frequently and renovated regularly. And a grand hotel's common spaces and guest rooms are filled with art of the genuine and pricey sort.

    A Masterpiece in the Master Bedroom, a Collection in the Corridor

    Le Negresco in Nice, France (shown), with a museum-level collection of art from Napoleon portraits to Picasso nudes
    Four Seasons Baltimore Hotel, with notable paintings including several by Frank Stella
    The Ritz-Carlton, Seoul has more than Gangnam style; it has precious collections of Asian paintings and ceramics

  • 11 of 12

    A Grand or Grande Dame Hotel Is a Destination Wedding Magnet

    La Terazza Ballroom at La Fonda Santa Fe hotel
    ••• Get hitched in style at La Fonda Santa Fe Hotel. © La Fonda Santa Fe.

    Everyone Wants to Get Married at a Grand or Grande Dame Hotel

    A grand or grande dame hotel is catnip to upscale engaged couples seeking a refined wedding that their guests will see as a luxury getaway. The tasteful twosomes count on impeccable nuptials -- and impressive name-dropping for years to come.

    Where to Get Hitched Grandly

    • ​La Fonda on the Plaza in Santa Fe, New Mexico, whose exquisite vintage ballrooms are booked years in advance

  • 12 of 12

    But Will You Like Staying in a Grand or Grande Dame Hotel?

    Duck parade at The Peabody Memphis hotel
    ••• Every day brings the parade of ducks through the grand lobby of The Peabody Memphis hotel. ©The Peabody Memphis

    You May Love a Grand or Grande Dame Hotel...or Not

    Now, whether or not you like the grand hotel experience is a matter of personal taste. My feeling is this: on a luxury traveler's first visit to a city, it's a good idea to stay in the most important, most famous hotel in town -- the grand or grande dame hotel.

    Stay and Decide: Are Grand Hotels for Me?

    You may find yourself captivated by the famous hotel's mythology and aura, and find yourself retelling the hotel's legends (like the daily parade of The Peabody Ducks at The Peabody Memphis, shown).

    On the other hand, you may find that a grand or grande dame hotel is a pompous, or impersonal, or old-fashioned. But you will have "lived the legend" and seen for yourself why grand hotels endure and thrive.