You've been on a cruise, to an all-inclusive destination resort and stayed at so many hotel chains that you can't keep them straight anymore. If you find yourself longing for more out of your next hotel stay than a few lousy frequent visitor points, consider opting for a truly unique overnight accommodation, instead!
In keeping with today's trend of repurposing, renovating and revitalizing, many creative types are dreaming up hotels housed in some pretty bizarre venues, effectively delivering whimsy, memories and a certain je ne sais quoi that can't be cast from a typical hotel mold. Now that adventure vacationing is becoming more common, many travelers are opting to eschew the "safe" options for something historically significant, completely off the wall or even a little bit creepy. From murder sites to sanitariums to even a building shaped like one of your body's major organs, these rooms for rent deliver so much more than free WiFi. Keep reading to learn more about the imaginative ways these buildings have been transformed into exceptionally memorable hotels.
Villisca Ax Murder House
Travelers with a penchant for the morbid would particularly enjoy a stay in this Villisca, Iowa, home where one of the most notorious crimes of the early 20th century was committed. On June 10, 1912, an unknown person brutally murdered the entire Moore family (two adults and four children), plus two additional children who'd been invited for a sleepover. An axe was the weapon of choice, and each victim was found tucked into bed with fatal head wounds. Understandably, this community of 2,500 was rocked by the violent and sudden loss of eight of their own residents. Although the culprit was never brought to justice, the townspeople had many theories, ranging from an angered ex-business partner to a serial killer. Sadly, that question will probably never be definitively answered.
The home has had a number of owners in the decades since the murders, many of whom renovated the property. In 1994, however, new owners elected to restore the house to its 1912 condition, removing plumbing fixtures, electricity and otherwise turning back the hands of time to the day the crime was committed. Said to be haunted, the site is available for daylight tours, as well as overnight stays — if you dare! Sadly, you can't sleep in one of the "murder house" beds; you'll have to bring a sleeping bag for your overnight visit. The cost is $428 for one to six people (2015 rates) [source: Villisca Ax Murder House].
I'm all for functional art, but spending the night inside a giant colon sculpture is a little too much for me. No, I'm not kidding you. It really is a giant anus sculpture. And you can sleep inside it. For real.
Those of you who always longed to become proctologists, but never quite made the trip to medical school, might especially enjoy a stay in this intestine-shaped building. The artistic creation of Joep Van Lieshout, Hotel Casanus is located about an hour from Brussels, Belgium. If you're looking for glitz, glamour and exceptional comfort, save yourself the trouble and reroute to the local W. Casanus prides itself on being unpolished and contradictory, and features only a double bed and the most basic amenities. Thankfully, a toilet and running water are two of them! This exhibit-turned-hotel is truly a sight to behold, having left nothing to the imagination regarding the appearance of the body's most notorious organ. In fact, it features a "puckered" sphincter and "bulging" veins [sources: Grundhauser, Unusual Hotels of the World). I'm guessing it smells better than an actual intestine, otherwise the reviews would probably be much, much worse.
While there's not much in terms of recreation (you'd probably shudder to imagine some kind of themed entertainment), the hotel is part of a sculpture park, and visitors enjoy taking in all the art under an unobstructed sky.
Forget Shawshank! Anyone with an interest in prison, but lacking the stomach for the standard variety should visit Boston's historic district for a taste of both worlds. Formerly the Charles Street Jail, the Liberty Hotel is the luxurious result of $150 million worth of purchase, construction and renovation expenses [source: Liberty Hotel].
Located in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts, the hotel traded cell bars for private in-room bars, and it's a safe bet that the furnishings are about a hundred steps up from those the prisoners of yesteryear were given. Despite these improvements, the hotel is hardly designed to cover up its past. In fact, major efforts were taken to preserve the architectural and historic integrity of the building, which features original brick walls, prison bars and other mementos from its Big House past. Rooms and suites are available for between $250 and $1,500 per night.
Of course, a certain amount of irony had to be injected into the project, achieved by the name of the hotel itself (betcha some former prisoners wouldn't find that amusing), as well as the on-site restaurant, Clink and the former drunk-tank-turned-bar, Alibi [source: Lavoie].
Seaventures Rig Resort
What better place for avid divers to vacation than a venue completely surrounded by water? The brains behind the Seaventures Rig Resort knew what they were doing when they retooled an old oil rig into a stylish escape for diving enthusiasts. Situated in Sipaden, Borneo, Malaysia, the rig/resort is located in prime dive country. In fact, it's right on top of the Coral Triangle, which is renowned for the nearly 600 species of coral and 2,000 types of coral fish found within its parameters [source: World Wildlife]. Divers actually access the awe-inspiring reefs using the rig's lift [source: McCulloch].
Room packages typically include unlimited reef dives, but guests also can join boat groups to visit additional waters, which are known as some of the world's best for diving. An on-site game room for table tennis and pool, a restaurant and the Rig's own house band (helmed by the versatile dive crew) round out the nightly entertainment. A nearby island is also accessible via boat should you want something different [source: Seaventures Dive].
Execution Rocks Lighthouse
A typical eastern seaboard lighthouse on its own is shrouded in mystique, what with all its jagged rocks, crashing waves and oppressive fog. Toss in a few sordid rumors, ghost stories and air mattresses and you have a tantalizing, historical and pretty creepy place for a sleepover. Such is the reputation for Execution Rocks Lighthouse, located on Long Island Sound in New York.
An overnight stay at the Execution Rocks Lighthouse is a dream come true for history buffs who also like spookiness. In addition to being the site where a vicious serial killer named Carl Panzram once dumped his victims' bodies, it's also rumored to have obtained its name in a grisly manner. Legend has it that pre-Revolutionary War authorities routinely conducted executions by chaining people to the rocks surrounding the lighthouse at low tide, leaving them to mercilessly drown once the water rose [sources: Roadtrippers, United States Coast Guard].
This is another example of lodging that offers priceless ambiance, but not much in the way of amenities. In fact, the island doesn't feature plumbing or electricity, and guests have to supply their own bedding, food and water, though air mattresses and cots are provided. The 2015 cost was $300 per room per night [source: Lighthouse Restorations]. Of course, your local Holiday Inn would cost less and offer more amenities — but it wouldn't be on its own private island!
The Dean is sort of like the "Pretty Woman" of the hotel industry. Before the self-described "boutique hotel" underwent a dramatic makeover, it was indeed a combination flophouse, strip club and um, hourly liaison destination. In other words, "seedy" doesn't even begin to describe it.
Located in a historic, and therefore protected, district of Providence, Rhode Island, the building's structure and floor plan couldn't be altered once the club closed up shop. These limitations led design experts to return the building to its architectural source, circa 1912. As such, lovely early 20th-century details and even beautiful mosaic tile flooring were revealed amongst the plethora of stripper poles and filthy carpeting [source: Doyle].
Although many of the original design features have been retained, the style is decidedly contemporary and artistic. This juxtaposition is fitting, seeing as how the 52-room hotel has risen from the ashes of an establishment that literally could not be more different. From single dollar bills to single malt scotch, it's a transformation that's worth checking out the next time you're in the area. The king room (depicted on the first page) features a king-size bed, as well as a writing desk and original artwork, starting at a rate of $139 per night [source: The Dean Hotel].
Parador de Santo Estevo
Most chain hotel rooms are exactly the same, from bedding to shower curtain to TV set. Among the many perks of staying at the Parador de Santo Estevo is that each of the former monastery's 77 rooms is unique to the others. Of course, the fact that it's in Spain is reason enough for most people!
Located in northwest Spain in the Ribeira Sacra region, the former Benedictine monastery is home to three cloisters, and is believed to date all the way back to the 6th or 7th centuries. Architecture enthusiasts will appreciate the opportunity to examine the Romanesque, Renaissance and Gothic-style buildings, complete with views of the Sil River Canyon [source: Parador]. Others may be content to just enjoy the surrounding forests and mountain scenery.
Despite Santo Estevo's obvious historic significance (in 1923 it was actually named a historic monument), the owners have also managed to work in modern elements to suit current traveler tastes. Guests have the opportunity to enjoy the spa, indoor heated pool, sauna, outdoor dining and on-site gardens [source: Syz].
You most certainly wouldn't want to be locked up in a mental institution, but passing a night in one wouldn't be such a terrible fate if it's in a spot like Amsterdam's Hotel Arena, formerly St. Elizabeth Mental Institution. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, mentally ill people were sent by family to live out their days in sterile mental hospitals. This one was a destination for women and children.
The institution had a storied history before becoming Hotel Arena. During World War I, Belgian refuges sheltered there. And during World War II, the obstetrics department of a nearby hospital was housed within its walls. Eventually, Nazi invaders occupied the site. After the war, it reverted to a place for mentally ill patients, as well as the poor and elderly [source: Hotel Arena].
Although the hotel's interior is no longer in keeping with the setting, when viewed from the outside it boasts a fortress-like image where one would hardly be surprised to spot a ghostly apparition peering out from a window high above ground. Designers sought to preserve the historic and architectural integrity of the original building, while also adding modern delights like a restaurant, bar, café and meeting rooms. Most of the hotel rooms were part of the former orphanage [source: Hotel Arena]. History plus mystery earns this hotel a spot on my bucket list ... but if a transparent little girl with pigtails shows up I'll be hightailing it to the nearest Hilton, post haste.
If royal weddings, babies and other wild shenanigans (I'm looking at you, Prince Harry), throw you into a fevered tizzy, perhaps a stay at an ancient castle-turned-hotel is the ideal vacation for you! There's no shortage of such establishments throughout Wales and the rest of Europe, but this one must surely be one of the oldest.
Ruthin Castle, situated in North Wales, features an original moat, a dungeon and whipping pit! The castle was built in 1277 for the last independent ruler of Wales, Prince Dafydd, who was hung, drawn and quartered after being found guilty of treason. His head was then displayed at the Tower of London [source: Ruthin Castle].
All traces of savagery have thankfully left the property, so guests who fail to return their room keys need not worry about being subjected to some kind of torture. Instead, they can visit the day spa for modern pampering or attend a medieval feast to experience a taste of the days of yore. The hotel plays up the medieval theme to the hilt. So if a knight meets a certain comely wench, the two might just want to book a medieval wedding — costumes optional [sources: Arnold, Ruthin Castle].
McMenamins Kennedy School
This historic Portland, Oregon-area former elementary school dispenses with arithmetic and reading, endeavoring instead to educate its guests about beer, food and how to have a good time. Built in 1912, the once-abandoned building was renovated to create a cool, laid-back environment in keeping with the region it's located in.
This pet-friendly establishment offers a movie theater and several on-site restaurants and bars to quench the thirsts of whisky and craft beer enthusiasts. It even hosts Concordia Brewery, situated in the part of the school that used to function as the girls lavatory. The school also fancies itself an art gallery of sorts, featuring many modern and historic pieces throughout the hallways. The rooms in the main building still have the original chalkboards.
None of this would have been possible, had orders to demolish the previously condemned property been followed. Fortunately, the building was saved in the 11nth hour and has since been retooled and preserved for the enjoyment of visitors and locals alike [source: McMenamins]. Any "school" that produces kegs on-site gets an A-plus in my grade book!
Do you know on which side of 0 degrees latitude these famous landmarks fall?
Author's Note: 10 Strange Buildings Where You Can Spend the Night
I appreciate the amenities and comforts that many standard hotel chains have to offer. That said, I once had the opportunity to spend several nights in a small British castle, and I certainly remember much more about that experience than any other basic hotel stay.
- Quiz: Are you brave enough to face these haunted hotels?
- World's 10 Craziest Hotels
- How an Ice Hotel Works
- Top 10 Hotels That Will Scare the Daylights Out of You
- Pet-friendly Hotels Guide
More Great Links
- Arnold, Helen. "15 Romantic European Castle Hotels." CNN. Sept. 19, 2011 (June 18, 2015) http://www.cnn.com/2011/09/16/travel/romantic-castles/
- Doyle, Rachel B. "Three Years Ago, This Posh Hotel Was a Notorious Strip Club." Curbed. Nov. 24, 2014 (June 17, 2015) http://curbed.com/archives/2014/11/24/the-dean-hotel-before-and-after.php
- Grundhauser, Eric. "Hotel Casanus." 2015 (June 17, 2015) http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/hotel-casanus
- Hotel Arena. "Hotel Arena." 2015 (June 18, 2015) http://www.hotelarena.nl/en
- Liberty Hotel. "Boston Hotel." 2015 (June 17, 2015) http://www.libertyhotel.com/index.html
- Lighthouse Restorations. "Execution Rocks Lighthouse." 2015 (June 17, 2015) http://lighthouserestorations.org/Home.php
- McCulloch, Adam. "Seaventures Rig Resort, Pulau Mabul, Malaysia." Travel and Leisure. March 30, 2012 (June 17, 2015) http://www.travelandleisure.com/slideshows/worlds-most-unusual-hotels/15
- McMenamins. "Kennedy School." 2015 (June 18, 2015) http://www.mcmenamins.com/427-kennedy-school-home
- Parador. "Parador de Santo Estevo." 2015 (June 18, 2015) http://www.parador.es/en/paradores/parador-de-santo-estevo
- Roadtrippers. "Execution Rocks Lighthouse." 2015 (June 17, 2015) https://roadtrippers.com/us/sands-point-ny/points-of-interest/execution-rocks-lighthouse?lat=40.80972&lng=-96.67528&z=5
- Ruthin Castle. "Ruthin Castle – A Short History." 2015 (June 18, 2015) http://www.ruthincastle.co.uk/history/
- Savoia, Stephen. "Boston jail transforms into luxury hotel with restaurant called 'Clink.'" USA Today. Nov. 8, 2007 (June 17, 2015) http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/travel/destinations/2007-11-08-boston-jail-hotel_N.htm
- Seaventures Dive. "About the Rig." 2015 (June 17, 2015) http://seaventuresdive.com/about-seaventures-dive-rig/
- Syz, Francesca. "Hotels in former monasteries: four of the best." Travel. 2015 (June 18, 2015) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/hotels/6016523/Four-of-the-best-hotels-in-former-monasteries.html
- The Dean Hotel. "The Dean Hotel." 2015 (June 17, 2015) https://thedeanhotel.com/
- United States Coast Guard. "Execution Rocks Lighthouse." 2015 (June 17, 2015) http://www.uscg.mil/d1/antNewYork/lighthouses/ExecutionRocks.asp
- Unusual Hotels of the World. "About Casanus." 2015 (June 17, 2015) http://www.unusualhotelsoftheworld.com/casanus
- Villisca Ax Murder House. "The Official Website for the Villisca Ax Murder House." 2015 (June 16, 2015) http://www.villiscaiowa.com/index.php
- World Wildlife. "Coral Triangle." 2015 (June 17, 2015) https://www.worldwildlife.org/places/coral-triangle