“Forgettable,” “predictable,” and “unoriginal” -- these are the words that might come to mind when thinking of chain hotels. It’s easy to dismiss all chain properties as a series of dull beige duplicates that look and feel the same, whether that outpost is in Maine or Malta. But the truth is there are plenty of chain hotels that are every bit as appealing as their independently owned counterparts. Here at Oyster, we’ve published 18,276 hotel reviews on our site (and counting!), so we’ve developed a deep appreciation for the chains that deliver when it comes to originality, luxury, and dependability. Here, our editors pick the nine chains that truly top our must-stay list.
“I’ve long been a fan of the Kimpton Hotels brand. Even though it is a chain, its priority is to create a boutique hotel experience — some may think that a boutique hotel by definition can’t belong to a chain, but Kimpton does a great job of challenging that assumption. Every hotel has a distinct decor theme and beautiful style — plus all the freebies that help make a boutique stay feel personalized, from a free happy hour to free Wi-Fi (as long as you sign up for the free rewards program). If you forget something, you can request an astonishing number of things from reception, from lint rollers to dental floss. And as someone who is obsessed with her dog (an extremely adorable King Charles Cavalier, thanks for asking), I love how pet-friendly Kimpton is — pets of all types and sizes are welcome for free.” — Kelsey Blodget, Senior Executive Editor
“I like chain hotels that aren’t cookie-cutter replicas of each other, and I think the Rosewood chain does the best job of providing a distinct sense of place while still keeping with the brand’s signature stellar service and extreme attention to detail. For instance, the Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi in Santa Fe has kiva-style fireplaces and Southwestern decor in their rooms, while the Rosewood London is located inside an Edwardian mansion and has an English garden terrace. No two hotels look the same, but all feature local art, gourmet restaurants, and dedicated staff members that strive to remember your name.” — Megan Wood, Editor
“Doting service, upscale amenities, a great location, and an affordable price tag are all factors that give a hotel plenty of brownie points, but if I’m being honest, a comfy bed is the ultimate extra credit. And in my opinion, no hotel chain does beds quite like the Westin. After a long day of sightseeing, there’s no better feeling than flopping down on one of their Heavenly Beds — topped with 13-inch pillow-top mattresses — to catch some Zs. The feather and down hypoallergenic pillows, along with a puffy (that’s the technical term) duvet and down blanket, have me sleeping like a baby — no counting sheep required. Turns out, they also sell the beds online, but they cost more than the price of an international trip, so I’ll keep dreaming on (in the hotels) for now.” — Alisha Prakash, Editor
“Although I love hip Thompson Hotels, I have to give the edge to the luxury 1 Hotels brand. I’ve toured both 1 Hotel South Beach and 1 Hotel Central Park and they are absolute stunners. The eco-conscious brand incorporates sustainability practices whenever possible, from obvious features like salvaged wood and vertical gardens, to cutesy amenities like five-minute sand timers for showers and bedside chalkboards instead of notepads. Whether it’s the serene, beachy decor in Miami or chic, urban flair in New York, every property (only three as of now, with more to come) is thoughtfully and comfortably crafted. In-room amenities are unsurprisingly top-notch, including the Nespresso machines, yoga mats, and Field Guides, which are phones that allow guests to control the thermostat and order room service, among other things. Not all have a spa or pool, but dining is consistently superb and pets are always welcome.” —Lara Grant, Associate Editor
“For me, the boutique-er the better, and I have to give a shout out to Firmdale Hotels. It’s a small group, with 10 boutique properties in New York and in London, co-founded by husband-and-wife-team Tim and Kit Kemp. The interiors are wonderfully warm — English country mixed with an impossibly chic urban aesthetic — and have details I adore, right down to the black-and-white-striped pencils (admittedly, I have a collection). The Crosby in SoHo has long been a go-to, and their second NYC hotel, The Whitby, just opened in Midtown in February. I saw my first London property last summer, for a lovely afternoon tea in the garden at Number Sixteen townhouse. While I’ve always been smitten with Firmdale’s design, it’s the hotels’ atmosphere that seals the deal, which is upscale, but doesn’t take itself too seriously.” — Rachel Klein, Editor
“I’ve stayed at many different Embassy Suites, part of the Hilton family, throughout my life. As you can probably infer by the chain’s name, each accommodation has a separate living room and bedroom, which is a great bonus for family or group travel. I’m a fan of their evening reception — free drinks, both alcoholic and non, and snacks for two hours every night of the week — as well as their free breakfast, which includes made-to-order eggs. I’ll admit that not every Embassy is made equal in terms of decor and cleanliness (reception offerings also differ at each location, ranging from hot hors d’oeuvres to peanuts), so you’ll want to do your research before booking. I also have to give a shout out to Embassy Suites’ sister chain, Curio Collection by Hilton. I stayed at my first property earlier this year and had a great experience, but I have to refrain from naming it my favorite chain until I stay at a second (which is happening this month!).” — Stefanie Waldek, Editor
“I’m a sucker for hipster design and retro midcentury flair, so of course I fell hard for the Ace Hotel chain. Their Palm Springs outpost, a sun-bleached property with a lively pool scene and a gypsy vibe, is my personal favorite. Details like artwork hung by binder clips, record players, and a lobby photo booth keep the quirk factor high. But the chain has 10 different properties in various U.S. cities plus London and Panama. The common thread is a punchy design, a youthful spirit, and a dash of humor. I’m eyeing their New Orleans outpost for my next visit.” — Maria Teresa Hart, Senior Editor
“One&Only has the luxury product down pat. That’s mostly because you feel catered to and spoiled, but not overwhelmed by the service. The locations are almost universally stunning — I love the Los Cabos outpost at Palmilla, personally. But the brand itself manages to blend refinement and exclusivity with a low-key and laid-back style that I haven’t seen anywhere else around the globe.” — Kyle Valenta, Editor
“I recently went on a two-week trip to Mauritius, where I became a huge fan of a local boutique chain called Attitude Hotels. Attitude has small, stylish properties all over the island — some are adult-only, some are kid-friendly, but all have beachy, breezy style and excellent amenities (hello, free kayaks and thatch-roof spas!). Every location hosts weekly Family Dinners, where hotel guests can go to the home of a hotel employee and learn how to prepare a traditional Mauritian meal, like a curry or daube. Plus, the hotel group is eco-friendly and socially conscious, often bringing in people from the community to sell their crafts on site or take hotel guests for sunrise boat trips, all at no profit to the hotel.” — Anne Olivia Bauso, Associate Editor
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