Sure, you can play it safe by sticking to the familiar worldwide mega chains, such as Marriott, IHG, and Hilton. But more often than not, it’s the lesser known or foreign-based hotels that offer style, an appealing value for the dollar (or euro, yuan, or lira), and a memorable stay. Below, we steer you to seven hotel chains around the world worth stepping into — with prices that start under $200.
Meet your new “Room Mate”: the Hotel Mario (Photo: Room Mate Hotels)
The 19-property chain, headquartered in Madrid, has hotels outside Spain (Florence, Amsterdam, Mexico City, Buenos Aires, NYC, Miami, and Istanbul) and within (Madrid, Barcelona, Oviedo, Málaga, Salamanca, and Granada). Not lost in translation, however, is Room Mate’s winning formula for attracting a largely hip, nightlife-loving clientele, despite its few frills: a central location, a bar/lounge space with a DJ, breakfasts served until noon, simple but comfortable rooms with offbeat décor, and free Wi-Fi. Each hotel takes the name and personality of an imaginary local “host”; some have the bonus of an indoor pool (NYC), a Turkish bath (Istanbul), or a gym (Amsterdam). From $168 at Room Mate Mario, Madrid.
The Spain-based NH Hotel Group is actually hiding in plain sight: It’s one of the world’s 25 largest hotel companies, with almost 400 properties in 28 countries, predominantly in Europe and Latin America (including Havana, its most recent opening). Popular with European business travelers looking to break out of the cookie-cutter mold, the NH properties favor a clean, modern look with tech-friendly details in a centrally located neighborhood, particularly in the urban areas. Complimentary breakfast and Wi-Fi always sweeten the already good deal. From $79 at NH Crillón, Buenos Aires.
The “fun” decor at citizenM’s Times Square location (Photo: citizenM Hotels)
CitizenM’s impressive 2008 debut property, citizenM Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, actually shook up the industry by making a stay in a transit hotel fun. This fast-on-the-rise brand has quickly expanded its quasi-self-service concept All the hotels are designed with a similar concept: large, homey public areas for working and socializing, tiny but cleverly functional rooms (with mood lighting!), and a casual, 24-hour canteen for noshing. The Midtown NYC location kicks it up a notch with an in-house gym and a rooftop bar. From $120 at citizenM Amsterdam.
Pentahotels are usually located near the action (Photo: Pentahotels)
Originally created as an airline hotel chain in 1971 by five British and European airlines, Pentahotels has morphed into a rapidly growing lifestyle chain, with 23 hotels currently in Europe (mostly in Germany, U.K., and Belgium) and China (Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong), and with another seven hotels slated to open by the end of 2015. Slickly designed and tech-oriented, the hotels are typically convenient to conference and exhibition sites, airports, and railways. (The newest outpost in Paris is near Charles de Gaulle Airport.) Brand-wise, there’s a wide variation in hotel size (from 117 rooms to 695 rooms), but all have valuable perks, such as free Wi-Fi, rain shower heads, and a “pentalounge”—a hybrid lobby/reception/bar space that serves as the social hub of each hotel. Rates from $77 at Pentahotel Leipzig.
This Traders gets lit at night in Abu Dhabi (Photo: Traders Hotel)
The quiet, less showy sister brand to the glamorous Hong Kong-based Shangri-La Hotels, Traders attracts a young, travel-savvy clientele for its smart, modern look and efficient service in key Asian and Middle Eastern business markets, including Beijing; Manila; Singapore; Abu Dhabi in United Arab Emirates; and Doha in Qatar. Of the 14 properties, the best known to residents of the Western Hemisphere is probably the Kuala Lumpur outpost — with its killer views of some of the world’s tallest buildings, the Petronas Twin Towers, from the top-floor pool and bar. It’s a go-to spot for the city’s see-and-be-seen crowd. Rates from $145 at Traders Kuala Lumpur.
CGH properties help get you closer to nature. (Photo: CGH Earth)
Its 13 small properties (and one houseboat) may be limited to Kerala and neighboring areas of southern India, but this family-owned group of heritage hotels, resorts, and wellness retreats has been in business for 60 years and has been at the forefront of delivering environmentally and socially responsible experiences on an intimate scale. (Don’t expect A/C or TVs in-room at some of its properties.) Most of its hotels offer Ayurveda, yoga, and meditation centers, as well as cooking demonstrations and other culinary experiences. From $60 at Maison Perumal, Pondicherry, or $134 at Coconut Lagoon, Kumarakom.
A Premier breakfast (Photo: Premier Inn/Facebook)
It’s in fact the U.K.’s largest hotel chain, with 650 properties, including 25 in London alone, and strikes a happy balance among its many guests — young and old, families and couples, business types and vacationers — making this upbeat budget chain an open secret among Brits. What the brand lacks in inspired room design it more than makes up for in comfortable pillow-top mattresses, generous breakfasts, complimentary Wi-Fi (up to 30 minutes daily, or $5 for unlimited access), and family-friendly amenities, including pullout sofas and free brekkie for kids 16 and under. Nearly all of its hotels are newly built, sparing guests the “charm” of tired plumbing and creaky floors one finds at many of the U.K.’s listed buildings. From $145 at Premier Inn London Tower Bridge.