From quirky to quintessential and from local to luxe, these urban escapes are guaranteed to get you under the skin of the city you’re in.
Here are the 10 city stays that made it into positions 82 to 91 of our coveted list of 100 unique stays. Head here to read the full list and start planning your next escape.
With a coffee shop on every corner in neighbourhoods that invite you to become part of their fabric, Melbourne is the kind of city that makes you feel like a local within no time. And I love that feeling of familiarity I get from revisiting time and again. But I also love that it can surprise and reveal new sides to me, as it does when I check into United Places. This small and luxurious hotel is an urban oasis set on the edge of the city’s Royal Botanic Gardens in a village precinct I’ve never explored before.
Inspired by the minimalist aesthetic of Brutalism and anchored by sandblasted concrete and bronze trim, this most contemporary of hotels cuts a sleek profile on Domain Road in contrast to the elegant Art Deco architecture of surrounding South Yarra and leafy aspect of the botanic gardens. Inside my garden suite – where the sunny terrace overlooks those parklands – the clean lines are offset by rich materials and soft furnishings such as the sumptuous velvet drapes that cocoon my sleeping quarters at night with the light touch of a button; cleverly integrated tech, such as this motorised curtain track, elevate United Places to another level. A concierge who delivers a platter of fresh fruit and pastries as I’m settling in, Le Labo Santal 33 amenities and artisanal additions made in collaboration with local and likeminded companies (coffee pods courtesy of ST. ALi and organic Loom towels and textiles) up the ante even more. So it’s a hard call to tear myself away.
Matilda 159, the hatted destination diner from Melbourne chef-restaurateur extraordinaire Scott Pickett that’s located just downstairs, is a good start (although you can also order room service from here). As is the private guided forest therapy session through the botanic gardens, part of the hotel’s Reboot Package, which I soon find myself embracing: an exercise in mindfulness in the outdoors. After that I meander along the river to the nearby NGV International to see a different side of the city again. Flanked by the gardens on one side and the Yarra backed by the city skyline on the other, alongside the joggers and the dog walkers and the amblers like me, I feel positively local again. – Imogen Eveson
An international brand with a local neighbourhood focus, Hotel Indigo properties are designed to reflect the personality, history and unique drawcards of the localities they exist in. In the case of its first Australian property, the 145-room Hotel Indigo Adelaide Markets, the theme plays out in everything from the produce used in its restaurant (much of it is sourced from the nearby markets) to the rather unusual colour of its carpets. Here, the elements that make Hotel Indigo Adelaide Markets (pictured in the first image of this article) so distinctive.
It’s what’s on the inside that counts
Spending time at the property offers up a wealth of Easter egg design treats hiding in plain sight, all referencing the colourful history of the city and neighbourhood. In the lobby and cafe, red-brick arches reference the historic facade of the nearby Adelaide Central Market while a feature wall has certain bricks etched with clues to memorable events from the past. Meanwhile, carpets in the rooms take their geometric design cues from the tessellated tile patterns found in Adelaide’s heritage 19th century homes, and hand-crafted copper elements pay homage to South Australia’s proud mining heritage.
Art and commerce
The property gets exuberant punches of colour from the murals featured throughout, including works by Australian contemporary artists Luke Day, Nick Dahlen, Matthew Fortress and Tristan Kerr. In the rooms, feature walls are collaged with authentic Adelaide Festival poster artwork stretching back over 60 years of this iconic cultural celebration.
Be tickled pink
The signature colour of the hotel is perhaps pink, found in plentiful supply in the carpet and funky banquettes in Market & Meander restaurant. The colour is a considered inclusion, influenced by South Australia’s former premier, Don Dunstan. The politician had a big personality to match his forward-thinking vision for the state, including championing social equality. He famously wore a pair of (short) pink shorts to parliament in 1972 to encourage diversity.
It is a sad fact that the practicalities expected of the serviced apartment sector often trump a focus on luxury and design, but the newly launched A by Adina brand is changing all that. Its sculptural, design-driven Canberra property, located at Constitution Place, ticks the boxes on both style and substance. The one- and two-bedroom apartments come with all the practical elements, from kitchenettes to washer/dryers, but the streamlined design, muted tones and attention to detail are decidedly luxe in their execution. Two gyms and a team of Personal Curators further ensure service(d) with style.
Fitzroy is Melbourne’s oldest suburb, an inner-northern enclave known for its authentic creativity expressed through an eclectic mix of bars, restaurants, cafes, studios and art galleries. Set in a quintessential bluestone in a leafy backstreet, espresso and wine bar Napier Quarter embodies this spirit and more with its commitment to quality, celebrating community and championing the artisan. Which sets the tone for its adjoining guesthouse, too, opened in March 2020. “I had always loved the idea of extending the usual offering of a restaurant or bar into accommodation,” says co-owner Daniel T Lewis. “At Napier Quarter we believe it’s not just food, wine or service that creates a memorable experience but the nuanced combination of all that provides you with a feeling. That feeling you can’t really describe, but entails the convivial nature of the room, a connection, your ‘place’, a belonging. Home.”
The guesthouse is the artistically stylish Melbourne home you wish was yours: a luxuriously spartan aesthetic and moody tonal colour palette; local ceramics in the kitchen; handmade linens in the restful bedroom; Japanese cotton towels and Aesop in the bathroom. Every item has been chosen thoughtfully. Styling the space was very personal, not forced, says Daniel. “I love the layers of history of the building from the bluestone foundations to the ’70s terracotta tiles. The arched dining room entrance to the ornate ceiling rose. All reminders of the previous lives and so deeply Fitzroy. I especially adore the female nude oil paintings by New York artist Elizabeth Widmayer, Stella and Vivienne, sourced from a wonderful vintage store in country Victoria. They adorn the walls with stories of their own.”
It’s all about the rituals here at Napier Quarter. A welcome glass of wine with your house tour on arrival. A digestif to sip late-night in the sitting room overlooking tree-lined Napier Street and the bustle of the bar below. A baguette and newspaper delivered in the morning to savour alongside provisions of jams, hand-churned butter and French-press coffee.
“We believe rituals are the foundations to a good life,” says Daniel. “Punctuating your day with simple pleasures should be encouraged, celebrated and never compromised. Our service style in the wine bar consists of a beginning, middle and end; we wanted to ensure that service crossed over into the guesthouse experience through morning to moonlight.
“When I travel, I always like to stay in one area, in one space, for as long as possible,” continues Daniel. “I love the notion of being a local. To explore the layers of the neighbourhood. To feel the surroundings. I believe the place you stay should reflect the area and be just as important a component to travelling, if not the most. I also love having a comfortable place to go back to, with the simple luxuries you have at home. The first thing I do when I arrive at an Airbnb, guesthouse or hotel is unpack. Is there any better feeling than feeling at home, somewhere else?”
Before 2021, conversations about the brand Mövenpick in Australia typically might have started with the words “which flavour” and ended with some nom-nom-noms, depending on the palates involved. Outside Australia, the Swiss brand was never simply a purveyor of fine ice-cream and chocolate but also, seemingly incongruently, a luxury hotel chain. Earlier in 2021, Mövenpick Hotel quietly opened in downtown Hobart, in what ostensibly was a Down Under litmus- test (Mövenpick Melbourne on Spencer opened May 2021). Before we discuss the ambience and toiletries of the contemporary 221-room hotel, however, you should become familiar with two significant words associated with Mövenpick hotels worldwide: ‘Chocolate Hour’. Perish thoughts of chubby kids gulping ganache from water features and gnawing through furnishings Augustus-Gloop style. The premium brand’s daily ritual is executed in a more refined, subtle, some would say ‘Swiss’, way.
Peak adoption of chocolate hour involves culinary climbing of a three-tier chocolate-tower – ‘chock’ full of éclairs, brownies and truffles – coupled with [insert preferred number here] chocolate-inspired cocktails. Executive chef Trent Whelan delegates the sweet complexities to his full-time chocolatier. “We try to use everything local, right down to Tasman sea salt for our salted caramel,” says Whelan. “We infuse chocolate with locally grown saffron [from Tas-Saff], locally grown lavender and local alcohols.” Punishingly, Trent samples the “crazy” new fillings every day (the tea-infusions are his favourites), sometimes “sneaking up there” after the chocolatier goes home.
Given its decadent-ice-cream heritage, you might expect Mövenpick’s cocktails to be elaborate schnapps-fortified choccy milkshakes. Ahhh, no. The emphasis is on chocolate-inspired drinks paired with the sweets du jour. For example, cognac-infused Tasmanian cherries are the stars of ‘Pick Your Move’, with chocolate bitters just one of the thoughtful extras. With all-day tasting packages and a locally built chocolate cart soon to grace the lobby, you can make it ‘Chocolate Day’ if you wish. And although the hotel is “not an ice-cream bar”, petite tubs of ‘Vanilla Dream’ and the like lie in wait.
For those high-maintenance individuals who cannot live by chocolate alone, Mövenpick’s 85-seat Italian restaurant, Tesoro (‘treasure’ in Italian) has fast become one of downtown Hobart’s go-to eateries. Essentially the hotel’s common area, it synthesises buzzy with laid-back, offering a refined cocoon from the busy mall outside. “It’s not a special-occasion restaurant,” say Whelan. “I wanted it to be somewhere you can be on a midweek Tinder date and come back to with your parents on the weekend.”
The fundamentals of the gel- and foam- free “modern rustic” Italian are handmade in-house, including various pastas, slow-ferment sourdough for pizza bases and house- limoncello. Whelan also ages Cape Grim Beef for 50 days in the ‘treasure chest’ and he’s on a one-man focaccia-revival mission. Above the food-line, the Jaws Architects-designed rooms match Tesoro’s culinary ethos – contemporary, refined and generous.
Although I couldn’t quite find the claimed ‘tonal qualities of the Tasmanian landscape’ in my 18th-floor suite, the slick, light spaces are prolifically stocked with all you should need, from Biology lotions to Tasmanian whiskies. The upper rooms in particular are rich in panorama (harbour and Kunanyi/Mt Wellington views). The only question is whether Chocolate Hour can tempt you away from Hobart’s sweet boutique options, like Henry Jones Art Hotel and MACq 01. I guess that’s just a matter of taste(buds). – Steve Madgwick
Sitting within the impressive 80 Collins precinct, Next Hotel is definitely the sum of its parts, creating a typically Melbourne experience through food and design. The rooms and suites (there are 255 in all) are resplendent in muted neutrals, tactile materials including wood, leather and marble and suitably moody lighting, with well considered luxuries like Hunter Lab amenities and Dyson hairdryers in the sleek bathrooms and cocktail-making stations well stocked with local boutique spirits.
Similarly, the lobby space downstairs is also pleasingly sophisticated, with its swathes of marble and curvaceous wood, marble and brass central staircase. But it is the lifestyle created in between these spaces that stands out.
La Madonna Restaurant & Bar is the hub of the property, executed to impress with big-deal local chefs Daniel Natoli and Adrian Li in charge of the menu and a wood-aging program for spirits and liqueurs on show in The Barrel Room.
The restaurant is obviously geared to satiating the hotel’s guests, but its merits also draw in the city’s notoriously discerning diners, creating an atmosphere beyond the typical hotel restaurant.
Likewise Ingresso, located at the hotel’s discreet entrance on Little Collins Street, is an understated yet stylish bolthole that is also oh-so Melbourne, serving up the holy trinity of serious early-morning espresso, quality express lunch bites and early-evening Campari cocktails to a grateful local crowd.
Founded by artist Adrian Doyle in 2001, Blender Studios is one of the oldest independent art studios in Melbourne and has evolved in lockstep with the city’s urban art movement. Today it’s a hub of 22 artists’ studios working in street and fine art, has its own street-art-daubed laneway, and an adjoining gallery, Dark Horse Experiment.
In 2019, the renowned complex added The Blender Loft to the mix. It was set up with Adrian’s partner and Blender co-director Piya Suksodsai, who brings her experience in the hotel and tourism industry to the table.
An ‘Artbnb’, not an Airbnb, this unique urban stay is a way of bringing people into a creative space they might not get to experience otherwise. And, in a city known for its arts, staying at The Blender Loft is billed as the ultimate way to experience its vibrant culture. The self-contained studio is located above Blender Studios and Dark Horse Experiment in West Melbourne, a 10-minute walk across Flagstaff Gardens, the oldest park in the city, to Queen Victoria Market.
With city views, original floorboards and bags of character, it is located on the mezzanine level of the old warehouse and oozes industrial charm. And, from the moment you set down your bags, arriving via a suitably mural-adorned stairwell, it is designed to be an immersive art experience. “It is a curated experience that is well thought out and quirky. The space is luxurious and spacious with all the things you need” – from yoga mat to body scrub – “to help make your Melbourne stay awesome,” says Adrian.
A living and evolving art exhibition, the space is transformed every three months. It includes permanent works, like the Silent Concrete Television by Will Coles, but the rest is curated by Adrian with artists from the Blender Studios. “It is carefully thought out to make the whole space into an artwork,” he says. “It’s like you are staying in a wonderful artwork. And you walk down the stairs into a creative wonderland as each studio is filled with art.”
Guests at The Blender Loft are invited to enjoy all the action of the 24-hour art studios at their doorstep and are encouraged to meet the artists, get involved and be inspired. “When you stay at The Blender Loft, you never know what you are going to be part of as the Blender Studios has many events, exhibition openings, life drawing, workshops; every day is something new,” describes Adrian. “And if there is nothing on at the Blender, chances are there will be an opening nearby that all the artists are attending. Of course, guests will be informed of any cool event or exhibition that’s happening during their stay, and they are always made to feel welcome by the Blender artists in any context.”
Blender Studios is also the HQ of Melbourne Street Tours, so you can head out from here on street art tours of the city as well as trying your hand at freehand and graffiti workshops. Adrian’s other tips for completing your creative Melbourne experience include checking out the National Gallery of Victoria, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art and the Victorian College of the Arts precinct; hanging out at Section 8 (the outdoor container bar that describes itself as ‘about as Melbourne as it gets’); or simply walking around Chinatown to find a late-night dumpling fix. “The Loft brings all kinds of people to the Blender and that’s important for the dynamics of the studios,” says Adrian of the overall experience. “The Blender Loft also helps to subsidise the rent of the artist’s space, so by staying at the Loft you are supporting Melbourne artists.”
With the recent arrival of Crystalbrook Kingsley, Newcastle finally has a hotel to match its second-city status. Part of the Crystalbrook roster, which prides itself on producing hotels of equal standard but possessed of their own distinctive personalities, Kingsley is positioned at the epicentre of the city’s cultural precinct, and has added to the offering with its vibrant Roundhouse rooftop restaurant and Romberg’s cocktail bar.
While each of its hotels has a signature colour – Kingsley’s is yellow, which is leaned on heavily throughout the design-savvy interiors – they are also linked by an exacting commitment to sustainable practices, something the brand calls Sustainable Luxury. Initiatives include no-waste bathrooms, composting, sourcing fruit and vegetable within three hours’ drive of its hotels, working with OzHarvest to redistribute unused food, rewards for guests electing to not have rooms serviced daily, eco and sustainable uniforms for staff, and the list goes on and on. Even the Crystalbrook Kingsley building is recycled: the hotel is housed in the Brutalist edifice of the city’s former City Administration Centre’s Roundhouse building.
Little. Small. Compact. Tiny. Wee. Minute. Small-scale. Whichever way you spin it, the Little National Hotel is as it says on the tin: little. The rooms may be small, but they are perfectly coiffed. And it’s perhaps because of those compact proportions that you tend to narrow your focus to every nanoscopic, well-thought-out detail.
The rooms are based on a 17 to 18 square metre floor plan and according to Patrick Lonergan, director of hotels, Doma Group, the Little National brand is about affordable luxury, “taking all the touch points we considered important and presenting it in a small package”.
The idea behind the Little National is it provides guests with the most important aspects of a hotel stay. “We’re in the business of selling sleeps. That means a great mattress, great shower and technology supported by a beautiful library and cosy lounge area in a prime location near to some of the city’s best bars and restaurants.” Political junkies will love the fact the Little National in Canberra is located across the road from the National Press Club and a short stagger from Parliament House. – Carla Grossetti
Brisbane’s dated ‘Brisvegas’ nickname was officially dead the moment The Calile opened its doors back in 2018, signalling a cultural shift in the city that has resulted in a new nomenclature: capital of cool.
The 175 light-drenched rooms and suites (some with expansive private terraces, most with balconies), sleek public spaces and its much photographed pool deck look more to the pastel-hued heyday of Miami than to SinCity’s gaudy excesses.
The hotel’s rounded lines and luxe yet pleasingly restrained interiors (think blond-on-blond wood, cool marble, concrete and high-end finishes) are so irresistibly executed you almost feel the need to reach out and stroke them. You will certainly want to spend as much time in them as possible, which is an easy proposition given the property is fashioned as a lifestyle destination rather than just a hotel, with a collection of seriously hip shopping and dining options gathered together at its James Street entrance further enhancing the stay-and-play vibe of the place.
* While you’re in the neighbourhood, head down the road to check out the recently installed Hotel X, another property adding cachet to Brisbane’s cool new identity. The hyper-designed building’s funky exterior and night-time illuminations, which bathe it in colour, hint at the experience to be had within: think bold colours, jutting sightlines, statement artworks, designer furniture, a destination eatery (Bisou Bisou) and a seriously sexy rooftop bar.