Iconic Hotels in Global Cities

Jan 28, 2015 8:30:00 AM / by Stephanie Sadler

“Connecting Global Cities” is a monthly column written by Colin Speakman, Director of China Programs for CAPA International Education.

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Most global cities have at least one iconic hotel. It's the hotel where you want to be seen if you're rich and famous. Even if you're not, these hotels are worth a visit - or consideration by family or friends who are planning to visit you abroad. Perhaps you'll enjoy having tea in the lounge and people watching, hoping to spot a well-known face. In my visits to Hong Kong, I was well-aware of the Peninsular Hotel, for example. It was featured in a James Bond film and famous for having a fleet of Rolls Royce cars (chauffeur driven, of course) that could collect important visitors from the airport or whisk them around town - "Oh Come, come, Sir. One does not whisk in a Rolls!"
The Peninsula Hotel Kowloon Hong Kong

 Photo: The Penninsular Hotel, Hong Kong by Chris

So, I actually went to have tea at the Peninsular Hong Kong some years after (now Sir) Roger Moore graced it as 007. The islands had returned to China from Britain. I did not see Roger to wave to (I had met him in London), but I noticed that Mercedes Benz saloons had replaced the Rolls. I was about to complain to the management when I recalled that German BMW group owned the trademark to produce Rolls Royce cars anyway. It is an z as we see in many CAPA cities!

Some famous people actually live their lives in hotels, sometimes the same hotel for years. Both Keanu Reeves and Robert de Niro lived in the fabled Chateau Marmont Hotel in Los Angelos. Robert had the penthouse for two years - no wonder I could never get it! I actually lived in a hotel in the Yunnan Road, Nanjing for two years myself - arranged by Nanjing University. It was on the top floor with nice views, but not really a penthouse. One of my favorite actors, James Woods, lived at the Beverly Hills Hotel for years (rooms came with a scanner, printer, fax and private phone number - all valued in those days). I have had a drink there and I said to a friend I was thinking of staying there like last night. He was impressed: "You stayed here last night". I replied "No, but I thought about it last night too."

"I remember you well, in the Chelsea Hotel...
Photo: The Chelsea Hotel, NYC by Melfoody

The legendary Bob Dylan and Janice Joplin, among others, were long term residents at the Chelsea Hotel in New York City. Some hotels become the regular residence of famous travelers for their annual visits to a foreign country for a long stay. Salvador Dali visited Paris at least once a year for a month and always stayed at the Hotel Le Meurice. He even signed lithographs as gifts for his favorite staff. Then there is the famous Ritz Hotel in Paris, where, sadly, Princess Diana spent her last hours.

Beijing is an example of a city which has a hotel that bears its name (so too does Shanghai - see below). It is a historic hotel, setting high standards in earlier times, called The Beijing Hotel (I have stayed there once) on Chang An Avenue in the center of the city and once the address to have in the capital. Yet the 2008 Beijing Olympics saw the building of the Pangu Hotel - described as a 7 star hotel! - near the Olympic Park. I would not be showing my local knowledge if I did not mention that the China World Hotel (Shangri-la Group), near the World Trade Center, has been voted best hotel in Beijing for several years. Iconic hotels do change over time!pic 069Photo: China World Hotel by Ernesto Andrade

Therefore, it is probably going to be a bit controversial which hotels are chosen as the iconic hotels of our different CAPA global cities, but I am ready for the controversy, so here we go:


The Alvear Palace Hotel tops the list for a grand hotel experience, followed by the Four Seasons Hotel, Posadas. Yet to see and be seen in, try the Faena Hotel and Universe, with several bars in the lobby and a pool outside, in the lovely Puerto Madera District (I use a Sheraton Towers with great view not far from there). There is a case for the modern Buenos Aires Park Hyatt with a magnificent garden to be seen relaxing in or doing a business deal. If working out is a factor, the Pan Americano offers a glass enclosed roof top gym and, on the roof, also an indoor and outdoor swimming pool - great for views of the city.

24/10/2010Photo: Inside the Alvear Palace Hotel, Buenos Aires by Eduardo M


The Westbury Hotel is in that group of The Leading Hotels of the World, so we had better include that. The Four Seasons is a great alternative being close to business and shopping districts yet it is also tranquil as it is immersed in greenery.  A worthy option is the Conrad Dublin well-located opposite the National Concert Hall, around the corner from St. Stephen's Green and with a traditional Irish Pub on site. Myself, I stayed at the Jury's Inn near O'Connell Street. It is well situated, but I guess the jury is out on that one!

The Westbury
Photo: The Westbury, Dublin by Irish Typepad


A city of historic hotels, Florence has some options dating back many centuries (which, of course, will have had some upgrading). It is not unusual here to retain the historic facade of a building while completely refurbishing the inside which can be a benefit to hotels. The five star Westin Excelsior is a good example. Located on the banks of the River Arno, it is a patrician palace restored by expert craftsmen yet with stained glass windows!  Then there is the five star Grand Hotel Villa Medici. Hotels in converted villas always sound inviting. How about the five star Hotel Il Salviatino that is occupying a 15th century villa? Of course more modest hotels can also be found in historic buildings. In my many visits, I have stayed in the affordable Hotel Centrale conveniently located near the San Lorenzo market.



There are many famous iconic hotels in this global city. We have not mentioned a Waldorf so we should include the Astoria on the Aldwych crescent near my alma mater, the London School of Economics. Thus I often passed it and saw many famous people going in and coming out. There is the imposing Savoy Hotel on the Strand. A visiting American faculty member and his wife kindly took me to lunch at the Carvery there for some great British food. There is a Four Seasons and a Ritz - and in many such hotels, visitors like to go for tea and high tea! Speaking of which, I should give a mention to the Langham Hotel where I have dined as well. It dates from 1865 and was London's first purpose-built luxury hotel and the birthplace of that afternoon tea tradition in England. Not everyone knows that! London 052 The Langham HotelPhoto: The Langham Hotel, London by DAVID HOLT


Yes, I have stayed many times at The Shanghai Hotel (4 star) and it was an icon in its time dating from the early days of the Peoples Republic of China in 1950s. However, it has been overtaken by Shanghai's 1990s onwards resurgence and the modern skyscraper hotels. Another earlier candidate is the Park Hotel where I have also stayed twice. Located opposite People's Square, in the 1930s it was the tallest hotel in China. Now, it is dwarfed by everything else. Tall is king and the currently tallest luxury hotel is the Park Hyatt in the Shanghai World Financial Center in Pudong with its great views. Next to it is the Jin Mao Tower, a little bit shorter, with the Grand Hyatt Hotel inside. I have stayed there for a Conference. However, these two Hyatts are in modern Pudong. For special hotels in historic Puxi, try the Ritz Carlton and the very modern Puli around Jing An Temple area.CAPAStudyAbroad_Shanghai_from_ColinSpeakman

Photo: Pudong skyscraper hotels Park Hyatt and Grand Hyatt in their towers by Colin Speakman


The Sydney Park Hyatt is now recognised as the most luxurious hotel in Sydney (luxury comes at a price) after a complete renovation. It has a great location and views. However, one can get amazing views from the Shangri-La Sydney as well and there is something about that Chinese name! It is notably more affordable as a five star too. I often stayed in Sheraton hotels on my travels. Usually, they are not among the very top hotels in a city but an exception is the Sheraton on the Park here. Again, the hotel offers great views looking over Hyde Park. Then there is a new one - the Darling Hotel (Darling is a famous name in Sydney, so a clever choice) which was actually included on Conde Nast Travellers 60 Best Hotels in the World list. Plenty of choice!A ROOM UNDER THE BRIDGEPhoto: Room under the bridge? Stay at the Park Hyatt, Sydney by Lagrandeterre

Do you know of an iconic hotel in your city? Tell us about it in comments.

Thanks Colin!