Hotel lobbies have long been social gathering spots, but lately they have also emerged as showcases for unexpected features, from a lobby vending machine that dispenses gold bars to a floating catwalk in Barcelona. Gold-plated pianos, ceiling sculptures, and priceless Renaissance frescos may get visitors in the door, but are they worth checking in for? We'll let you decide.
By Donna Heiderstadt
Fazioli Piano in the Fairmont Pacific Rim
WHERE: The Fairmont Pacific Rim in Vancouver, BC
You can’t possibly miss the gleaming white Italian-made Fazioli grand piano in the lobby of The Fairmont Pacific Rim in Vancouver. Someone is either playing it, especially during cocktail hour, or snapping photos of it—perhaps because it is one of just 2,500 Fazioli pianos in the world, took 1,000 hours to make, has 18-karat-gold hinges, and cost almost a quarter of a million dollars. Relax in the lobby to hear the sweet, dulcet tones of this instrumental masterpiece.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodors's Vancouver Guide
Gold vending machine in Emirates Palace Hotel
WHERE: Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi, UAE
If you happen to have a few thousands dollars burning a hole in your pocket, you can turn it into gold in the lobby of the lavish, 394-room Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi. Since 2010 a “Gold to Go” ATM vending machine dispenses everything from coins, to pendants, to gold bars weighing from 1 gram to 250 grams.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's UAE Guide
Chihuly sculpture in Bellagio Las Vegas
WHERE: Bellagio Las Vegas
While the first thing you hear upon entering the lobby of Bellagio Las Vegas is the clamor of the adjacent casino, the first thing you see is the glow of Fiori di Como, the Dale Chihuly glass sculpture that dominates the ceiling. At 2,100 square feet and 40,000 pounds, it is comprised of 2,000 pieces of multi-hued glass that was hand-blown into an abstraction of flowers.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Las Vegas Guide
Hospes Palacio del Bailio
WHERE: Hospes Palacio del Bailio in Cordoba, Spain
The lobby of Hospes Palacio del Bailio, which is located in an elegant 16th-century palace in Cordoba, Spain, leads to an atmospheric central patio that serves as the hotel’s dining room. There, guests are greeted by an unexpected visual treat: a glass-paneled floor that provides views of ancient mosaics and columns of a subterranean Roman-era villa.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Cordoba Guide
Fontainebleau Miami Beach
WHERE: Fontainebleau Miami Beach in Miami
Guests of the famed mid-century Fontainebleau Miami Beach who are curious about where the dramatic two-story staircase in the hotel’s 17,000-square-foot marble lobby leads, will quickly discover the answer is nowhere. But that wasn’t always the case. When architect Morris Lapidus designed the lobby in 1954, he put a coat check at the very top, and arriving ladies would ascend to it via a discreet elevator and then make a dramatic entrance down the photogenic staircase.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Miami Guide
The Liberty Hotel bar, Alibi
Where: The Liberty Hotel in Boston
Right off from the lobby of the The Liberty Hotel is the hotel's bar, Alibi, which was formerly the drunk tank at the circa-1851 Charles Street Jail. Staying true to its sordid past, Alibi’s brick walls are lined with mug shots of infamously misbehaved celebrities, including Frank Sinatra, Mick Jagger, and Lindsay Lohan.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Boston Guide
The Ice Hotel
WHERE: The Ice Hotel in Quebec City
Most hotel lobbies are built to last, but the one at the Ice Hotel in Quebec City, as spectacular as it may be, is built to melt. That’s because every winter this ephemeral gathering spot is constructed anew from frozen blocks of ice and sculpted by master carvers into a glimmering cathedral of white and blue. Open from early January to late March, it also features a wedding chapel and an ice bar, where even the glasses are made from frozen water.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Quebec City Guide
Four Seasons Hotel Firenze
WHERE: Four Seasons Hotel Firenze in Florence, Italy
Priceless Renaissance artwork and sculpture abound in Florence, and when guests check in to the Four Seasons Hotel Firenze they get a sneak preview of the museum masterpieces to come. The hotel is housed in the 15th-century Palazzo della Gherardesca and the lobby is decorated with a series of 12 bas-relief frescos, dating from 1555, by Bertoldo di Giovanni (one of Michelangelo’s teachers).
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Florence Guide
InterContinental Bora Bora Resort and Thalasso Spa
WHERE: InterContinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa in Tahiti
No buttoned-up uniforms or polished shoes for the doormen at the InterContinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa in Tahiti—they greet arriving guests decked out in little more than skimpy pareus (Tahitian sarongs) and fancy headdresses. Sporting traditional chest and arm tattoos, the genial young greeters will, if asked, pose for souvenir snapshots against Bora Bora's irresistibly blue lagoon.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Bora Bora Guide
Phulay Bay, A Ritz-Carlton Reserve
WHERE: Phulay Bay, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve in Krabi, Thailand
A reverent hush, typically reserved for iconic cathedrals such as Notre Dame and St. Peter’s, is a frequent reaction of guests checking in post-sunset at Phulay Bay, A Ritz-Carlton Reserve in Krabi, Thailand. Each evening around 6:00 pm, the staff lights 2,000 candles dramatically arranged around the temple-like lobby pavilion, which burn for a magical two hours.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Krabi Guide
Novotel New York Times Square
WHERE: Novotel New York Times Square in New York
For spectacular modern special effects check out the newly renovated 7th-floor lobby of the Novotel New York Times Square, which pulses with a vivid, ever-changing sound and image arrival experience. The lobby also features large windows and an outdoor terrace overlooking the dazzling neon of Times Square.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's New York City Guide
WHERE: The Cumberland in London
Many hotels feature notable artwork, but few as prominently as The Cumberland, a cutting-edge property in London's Marble Arch neighborhood whose lobby could be easily mistaken for a modern gallery. Airy and spacious, it features dramatically lit, larger-then-life bronze sculptures of pedestrians and an eye-catching water feature.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's London Guide
WHERE: Hotel ICON in Hong Kong
Artfully arranged flowers, a few well-manicured plants, and even a palm tree or two always make a refreshing impression in a hotel lobby. But the Hotel ICON in Hong Kong opted to supersize its horticultural pedigree when it commissioned Patrick Blanc to welcome guests with what is currently the world’s tallest vertical indoor garden. It scales a soaring white wall, creating a lush and dramatic mosaic of green.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Hong Kong Guide
Trouble’s Trust, The New York Palace
WHERE: The New York Palace in New York
Hotel lobby bars tend to have a reputation as places where guests can get into a bit of trouble. But leave it to the management of the newly renovated The New York Palace to carve a cool little lobby bar, called Trouble's Trust, beneath its famed staircase. The name is a nod to Trouble, the pampered pooch of the late owner of the hotel, Leona Helmsley, who bequeathed the pup $12 million in a trust fund (later reduced to $2 million by a judge).
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's New York City Guide
Mandarin Oriental Barcelona
WHERE: Mandarin Oriental Barcelona in Barcelona
The visual fun begins before you even get to the lobby of the Mandarin Oriental Barcelona. A sleekly suspended motorized catwalk conveys you up from the Passeig de Gràcia to the contemporary white-on-white atrium, where the wall and ceiling decor resembles stylized snowflake cutouts.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Barcelona Guide