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10 Unusual UK Hotels

Staying in one of our Guru’s top 10 unusual UK hotels will take your break from memorable to unforgettable. We love a fun and fantastic conversion, and have discovered cosily converted railway carriages, a breathtaking windmill by the sea, a charming hotel in an old newspaper office and even a converted prison! Or, for an unusual luxury hotel try staying in your own castle, tower or folly!

Cley Windmill

Our list of the most unusual hotels in the UK are dotted around the country, but we have got a couple of great options by the coast, some remote rural escapes and one of the most unusual hotels in London on the list too. This is really just the tip of the unusual iceberg though, and there are plenty more where these come from if you’re looking for something special…

10 Unusual UK Hotels

The Hotel Maketh the Holiday

Are you perchance interested in the work of Agatha Christie? Or in Art Deco design? Or the golden age of glamour? If you’re even remotely interested in any of these topics then Burgh Island off Bigbruy-on-Sea in Devon will Blow Your Mind. Time has stood still since the 30s on this small tidal island, and guests are expected to dress for dinner and enjoy pre-war cocktails as an aperitif. You reach the island via amphibious vehicle and once the tide is in you’re on the island to stay - and in its heyday it was well loved by Ms. Christie herself, and Noel Coward and others and it is rather like staying in a Poirot or Bertie Wooster novel. Dancing is to live bands and there’s a tennis court and croquet lawns.

Burgh Island

Just off the coast of Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight is another really unique holiday destination: Spitbank Fort, a fort to luxury hotel conversion. As soon as you leave Gunwharf Quay, the experience begins, including the boat trip across, a fantastic tour of the fort and its eclectic collection of objects, drinks with a view in the crow’s nest bar, or in the cellar wine bar, a dip in the hot tub, entertainments in the games room and supper in the officer’s mess or by the rooftop fire pit.

Spitbank Fort

Unusual UK Escapes

What could be more of an escape than staying in a working convent? Which is exactly what you can do if you’re in York. The Bar Convent Guesthouse is certainly a memorable UK hotel: an 18 room guesthouse converted from part of an elegant, living convent, originally founded in 1686. A baroque chapel, Victorian garden and glass roofed entrance hall make this an impressive building, the cafe serves meals until high tea, and best of all is staying amongst the sisters of the convent… And paying around £70 per night for the privilege.

Bar Convent Guesthouse

Unusual UK Hotels for Families

Fancy waking up with only a pane of glass between your family and a family of tigers, wolves, rhinos or giraffes? Well that’s a possibility at the Port Lympne Hotel, part of the Port Lympne reserve in Kent. Around 700 rare and endangered animals live here, but it’s not a zoo, it’s a breeding facility. As well as staying in rooms close to the animal enclosures, you can also stay in the main house, which is a very stylish country manor house hotel, or you can glamp. Amazing, whatever your choice.

Port Lympne Hotel

Unusual UK Hotels by the Coast

Our first choice for unusual UK hotels by the seaside would have to be Cley Windmill in Norfolk: a romantically restored 18th Century windmill with beautiful views, which is now an upmarket B&B with access to an excellent chef. Rooms in the windmill are sheer 'Swallows and Amazons' fun and adventure, and there are panoramic views from the look-out. Though you can also stay in their converted stables or boathouse, where you can choose to self-cater.

Cley Windmill

Or for a proper island break getaway, try the Star Castle Hotel, converted from a star-shaped castle on St. Marys, off the Isles of Scilly. There are 38 newly refurbished rooms, which are quaint but extremely comfortable, and there are two excellent restaurants. Owner Robert Francis has two passions: lobster fishing and wine and you will enjoy the fruits of both.

Star Castle Hotel

Unusual UK Hotels in Castles

Many an unusual UK hotel has been converted, and resurrected, a beautifully dilapidated old castle, but two of the best are Augill Castle, near Kirby Stephen in Cumbria, between the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales. Stuffed with antiques, this eccentric mid-Victorian-folly-castle has 14 rooms, with four-poster beds and roll top baths. Dinner (on request) is communal, around a huge oak table and breakfast is a leisurely affair. Dogs and children welcomed.

Augill Castle

And Swinton Park in Yorkshire, which is a more traditional, luxurious affair, set in 250 acres complete with battlements, towers and turrets, plus lakes, walled gardens, a spa, fishing, golf, cooking classes and with an award winning restaurant. Swinton Park also qualifies for our list of the UK’s best unusual spa hotels.

Unusual UK Hotels with a Theme

Themed hotels are certainly unusual, but many seem to miss out some of the essential pleasures of a hotel stay. We like The Scotsman created from the offices of said newspaper in the heart of Edinburgh and The Avaitor at Farnborough airport. But we really like the Old Railway Station, just outside Petworth, West Sussex, which offers rooms in both the old station or a converted train carriage. A victim of Dr Beeching’s cuts, this is as close as you can get the the romance of the Orient Express, but in a B&B format. The waiting room and parcels office make charming sitting and breakfast rooms and there are two bedrooms within the old station, plus three carriages.

Old Railway Station

Unusual UK Hotels in Unusual Conversions

Oxford’s Malmaison has been imaginatively converted from a prison - the cells are now modern bedrooms but the Gothic colours and original fittings, doors and window bars remain! The hotel is spread over three storeys, with a central atrium and red carpets. The Exercise Yard has become an attractive outside space and you can enjoy pre dinner drinks in what was once the Visitor’s room. Before it was a prison it was a castle, so it’s a double conversion.


Unusual Hotels London

Moored on the Thames, just a short distance from Canary Wharf is the Sunborn Yacht Hotel, a permanently moored super yacht with 135 smart, classically styled rooms, a restaurant and a spa. It’s just 15minutes from London City airport too.

Sunborn Yacht Hotel

Unusual UK Hotels bordering Eccentric

There’s an element of eccentricity to all of our selection of unusual UK hotels, but the Crazy Bear Hotel in Stadhampton deserves special mention. This eclectic creation was originally an old coaching inn, but now the reception is a double decker bus, champagne flows from a tap in the bar, there are pink padded walls and leopard print carpet in the restaurant. It’s also great for fly fishing.

Crazy Bear Hotel

If you haven’t found your idea of the perfect unusual UK hotel on our Guru’s list you could:

10 Unusual UK Hotels

  • Burgh Island 27 rooms from £310

    Bigbury-on-Sea, Devon

    Full of character, this seaside art deco hotel on a tidal island is a true 'experience' hotel, where time has stood still in the 1930s. Comfortable period-style rooms. Locally sourced food and classic pre-war cocktails are on the menu. Half board only, because the tide locks you in at night.

    Beach Life  -  Located along a rugged stretch of British coastline
    Retro/Vintage  -  Decorated in an authentic 1930s style
    Sights nearby  -  There are a number of day excursions from Burgh Island, to historical houses and castles.
    Restrictions on children  -  No under 5s, no under 12s at dinner
    Recommended by  -  Good Hotel Guide
    Check prices
  • Spitbank Fort 8 rooms from £600

    Gosport, Hampshire

    Fort-turned-luxury hotel off the South coast with views of Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight. Intimate and unusual, the fort has been successfully converted and is the closest thing to being at sea – except you’re not.

    Fishing  -  Perfect location for an exclusive fishing trip.
    Seaside  -  Ideal for a seaside holiday.
    Views  -  Great views from hotel
    Check prices
  • Cley Windmill 9 rooms from £159

    Cley-next-the-Sea, Norfolk

    Characterful windmill B&B overlooking marshes of Cley, a pretty village near shingle coast where locals swim. Quaint rooms with comfortable beds and wonderful views. Good birdwatching nearby.

    Birdwatching  -  For keen ornithologist NWT Cley Marshes Nature Reserve is a wonderful area for spotting all manner of birds.
    Views  -  Panoramic views over the salt marshes
    Local markets  -  Just South of the mill are small shops, selling pottery, smoked fish and secondhand books.
    Fishing  -  Saltwater Fly Fishing is available nearby, ask the friendly staff for further details.
    Recommended by  -  Sawdays, Good Hotel Guide
    Check prices
  • Port Lympne Hotel 8 rooms from £233

    Hythe, Kent

    A small luxurious hotel set within the Port Lympne reserve, home to 700 rare and endangered animals. Traditionally styled throughout - expect dark wood antique furniture, four poster beds, sash windows and roaring fire places. The perfect spot for a family weekend getaway.

    Country Escape  -  Home to over 700 rare and endangered animals this is a country house with a difference.
    Great walks  -  Take blustery walks along the Kent coastline.
    Full of character
    Secluded setting  -  For escaping.
    Check prices
  • The Scarlet, Cornwall 37 rooms from £195

    Mawgan Porth, Cornwall

    Relaxing, purpose-designed eco-friendly hotel overlooking Mawgan Porth beach. Contemporary furniture and modern local art adorns bedroom walls. Great sea views from the cocktail lounge and stylish hotel restaurant. Fantastic spa facility for ultimate relaxation and great outdoor activities nearby.

    Romantic Break  -  You, your loved one (and even the pooch) can enjoy an indulgent coastal stay
    Spa breaks  -  Excellent spa with a range of Ayurvedic treatments
    Swimming Pool  -  Outdoor and Indoor Pool
    Great walks  -  South West Coast Path.
    Recommended by  -  Mr & Mrs Smith, Good Hotel Guide, Sawdays
    Check prices
  • Bar Convent Guesthouse 19 rooms from £72


    Unusual guesthouse in an elegant living convent. Newly refurbished comfortable rooms, a baroque chapel, Victorian garden and glass roofed entrance hall make this an impressive building. A cafe serves meals until high tea. Best of all is staying amongst the sisters of the convent.

    Total relaxation  -  Unwind in this tranquil convent, enjoy afternoon tea in the walled garden and read up on the towns history in the library.
    Sights nearby  -  Visit the nearby York Minster, one of the largest Gothic cathedrals in Europe.
    Full of character
    Recommended by  -  Good Hotel Guide
    Check prices
  • Augill Castle 14 rooms from £180

    Nr Kirkby Stephen, Cumbria

    Standing between the Lake District and the Dales rests this eccentric castle welcoming all the family into the countryside and the Eden Valley. Four poster beds and antique furnishings make up the comfortable rooms. Restaurant is open on weekends. Great hideaway and local exploring to be done.

    Families  -  With fantasatic facilities for kids, from cooking classes, to playgrounds, dressing up boxes and plenty of toys.
    Country Escape  -  Spectacular walking, wonderful views and whiskey in the drawing room old school weekend in the country vibes.
    Great walks  -  With national parks all around, this is the perfect spot to get on your walking boots.
    Cooking classes  -  The hotel has a wonderful cookery school for children.
    Recommended by  -  I Escape, Good Hotel Guide, Sawdays
    Check prices
  • Swinton Park Hotel 32 rooms from £150

    Ripon, Yorkshire

    Striking, castle-like stately-home set in sweeping parkland and offering plenty of on-site activities from fishing and golf to a cookery school and sleek spa. Vast rooms, beautiful views and a choice of two restaurants.

    Cooking classes  -  Variety of courses run throughout the year at the on site cookery school
    Garden  -  200 acres of parkland
    Great walks  -  Trekking up to the moorland Dales
    Full of character
    Recommended by  -  Good Hotel Guide, Frommers
    Check prices
  • Star Castle Hotel 38 rooms from £192

    St Mary's, Isles of Scilly

    Delightful family-run hotel set in a star-shaped castle on St Marys Island. The newly refurbished rooms are extremely comfortable and well decorated, with quaint details. Fresh, local, seasonal produce sets the tone for the on site restaurant. Totally charming!

    Exclusive offer  -  Christmas & Spring Offer
    Views  -  Some of the best views on the island.
    Swimming Pool  -  Heated indoor pool
    Remote  -  Off the beaten track.
    Seaside  -  Ideal for a seaside holiday.
    Recommended by  -  I Escape, Frommers, Good Hotel Guide, Sawdays
    Check prices
  • The Scotsman Hotel 59 rooms from £195


    This historic hotel overlooking Edinburgh Castle, was formerly the HQ for the Scotsman newspaper. Come for Michelin star restaurant, close promiximty to Princes St and a world-class gym. Chic interiors in traditional rooms.

    Swimming Pool  -  State of the art stainless steel indoor pool
    Great walks  -  Calton Hill, is just a short stroll from the hotel, enjoy 360 views of the city at the city's UNESCO World Heritage Site.
    Sights nearby  -  Overlooking Edinburgh Castle.
    Views  -  Good city views.
    Recommended by  -  Fodors, Frommers, Good Hotel Guide
    Check prices
  • Aviator 169 rooms from £200

    Farnborough, Hampshire

    A quirky designer hotel at Farnborough private airfield. Contemporary rooms (all soundproof) boast every modern connivence, plus the best offer views of the runway. A sleek and opulent luxury getaway for urbanites. Effortlessly cool.

    Romantic Break  -  A chic retreat for discerning couples- stylish contemporary suites, extensive spa, fantastic food and knockout cocktails.
    Foodies  -  This slick hotel boasts two fantastic dining options- Adam Fargin's Brasserie and the more laid back One Eleven.
    Birdwatching  -  Enjoy a brisk walk and a bit of birdwatching at nearby Frensham Little Pond.
    Great walks  -  Take a wander around The Sculpture Park in Churt, well worth checking out.
    Recommended by  -  Mr & Mrs Smith, Johansens
    Check prices
  • The Old Railway Station 10 rooms from £92


    As close as you’ll get, in a b&b, to the romance of the Orient Express. Quirky property for train lovers, just outside Petworth. Book a room on the old station or in a carriage.

    Sights nearby  -  Great for Goodwood, Festival of Speed or Cowdray Park.
    Restrictions on children  -  No children under 10 years old
    Romantic  -  Good for couples.
    Quirky  -  An experience!
    Recommended by  -  Good Hotel Guide
    Check prices
  • Malmaison Oxford 95 rooms from £179

    Oxford (3 New Road)

    Fantastically modern interiors and stunning atrium in this atmospheric castle and former prison. Sleep in converted cells with original fittings and Gothic colours. New, airier rooms are also available in the additional buildings. Good brasserie food and a smart neon-lit cocktail bar.

    City Style  -  Modern hotel in the heart of historic Oxford
    Local markets  -  Oxford Covered Market
    Sights nearby  -  Bridge of Sighs
    Great walks  -  Good for walkers.
    Recommended by  -  Frommers, Good Hotel Guide, Kiwi Collection
    Check prices
  • Sunborn Yacht Hotel 135 rooms from £127

    London (Western Gateway)

    Sunborn Yacht Hotel is moored on the Thames, just a short distance from Canary Wharf. This super-yacht hotel boasts smart, classically-styled rooms as well as a restaurant and a spa. Perfect for those who fancy something different!

    Short fly break  -  Located just 15 minutes away from London City Airport
    Local exploring  -  Spend your days seeing all that London has to offer
    Local markets  -  Camden Market and London Bridge Borough Market are both well worth a visit
    Great walks  -  Wander all over this bustling city's streets getting a feel for the place
    Check prices
  • Crazy Bear Hotel 16 rooms from £199

    Stadhampton, Oxfordshire

    Eclectic, eccentric – a one off converted coaching inn. Think padded leather walls, silver beds, copper free standing baths. A London red bus sits decoratively in the garden. The two restaurants serve traditional British or Thai food. Best for wacky weekends away.

    Romantic Break  -  In room freestanding baths and intimate dining areas make for a romatic weekend away.
    Fishing  -  Fly fishing is organised by the hotel both for events or just a day out.
    Great walks  -  Explore the 80 acres of parklands with rare bread farm and woods.
    Full of character
    Check prices


Written by Sarah Empson

posted Monday, 22nd February 2010
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