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Best hotels in Europe 2023: Where to stay for a city, beach or retreat break

When it comes to European holidays – whether it’s a culture-packed city break in Amsterdam, a Grecian fly and flop, or a rural retreat in Portugal – there’s something to suit everyone

Ianthe Butt
Tuesday 26 September 2023 14:33 BST
<p>From a plant-draped pool at Manon les Suites in Copenhagen to a family-friendly beach resort in Spain, Europe has it all </p>

From a plant-draped pool at Manon les Suites in Copenhagen to a family-friendly beach resort in Spain, Europe has it all

If you’re looking for a short-haul European escape for winter sun in Greece, a family ski trip in France or a cool city break in Spain, the hotel you choose to book is, of course, as much a part of the getaway as the destination itself. Whether you want to relax in tranquil surroundings after a busy day of exploring or you want to be right in the heart of the city nightlife, selecting the right hotel for you can make or break a holiday.

Whether it’s Instagrammable style for an absolute steal, thoughtful design and architecture, historic glamour, or a hotel newcomer packing the coolest new rooftop bar around, Europe has a hotel to suit every traveller – and budget.

Ranging from grand dames that have been delighting guests for centuries, to the new kids on the block, through big-hitting brands and boutique stays, here’s our hand-picked round-up of 20 of the best hotels in Europe.

The best hotels in Europe for 2023 are:

Best hotels in Iceland

Best hotel for a mind-blowing spa: The Retreat Hotel

Location: Blue Lagoon

A spa-lover’s dream, the hotel has terraced pools that flow straight from the lagoon

Soaking in the milky-blue, mineral-rich waters of Iceland’s Blue Lagoon is the stuff of spa-lovers’ dreams. Staying at this blow-the-budget, 60-room property, built into a lava flow at the lagoon’s shore, takes the experience up a notch. As well as access to the main lagoon, the hotel has a series of travertine terraced pools (resembling Turkey’s Pamukkale), which flow straight from the lagoon, meaning you can soak in peace, rather than having to do the selfie-stick dodge.

Another USP? The atmospheric subterranean spa, ringed by ultramarine waterways, has a lava rock steam room; sultry lit-by-fire relaxation rooms; plus, spherical nests suspended waterside. As well as bookable float therapy and in-lagoon massages, there’s a cavern for a fun DIY spa “ritual”, which involves slathering yourself in algae masks and lava scrubs.

Post-spa, bedrooms with duck-egg blue and leafy palettes, plus deep, egg-shaped stone bathtubs offer further relaxation. On-point dining at Michelin-starred Moss shows off Icelandic bounty, while high-energy staff can organise helicopter rides over the Reykjanes Peninsula, and guided hikes up nearby Mount Þorbjörn.

Price: Doubles from £1,029 a night

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Best hotels in the Netherlands

Best hotel for a city break: Pulitzer Amsterdam

Location: Amsterdam

Jacu Strauss’s interiors fuse carved fireplaces with contemporary Dutch craftsmanship

Amsterdam’s almost unrivalled when it comes to atmospheric city-centre prettiness, and The Pulitzer – which has 225 rooms spread across a rabbit warren of 25 17th- and 18th-century canal houses – fits right in.

Jacu Strauss’s interiors fuse architectural beams and carved fireplaces with contemporary Dutch craftsmanship, and bedrooms with pastel, purple and gold touches (all of which, rather handily, have bike-repair kits). Top-level suites pack eccentric personality – you’ll find playable instruments hung on the wall in the music collector’s suite.

As well as having Amsterdam’s Unesco World Heritage-listed waterways on the doorstep, it’s an easy walk to wonder at the works of Van Gogh, Rembrandt and Vermeer at the Rijksmuseum. Anne Frank’s house is close by and, back at the hotel, there’s a garden to retreat to for plates of burrata pistachio fusilli.

Best hotels in Denmark

Best hotel for a romantic getaway: Manon les Suites Guldsmeden

Location: Copenhagen

Lose yourself (with your significant other) in the lusciously plant-draped pool

Manon Les Suites – about 15 minutes from Copenhagen’s Central Station, in the north of the city – provides a calming base close to lakeside strolls, yet within easy reach of the city centre.

The 87-room hotel delivers a rush of Bali-inspired tropicool, thanks to a showstopping central, green-tiled swimming pool, adorned with dangling fish-shaped lighting and swinging pot plants – dips don’t get more atmospheric than this.

Pared-back bedrooms have a touch of cabin cool, with wood detailing, white curtained beds (crisp Scandi, rather than old-fashioned frills and flounce), Marshall radios and a monstera plant here and there. A roof terrace, complete with a sauna and steam room, is a divine spot for R&R too.

Best hotels in Portugal

Best hotel for wine buffs: Palacio Ludovice Wine Experience Hotel

Location: Lisbon

This wine-focused palace is a contemporary haven for oenophiles, while the views are an added bonus

With a stellar location in Bairro Alto, opposite the Glória tram – take in the views of Lisbon’s terracotta rooftops and the meandering Tagus River from the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara park – this wine-focused palacete (small palace) is now a contemporary haven for oenophiles.

Behind a sunrise-yellow 18th-century facade, there’s a 61-room hotel, where bedrooms pair original frescos and stucco ceilings with contemporary peach and blue accents, and airy bathrooms with gilt-edged mirrors. Particularly special, rooms 210 and 310 feature original wall-to-wall blue-and-white tiling.

Check-in glasses of port set the tone for a bon vivant stay, underlined by tastings, which zoom from the vineyards of the Douro Valley to the sunny south, with a dedicated-to-Portuguese-wine list, including Madeiran tinta negra and Alicante bouschet from the Algarve. Paired wine suppers take place in the Hanging Gardens-feel restaurant, Federico, and there’s a Caudalie Vinotherapy spa for crushed-cabernet scrubs.

Best hotel for foodies: São Lourenço do Barrocal

Location: Alentejo

Decor is hushed, with terracotta brick floors, sage-coloured shutters and botanical touches

In Alentejo’s rural interior, two hours’ drive from Lisbon and surrounded by ancient olive groves and vineyards, is the 19th-century whitewashed farmstead São Lourenço do Barrocal. Family-run for generations, since being transformed into a boutique hotel a few years ago, it’s established itself as one of Portugal’s best.

Orange trees line a cobbled central street, with 40 bucolic rooms and cottages sprinkled either side. Decor is wonderfully hushed, with terracotta brick floors, sage-coloured shutters and botanical touches.

Fans of the farm-to-table ethos are spoilt, with opportunities to gen up on wine and olive oil production, and the nuances of the estate’s terroir (granite and schist soils), while Alentejano chef José Júlio Vintém serves locally farmed, acorn-fed black pig, fresh goat’s cheese and traditional breads at the field-to-fork restaurant.

A monastic-feel spa is a real mellower, as are dips in the 20m outdoor pool and stargazing trips in the nearby Alqueva Dark Sky Reserve.

Best hotel for gin-lovers: Solar Branco Eco Estate

Location: São Miguel, Azores

The proprietors also own The Gin Library – a 1,140-strong gin collection meets masterclass space

This boutique home-away-from-home is the ideal base to explore this Azorean isle, where jewel-hued crater lakes pepper the volcanic landscape, and whales traverse the waves offshore. With eight minimal-chic rooms in a country house, and reimagined outbuildings on the remote São Miguel island, this is a restful retreat just a few minutes’ drive from downtown Ponta Delgada and the airport.

Solar Branco also has a sustainable ethos – think breakfast spreads of locally grown pineapples, avocados and strawberries, plus slabs of Sao Jorge cheese, and eggs from the chickens on site; rewilded grounds; an organic kitchen garden, and soon-to-be-activated electricity and water trackers in bedrooms.

The hotel’s gin-enthusiast owners are also the proprietors of The Gin Library – a 1,140-strong gin collection meets speakeasy and masterclass space. A complimentary “gin o’clock” tipple is included nightly, meaning guests can sample the likes of Canadian lavender Silver Fox and CBD-infused Colorado High gin (from Silent Pool distillery in Surrey) on the bar’s suntrap terrace.

Best hotels in Spain

Best hotel for art-lovers: Hotel El Palace Barcelona

Location: Barcelona

Former El Bulli chef Rafa Zafra whips up delights in the blue and gold-columned Amar Barcelona

With more museums and galleries than you can shake a stick at, Barcelona is catnip for fans of art. This grande dame hotel – close to the city’s Gothic quarter – first opened as Barcelona’s Ritz in 1919, attracting art-world royalty and actual royalty. Today, the 120 neoclassical-inspired rooms at the revamped El Palace Barcelona still cater to an arty crowd.

The Versailles-look Great Hall doubles up as a rotating gallery, where bold works from Iñigo Manterola and Ana Paúl have been displayed. Top suites take inspiration from artists, including Joan Miró (dark wood and gold touches nod to his primary-colour-based surrealist works) and Dali (the suite where the artist used to stay for extended periods has a canopied bed, red chinoiserie-style wardrobe and restored sunken Roman bath).

Further draws include a vast garden rooftop, which has a pergola draped in orange-blossom and its own telescope to ogle Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia from on high, plus Amar Barcelona, where former El Bulli chef Rafa Zafra whips up seafood in the dark-blue and gold-columned surrounds.

Best hotel for an all-inclusive family holiday: Ikos Andalusia

Location: Estepona

A standout kids’ club, nine swimming pools and a swish spa should keep the whole family happy

Providing the ultimate clap back to the dreaded “I’m bored” refrain is this 411-room resort on the sun-kissed coastline between Marbella and Estepona. A standout kids’ club is packed to the gills with arts-and-crafts activities, water sports, summer football academies (coached by ex-Premier League players) and musical sing-along sessions. Plus, there are nine palm-fringed swimming pools and seven restaurants (Asian through Spanish) to keep even the most hard-to-please guests happy.

While the resort bubble has enough spaces, including an Anne Sémonin spa and bars with cocktails dreamt up by Marian Beke of Shoreditch’s Gibson, to ensure adults come back refreshed – exploring is encouraged with a day’s complimentary hire of a Tesla and a “dine out” concept, encompassing local restaurant visits.

Best hotel for a bohemian break: Montesol Experimental Ibiza

Location: Ibiza

Come sundown, relax at the rooftop bar for cava-topped hanami spritzes and Ibizan rooibos iced teas

Long a favourite of hippy hedonists, the historic Montesol, in Ibiza Town’s main Paseo Vara de Rey square (favourite of Pink Floyd and Orson Welles), is packing fresh verve, thanks to a takeover and transformation by hip hotelier Experimental Group and designer-of-the-moment Dorothée Meilichzon.

As well as a kick-back-and-relax rooftop bar for cava-topped hanami spritzes and Ibizan rooibos iced teas at sundown, expect celestial design touches, such as moon carvings, starry alcoves and brass suns. The 33 photogenic bedrooms come with puzzle-look zellige-tiled cabinetry, while walls have a beachy texture through hand-pressed shell imprints.

As for food, enjoy delights such as top-notch tapas, watermelon and feta salad, squid brioche with lime mayo, patatas bravas and torrija (a Spanish bread pudding) with vanilla ice cream.

Best hotels in the UK

Best hotel for a seaside staycation: The Nici

Location: Bournemouth

The Nici’s heated outdoor pool, ringed by bubblegum-pink parasols, is a joy

Checking into this Miami-inspired hotel, moments from the golden sands of Bournemouth’s West Cliff, could be just the ticket for your next staycation.

Not only is the hotel mere steps away from one of the UK’s finest beaches, its 30m outdoor pool is a joy – featuring mermaid-shimmer tiling, and ringed by bubblegum-pink parasols. Crucially, given the British weather, the pool is heated, and if you splash out on a curtained cabana, charming pool assistants will appear to offer chilled pineapple slices throughout the day. 

As for dining, golden palm-tree-adorned South Beach restaurant does Caesar salads and surf ’n’ turf. The 88 white and forest-green bedrooms deliver holiday vibes, with Art Deco-style drinks trolleys, pineapple-shaped glassware and ready-to-pour Whitebox negronis and cosmos. Miami nice, indeed.

Best hotel for a boutique spa experience: Middleton Lodge Estate

Location: North Yorkshire

Framed by woodland, there’s a spring-fed, al-fresco, heated swimming pool and meadow-view sauna

Proving you don’t have to jet overseas for a superlative spa break is this family-run estate, at the edge of England’s rugged Yorkshire Dales. As well as a walled garden, walkways fringed by rambling roses and rich-on-romance boutique accommodation housed in attractive stone farm buildings, there’s an appealing, earthy-feel Forest Spa.

Framed by ancient woodland where lilting birdsong fills the air, there’s a spring-fed, al-fresco, 15m, heated swimming pool, with teal-striped loungers – there’s a touch of South of France allure here. There’s also as a meadow-view sauna and chilly tadelakt plunge pool.

A relaxing pool house, complete with flickering fireplace, keeps things grounded with natural, neutral tones, seed-pod-inspired ceramics and floral prints. VOYA and Aromatherapy Associates treatments, which take place in cabins surrounded by wildflowers, ramp up the pamper levels.

Price: Doubles from £185 a night

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Best hotels in France

Best hotel for style on a budget: Mama Shelter Rennes

Location: Rennes, Brittany

With a more-is-more style, bathrooms come in zebra-stripe tiles

Mama Shelter, known for its more-is-more style, has outdone itself in Rennes. Set in lively square Place des Lices, inside a stone-fronted, listed building, this 119-room hotel has design exuberant enough to have Iris Apfel chortling with glee. Think ballet-slipper-pink bedrooms – some with original mouldings and fireplaces; bathrooms in monochrome zebra-stripe tiles, and a salmon-hued nana-chic dining room where everything, from tieback curtains to banquettes, are upholstered in sea creatures (and, yes, it’s where seafood platters are served).

Entertainment wise, you’re spoilt for choice, with basement karaoke rooms, and a statement indoor swimming pool hung with wave-decorated ceiling canopies and neon artwork. There’s also a hammam, sauna and Mama Skin Spa.

At sundown, head to the rooftop bar for grapefruit-gin cocktails and spectacular views of Rennes’s mediaeval bell towers and half-timbered houses.

Best hotel for skiers: Portetta

Location: Courcheval

Book a touring trip through La Vallée des Avals and you might spot marmots along the way

Ski in, ski out Portetta is the Alpine hotel to know. It’s located in Courchevel Moriond (1650), which is part of the Three Valleys, with more than 600km of runs, and the 30 cossetting rooms are upscale and inviting, with wood-panelled walls and crisp, white bedding. Plus, six loft rooms have roaring fires. There’s also a spa for post-run legs, with Bamford and Oskia treatments,

As for fuelling up apres ski, head to Cucina Angelina, helmed by Angela Hartnett. The food is sensational – think the likes of pumpkin ravioli and sage butter with amaretti, alongside classic fondue and raclette.

Backcountry ski touring trips through La Vallée des Avals – guided by experts from Le Bureau des Guides – can be arranged. Look out for marmots and ibex along the way.

Price: Doubles from £465 a night

Book now

Best hotels in Greece

Best hotel for show-stopping swims: Cali Mykonos

Location: Mykonos

Swimmers are spoilt for choice here, as each suite comes with its own private pool

While Greek isle Mykonos might be best known for its non-stop party atmosphere, Kalafati Beach on its more secluded eastern side – around 25 minutes from the airport – is home to Cali Mykonos, a 40-villa property carved out of the cliffside.

Swimmers are spoilt for choice here, as each suite – which nails soothing Cyclades, with sleek lines and natural tones – has its own private pool. There’s also a 110m-long saltwater infinity pool (over double the size of an Olympic pool), which snakes along the cliff edge, with views of the shimmering Aegean. If that isn’t enough, head to the secluded private beach for peaceful, private sea dips.

Another highlight is Lefteris Lazarou’s traditional Greek food, and a clever menu of mythology-inspired cocktails, including the likes of ‘the wings of thyme’, an olive-oil-infused tequila number with refreshing rosemary and lime.

Best hotel for a wellbeing boost: Pnoé Breathing Life

Location: Crete

Power down at Pnoé’s hi-tech wellbeing space, complete with waterfall pool

Living up to its name, Pnoé (meaning “breath”), this adults-only retreat on vibrant Karteros Beach, just outside ancient-ruin hotspot Heraklion, has been designed to foster pause. While the coastal locale – with craggy peaks and Cretan sea views – has a buzz to it (and is close to the airport, so no long-transfer faff), once you arrive at Pnoé, it’s all about powering down.

Bowl fires light the entrance lobby, and on-arrival hot towels are infused with calming herbs. Hushed architecture is built in natural wood and Milatos stone, and the 60 suites, with private stepped pools, have earthy palettes.

As well as top-notch spa treatments (Germaine de Capuccini, Dr Barbara Sturm), the hi-tech wellbeing space – where a stepping-stone walkway reinforces a go-slow state of mind – has a hyperbaric oxygen therapy pod, a Zerobody dry float (for the benefits of soaking without getting wet), one-to-one breathwork sessions, and a waterfall pool.

There’s a private section of beach to laze on, fringed parasols by a teardrop-shaped main pool, and Thymises by Peskesi restaurant for authentic Cretan food, too.

Best hotel for a ritzy multi-gen getaway: Amanzoe

Location: Peloponnese

Villas have stone-walled courtyards, plunge pools and a private chef

For those able to splash serious cash on a family getaway, make like the cast of Glass Onion, and bed down at Amanzoe in the Peloponnese, not far from Porto Heli.

Stunning Grecian scenery – olive groves paired with turquoise Aegean – is matched by 12 villas (with one to nine bedrooms) designed by architect James Tuttle. Each has Acropolis-of-one’s-own vibes, with stone-walled courtyards, smooth columns, marble flooring and private plunge pools. One even has its own James Turrell installation, Skyspace, with ceiling aperture for straight-from-room stargazing.

As well as a private chef and villa host to keep things running in always-smooth Aman style, the beach club has a plethora of pools to keep the whole gang happy; watersports galore, and boat trips to visit car-free island Hydra, or to explore Spetses’s neoclassical mansions, can be arranged.

Price: Doubles from £1,028 a night

Book now

Best hotels in Italy

Best hotel for wildlife: Oasyhotel

Location: Tuscany

The 16-lodge Oasyhotel offers perhaps Europe’s most exciting safari experience

Wolves howl, honey buzzards soar overhead and green woodpeckers can be heard tap-tapping against tree trunks in swathes of regenerated forest – it’s Tuscany but not as you know it.

Just an hour from Florence, 16-lodge Oasyhotel – within the 1,000ha, WWF-protected Oasi Dynamo Reserve in the San Marcello Piteglio mountains – offers perhaps Europe’s most exciting safari experience. On guided nature walks through the former-hunting-reserve-turned-protected-land, it’s possible to see wild boar, deer and goshawks, while wolf-spotting safaris offer an after-dark thrill.

A raft of other activities span foraging, organic farm volunteering, wild swimming in a private lake, and spa treatments overlooking the water.

Smart, pitch-roofed lodges, made from sustainably sourced wood, give a wrapped-in-the-forest feel, and the majority of produce used at the two farm-to-table restaurants comes from within a kilometre (grown on site or sourced nearby).

Best hotel for la-dolce-vita opulence: Passalacqua

Location: Lake Como

The former home of composer Vincenzo Bellini, this 18th-century mansion oozes la dolce vita vibes

It’s impossible not to get swept up in la dolce vita in this 18th-century mansion, which was once the private home of composer Vincenzo Bellini and is now an opulent 24-room boutique hotel.

A 45-minute drive from Milan, in mountainside village Moltrasio, the hotel’s baroque-wow bedrooms feature restored frescoes, soft Beltrami bedding and mirrored chests, which open to reveal minibars, while Italian marble bathrooms are kitted out with Dyson hair appliances. Meanwhile, stairways are adorned with Barovier & Toso Venetian glass chandeliers.

Outside, seven acres of jasmine-scented and olive-grove-filled gardens – including a swimming pool terrace and bocce court – tumble down towards the shores of Lake Como, where a duo of private boats are on hand to whisk guests across the water.

Service is as sublime as the shimmering views, and activities include gelato-making and classic Italian film screenings under the starry sky.

Best hotels in Czech Republic

Best hotel for polished service: Mandarin Oriental

Location: Prague

The remains of a Gothic church can be seen beneath the glass floor in the spa

While the setting – a former monastery dating back to the 14th century in Prague’s historic centre, the  Malá Strana – might be serene, the reception at this 99-room property is always warm. Affable staff manage to appear at just the right time, proffering mini fluffy robes for kids, or providing insider tips on visiting the next-door Czech Museum of Music.

Asian-inspired rooms have arched ceilings, muted palettes lifted by bursts of red and blue, and stone-clad bathrooms. The spa is also a real one-off – housed inside a former Renaissance Chapel, there’s a glass floor under which the original remains of a Gothic church can be seen, while intuitive therapists deliver the likes of Qi and four-hands massage.

Best hotels in Belgium

Best hotel for a flight-free escape: The Hoxton, Brussels

Location: Brussels

The hotel has a 1970s aesthetic – think modular furniture, lily-shaped lighting and velvet sofas

For city-break fans who prefer to dip in and out of the action, The Hoxton Brussels – housed inside a brutalist-inspired tower building in Brussels’s Northern Quarter – is a strong choice. Yes, it’s in the business district but, actually, it’s got a lot going for it: top live-music venue Le Botanique is next door, the iris-filled botanical gardens are close by, and it’s a 15-minute walk to the city centre (or you can hop on a free-to-use Cowboy ebike).

As for the hotel itself, it riffs on its heritage and locale, with a 1970s brutalism-meets-botany aesthetic – think vintage chrome modular furniture and bedrooms with striped headboards, lily-shaped lighting and velvet sofas. There are two vibey restaurants: Peruvian-inspired Cantina Valentina, and Tope for rooftop tacos and weekend DJ sets.

Those arriving by train – from a stay in another of The Hoxton’s European properties – can bag a €20 (£17) discount off each stay by taking advantage of “The Good Rate”. Handy, as the hotel’s only 15 minutes from the TGV, which has connections to the likes of London and Paris.

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