Stunning Hotels Steeped in History
Time travel hasn’t been invented yet, but luckily, there are plenty of ways to take a step back in history simply by booking a room at one of the world’s most historic hotels.
From a medieval inn set along the banks of the River Thames in England to a floating palace in India that was made famous by a classic “James Bond” film, these hotels are marvels of ancient architecture and time capsules from bygone areas. They’re not just steeped in history — they’re iconic edifices with stories to tell.
Read on to learn about 12 of the world’s most stunning historic hotels.
Iberostar Perast Hotel in Perast, Montenegro
The Iberostar Perast Hotel, in Perast, Montenegro, is set along the Bay of Kotor, is one of the newest luxury resorts from the Iberostar group, but it packs a historic punch. The hotel was originally a built as a palace in the 18th century by the Smekjas, a noble family that became rich after helping to establish economic ties between the Baltic States and Venice.
Today, the Smekja family’s majestic building still retains its original stone structure, although the hotel's 48 rooms were updated and remodeled in 2018. Step outside of the hotel and back to the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries as you stroll the streets of the quaint, scenic city of Perast — a treasure trove of maritime history and the home of the first Balkan maritime school. This region along the Adriatic coast is a UNESCO Natural and Culturo-Historical Region, celebrated for its contributions to the fields of masonry and iconography.
Hermitage Hotel in Nashville
Nashville is the undisputed capital of country music, and when the legends of yore would come to town — including Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash — they booked a room at the Hermitage Hotel, a downtown AAA Five-Diamond hotel with a history dating back to 1910. The building’s distinctive, ornate Beaux-Arts style is unmistakable. A grand lobby features marble floors and columns below a painted glass skylight and intricate decorative plasterwork. The hotel has hosted numerous politicians over the last century and served as the national headquarters for both the pro- and anti-suffrage movement during the early 20th century.
The guest rooms at the Hermitage Hotel are nothing short of grand, with an average of 500 square feet, marble bathrooms and nightly turndown service. As an added bonus, the rooms are pet-friendly, which means your pet can enjoy a taste of the good life right alongside you.
Taj Lake Palace in Udaipur, India
At first glance, Taj Lake Palace in Udaipur looks more like an opulent floating cruise ship than a hotel. The dazzling white structure on Lake Pichola was built in 1746 on the island of Jag Niwas by a young prince. The palace was restored as a hotel in 1963, and today, you can experience a taste of the royal life by booking a room or suite at this heritage hotel. How will you get there? By boat, of course, where you’ll be greeted with rose petals and refreshments upon arrival.
“James Bond” aficionados will also recognize the Taj Lake Palace as the scenic backdrop of the 1983 “Octopussy” film starring Roger Moore and Maud Adams. For the ultimate Bond experience, book a city tour in one of the hotel’s vintage cars.
Hotel Alfonso XIII in Seville, Spain
The Hotel Alfonso XIII in the romantic Spanish city of Seville first opened its doors in 1929 to host VIP guests during the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929. But the hotel’s aesthetic inspiration dates all the way back to the eighth century, when the Iberian Peninsula was governed by the Moors. The hotel’s neo-mudéjar style is distinctly Andalusian, incorporating Moorish-inspired accents like horseshoe arches and ceramic tiles. The lobby’s intricately detailed coffered ceiling and marble floors transport guests back in time to an ancient era of lavish palaces built for rulers and royalty.
The neighborhood surrounding Hotel Alfonso XIII is equally full of history. A few steps up the road you’ll find the University of Seville — housed in an eighteenth century building that once served as the Royal Tobacco Factory — and the Santa Cruz neighborhood, a former Jewish quarter characterized by labyrinthine streets, fragrant orange trees and a plethora of tourists.
Mena House Hotel in Cairo, Egypt
Just 45 minutes away from Egypt’s bustling capital, travelers will find the Mena House Hotel set upon 40 acres of sprawling, verdant gardens with a million-dollar view of the nearby pyramids. The hotel was recently recognized in TIME’s Greatest Places 2018 with a nod to Mena House’s early history — it was first built as a hunting lodge in 1869 before being converted into a hotel. Compared to the 7,000-year-old pyramids, the hotel is relatively young, at just under 150 years old.
An all-gold lobby, a larger-than-life chandelier and a reflecting pool add to the Mena House’s grandiosity, and guests can also take advantage of modern amenities including a heated swimming pool and four restaurants and lounges, all within view of one of the oldest wonder of the ancient world.
The Palmer House Hilton Hotel in Chicago
This Windy City hotel was originally a wedding gift from Chicago businessman Potter Palmer to his wealthy socialite wife, Bertha Honoré. But less than two weeks after opening in 1871, The Palmer House Hilton Hotel burned down during the Great Chicago Fire. Undeterred, Potter immediately started rebuilding the hotel, which would later become the longest continuously operating hotel in the country. Bertha also got to work commissioning hotel décor inspired by her French heritage, including garnet chandeliers and a hand-painted ceiling fresco.
Today, visitors can schedule tours to walk through the building’s lobby, ballrooms and a mezzanine-level museum of Chicago history. The museum, which isn’t open to the public, offers an insider’s view of the hotel and its history, led by the hotel’s official historian of 32 years.
Hotel Les Trois Rois in Basel, Switzerland
Les Trois Rois means “Three Kings,” which is both reference to the three wise men and to the nobility that frequented Hotel Les Trois Rois halls dating back as far as 1681. Even today, Hotel Les Trois is a meeting ground for Basel’s aristocracy and diplomats from around the country.
The hotel also boasts some impressive, centuries-old trivia: in 1797, Napoleon Bonaparte reportedly stayed at the Les Trois Rois and was greeted with a massive reception.
In 2004, the hotel came under new ownership and the building was meticulously restored in accordance with national heritage criteria. The hotel reopened in 2006 and today it hosts guests in its 101 rooms and suites decorated in elegant art deco style. The hotel’s most grandiose suite includes a roof terrace complete with an outdoor Jacuzzi and stunning views of the Rhine below.
The Hollywood Roosevelt in Los Angeles
The Hollywood Roosevelt in Los Angeles will have you seeing stars — or, at the very least, you’ll be wandering the same hallways where many stars once stayed, including Marilyn Monroe, Charlie Chaplin and Clark Gable.
The Hollywood Roosevelt first opened in 1927 and two years later hosted the first-ever Academy Awards. This chic hotel features Spanish Colonial Revival architecture and is home to the iconic Tropicana Pool, inviting poolgoers to enjoy cocktails and American fare like sliders and fish tacos in a lounge setting that looks like a scene straight from 1960s Hollywood. For a luxe day in the sun, reserve a poolside day bed and sip the Tropicana’s signature cocktails in style, like the Hockney Negroni, a mix of gin, amaro ciocaro and lillet blanc.
Hotel Stefanie in Vienna, Austria
Hotel Stefanie is the oldest hotel in the Austrian capital, just steps from Vienna’s city center across from the Danube Canal. After opening in 1600, the hotel’s earliest guests most likely included “travelling merchants” and “secret lovers on the run,” according to the hotel history.
Whether you’re on the run or simply looking for a place to call home for the night, Hotel Stefanie today offers 111 renovated guest rooms adorned with antique furniture and accessories that harken back to the days of the Austrian Empire.
Discover countless antique treasures as you wander through the hotel lobby and restaurant, including teapots, military regalia, an extensive silver collection, a bust of Princess Stefanie and an assortment of clocks. Treat your taste buds to a historic tour at the hotel restaurant on the Old-Viennese Delicacy Journey, a seven-course meal fit for royalty that offers a taste of the city’s specialties, from veal goulash to powidltascherln — traditional plum-filled pastries.
Casa Gangotena in Quito, Ecuador
Casa Gangotena in Quito’s Old Town boasts an enviable address in the Ecuadorian capital’s San Francisco Plaza. The story goes that the plaza was home to several stately mansions dating back to the colonial era, including one where Casa Gangotena is situated today. Most of the original structure was destroyed in a 1914 fire, but a decade later, the Gangotenas finished an extensive rebuild of the mansion featuring art nouveau and art deco accents such as painted ceilings and murals. The hotel’s suites embody elegance, with elaborate murals, high ceilings and views of the surrounding garden and cities.
Step just outside the hotel to explore the city of Quito, which was one of the first UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The city “possesses one of the most extensive and best-preserved historic centers of Spanish America,” according to UNESCO, including the city’s historic churches and cathedrals that are awe-inspiring feats of architecture and design.
Fairmont Peace Hotel in Shanghai, China
Fairmont Peace Hotel in Shanghai, China is an art deco masterpiece overlooking the Bund waterfront and the Huangpu River. The hotel is also a unique union of two buildings. The north building dates back to the 1920s when it was known as the Cathay Hotel, as beloved for its architectural splendor (including a copper-sheathed roof) as it was for its A-list guests. The Cathay Hotel was an expatriate hot spot in the 1930s, hosting the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Bernard Shaw. The hotel’s south building dates back even further to the 1850s.
A little over a decade ago, the hotel underwent extensive renovations to modernize the buildings while remaining true to their original design and floor plan. Today, the Fairmont Peace Hotel boasts 270 guestrooms and suites and six restaurants and lounges, including a bar that brings patrons back to the 1930s with live jazz performances. Dramatic flourishes like dark wood and an octagonal marble lobby showcase the hotel’s art deco flair.
The Olde Bell in Berkshire, England
Few hotels can say they’ve celebrated their 883rd birthday, but The Olde Bell in Berkshire, England is proud to say it’s still going strong after nearly nine centuries.
This Berkshire hotel opened in 1135 AD on the bank of the Thames as a guest house for visitors to a nearby monastery. In more recent history, the hotel hosted a number of esteemed guests during World War II, including Winston Churchill and Dwight D. Eisenhower. The hotel’s restaurant has also been recognized for its ever-changing menu featuring locally grown ingredients.
Today, visitors can explore The Olde Bell’s historic properties, which include the main inn for guests and a scattering of nearby buildings that are used for private gatherings. The hotel’s oldest structures are brimming with charm from every corner to crooked floor, and today the hotel prides itself in offering “traditional hospitality in an environment which is human, warm and social.”