Sleep Where History Was Made at These 24 Legendary Hotels
When battles are declared or wars are ended, the people making the decisions are likely staying at the best hotel in town. At these grand places, society’s most recognizable names penned books, staged protests and fired shots. From cinema to literature to war to smuggling, these hotels have been at the epicenter of events that changed the world.
For a history lesson to remember — or perhaps to make your own history — book a stay at one of these 24 storied institutions.
Hotel Alhambra Palace — Granada, Spain
The Hotel Alhambra Palace, which dates back to 1910, touts itself as the oldest five-star hotel in Spain. The hotel was built to accommodate growing tourism to the Alhambra complex, but its most historic era was during the Spanish Civil War when the Alhambra Palace became an army hospital.
Hotel Ritz — Paris, France
The newly renovated Hotel Ritz has been hosting Paris’s most famous visitors since 1898. The famous Hemingway bar is named after the writer himself who said the only reason not to stay at the Ritz is if you can’t afford it. But the hotel has a more hidden history, too. During World War II and the occupation of Paris, Germans took over the hotel and used it as Luftwaffe headquarters. According to legend, Hemingway himself “liberated” the hotel as Nazi forces were retreating. He immediately went to the hotel bar and ordered champagne for everyone.
Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi — Hanoi, Vietnam
Get a firsthand look at the impact of the Vietnam War (or “American War,” as it’s known over there) at the Metropole. Not only was the hotel the place where foreign dignitaries stayed while in town, the basement was where they hid out when bombs fell over Hanoi. Guests can sign up for a tour of the underground bomb shelters where Jane Fonda and Joan Baez stayed while protesting the war.
Watergate Hotel — Washington, D.C.
The Watergate Hotel is perhaps the most famous hotel in American politics. In 1972, two men checked into room 214 and from there, orchestrated a break-in at Democratic National Convention headquarters. The incident was traced back to President Richard Nixon who was forced to resign. Guests can now book the scandalous room, which is currently decked out in 1970s decor, including newspaper clippings about the incident.
Claridge’s — London, U.K.
As Europe moved away from monarchies, fallen royals took up residence at Claridge’s in the early 20th century. Kings of Greece, Norway, Holland, Spain and Portugal all arrived at the hotel in the 1930s and ‘40s to escape revolution in their home countries. Because of its impressive clientele, the hotel is arguably the most storied in England. At the end of the second world war, Winston Churchill himself took up temporary residence alongside other diplomats in one of the hotel’s suites.
Hotel Holiday — Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
When international war correspondents stayed in Sarajevo to cover the Bosnian War, they stayed at this brightly colored Hotel Holiday. In the 1990s, the hotel was considered by many to be in the most dangerous part of town. "From there, you didn't go out to the war, the war came in to you,” Martin Bell, a reporter for the BBC, said of the hotel.
Jekyll Island Club Hotel — Jekyll Island, Georgia, U.S.
Relive a bygone era of American glamour at Jekyll Island. In 1886, a “who’s who” of American money — including the Rockefellers, Morgans and Vanderbilts — pooled their money to create the Jekyll Island Club, a private winter retreat. The government asked Jekyll Island Club members to refrain from using their exclusive retreat during World War II. They never returned and in 1947, the island became a public state park. In 1978, the club and hotel were named a national historic landmark. It has operated in its current capacity since 1986.
Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc — Cap d'Antibes, France
The Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc has been a destination for the well-heeled set since 1870, when it opened as a writer’s retreat. In 1889, it became a luxury hotel and quickly attracted Europe’s artists, including Marc Chagall, Ernest Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald made the hotel immortal as the “Hotel des Etrangers” in his 1934 novel, “Tender is the Night.” Like many popular European hotels, the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc served as a military hospital from 1940 through 1945.
The Gritti Palace — Venice, Italy
Guests at the Gritti Palace step back hundreds of years when they enter the hotel. It was built as a palace for a nobleman in 1475 and in its early history served as the home of Venetian doges and visiting dignitaries. The Gritti Palace became an independent hotel in 1948 and hosted the likes of W. Somerset Maugham, Winston Churchill, Peggy Guggenheim, Graham Greene, Elizabeth Taylor and many more.
Hotel Nacional de Cuba — Havana, Cuba
Even though it's less than 90 years old, the Hotel Nacional de Cuba's history is already illustrious. In 1946, the hotel famously hosted the Havana Conference, a summit of Cosa Nostra families and mob leaders. The meeting was made infamous in Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather: Part II.” Following the 1959 Cuban revolution, the hotel served as Fidel Castro’s headquarters for aerial defense during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The Clay Hotel — Miami, Florida
The Clay is most renowned for its former history as a hotbed of mob activity in Miami. Reportedly, Al Capone used the hotel to set up a gambling ring in the 1930s. In more savory activity, Desi Arnaz launched the “rumba matumba” craze from the Clay Hotel around the same time.
The Drake — Chicago, Illinois
The Drake made a splash when it opened on New Year’s Eve 1919, quickly becoming a symbol of the roaring ‘20s in Chicago. By some accounts, the hotel had the country’s first themed restaurant (the Cape Cod Room, opened in 1932), where newlyweds Marilyn Monroe and Joe Dimaggio carved their initials into the bar.
The Mayflower Hotel — Washington, D.C.
Located just north of the White House, the Mayflower Hotel has had its fair share of history and controversy since it opened in 1925. In 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt stayed in room 776 on the night before his inauguration. It is said that he penned the line “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” while here. J. Edgar Hoover dined at the hotel’s restaurant practically every night for 20 years.
Inn at the Presidio — San Francisco, California
The Inn at the Presidio was built in 1903 and originally served as home to unmarried officers in the army. The building later became visiting officers’ quarters throughout the 20th century until the army left the building in 1994.
Hotel New Grand — Yokohama, Japan
The Hotel New Grand opened in 1926 as a replacement for the Yokohama Grand Hotel, which was destroyed during a devastating earthquake. The hotel came to prominence when it hosted American troops (who occupied Japan following World War II). Guests who want an immersive look back at history can book General MacArthur’s former suite (Room 315) where he stayed during his first nights in Japan. Visitors should be sure to peruse the hotel’s collection of historical photographs, framed throughout the first floor.
Omni Homestead Resort — Hot Springs, Virginia
The Omni Homestead Resort in Virginia is even older than the United States. It opened in 1766 and offered visitors the opportunity to relax and “heal” in the natural hot springs. In 1832, a physician named Dr. Thomas Goode purchased the resort and created a “European-style” spa experience for visitors. Visitors today can still have an original Dr. Goode treatment, including “The Cure,” a salt scrub followed by a Swiss shower.
Petroff Palace — Moscow, Russia
Since the 18th century, the Petroff Palace has lived many lives. The palace was originally built for Empress Catherine the Great but welcomed many royals as they were passing through Moscow. When Napoleon Bonaparte’s armies invaded Russia, the conqueror set up headquarters here. After Bonaparte’s flight out of the city, the palace was restored by Czar Nicholas I. However, following the 1917 Russian revolution, the building changed hands many times, becoming both a museum and air force academy. It re-opened as a hotel after restoration in 2009.
Fairmont Queen Elizabeth — Montreal, Canada
The Fairmont Queen Elizabeth became world famous in 1969 when John Lennon and Yoko-Ono held their famous “bed-in for peace.” During their seven-day stay, the duo recorded “Give Peace a Chance” alongside Allen Ginsberg, Timothy Leary and Tommy Smothers. The hotel reopened after renovation in 2017, unveiling a “John Lennon and Yoko Ono” suite where guests can sleep underneath the words “Hair Peace Bed Peace.”
Beverly Hills Hotel — Los Angeles, California
There is arguably no better hotel for Hollywood history than the Beverly Hills. The hotel opened in 1912 and quickly welcomed silent movie royalty, like Gloria Swanson and Charlie Chaplin. But it wasn’t until the ‘30s that the hotel became the stuff of legend. It welcomed Fred Astaire, Lauren Bacall, Grace Kelly, the Rat Pack, Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, and many, many more. Marlene Dietrich changed policy at the hotel’s famous Polo Lounge in 1940 by refusing to wear a skirt, which was mandatory dress for women to enter.
King David Hotel — Jerusalem
It wasn’t long after the King David Hotel opened in 1931 that it started welcoming famous and royal visitors. But the hotel made international headlines in 1946 when a wing that housed British administrative and military headquarters was bombed by a Zionist paramilitary group. More than 90 people were killed and 45 injured in the attack, including bystanders and hotel staff. The hotel has since recovered and continues to host the world’s leading politicians, stars and leaders.
Raffles Hotel — Singapore
Mixologists know the Raffles Hotel as the birthplace of the Singapore Sling, but the hotel’s history goes far beyond cocktails. The hotel opened in 1887 and hosted enough events to become the stuff of legend. The last tiger to be killed in Singapore was shot underneath the Bar & Billiard Room in 1902. When Japanese soldiers entered Singapore in 1942, they found guests in the ballroom having one last waltz and hotel staff burying silver underneath the building. The hotel also welcomed many famous writers (including Joseph Conrad, Rudyard Kipling and Somerset Maugham) who are immortalized in the hotel’s Writers Bar.
The Belmond Copacabana Palace — Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The Copacabana Palace became a must-visit destination for the jetset when it opened in 1923. Its luxurious, fashionable interiors and prime location on the beach enticed famous visitors like Albert Einstein, Nelson Mandela and Michael Jackson. In more recent history, the hotel hosted the Rolling Stones when they played a free live concert on Copacabana Beach in February 2006. Over 1.5 million people attended and it has been named one of the largest rock shows in history.
Belmond Villa San Michele — Florence, Italy
Although there’s nothing ascetic about the Belmond Villa San Michele, the hotel was first a monastery used by Franciscan monks in the 15th century. Despite numerous luxurious updates (including a pool and cocktail service in the garden), it’s easy to immerse oneself in the hotel’s history. There’s a 17th-century fresco of the Last Supper in the former refectory and the building’s facade is attributed to none other than Michelangelo.
Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel — Cape Town, South Africa
The Mount Nelson Hotel opened in 1899, attempting to bring London elegance to Cape Town. It succeeded and was lauded as the first hotel in all of South Africa to offer both hot and cold running water. Although the hotel has hosted many famous guests, its most iconic was a young and not yet famous Winston Churchill. He stayed at the hotel while he was a war correspondent and deemed it a “most excellent establishment.”