Historic hotels offer so much more than just a good night’s rest. Each provides a glimpse into the past, a story worth sharing, while nodding to contemporary taste at the same time.
From a former jail to a tobacco farm, here are six hotels with a unique tale to tell.
The Royal Horseguards Hotel
Before this stately stay became a luxury London hotel, it was home to the British Secret Service and agencies like MI5 and MI6 during both world wars. Built in the late 1880s as Whitehall Court, the building once served as a respite for heads of state, thanks to its proximity to the city’s Houses of Parliament.
Today, you can book a night in the hotel’s Tower Suite with its 270-degree view of the London skyline, or stop in for a drink at Equus Bar, with tipples named after the venue’s famous former guests (Winston Churchill, George Bernard Shaw).
For a sample of more recent history, ask around to find out where scenes from the James Bond film Skyfall were shot around the property.
Waldorf Astoria Shanghai on the Bund
Boasting 21st-century sophistication, this palatial Five-Star property combines the elegance of the Waldorf Astoria brand with the history and heritage of the hotel’s previous tenant — the famed Shanghai Club. Throughout the 1920s and ’30s, it was the most exclusive club in the city, not to mention home to the Long Bar, a 110-foot-long counter that was purportedly once the lengthiest in the world.
Today, you can try the Shanghai Club experience at the hotel’s flawlessly restored Long Bar, where live jazz and sweeping views of the Huangpu River are served alongside cocktails inspired by the past. Sip on a Colonel Sanders Margarita with bacon-infused tequila — a reference to the hotel’s location as the home of Shanghai’s first KFC in the 1990s — or try the venue’s spin on a classic tipple with the London No. 1 Martini, a blend of gin, honey, lemon and thyme.
The Inn at Leola Village
Step back in time at this cozy Four-Star stay in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country. Tucked away among the postcard-worthy rolling hills of Lancaster, this property was established in 1867 as an Amish tobacco farm and, today, offers a romantic, adults-only escape in uniquely charming Amish-inspired accommodations.
The inn’s restored cottages and barns offer well-appointed rooms, great as a home base to explore the many neighboring Amish communities, local merchants and roadside markets.
Be sure to visit at the beginning of the month to take part in First Friday, when shops and galleries stay open late selling handmade crafts, furniture, quilts and fresh produce.
The Lalit London
From the leading hospitality group in India, this Forbes Travel Guide Recommended retreat began welcoming visitors to its 70-room luxury boutique hotel in 2017 after a five-year restoration. Housed in a former 19th-century private school, the modern-day property pays homage to its past with aptly named public spaces, including the Teacher’s Room (now a contemporary bar) and Headmaster’s Room (a champagne and cognac lounge).
While dining in the blue-hued Baluchi restaurant, take a moment to look up at the spectacular vaulted ceilings, a remnant of the room’s original incarnation as the school’s Great Hall. But you won’t want to spend too much time staring — the fine-dining venue’s Indian-inspired plates are divine. Even the establishment’s menu is a tribute to the venue’s scholarly past — the courses are divided into Term One (appetizers), Mid-Term (entrées) and Term Break (desserts).
The Liberty Hotel, A Luxury Collection Hotel
Steps from Boston Common in the heart of Beacon Hill, this chic Forbes Travel Guide Recommended hotel has been incredibly transformed from its original 1851 home: Charles Street Jail.
For 120 years, the penitentiary housed some of Boston’s most notorious criminals before it was closed in 1990. The building’s contemporary transformation in the early 2000s drew on the architect’s original designs, with a dramatic central cupola, three-story arched windows and expansive, light-filled interiors.
Look out for other clever allusions to the 298-room structure’s history, such as the cheeky names of the restaurants — Clink and Scampo (Italian for “escape”) each feature original design details, like exposed brick walls and iron bars.
The Broadview Hotel
From high society to the seedy underground, this east end structure has seen its share of clientele. Located in Toronto’s trendy Riverside neighborhood, the hotel was originally built in 1891 as Dingman Hall, a gathering place for the who’s who of the city’s social scene.
Dominating Queen Street East and Broadview Avenue, the building has changed hands many times — it was known in the early 1900s as The New Broadview Hotel, where rooms were $1.50 a night, then as Lincoln Hotel in the ’30s before it became Jilly’s, a notorious 1970s-era boarding house and gentleman’s club that closed in 2014.
In 2017, The Broadview Hotel reopened as a 58-room boutique property and local hot spot, boasting one of the city’s best rooftop terraces with views of the Toronto skyline.
Be sure to indulge in a meal at The Civic, where historical dishes are served with a modern twist. The red-leather banquettes, floral china patterns and factory-glass windows offer a nod to the past, while PEI grass-fed beef tenderloin, British Columbia sablefish and Lake Erie pickerel deliciously show an eatery that’s aware of today’s culinary trends.