Wherever you are in the world, you’ll always need a place to sleep. It’s one of the things that binds us across cultures, and it’s somehow reassuring to know that however far you are from home, you can usually track down a historic hotel, where people have been laying the head for hundreds of years, sometimes even longer.
This is certainly true in the list of ten venues we’ve selected below, featuring some of the oldest hotels on the planet. All still have rooms to reserve and stories to tell.
1. Parador Santiago de Compostela, Spain
This venue makes up one side of the vast Praza do Obradoiro town square in Santiago de Compostela, in Spain’s Galicia region. In 1499 it was built as a hospital and lodging combination for pilgrims visiting the city, which is the final stop in the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail.
It’s on this basis that the venue claims to be the oldest continually operating hotel in the world. Whether it is or not (many would claim otherwise), what can’t be disputed is the dramatic beauty of the building itself, both the grand façade and the atmospheric interior, which has retained the historical character.
2. Hotel Interlaken, Switzerland
Surrounded by glorious mountain scenery in a pretty, Alpine town, Hotel Interlaken officially started its journey into hospitality in 1491, after the building had been renovated and approved by local government. But the site held an inn before this, shown by local records that mention a guest house in 1323. In this early incarnation, a courtroom on the hotel’s first floor was used to sentence those found guilty of crimes. Thankfully, these areas have been downgraded to conference rooms today.
Skipping forward a few centuries reveals two highly regarded names from music and literature checking-in to the hotel: German composer Felix Mendelssohn and wild Romantic-era poet Lord Byron. Both now have rooms named after them.
3. Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan, Japan
With a founding date of 705 AD, this Japanese inn was officially recognised as the world’s oldest hotel by Guinness World Records in 2011. It was founded by Fujiwara Mahito in the Keiun era (which the hotel’s name is taken from) and is still run by the same family, 52 generations later.
The site is surrounded by natural hot springs (known as onsen in Japan), which have been bathed in since the inn was first used, reputedly by heralded samurai warriors in the hotel’s early days.
4. Hotel de la Soledad, Mexico
This beautiful property has been used as a hotel since the mid-18th century, making it the oldest hotel in the Mexican city of Morelia. The building still features the same ground floor installed by its first owners, who purchased the site in 1735.
After becoming a popular inn towards the end of the 18th century, the Mexican War of Independence (from 1810 until 1821, eventually signalling Mexico’s independence from Spanish rule) took its toll on business in the area, and the hotel acquired mounting debts. The financial issues were resolved in the 1830s and the venue was later renamed Hotel de Michoacán, but locals still used ‘Hotel de la Soledad’, which later became its official title once again and seems destined to remain.
5. LaLiT Great Eastern Kolkata, India
This upscale resort claims to be the longest continually operating luxury hotel in Asia, having opened in 1840 under the name Auckland Hotel. Before then, the building was used as a bakery in the 1830s for staff of the East India Company.
Since opening as a high-end hospitality hotspot, the Lalit has hosted the likes of Mahatma Gandhi, Ho Chi Minh, Rudyard Kipling, Queen Elizabeth II, Nikita Khruschev and Mark Twain, who called it the “best hotel east of the Suez.”
6. Beekman Arms & Delamater Inn, United States
This cosy lodging in forest-strewn Hudson Valley claims to be America’s oldest continually operating hotel. The Beekman Arms sprang into existence in 1766, when it was attached to an existing traveller’s tavern from 1704. Back then, the venue was known as the Bogardus Tavern and was active during the American Revolutionary War, when American troops would practice military drills on the front lawn.
Key figures from the war are thought to have stayed at the hotel, including George Washington, Benedict Arnold and Alexander Hamilton, regarded as one of the founding fathers of the United States. The venue claims that when Hamilton was killed in a duel in 1804 (by then-US Vice President Aaron Burr), it was fought over an argument that began in the tavern.
7. Hōshi Ryokan, Japan
This peaceful ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) used to be cited by Guinness World Records as the world’s oldest hotel, having been founded in 718 AD. But in 2011 the title was given to another ryokan. Still, Hōshi has plenty of fascinating heritage to delve into, as it’s been around over 1,300 years.
The legend surrounding its creation says that the hot springs weaving around the hotel were a gift from the Hakusan mountain gods to help treat human illnesses, and that Buddhist monk Taicho Daishi built Hōshi Ryokan under the instruction of one of the mountain deities. Those luscious, warming springs can still be enjoyed year-round, and there’s also a verdant green garden to wander through.
8. Zum Roten Bären, Germany
The historical credentials of this homely inn (found in the town of Freiberg and believed to be the oldest hotel in Germany), lie in its cellar. Here, the rustic stone arches that form part of the foundations are thought to date back to around the year 1000, significantly before Freiberg was founded in 1120. During its time as a hotel, Zum Roten Bären (‘the Red Bear’) has chalked up over 50 innkeepers and survived various conflicts, including the Thirty Years’ War, fought around Europe from 1618 to 1648.
However, the hotel didn’t come out quite as well from the War of the Spanish Succession (a pan-European dispute over the Spanish throne, following the death of Charles II of Spain). Frieberg was besieged and Zum Roten Bären heavily damaged during fighting in 1713. Owner and innkeeper Andreas Pflug demolished the damaged sections and built a three-storey house in their place, forming the basis of the existing hotel. Pflug also introduced the statue of a golden bear above the hotel door, which still remains.
9. Orso Grigio, Italy
The building housing Orso Grigio (‘Grey Bear’) dates back to 1303, when it was used by traders passing through the area (the northern Italian section of South Tyrol, bordering Austria). Later, the hotel had to endure the brutal conflicts of the Thirty Years’ War in the 17th century, before being transformed into a military hospital for Austro-Hungarian troops in World War One. The hotel’s owner, Hedwig Hellenstainer, helped care for the troops and was awarded a Military Merit Medal.
10. The Olde Bell, England
The Olde Bell hotel and pub in southeast England was first used as a guesthouse in 1135, as accommodation for visitors to the Benedictine priority nearby. The priory’s sanctus bell (to signal that visitors were arriving) still hangs above the hotel’s door.
It’s said that a subterranean tunnel leads from the inn to the nearby priory, though this suggestion is disputed. One argument for the tunnel’s possible existence is a story claiming it was used by a member of the Glorious Revolution, the plot which overthrew King Charles II of England and put his daughter, Mary, and her Dutch husband, William of Orange, on the throne instead.