30 of the World's Most Iconic Hotels

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Hotel Ritz Paris in Paris
Photo credit: Anna Bryukhanova/istockphoto

For many travelers, hotels are simply a means to an end — little more than a place to crash aftera long day of exploration. It's easy to overlook the fact that the places where we lay our heads can be destinations in their own right. While very well-known hotels can be quite expensive (consider a boutique option for a more affordable stay with some character) they're often packed with architectural and historic significance you can't find anywhere else.

The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado
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Opened in 1909, this historic property overlooking Rocky Mountain National Park has an old-world elegance that contrasts with its rugged surroundings. And if it looks a little familiar, well, it's for a good reason: It inspired the fictional Overlook Hotel, setting of Stephen King's "The Shining." It's only fitting, then, that the hotel offers a "Night Spirit Tour" to introduce guests to "active" phenomena and spirit folklore surrounding the hotel.
King David Hotel in Jerusalem
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First opened in 1930, the landmark King David offers sweeping views of the Old City. The hotel has hosted celebrities including Elizabeth Taylor and Madonna and an endless parade of world leaders, from Winston Churchill to Donald Trump — some famous guests' signatures are even engraved in one of the hotel's marble hallways. Sadly, the King David is also famous for a 1946 bombing by militants targeting British troops who were headquartered at the hotel. It killed more than 90 people.
Claridge's in London
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Since 1856, Claridge's has dominated the London hotel scene. The art deco era transformed the hotel into a design icon, and a rich history has seen Claridge's function both as a home for exiled heads of state during World War II and a London crash pad for stars including Audrey Hepburn and Bing Crosby. Don't miss the renowned afternoon tea, a refined white-tablecloth affair that showcases impeccable finger sandwiches, eye-popping pastries, and 24 varieties of loose-leaf tea.
Burj Al Arab in Dubai, United Arab Emirates
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One look at the Burj Al Arab makes clear why this relatively new hotel has already reached icon status. Designed to look like the sail of an imposing yacht, the hotel occupies its own small island in the Persian Gulf. And no luxury is spared here: Guests with cash to burn can arrive and depart via helipad or Rolls-Royce, and there's 24-hour private butler service on every floor.
The Plaza in New York City
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Perhaps the king of New York's many prominent hotels, The Plaza opened in 1907 at Fifth Avenue and Central Park South. Its legendary status has been cemented in pop culture, with the hotel serving as a setting for Kay Thompson's first "Eloise" book, Alfred Hitchcock's "North by Northwest," and the second "Home Alone" movie, among many others. The incomparable guest list includes Greta Garbo, Frank Lloyd Wright, the Beatles, and many more famous faces.
Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City
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Often said to be the world's most photographed hotel, the Chateau Frontenac towers majestically over the St. Lawrence River and Old Quebec City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Guests have included Charles de Gaulle, Queen Elizabeth, Charles Lindbergh, and Celine Dion, and the hotel hosted the Quebec Conference between the American, Canadian, and British governments during World War II. Today, the hotel offers guided and self-guided tours for history buffs.
Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone National Park
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The Old Faithful Inn proves that rustic hotels can become icons, too. Trumpeted as the inspiration for U.S. "park-itecture," it was built in 1903 with locally harvested timber and is the largest log structure in the world. The multi-story lobby features eye-popping log balconies and a towering stone fireplace — if you're a Disney fan, you might recognize it as the inspiration for Piston Peak National Park's Grand Fusel Lodge in Disney's "Planes: Fire and Rescue." Of course, the hotel is also just a stone's throw from one of the most famous geysers in the world.
La Mamounia in Marrakech, Morocco
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La Mamounia bills itself as a "palace hotel," and it's not hard to see why. A blend of traditional Arabic and Andalusian architecture and design permeates every corner of this sprawling complex, which dates to the 12th century. The gardens are home to hundreds of orange trees, rose bushes, cactuses, and palm trees. Winston Churchill, a frequent visitor, reportedly called it "the most lovely spot in the whole world" and painted in the gardens.
Grand Hotel Europe in St. Petersburg, Russia
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The Grand Hotel Europe holds its own among the splendor of St. Petersburg's famed Nevsky Prospekt thoroughfare. Opened in 1875, its restaurant was the city's first to boast electric light bulbs. After the October Revolution, the hotel was forced into more practical use as a hospital and orphanage, but was returned to its original beauty and reopened after an extensive renovation in 1991. The hotel has hosted Romanovs, George Bernard Shaw, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and even infamous "mad monk" Rasputin.
The Mayflower in Washington, D.C.
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Just a few blocks from the White House, The Mayflower opened in 1925. Since then, it's hosted countless world leaders and power players, and several inaugural balls. President Harry Truman dubbed it "Washington's second-best address," and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover dined in the hotel's restaurant and coffeehouse almost every working day for two decades. It's also had a starring role in some of D.C.'s most prominent sex scandals.
Villa D'este in Cernobbio, Italy
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First built in 1568 as a summer residence for a prominent cardinal, Villa d'Este was transformed into a hotel in 1873. Since then, it has become the place to see and be seen on northern Italy's Lake Como, offering plenty of Renaissance splendor and amenities, such as a floating pool, 10 acres of immaculate gardens, and a sporting club. Alfred Hitchcock reportedly spent his summers here, and other guests have included fashion titans such as Donna Karan, Ralph Lauren, Oscar De La Renta, and Calvin Klein, likely because the hotel is only an hour from Milan.
Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas
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Caesars Palace has plenty of over-the-top competition on the Strip, but this is the hotel that started it all. The first themed resort in Vegas, it opened in 1966 sporting brash faux-Roman décor that remains today. In true Sin City fashion, it's been the site of spectacles including Evel Knievel jumping his motorcycle over the hotel fountains and shows featuring Frank Sinatra, Elton John, and Celine Dion. Today's complex includes around 4,000 guest rooms, a shopping mall, and a lavish casino, of course.

Hotel Ritz Paris in Paris
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When the Ritz Paris opened in 1898, it was the first hotel with a phone, electricity, and tub in every room. Today, it's the pinnacle of gracious French elegance, especially after a $450 million renovation. Coco Chanel lived here for years, and legend has it that during his time as a war correspondent, Ernest Hemingway "liberated" the hotel bar from the Nazis in 1944, promptly ordering champagne for everyone. The bar now sports his name.
Disney's Contemporary Resort in Orlando, Florida
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It's hard to imagine, but in 1971, sprawling Walt Disney World started out with just two main resorts, including the Contemporary. Its A-frame silhouette, complete with the park's monorail system running right through the center, still makes it one of the most recognizable Disney buildings outside the theme parks themselves. Interestingly, it cemented a dubious place in presidential history when Richard Nixon proclaimed "I am not a crook" during a 1973 press conference here.
Mandarin Oriental Bangkok in Bangkok
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Thailand was still known as Siam when the Mandarin Oriental opened its doors on Bangkok's Chao Phraya River more than 140 years ago. The hotel is particularly notable for its deep literary roots, having hosted writers including Joseph Conrad, W. Somerset Maugham, James Michener, Norman Mailer, and John le Carre. Accordingly, it has a recently restored Author's Wing that includes lavish Victorian-styled suites named after some of its more famous guests.
The Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles
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Few hotels have produced more celebrity intrigue than The Beverly Hills Hotel. It was here that Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn had secret trysts; Marilyn Monroe carried on an affair with Yves Montland; Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton honeymooned; and John Lennon and Yoko Ono spent an entire week in bed. Today's guests will find the iconic red carpet, striped awning, and pink façade have been carefully maintained, as has the kitschy banana-leaf wallpaper throughout the hotel.
Ashford Castle in Cong, Ireland
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Saying this sprawling, recently restored castle hotel is jaw-dropping would be a grave understatement. Founded in 1228 by a prominent Anglo-Norman family, it was bought by the Guinness family in the 1800s, then established as a hotel after 1939. Used for filming parts of John Ford's 1952 classic "The Quiet Man," the grounds host activities as diverse as riding, stand-up paddle boating, falconry, archery, and zip-lining.
Fairmont San Francisco in San Francisco
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Before the Fairmont was even open, Mother Nature tried to tear it down. But the recently built hotel survived San Francisco's devastating 1906 earthquake relatively unscathed, going on to open just one year later. In 1945, the United Nations charter was drafted in the hotel's Garden Room, and Tony Bennett first crooned "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" in the Venetian Room, still home to the Bay Area Cabaret.
The Strand in Yangon, Myanmar
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Dating back to 1901, this landmark hotel still sports the trappings of its colonial past, including rattan furniture, teak and marble floors, and lacquered ceiling fans. But a recent renovation ensures modern amenities and touches of luxury, including 24-hour butlers and all-important air conditioning. The guest list has included a veritable "who's who" of the British Empire, including George Orwell, Rudyard Kipling, and Prince Edward VIII. Sadly, local residents weren't allowed to stay at the hotel until 1945, just a few years before Burmese independence.
Icehotel Sweden in Jukkasjarvi, Sweden
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Now a Scandinavian tourism staple, the eye-popping Icehotel was first built in 1989. In fact, starting each November, it's rebuilt every single year over the course of six weeks with 2-ton blocks of ice. Guests sleep on mattresses atop those ice blocks in thermal sleeping bags topped with reindeer hides. Artists are brought in to design unique suites every year, and tourists who don't want to brave the cold overnight can book daytime guided tours.
Waldorf Astoria in New York City
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Now closed for a lengthy renovation, the Waldorf Astoria was the world's largest, tallest hotel when it opened in Midtown in 1931. Its glittering, high-society reputation drew several celebrities and politicians to make their permanent homes there, including Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, and presidents Herbert Hoover and Dwight D. Eisenhower. The company that bought it from Hilton in 2014, Chinese insurance company Anbang, says it is committed to preserving the art deco landmark despite plans to convert some of its rooms into condos.
Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai, India
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Rising gracefully above Mumbai Harbor, the red-domed Taj Mahal Palace opened in 1903. It was the first building in Mumbai, then Bombay, to have electricity and luxuries such as elevators and butlers. In 1966, Ravi Shankar taught George Harrison to play the sitar here; other prominent guests have included Gandhi, the Clintons, and the Obamas. Sadly, recent history hasn't been as kind: A 2008 terrorist attack on the Taj, part of a larger wave of attacks across Mumbai by militants, left 31 dead. The attack spurred a two-year renovation that included enhanced security.

Copacabana Palace in Rio De Janeiro
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Billed as "the crown jewel of the world's most iconic beach," Copacabana Palace might be the most well-known hotel in South America. Since 1923, it's been welcoming guests as diverse as U2, Nelson Mandela, Orson Welles, Walt Disney, and Princess Diana, and its Golden Room has hosted performances by Lena Horne, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, and Sammy Davis Jr. The Copa Ball, held during Carnival, remains a legendary event that attracts celebrities and other VIPs year after year.
Hotel Gellert in Budapest, Hungary
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The art nouveau Hotel Gellert has glittered alongside the Danube since 1918 and became the home of the first-ever wave pool in 1927. It remains most famous for the elegant Gellert Baths, one of Budapest's most notable spas, which are fed by hot springs. Though heavily damaged in World War II, the hotel was restored over the next couple of decades and eventually welcomed guests including the Dalai Lama, Richard Nixon, and Jane Fonda.
Hotel del Coronado in Coronado, California
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Built in 1888, the red-roofed Hotel del Coronado remains one of the best surviving examples of Victorian resort architecture in the country. It was especially popular during the 1920s, when it hosted everyone from W.C. Fields to Charlie Chaplin. "Some Like it Hot," starring Marilyn Monroe, was filmed here, and Nixon held the first-ever state dinner outside the White House here. Today, guests can have bonfires on the beach, take a seaside painting class, or even enjoy "mermaid fitness" by donning a tail for some water aerobics.
Raffles Singapore in Singapore
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Billed as "the most fabled hotel in the Far East," colonial Raffles Singapore has a distinguished history, and clientele to match. After it opened in 1887, early guests included Joseph Conrad and Rudyard Kipling. The iconic Singapore Sling was first served up in the hotel bar in 1915, and decades later, Michael Jackson spent time with Ah Meng, a local orangutan, by the Raffles pool. The hotel is undergoing a renovation, but is slated to reopen soon.
Mount Nelson in Cape Town, South Africa
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Soon after opening in 1899, the Mount Nelson Hotel was pressed into service by the British as a headquarters during the South African War. Winston Churchill, then a war correspondent, was based there, proclaiming it "an excellent and well-appointed establishment." Other notable guests have included President George H.W. Bush, Henry Kissinger, Margaret Thatcher, Billy Joel, and Morgan Freeman. Today it retains its famously pink façade, colonial décor, and noted afternoon teas.
The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia
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What started out as a row of cottages near a mountain spring in the early 1800s has become one of the nation's most prominent luxury resorts. In 1992, the most intriguing part of The Greenbrier's history was revealed: For 30 years, it hid a massive bunker that would hold Congress in case of nuclear war. Today, guests can tour that bunker or choose from dozens of other diversions, from canopy tours and off-roading to gambling and swimming in the elegant indoor pool. The resort hosts a PGA Tour tournament every year, and the Dorothy Draper-designed interiors continue to dazzle guests.
Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea
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The mystery surrounding this unfinished hotel has made it perhaps the unlikeliest icon on our list. With a pyramid-like silhouette that towers above Pyongyang, Ryugyong was meant to be one of the world's tallest structures when construction started in the 1980s — and quickly became its tallest unoccupied building when work was halted in the 1990s.Nicknamed the “Hotel of Doom,” there have been rumors that at least some of the building will be opened soon — but since it's North Korea, no one can really say for sure.

Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi in Hanoi, Vietnam
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After opening in 1901, the opulent Metropole became a must-stop for French colonial society, but the Vietnam War made it truly unforgettable. Several years ago, engineers discovered a long-sealed bunker while renovating a hotel bar. It was used to protect guests during the war, sheltering notable personalities that included Jane Fonda and Joan Baez. The latter even recorded some of her song "Where Are You Now, My Son?" while in the bunker. Guests can now tour the bunker and learn the rest of the hotel's history through a permanent exhibit.

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