New and shiny is admittedly appealing, but there’s something captivating, even intoxicating, about a bit of history. Walk the hallway of any aging building, and its character reveals itself through cracks in the wall, knots on timber and chips in centuries-old mosaic tiles.
“A hotel comes alive with the tale it tells. Everyone loves a good story, and all the more when it is rooted in reality,” says luxury hotel designer Bill Bensley, the mind behind Thailand’s InterContinental Khao Yai hotel, where you can stay in upcycled heritage railcars. “Looking at a place’s history—and honoring it—cannot lead one astray.”
While hotels worldwide have decades, even centuries, of history welcoming celebrities and diplomats to their suites, other properties look at history a bit differently. Stately mansions and centuries-old buildings from around the world have been reclaimed and repurposed into magnificent hotels—each with its own story to tell. From an old newspaper house in New Orleans to a nunnery in Colombia, these seven hotels combine fascinating history and decadent luxury to give you an inspired stay.
One Aldwych, London
This historic site in London’s famed Covent Garden has long had a penchant for drama. Once the site of playhouses destroyed by fires in 1732, One Aldwych was the city’s first steel structure; the design was created by Mewès & Davis, the same architects who built the iconic Ritz in the capital as well as in Paris. The building was first home to The Morning Post newspaper in the early 1900s, and printing presses lived in the basement—now the location of the hotel’s swimming pool—for the next 20 years, inking various reports on important events throughout WWI. During the tumultuous period, Winston Churchill served as a special war correspondent for the paper where the hotel’s Lobby Bar now sits; inscribed into each table is a cheeky homage to the former primer minister. Since the Great War, the location housed numerous businesses, including magazines such as The Tatler, task forces such as the Ministry of Defence, insurance companies and restaurants. The spot officially became a hotel in 1998; it also underwent a majorly elegant facelift three years ago, making it one of the finest accommodations in the city. Rates start at $760 per night.
Andronis Luxury Suites, Santorini
Santorini’s signature crescent-shaped caldera formed over 3,000 years ago after a massive volcanic eruption devastated the globe. Centuries later, perched high up on those red lava cliffs of tourist-crazed Oia is Andronis Luxury Suites. Its traditional white domed yposkafo (“cave-style”) suites, of which there are 33 in total, were once canvas, or small rooms, used by locals to distill wine, weave baskets and store coal. The resort’s Superior Suite dates back to 1894, with the year etched on its pearly white exterior as a reminder of its history. The Deluxe Suite, meanwhile, is named Dionysos; and fittingly so, as the room’s original purpose was a storage space that held roughly 3,000 bottles of island-made vino. Something you may not have found in the suites a few decades ago? The private infinity pool, hot tub or cave pool in your accommodation, inviting you to take a dip and enjoy those famous Grecian sunsets. Rates start at $620 per night.
InterContinental Khao Yai, Thailand
Trains have connected remote regions of Thailand since the late 1800s, after King Rama V assisted in ushering the transportation service into the nation. Opened in 2022, the InterContinental Khao Yai draws on this history by using upcycled heritage railcars found in Thailand’s tangled jungles. Sourced by award-winning hotel designer Bill Bensley, the carriages, which had languished for decades and were overgrown with ficus trees, were found throughout the country and then transformed into colorful, whimsical lodgings. Each of these 19 ornate suites honors the glamour of old-school train travel with luggage racks, chic wood paneling and station sign boards. And some of the railcars are used to host a bevy of amenities, including the aptly named Tea Carriage, where you can enjoy a hot beverage at your leisure. Rates for Heritage Railcar Suites start at $365 per night.
Amangalla, Sri Lanka
Inside the walls of the 17th-century Galle Fort, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, sits this stately remainder of Sri Lanka’s Dutch colonization. Built in 1684, Amangalla was once the headquarters for the Dutch military officers who occupied this sacred city. When Britain invaded in the late 1700s, the fort was used to house soliders from the 83rd regiment before eventually being turned into the New Orient Hotel in 1865. The building has welcomed travelers ever since—including a few rowdy sailors who started a massive bar fight there in 1868—and rebranded as Amangalla in 2005. Decorated with period furniture, original tiles and hardwood floors, the property even has a safe that once held the soldier’s paychecks sitting near the open-air reception. If you’re feeling daring (and a bit superstitious), old ghost stories claim room 25 is haunted. Rates start at $700 per night.
Sofitel Legend Santa Clara Cartagena, Colombia
Built by Poor Clare nuns in 1621, this tropical historic building has had many lives since then. From a convent to a hospital to a jail to a medical school, the location has undergone many changes, and reminders of its past can be found throughout the 125-room Sofitel Legend Santa Clara Cartagena. The property’s swimming pool was once the nun’s orchard, where they grew banana trees and grapes. On either side of the nearly 3,000-square-foot pool, you could once find quarters belonging to the novices and the nun’s servants that have now become subtle yet stylish classic and superior rooms with balcony views. The hotel’s crypts inspired author Gabriel García Márquez to pen Of Love and Other Demons, set inside the walls of the former convent. Rates start at $280 per night.
The Eliza Jane, New Orleans
Finding an address in New Orleans without a storied past would be tricky, and the Eliza Jane is no different. Although the 196-room hotel opened in 2018, the buildings creating the swanky lodgings existed for hundreds of years as a series of seven warehouses housing the Gulf Baking Soda company, the Peychaud Bitters factory and The Daily Picayune—all Big Easy icons. The hotel’s name is an homage to Eliza Jane Nicholson, who took over The Daily Picayune in 1876 as the US’s first female publisher. In an ode to her glass-shattering role, newspapers line the hallways, and antique typewriters grace the hotel’s common areas. The Press Room, meanwhile, doubles as a library and a cocktail bar, serving up spirits using Peychaud’s famous bitters, once made at the very same location. Rates start at $174 per night.
Stillwater Seven, Tasmania
Formerly known as Ritchie’s Mill, Stillwater Seven was constructed at the mouth of the Cataract Gorge as a cutting-edge granary and flour mill. The structure was plagued by destruction over the years, including a flood and a fire, but it continued to be rebuilt with additions such as silos and a waterwheel. Stillwater’s stone-clad wine cellar, as it lies in its spot today, is the oldest remaining part of the property, built in 1834. In the 1970s, the space was abandoned and later turned into a cafe and an art gallery, where a couple was married; now they return to the spot every year to stay in Suite 5, where they exchanged vows. Stillwater Seven’s seven suites incorporate original touches such as timber beams, steel structures and a daily afternoon loaf of sourdough, a deliciously clever nod to its flour mill origins. Rates start from $379, including à la carte breakfast.