Though the latest crop of newly opened hotels is impressive, nothing can compare to the grand dames of the world: the handful of century-old institutions that have set global standards for luxury and hospitality.
These legendary hotels, spotlighted in countless films and literature, weren’t just a part of history — they helped to shape it.
From the landmark Taj Mahal Palace in India to the 117-year-old Hotel Ritz in Paris — due to reopen later this year after extensive renovations that began in 2012 — here are the world’s 10 most iconic hotels.
The Plaza, New York
Opened in 1907 and designated an official landmark in 1969, The Plaza is arguably the most famous hotel in New York City.
Located on Fifth Avenue and Central Park South, the 20-story building is the setting of the 1950s “Eloise” children’s book series, and is the backdrop of classic films such as “Funny Girl,” “The Great Gatsby” and “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.”
Notable guests have included Liza Minnelli, Eleanor Roosevelt, Miles Davis and The Beatles.
The hotel offers weekly tours of its interior to the public, led by an architectural historian.
Hotel Ritz Paris
Famously the headquarters of Coco Chanel, Ernest Hemingway and Ingrid Bergman, the legendary Hotel Ritz Paris has set the standard for luxury hotels since its 1898 opening.
Located by the Tuileries gardens and overlooking Place Vendome, it was declared “the most romantic hotel in the world” by Sophia Loren.
Besides its A-list clientele and silver screen cameos — it’s starred in classics like “Funny Face,” “Love in the Afternoon ” and “How to Steal a Million” — the hotel is renowned for its lavish belle epoque decor, crystal chandeliers and impeccable, white-glove service.
The hotel was closed in 2012 for renovations and is set to reopen later this year.
Opened in 1898, this Mayfair institution was the London residence of Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn and Yul Brynner. (Spencer Tracy once famously declared that, upon passing, he’d rather go to Claridge’s than heaven).
The art deco beauty is also the most storied hotel in England: during World War II, it was the haven of countless dignitaries and heads of state. In fact, suite 212 was declared Yugoslavian territory in June 1945 so that Crown Prince Alexander II could be born on his own country’s soil.
Its daily afternoon tea, served in the foyer and accompanied by a live cellist, is as iconic as the hotel itself.
Named after Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore, this opulent, colonial-style hotel had surprisingly humble beginnings: it was originally built as a small, 10-room bungalow.
It’s now arguably the most famous hotel in Asia and, more than 125 years after opening, was declared a National Monument.
In addition to hosting literati like Hemingway, Alfred Hitchcock and Rudyard Kipling (who penned the “Jungle Book” while residing in one of its suites), the hotel is the birthplace of the famed Singapore Sling cocktail.
Taj Mahal Palace, India
Built in 1903, the Taj Mahal Palace is Mumbai’s first harbor landmark, the site of the first licensed bar in the city (the Harbour Bar, which still stands), and the first hotel in India to have steam elevators.
The Taj is renowned across the world for its vast elegance, impeccable service and sheer magnitude: it has 560 rooms, 44 suites and 1,500 staff, including 35 butlers.
Despite being the site of a deadly terrorist attack in 2008, the hotel has since rebounded from the tragedy and remains popular among tourists and celebrities alike — President Barack Obama reportedly rented out the entire property during his 2010 visit.
Beverly Hills Hotel, Los Angeles
The Beverly Hills Hotel, built in 1912, is as glamorous as its A-list clientele. Guests have included Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, among countless others.
In 1948, the hotel’s exterior was painted its distinctive pink to mirror the color of the sunset; it was later featured on the cover of the Eagles’ “Hotel California” album.
The hotel, located on Sunset Boulevard, was named the first historic landmark in Beverly Hills.
Peninsula Hong Kong
Known as the “Grand Dame of the East,” the Peninsula Hong Kong is the flagship property of Peninsula Hotels — in fact, the hotel’s name was inspired by its location at the southern tip of the Kowloon Peninsula.
Since its opening in 1928, the Peninsula has set the standard for luxury in Hong Kong, from its glossy fleet of green Rolls Royce Phantoms to the private jet available for guest use.
It’s also Hong Kong’s oldest hotel, and the first to introduce pageboys and buffet dining.
Waldorf Astoria, New York
Located on Park Avenue, the Waldorf Astoria was once the world’s tallest hotel. Though it no longer lays claim to that title, it’s still a registered New York City landmark.
It has, after all, hosted every U.S. president from Hoover to Obama and even features a “secret” train platform beneath the hotel, used by high-security VIP guests such as Franklin Delano Roosevelt. (It is no longer operational).
The hotel is credited for inventing the concept of 24-hour room service—changing the entire hotel industry forever—as well as the Waldorf salad, crafted by maître d’ Oscar Tschirky in 1893.
The Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin
Located on St. Stephen’s Green in the heart of Dublin, the lavish Shelbourne Hotel is Ireland’s oldest and most historic hotel, built in 1824.
In 1916 it was taken over by British troops during the Easter Rebellion, then it served as a hub of military activity during World War I.
In 1922, the Irish Constitution was drawn up in Room 112 (now known as the Constitution Room).
Colorful history aside, it’s also the grandest and most beautiful hotel in Dublin, with its Renaissance-style facade, ornate crystal chandeliers, marble pillars and sumptuous decor.
The Ritz Hotel London
The Ritz Hotel, built in 1906, was London’s first steel structure and the first hotel in the city to introduce bathrooms in every guest room.
Over its 109-year history, patrons have included nobles like King Edward VIII and movie stars like Charlie Chaplin.
Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle and President Eisenhower also famously used the hotel as a regular meeting point during World War II.
Of its many claims to fame, however, perhaps the most widely known is its appearance in the 1999 film “Notting Hill,” starring Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant.