History & Culture

Who Slept Here? A Tour of Historic Hotels

No reservations are required for this look back at some famous hotels and the fascinating people who visited them.

Hotels, motels, inns—they’re places where travelers stay for a night or much longer, where strangers cross paths in unexpected ways. Hotel walls can host secrets, passionate affairs, chance encounters—even the occasional haunting. 

For this reason, hotels have been the settings of many memorable movies, from Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch A Thief (set in a seaside hotel on the French Riviera) to Sofia Coppola’s Tokyo tale Lost in Translation, from the time-travel romance between Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour in Somewhere in Time to Wes Anderson’s fictional Grand Budapest Hotel. And who could forget the classic horror of the Bates Motel in Hitchcock’s Psycho or the Overlook Hotel in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining

Sometimes, however, truth is even stranger than fiction. Many famous individuals have experienced real-life glamour and drama in hotels around the world. Whether or not you’re traveling this summer, you can share the stories of these hotel adventures.

Wyatt Earp – The Brooklyn Hotel, San Diego

San Diego’s Brooklyn Hotel was built in the mid-1880s to accommodate a growing tide of visitors following the expansion of the transcontinental railroad. One famous guest arrived in 1886: Wyatt Earp, the notorious lawman of the American West. Earp and his wife Josephine remained at the Brooklyn for nearly seven years. During this time, Earp speculated in the local real-estate boom by opening gambling halls and saloons around town. The Brooklyn Hotel was later combined with the Horton Grand Hotel, a nearby building dating to 1886.

Horton Grand Hotel Photo

The Brooklyn Hotel, where Wyatt Earp and his wife stayed, was later combined with the Horton Grand Hotel in San Diego. (Photo: By Bernard Gagnon (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons)

Oscar Wilde – The Cadogan Hotel, London

oscar wilde

Oscar Wilde was staying in Room 118 at the Cadogan when he was arrested for “committing acts of gross indecency with other male persons.” (Photo: Napoleon Sarony [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

The Cadogan Hotel opened in London’s posh Knightsbridge neighborhood in 1887. It has hosted many notable guests, but it gained the most notice for the arrival and departure of the writer Oscar Wilde in 1895. Wilde was staying in Room 118 at the Cadogan when he was arrested for “committing acts of gross indecency with other male persons.” After a trial, he would spend two years in prison. The Cadogan recently offered a “Green Carnation” package, named after Wilde’s favorite buttonhole decoration, that allowed guests to stay in Wilde’s Room with champagne service and other perks. 

Cadogan Hotel Photo

Guests can stay in Oscar Wilde’s room at the Cadogan Hotel in London. 

Coco Chanel – Hôtel Ritz, Paris

Coco Chanel Photo

Coco Chanel was quoted as saying, “The Ritz is my home.”

The Hôtel Ritz on Paris’s Place Vendôme has sheltered many luminaries within its elegant walls since 1898, but one of its best-known guests was legendary fashion designer Coco Chanel. Chanel stayed at the Ritz frequently before moving into the hotel in 1937. She maintained a residence there for more than three decades and decorated her rooms with fresh flowers, luxurious furniture and lacquered folding screens. Chanel also owned an apartment on the Rue Cambon where she worked and entertained guests, but the Ritz was her private escape. She was quoted as saying, “The Ritz is my home.”

Hotel Ritz Paris Photo

Chanel maintained a residence at the Ritz in Paris for more than three decades and decorated her rooms with fresh flowers, luxurious furniture and lacquered folding screens.

Ernest Hemingway – Hotel Ambos Mundos, Havana

Ernest Hemingway’s passport photo from 1923. (Photo: John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

The American writer Ernest Hemingway made his first visit to Cuba in 1928 and lived there on and off throughout the 1930s, staying at the Hotel Ambos Mundos. He particularly enjoyed Room 511’s balcony view of Old Havana, and in this room he began to write his classic novel For Whom the Bell Tolls. The room has been preserved as a shrine to Hemingway, and various pieces of memorabilia are on display, including Hemingway’s Remington typewriter and his bill from the hotel’s bar. 

Ambos Mundos Hotel Photo

Hemingway stayed in Room 511 at Hotel Ambos Mundos in Old Havana, and began to write his classic novel For Whom the Bell Tolls in this room.

Agatha Christie – Pera Palace, Istanbul

Agatha Christie Photo

Agatha Christie set many of her popular mysteries in hotels. (Photo: Bettmann/Gett

Agatha Christie wrote several mysteries set in hotels, including Evil Under the Sun and At Bertram’s Hotel. One of her own favorite hotel destinations was Istanbul’s Pera Palace, established in 1892. Her husband, Max Mallowan, was an archaeologist, and the couple stayed at the Pera Palace during his travels to excavations in Iraq and other Middle Eastern sites in the 1930s. Inspired by her setting, Christie wrote Murder on the Orient Express (1934) while staying in the Palace’s Room 411. This mystery, featuring detective Hercule Poirot, begins at a hotel in Istanbul.

Pera Palace Photo

Christie wrote Murder on the Orient Express (1934) while staying in the Pera Palace’s Room 411.

Elvis Presley – Hilton Hawaiian Village, Honolulu, Hawaii

Elvis enjoyed the expansive views from the 14th-floor Mahele Suite in the Hilton Hawaiian Village Hotel’s  Ocean Tower.

Waikiki Beach is a sandy stretch of shore on Hawaii’s Oahu island, and a hotel has existed at this idyllic oceanfront site since 1928. Elvis Presley first stayed at the resort then known at the Hawaiian Village Hotel in 1957 and returned in 1961, shortly after the hotel magnate Conrad Hilton took ownership of the property. Elvis filmed his movie Blue Hawaii during that 1961 visit; in his free time, he would have enjoyed the expansive views from the 14th-floor Mahele Suite in the hotel’s Ocean Tower.

Hilton Hawaiian Village Photo

Elvis filmed his movie Blue Hawaii during his visit to the Hilton Hawaiian Village Hotel.

Patti Smith – Hotel Chelsea, New York City 

Robert Mapplethorpe Patti Smith Photo

Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith moved into the Hotel Chelsea in 1969.

The Hotel Chelsea opened in 1884 and became known as a haven for bohemians: it welcomed guests like the writer Dylan Thomas, musicians Janis Joplin and Bob Dylan, and members of Andy Warhol’s inner circle. Leonard Cohen wrote a song called “Chelsea Hotel #2,” and Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols was arrested for murdering his girlfriend Nancy Spungen there. 

In 1969 Patti Smith moved into the Chelsea with Robert Mapplethorpe, her boyfriend at the time. “The Chelsea was like a doll’s house in The Twilight Zone, with a hundred rooms, each a small universe,” she later wrote. Smith sat in the hotel lobby for hours a day, smoking and writing poetry as she observed the hotel’s residents coming and going. She and Mapplethorpe both found their artistic callings while living at the Chelsea—she became interested in music as well as writing, and he began to take photographs.

Hotel Chelsea Photo

New York City’s Hotel Chelsea opened in 1884 and became known as a haven for bohemians.

Tennessee Williams – Hotel Elysée, New York City

Tennessee Williams Photo

Tennessee Williams wrote his last play at New York’s Hotel Elysée, and spent the last 15 years of his life here. (Photo: Orlando Fernandez, World Telegram staff photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Sometimes celebrities check into hotels and never leave. New York’s Hotel Elysée was founded in the 1920s, and its celebrity guests over the decades ranged from Marlon Brando to Maria Callas to Joe DiMaggio. The Mississippi-born, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Tennessee Williams resided there for the last 15 years of his life. Williams wrote his last play at the Elysée, and his fellow guests occasionally heard the sound of his typewriter throughout the night. Unfortunately, the hotel was his last home. He died there in 1983 in a drug-related incident in his own rooms, which were (ironically) called the Sunset Suite. It was a dark ending that the great playwright himself might have penned.

Hotel Elysee Photo

Hotel Elysée was Tennessee Williams’ last home: he died there in the Sunset Suite in 1983.