While the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe draw many visitors to Paris, its hotels are points of interest in their own right. For more than a hundred years, the French capital’s hotels have played host to many noteworthy guests and historically significant events, each cementing the city’s place as a cultural and artistic hub. Stay in the suite where the Beatles wrote a top hit or sip martinis in Ernest Hemingway’s old haunt at these renowned Paris hotels.
Live like a royal at the gilded Shangri-La, formerly the residence of French prince Roland Bonaparte, Napoleon’s grandnephew. Relax in a spa occupying the former stables, or enjoy unbroken views of the Eiffel Tower from rooms and suites blending French and Asian designs (Roland’s one-time pad opened as a Shangri-La in 2010). You can even stay in the prince’s former private residence; on the second floor, L’Appartement Prince Bonaparte features 5m (16ft) high ceilings, ornate chandeliers, velvet curtains and Versailles-style parquet flooring.
As soon as you set foot in La Réserve, you expect Louis XV himself to enter the room at any moment. There’s no reception area as such. Instead, you walk straight into an almost indecently opulent Salon, modelled on the 18th-century French conception of luxury. Each room and suite is individually decorated, while the rest of the building showcases its early-20th-century heritage with marble fireplaces, original mouldings and intricate woodwork. Le Gabriel restaurant has two Michelin stars.
There are a few reasons why the Hôtel Plaza Athénée is one of the most famous hotels in Paris. For starters, there’s that view – the hotel’s Eiffel Tower suites are some of the most coveted hotel rooms in the City of Lights. They offer an unobscured glimpse of the tower, perfectly positioned in a rectangular window that serves as a frame. Then, there’s its role in two critical French industries: fashion and food. Inspired by the hotel, Christian Dior established his fashion house next door in 1946, and the hotel’s five restaurants see legendary chef Alain Ducasse at their helm.
The art deco façade of the Four Seasons Hotel George V is a landmark on the avenue of the same name. Built in 1928, this luxury five-star hotel has long been known for its elite guests, who have included the Beatles (they wrote their hit song I Feel Fine in their suite), alongside Elizabeth Taylor and Conrad Hilton during their honeymoon in 1950. Equally important as its refined accommodations are its culinary endeavours. The hotel’s Le Cinq restaurant boasts three Michelin stars, while two more restaurants boast one Michelin star apiece.
Le Bristol Paris is often lauded as one of the best hotels in the city, making it one of the most famous, too. Its accolades are many, complete with a three-Michelin-star restaurant, Epicure, and the prestigious “Palace” designation by the French Ministry of Tourism. The hotel was used for the 2011 film Midnight in Paris and is also known for its adorable mascot, Fa-Raon, a Burmese cat who will greet you at the door.
In Saint-Germain-des-Prés – one of the city’s chicest neighbourhoods – Hôtel Lutetia is an art nouveau dream with hints of art deco. You can’t miss its striking exterior, with an almost Gaudí-esque undertone yet awash with classic Parisian white stone. The owners of Le Bon Marché, the famous Parisian department store, built the hotel in 1910. While it has hosted many household names over the years, such as Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso and James Joyce, perhaps its most remarkable moment came in 1944 when Charles de Gaulle ordered the hotel to take in victims of the Nazi regime after the liberation of France.
L’Hotel was the last home (at the time known as Hotel d’Alsace) of Oscar Wilde; he was tragically found dead in his hotel room on 30 November 1900, aged 46. However, it’s not all sad news at this bohemian-chic property – it lays claim to being the first-ever boutique hotel in the world. Its exclusive location in Saint-Germain-des-Prés and the intimate atmosphere also made it a top choice for artists and musicians such as Serge Gainsbourg, Salvador Dalí and Jim Morrison.
One of the oldest hotels on this list, Le Meurice first opened its doors in 1815 on rue Saint-Honoré before relocating in 1835 to rue de Rivoli, where it sits today. Here, Pablo Picasso and Olga Khokhlova had their wedding lunch, and Salvador Dalí took up residency for one month each year for almost 30 years. Le Meurice’s most chilling moment arrived when it heard a phone call between Adolf Hitler and a German soldier headquartered at the hotel during the Nazi occupation. Hitler was said to have uttered the chilling words, “Is Paris burning?”
The Peninsula Paris has been the site of many critical moments. Not only was the Paris Peace Accords signed here, putting an end to the Vietnam War, but it was also at one time a Unesco headquarters. Its walls watched a plan being hatched to assassinate Hitler, too. For a lighter – yet still noteworthy – moment, in 1928, American composer George Gershwin wrote An American in Paris in his hotel room, which inspired the 1951 movie of the same name.
Overlooking the Place de la Concorde – a site that’s had a front-row seat to many memorable moments – Hôtel de Crillon has seen its fair share. The building dates back to 1758, living through the French Revolution, two French kings and the Napoleonic Empire. It was first conceived as the official accommodation for global ambassadors and was the venue where the United States signed its first treaties with France. Today, Hôtel de Crillon is listed as a historic monument by the French Ministry of Culture, and like Le Bristol, it bears the exclusive “Palace” designation by the French Ministry of Tourism.
Mark Nayler contributed additional reporting to this article.