Quick, name the oldest business in the world! Hint: it dates back 1,000 years. Also, it's in Japan. Nothing?
Fine -- the answer is Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan, a Japanese hotel that began welcoming samurais to its hot springs in 705. Crazy, right? Yea, prostitution might be the oldest profession in the world, but somebody had to rent out the beds, right? The hotel biz, as Chris Berman would say, goes "back, back, back, back, back!"
And while almost all of the world's longest-running hotels (as in, were never a pub, a post office, a private residence; never burned down; never moved; never shuttered) are in Japan, there are still plenty of equally historic spots that've never closed scattered about the globe. And these are 17 of them*.
*Since reading a list of only Japanese hotels isn't very much fun, we've omitted a handful from the Land of the Rising Sun.
Cited by Guinness World Records as the oldest hotel in the world (as well as the world's oldest continuously-operating business), this ryokan, or traditional Japanese inn, has been owned by 52 generations of the same family. For context, it opened a whopping 1,083 years before the American constitution was signed!
In addition to aforementioned real-life samurais taking soaks in the hot spring baths, famous patrons include Tokugawa Ieyasu, Japan’s first shogun, and Kouken, the 46th emperor.
Legend has it that a deity instructed a Buddhist priest to build this hotel on yet-to-be-discovered, magically healing hot springs. Apparently too busy for an unenlightened pursuit like the hospitality biz, he had his disciple, Garyo Houshi, build it; Houshi did, and his family has been running it ever since. Also, for whatever reason, each of the last 46 proprietors have reportedly taken the name Zengoro Houshi, which no doubt helped simplify the paperwork.
*At this point, we're going to skip over a slew of really old, equally impressive Japanese hotels.
The oldest hotel in Europe is actually older than the town it’s located in, having been built before Freiburg was even a glimmer in its founders eye. Over the years, the hotel's lived through the Black Plague, witch hunts, revolutions, farmer revolts, the Thirty Years' War, WWI, and WWII. It once briefly belonged to France. 51 landlords and dozens of renovations later, the hotel bears the same name that first appeared in documents in 1387, and the basement still features original artwork and architecture.
The Old Bell opened its doors in 1135 as a guest and carriage house for those making the pilgrimage to St. Benedict, a nearby priory. In its heyday, the hotel housed as many kings as commoners, and served as a meeting place for Winston Churchill and Dwight D. Eisenhower during WWII. The secret tunnel that leads from the hotel to the priory (which can still be seen today) was reportedly where plans were concocted in the 17th Century to overthrow James II.
Today, TOB's a stylish gem that combines history with contemporary design, having been renovated by the folks behind the trendy Soho House.
Formerly the Angel Inn, this popular stopover on the road from London to Edinburgh was built as a hostel for the Brotherhood of the Knights Templar. Having hosted kings like John, Richard III, Edward III, Charles I, and George IV, the addition of the word "Royal" to the name seems well deserved; it happened in 1866 when Edward the Prince of Wales (and heir to the throne) stayed over.
Though it claims to be England’s oldest hotel, we know that the other Old Bell actually takes the crown. That said, this spot still dates back to the early 13th century, and was built as a hostel for guests and dignitaries visiting the Malmesbury Abbey. At the time, the abbey was home to the second largest library in Europe, and one of the most important seats of learning in the country.
While the hotel today is more mod, traces of its past can be seen throughout, from the hooded stone fireplace to the ancient wood beams. Also, in the eight stone coffins buried in the basement.
While the history of this building reportedly dates back to the year 600, it wasn’t considered an inn until 1246, when it became part of a nearby cathedral’s court. Travelers and visitors to the cathedral often gathered here to imbibe Sanct Peter's famous vino, as it was also a well-known vineyard in Germany’s famous Ahr red wine region.
San Candido, Italy
When this hotel in the Dolomites opened as Grauer Bär (grey bear) in 1300, it was located in a scenic spot in Austria. Today, it's in Italy; the province was annexed after WWI but the name remained the same, just in Italian. Built to provide rooms to the many merchants, travelers, and noblemen that were flocking to the city of Ronzone, then a famous market town, it briefly served as a military hospital during WWI.
The Pilgrim Haus might have opened in 1304 (a date that's confirmed), but you sure as hell wouldn't know it from the sleek Ikea-inspired décor or promotional materials -- they barely even reference the joint's age. Located along a major Christian pilgrimage route (the Way of St. James), it was built to host pilgrims headed to visit the shrine of Saint James the Great in Santiago de Compostella, Spain.
Originally a hospital, then a cloister, and eventually a tavern, the Hotel Interlaken was first chronicled as a guesthouse in 1323. It was renovated in 1491, at which point it received its own coat of arms (which can still be seen on the façade). Remnants of the original walls are also evident in the lobby, the bar, and the restaurant.
While it’s unclear just how old the building itself is, the first mention of this place as a hostel is in 1342. Its façade remains as authentic as it gets, as are the wood beams throughout. The rooms, however, are more mod and rock colorful chandeliers.
Situated right outside the city's walls, Al Cappello Rosso was opened to house and protect traveling Jews; they were required by law to stay there, and only for up to three days. In fact, it was built next to the Ufficio delle Bollette, a governmental office that kept tabs on folks and ensured that guests didn't outstay their limited welcome. Today, the hotel oddly (considering its age) boasts modern, themed accommodation like the American Icon Suite and Typewriter room.
Eugendorf , Austria
Situated near one of the steepest passages of an important trade route, the Gastagwirt was built to give weary wanderers a place to rest before the challenging trip ahead. It used to be much larger, but a gambling owner somewhere along the way lost half of the property playing cards. Now, rooms are simple and sparse (probably as they were 634 years ago) while the food remains hearty and the atmosphere homely.
Occasionally used as a cushy prison for white-collar knights and noblemen with debts to settle, The Roter Hahn has been housing royalty (apparently Gustav Adolph, the King of Sweden, stayed twice!), nobles, commoners, and merchants alike since the late 14th Century.
According to local lore, the Protestant town of Rothenburg was spared during the Thirty Years' War thanks to Mayor George Nusch, owner of the Roter Hahn. Catholic general Czerklaz Tilly offered to spare the town if someone managed to drink a gallon of wine (in an hour?) and the Mayor stepped up. Whether he also had to eat seven Saltines in 60 seconds remains unknown.
Because the Goldener is alive with the sound of... yes, the Von Trapps have stayed here. So has Mozart. So has Goethe. So has pretty much every Austrian king and nobleman from Joseph II to Ludwig I of Bavaria. While rooms are modern now, the building's history is visible in its thick walls, timber ceilings, and stained glass.
It may look like a fortress, but the Hotel Stein actually opened as a tavern and inn. In the 16th century, it briefly became famous for its home-brewed beer, and from 1945 to 1950, it was occupied by American troops. Reestablished as a hotel after the war, today it rocks a bit of a BDSM-vibe complete with zebra print, leather accents, and shiny silk sheets.
Despite opening its doors in early 15th century, Hotel Krone didn't take off until the French Ambassador and his minions showed up in 1554 and, in an attempt to make the place as much like the Palace of Versailles as possible, turned it into an opulent hotel that held all-night ragers and attracted blue-blooded party animals from all over Europe. Currently the Krone is closed pending a 20 million dollar renovation.