Want to Sleep Like a King, Queen or Borgia For a Night? Stay in these Historic Airbnbs

Whether it’s the former home of a national icon or an extravagant estate in Europe, the sharing economy offers the chance to go back in time for a night

Borgia living room
A sumptuously appointed room within the Borgia family's castle in Tuscany, now available for everyday people to rent. Airbnb

When a listing says “Property type: Castle,” it’s probably gonna be good. The rental company Airbnb has highlighted some of its most royal accommodations around the world, but the domains of kings and queens arent the only thing travelers can find on the website. Airbnb, and other rental companies, offer lodgings that are important to history in a variety of ways: houses where literary figures wrote their novels, famous clock towers that have become landmarks and, in at least one case, the home of a civil rights icon.

See below for five historic places that anyone can live in for a night:

John Steinbeck’s Writing Studio, Pacific Grove, California


“I bought a small house and garden in Pacific Grove,” John Steinbeck once wrote to a friend. The man famous for Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath, among other works, is said to have written The Log from the Sea of Cortez in his cozy Pacific Grove abode, which travelers can now rent on Airbnb or on VRBO. The writing studio is one of three lodgings on the property that one can stay in: The owners also rent two other cottages there that belonged to the author. As Thrillist puts it, “Just because he wrote some of the most depressing stories about American society in the early 20th century doesn’t mean Steinbeck didn’t enjoy a home so damn cute it looks like it’s made of gingerbread.”

Rosa Parks’ Home, Washington, D.C.

(Image courtesy of Flickr user Rain0975)

Rosa Parks was a civil rights and anti-sexual-violence activist with a story larger than the famous bus boycott she sparked—and now one of her homes is available to rent. The Mansion on O Street, as it’s now called, has been frequented by famous individuals, including presidents and rock stars, and Parks lived there for more than ten years. Her room is a steep $500 a night, but it comes with more than the average historic rental. The current owner of the mansion, H. H. Leonards, who’s owned the estate for more than 30 years, knew Parks while she lived there and has plenty of stories. 

Borgia Family’s Castle, Umbria, Italy


There are a surprising number of castles available on Airbnb, though not all are attached to famous names. This particular grand estate in Umbria once belonged to the infamous Borgia family, whose notable members include a man who became Pope Calixtus III in 1455, as well as Cesare Borgia, notoriously ruthless in his rise to power, and Lucrezia Borgia, famous for her skill at creating political intrigue. Frescoes line the interior—since, of course, every good home needs a fresco or two.

St. Pancras Station Clock Tower, London, England


Don’t worry: This historic clock tower doesn't have any bells, which means visitors can earn bragging rights without losing sleep. The clock is part of St. Pancras Station, a building that dates back to 1868 as the flagship hotel for the Midland Railway Company. The international station still welcomes train travelers, but only those lucky enough to snag a night in the clock tower flat can look out onto other famed landmarks, such as St. Paul’s Cathedral, from a room with 32-foot ceilings. 

Appleton Water Tower, Sandringham, England

(Courtesy Flickr user Nick Hubbard )

For a different kind of tower, stay in a royal one. The Appleton Water Tower in Sandringham, Norfolk, England, dates back to the late 19th century, when Edward, Prince of Wales, fell ill with typhoid in 1871 at the royal estate there. Three years later, his eldest son caught the disease, too.

They survived, but these bouts of typhoid “were chilling reminders for Queen Victoria of the death of her beloved husband Prince Albert from the same disease at Windsor Castle,” notes the Landmark Trust, the organization that rents the space today. The infections prompted the royal family to have the estate's water supply tested: no good. To create a clean, reliable supply for the royals, engineers built the 60-foot-tall Appleton Tower with a 32,000-gallon cast-iron tank—and dazzling views to boot. Rent is steep—in the $700 range, depending on the current pound-to-dollar exchange rate—but staying in a royal water tower with views for miles might be worth it.

Get the latest Travel & Culture stories in your inbox.