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What do government offices, a jam factory, doctors’ rooms, a bank, and a shipping terminal have in common? These historical structures now play host to some of the best historic Australian hotels. Each has an enviable location and a fascinating past which often has little to do with luxurious accommodation. Step inside for a glimpse of days gone by and discover how everything old is new again at these intriguing accommodation options.

Pier One Sydney Harbour, Sydney

Pier One Sydney Harbour served as a P&O passenger terminal for over 50 years. With rooms suspended over the water it still feels like you are part of the action on the busy working harbour. The hotel is located close to the historic Rocks area and provides the perfect starting point for morning walks beginning beneath the shadow of Sydney Harbour Bridge. It is worth opting for a suite with a day bed as these are perfect for soaking up the hotel’s million-dollar water views.

Mayfair Hotel, Adelaide

What was once the Colonial Mutual Life Building, a grand neo-Romanesque edifice adorned with fearsome stone gargoyles, is now one of Adelaide’s most glamorous hotels. Smartly dressed locals and visitors sashay through the doors of the Mayfair Hotel on their way to the chic rooftop Hennessy Bar or Mayflower Bar where a maestro seated at a grand piano provides the entertainment. Plush rooms accented in tones of caramel and grey have been designed to fit inside the historic building which means each one has its own, unique floor plan.

Mayfair Hotel
Hennessy Bar & Lounge at the Mayfair Hotel

Hyatt Hotel, Canberra

Hyatt Hotel Canberra was once the only building in the nation’s capital with ‘lock up’ facilities. The elegant rooms and suites often accommodated alleged offenders who, not unlike modern-day guests, were in no hurry to leave. Art deco décor evokes days gone by and service is refined but never stuffy. This historic hotel is the perfect blend of old and new with an attention to detail designed to impress even the most well-travelled diplomat. Hyatt Hotel Canberra is renowned for its fabulous high tea which can be enjoyed outside during summer; a glass of red in front of an open fire is perfect on chilly evenings.

Ovolo Inchcolm Hotel, Brisbane

When General Douglas MacArthur was stationed in Brisbane and wanted to visit his personal physician, he would head straight to the what is now the Ovolo Inchcolm. Back then, the building housed the private medical suites of specialists and doctors. Nowadays, it is a stylish boutique hotel with old fashioned charm combined, modern styling and an art deco twist. The historic lift is original (although, thankfully, the mechanism driving it is modern) and extremely roomy as it once carried stretchers from one floor to another. The MacArthur Suite, named after ‘guess who’, has an impressive four poster king size bed and a large free standing bath along with all the modern amenities one could wish for.

Ovolo Inchcolm
Socialites Bar at the New Inchcolm Hotel and Suites

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Treasury Heritage Hotel, Brisbane

The sandstone building housing this hotel was touted as ‘the most splendid public edifice in the Australian colony’ when it was built in 1886. After accommodating the Queensland Art Gallery and numerous government departments, the former Land Administration Building was redeveloped as a hotel in 1995. Rooms have four metre ceilings with elaborate cornice work and heavy wooden doors; dark wood furnishings and traditional fabrics complement the heritage feel. The Treasury Hotel Brisbane is filled with hidden corners and surprises, such as a secret staircase from room 105 to room 305 which was used by the minister (and, rumour has it, mistresses and those attending secret meetings) to discreetly exit the building.

Hotel Windsor, Melbourne

Hotel Windsor – also known as ‘The Duchess of Spring Street’ – is the oldest hotel in Australia and has a fine pedigree. It was considered in the same league as The Savoy in London, the Waldorf-Astoria in New York and the Hotel Ritz Paris when it opened in 1883. Famous visitors include Sir Laurence Olivier, Gregory Peck, Vivien Leigh and Sir Robert Menzies, who virtually lived in Suite 306. Rooms feature elegant décor and reproduction furniture that reflects the Victorian era of the hotel, and the acclaimed afternoon tea has been enjoyed by over two million guests. It is worth a visit to the Hotel Windsor for this alone.

High tea
The Hotel Windsor afternoon tea

The Henry Jones Art Hotel, Hobart

The most striking feature of The Henry Jones Art Hotel is its industrial design, closely followed by the stunning art work which seems cover every available space. The Henry Jones was Australia’s first dedicated art hotel and many pieces are for sale. While the exterior of the building remains largely unchanged, inside the industrial machinery blends seamlessly with modern design features. The IXL Long Bar is a nod to the building’s original life as the IXL Jam Factory. Rooms are decorated in earthy tones and have a cosy, modern feel; the pick of these on the third floor come with enviable water views. Several room types offer the flexibility of self-catering, but most guests prefer to step out and sample the many excellent restaurants which are available within easy walking distance.

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Dr Tiana Templeman is an award-winning food and travel journalist, travel author and media industry academic. She is the creator of The Travel Temple, writes for Australian and international media outlets and appears on radio talking about where to go, what to see and travel industry trends.