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This historic hotel’s guest list has always included illustrious figures: President Abraham Lincoln actually lived here for 2 weeks in 1861 before moving into the White House, next door. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stayed here in August 1963, finishing the writing of his historic “I Have a Dream” speech, before delivering it on Aug. 28, from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to the vast crowds assembled on the National Mall. And from its very start, the Willard has hosted foreign dignitaries, from Japan’s 70 Samurai princes in 1860 to . . . well, take a look at what head of state is on the schedule to visit President Obama, and there’s a good chance that dignitary is booked at the Willard.

Guest rooms are handsomely decorated with dark wood furnishings, silken shades on lamps, and inviting flourishes, like the pretty throw laid across the end of the plumped-up bed. Ask for courtyard-facing rooms for quiet, or Pennsylvania Avenue–facing rooms for the views. Spring for an oval suite, which look down the avenue to the Capitol.

But you’re here as much for the history and ambience as for a place to sleep. You must: enjoy a cocktail at the Round Robin Bar, expertly mixed by barman Jim Hewes as he tells tales about Willard guests, from Charles Dickens to Bill Clinton; stroll through the lobby and admire its mosaic floor, marble columns, and ornate ceiling; and tour the history gallery filled with memorabilia, such as a copy of Lincoln’s hotel bill. Also check out the Willard’s calendar. Its varied events—afternoon tea, Kentucky Derby Day soiree, literary salon talks, Christmas tree decorating—attract as many locals as hotel guests.