Top 10 prison hotels
Why would we pay to stay somewhere they used to lock people up against their will in? Maybe it’s curiosity, or a sense of history, or because all the ‘cool’ kids from Lindsay Lohan to Paris Hilton are doing it, and we just don’t want to get arrested first. From slammers turned into a life of luxury, to ones that remain hell on earth, here are our top ten prison hotels…
The Alcatraz Hotel, Kaiserslautern, Germany
From €69 (£58) per night for a double room
Then: 19th century Bavarian slammer.
Now: Original cells are furnished with just a bed, table, chair, and black and white striped curtains, with barred windows and a spy hole in the door. But if you’re not bothered about authenticity you can opt for a suite, with a sofa and flat screen TV. Despite the barbed wired exterior, you can leave any time you like to take a walk in the neighbouring Japanese Garden.
The Liberty Hotel, Boston, USA
From $295 (£191) per night for a double room
Then: Charles Street Jail – built in the mid-1800s, closed in 1990. Civil rights activist Malcolm X spent seven years there from 1945.
Now: A lavish hotel. Rooms are luxurious – some within the original structure and others in a purpose built 16-storey tower. Sleeping arrangements aren’t the only improvement – it’s renowned for quality bars and restaurants, from modern American cuisine at CLINK and Italian at Scampo, to cocktails at Alibi.
The King George Inn, Cobourg, Ontario, Canada
From $99 (£61) per night
Then: Bought by the Corporation of the United Counties of Northumberland and Durham in 1906 to house prisoners from the old gaol. The jail expanded as the region grew, then closed in 1998.
Now: While the original architecture has been retained, making no secret of the building’s origins, the elegantly and individually decorated rooms, and the Heaven on Earth Spa & Wellness Centre, scream relaxation rather than punishment.
Jailhotel, Lowengraben, Lucenre, Switzerland
From CHF 134 (£85) per night for a double room
Then: Built in 1662 and used as a prison until 1998.
Now: A modern boutique hotel that doesn’t shy away from its history – the bars on the windows are still there, as are the iron beds and wooden doors with food slots. The standard rooms are modernised cells, whilst suites are other areas of the prison– like the warden’s office and former prison library.
Malmaison, Oxford, UK
From £125 per night for a double room
Then: Built in 1888 as HM Prison Oxford and housed convicts until 1996.
Now: Luxury hotel with a classy restaurant and trendy cocktail bar. The main structure remains – you enter through the original metal-studded doors and climb wrought-iron stairs to get to your room, with its three-inch thick door. But the rooms are big and glamorous, consisting of at least three cells knocked through.
Karosta, Liepaja, Latvia
From 8 LVL (£9) per person
Then: Unfriendly, unheated and uncomfortable –a military prison from 1900 to 1997, with prisoners from revolutionaries to Stalin’s enemies, and soldiers of the Soviet army.
Now: Still unfriendly, unheated and uncomfortable, but that’s its USP – it recreates the KGB experience, from bad food to mugshots on arrival. Misbehaviour is punished by a spell in solitary and marches around the courtyard. More popular with stag parties than couples.
Hostel Celica, Ljubljana, Slovenia
From €17 (£14) per person
Then: Built as a military jail in 1883, the age of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. When Yugoslavia was formed it fell into the hands of the Yugoslav Federal Army until 1991, when Slovenia reclaimed its independence.
Now: An open, colourful, welcoming hostel and art gallery, with 20 uniquely designed cells by different artists and a cultural programme that includes workshops, poetry readings and debates.
Langholmen, Stockholm, Sweden
From 1950 SEK (£174) per night for a double room
Then: In 1724 the penal settlement in Langholmen evolved to become the largest prison in Sweden. It closed in 1975.
Now: You can learn the history at the on-site museum, ‘From Crime To Cuffs’, and the building is still quite jail-like with rooms laid out like cells, albeit with better furniture. But the facilities – from the pub to the free wi-fi – make it a modern and comfortable experience.
Best Western Premier Hotel Katajanokka, Helsinki, Finland
From €174 (£145) per night for a double room
Then: Helsinki County prison from 1837 to 2002, built after Sweden lost the war to Russia, losing their rule over Finland, with Helsinki becoming the new capital.
Now: A high-class 4-star hotel with modern rooms, combining two or three cells, free Internet, gym and traditional Finnish sauna. The a la carte menu in their Restaurant Jailbird is a far cry from traditional prison food, with the likes of escargots and fillet of reindeer.
Jail Backpackers, Mount Gambier, Australia
From $22 AUS (£13) per person
Then: Built in 1864 and used as a prison until 2001.
Now: Sleeping on bunks in shared cells and mass gatherings in the original mess hall for dinner add to the prison experience (you’ll already have a sense of it with the heavy bolted doors and decor which hasn’t changed much since its heyday). But the relaxed and friendly atmosphere makes it somewhere you want to stay, as opposed to somewhere you’re not allowed to leave.