9 Former Prison Hotels Ideal for History Buffs

October 4, 2022 by Akylina Printziou

Photo:  Het Arresthuis

Have you ever thought of staying in a hotel a little different than usual, a hotel that is out of the ordinary and perhaps a little off the beaten path? What about spending the night at a hotel the history of which spans decades (or even centuries)? Undoubtedly, brand new hotels with shiny interiors are as alluring as ever, but let’s just admit that historic hotels and buildings carry a different kind of charm and appeal that is pretty hard to find elsewhere.

Now, what if you could combine a stay at a historic hotel which is also unique? There are many different types of historic and unusual hotels, but the Travelmyth team has chosen to present to you 9 hotels all around the globe which used to be prisons! Some of them have quite a spooky history behind them and have preserved the prison-like atmosphere (suffused with an array of modern amenities and facilities, of course), offering a truly unique accommodation experience, while others have been refurbished to such a degree, leaving only a few clues here and there about their hotel’s storied past.
Besides, Halloween is almost around the corner, and what better way to start getting in a spooky mood than planning your next ‘escape’ at a former prison hotel?

Långholmen Hotell

Located on the Långholmen island in Stockholm, Sweden, Långholmen Hotell, used to be one of the largest prisons in Sweden, with more than 500 cells. It was originally built in 1874 and it was also used as a women’s prison before becoming the hotel it is today in 1989. The very last execution in the country took place in this prison, before the capital punishment law changed in Sweden. Oddly enough, the island is often described as a lush oasis with many exotic plants that aren't normally found in the country.
The old cells have now been converted into modern and neat hotel rooms. In many of those rooms, you'll find pictures and a brief history of some of the inmates that used to be kept in those cells back in the day, as well as barred windows (don't worry, not all windows have bars!), while the bunk beds and the minimal design will offer you a comfortable albeit slightly spooky stay.

The Liberty, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Boston

Once the famous Charles Street Jail, built in 1851, The Liberty, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Boston in Boston MA, United States, is a true historic landmark of the city. In 1973 the jail was found unfit to house the prisoners (and it did house some of Boston’s most notorious ones), so by 1990 they were all moved to a new jail. Now, it has been turned into a luxurious hotel but because the devil is in the details, guests can look for clues of the hotel's past in the form of pillows with tally-mark embroidery or in the hotel’s architecture and design such as the rotunda and the arched windows. And if a simple stay at the hotel isn’t enough to satisfy your curiosity, then you can also take a tour and discover all the details about The Liberty’s history.

The Old Mount Gambier Gaol

Originally built as a jail (or gaol) in 1866, The Old Mount Gambier Gaol, in Mount Gambier, Australia, closed its doors as a prison in 1995 and it has now transformed the former cells into comfortable guest rooms. Because of that, most guest rooms aren't very large in size, but they are as comfortable as it gets, providing all the amenities you might need throughout your stay. It has both cell and non-cell rooms, so you can choose where you want to spend the night.
Although its exterior can be quite daunting, the interior is nicely and elegantly appointed, with bright colours and comfortable furniture. The bunk beds, the arch-shaped ceilings and the tiny windows in the rooms that used to be cells, are some of the elements that remind guests of the hotel’s former identity.

Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet

Admittedly one of Turkey’s most impressive hotel buildings, Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet is one of the two Four Seasons hotels one can find in Istanbul. The impressive neoclassical building was initially constructed as a prison in 1918 by the Ottomans and had housed many rebellious writers and political figures. It was converted into a small luxury hotel in 1996, offering both western and Turkish style suites, interiors steeped in oriental elements and charm, as well as a stunning view of the iconic Hagia Sophia, leaving little to no reminders of its past.

ALCATRAZ Hotel am Japanischen Garten

As the very first prison-hotel in Germany, ALCATRAZ Hotel am Japanischen Garten in Kaiserslautern was initially built in 1867 and it offers a very close to the original prison accommodation experience. Some of its rooms are converted cells with bunk beds that were actually made by the former inmates and even a sink and toilet right inside the room. Its curtains and bathroom towels also bear black and white stripes, while the reception and the Hinter Gittern bar (which literally means Behind Bars bar) are quite literally placed behind bars! If at any moment you feel like you need a little ‘escape’, a relaxing Japanese garden is located very close to the hotel, offering you some peace of mind.

Saintlo Ottawa Jail Hostel

Surrounded by ivy, the stone building of Saintlo Ottawa Jail Hostel in Ottawa, Canada, may now be a youth hostel, but until 1972 it was the Carleton County Gaol, also known as the Nicholas Street Gaol or simply Ottawa Jail. It housed many notorious criminals over the years, while its top floor was where the executions took place. Today, the stone walls and the original iron doors have been preserved, and guests can stay in the converted cells which are bright and equipped with all the necessary and comfortable amenities that guests might need. Rumour has it that some ghosts of former convicts still wander around the premises, so be prepared for some ghostly encounters!

Protea Hotel by Marriott Cape Town Waterfront Breakwater Lodge

Situated right on the centre of the famous V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, South Africa, Protea Hotel by Marriott Cape Town Waterfront Breakwater Lodge was initially built as a prison in 1859 for convicts from Britain. Its style and architecture was also based on certain British prisons, with four turrets and an enclosed courtyard that have been preserved until today. Its luxurious and modern interiors are no longer reminiscent of its tumultuous past, providing the utmost comfort and close proximity to the Table Mountains, the Kirstenbosch Gardens and many more points of interest that will help you discover all the wonders of the area.

Hotel Katajanokka, Helsinki, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel

Hotel Katajanokka, Helsinki, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel in Helsinki, Finland, is a unique boutique-style hotel in the Finnish capital which was originally built as the Helsinki County Prison in 1837. By 1888, the main building of the prison had been constructed and it was used as a prison until 2002. After that, extensive renovations began in order to turn the building into a luxury hotel, maintaining certain elements such as the red brick walls and the main hallway.

Karosta Prison

If you’re looking for an even more realistic prison accommodation experience, then Karosta Prison in Liepaja, Latvia is the place to go, since it is the world’s only military prison which is open to tourists. It was built in 1900 in order to become a hospital, but soon after it was repurposed to hold prisoners and revolutionaries, mostly from the Soviet and the Latvian armies. You can take a guided tour around the old prison, visit the former cells and hear all the gruesome stories about the prisoners and their life at the prison. Apart from overnight stay at the reformed prison, the extra adventurous guests can even take part in a ‘Behind the Bars’ reality game and escape room and try to escape from the prison.

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