This is an account of the time we stayed in a Helsinki jail hotel during our trip to Finland. Read on for a review of the jail cells turned hotel bedrooms, our experience eating at the Jailbird Restaurant, and the strange stories we heard about the inmates at this former prison!
“What was that? Did you hear that noise?”
The mysterious sound woke me up from my sleep and I sat up in bed in a confused state as I tried to figure out its origins.
Sam, who had his headphones on, looked at me with skepticism, “what are you talking about?”
“That noise. There it is again!”
And that’s when I realized that it was just the sound of the water pipes in the bathroom…
Staying in the Helsinki Jail Hotel
I recently spent the night in the famed Helsinki jail hotel in Finland.
Hotel Katajanokka is located in Helsinki and it was used as a prison up until a little over a decade ago.
It was only in 2002 that the prison finally closed its doors due to the fact that the facilities no longer met the requirements of a modern correctional facility.
Since no one wanted to see such a historic building fall to ruin, it was decided that the structure would be repurposed as a hotel, and so Hotel Katajanokka was born drawing guests looking for a rather unique stay.
What’s it like inside the Helsinki Jail Hotel?
The hotel’s interior still looks very much like, well, a prison.
The long corridors and iron railing are very reminiscent of what a modern correctional facility might look like, albeit with brighter paint colours, new carpeting and comfortable furniture to lounge on.
Tour of the Jail Cells or Bedrooms
Thankfully the rooms at Hotel Katajanokka no longer resemble to bare jail cells they once were.
I was greeted with a martini glass filled with Karl Fazer chocolate; not a bad welcome for someone entering the slammer for the first time!
When the building was remodelled, the former jail cells were expanded and given a retro chic makeover with pinstriped carpets, sleek leather sofas, and touches of mustard that give the rooms a much warmer feeling.
Yet in spite of the makeover, there are little subtleties that still remind you that this was once a prison. Maybe it’s the high out of reach windows from which the sunlight streams in, maybe it’s the touches of black, maybe it’s the stripes on the carpet – or it could just be a combination of all of these things.
The impenetrable walls which were supposed to keep prisoners from escaping mean you are able to get a good night’s sleep (you won’t hear a peep from the next door guests), but the receptionist also warned us that it might block the Wi-fi signals in some of the rooms. (I didn’t have any issues with this, but they do offer a cable that you can hook up to your computer if you’re having connectivity issues.)
Prison Food at the Jailbird Restaurant
Breakfast was served in the basement in a dimly lit setting with exposed brick walls.
I very much felt like a convict as I picked up my metal plate and tin cup in the mornings, but once I approached the buffet table and saw the plethora of food options, I was quickly reminded that I was in fact a guest at a 4 star hotel.
The breakfast buffet at the Jailbird Restaurant included a decidedly Finnish menu of Karelian pastries (a thin crust rye pastry filled with either potato or rice), meatballs and sausages, muesli with yogurt and an assortment of fresh berries, porridge and cereals, cheese and deli meats, freshly baked croissants and black rye bread.
When it came to beverages, there were fruit juices, herbal teas, lattes and cappuccinos.
Nothing said prison food about any of the items on this very extensive breakfast menu.
After my stay at the hotel, I came back again (they couldn’t keep me away!) to eat at the Jailyard Terrace which is open during the summer months.
I sampled some of the local Finnish beers and I also tried the Roast of Reindeer with Cranberry Compote. The dish was an appetizer which consisted of thin deli slices of reindeer meat, served with mashed potatoes, cranberries, and a tangy vinagrette.
While I may not be a convert when it comes to eating reindeer, I did enjoy the outdoor setting; and that’s yet another reason to come here – live music on the terrace.
It was 70s classic rock songs the day I was there, and the musician really had the crowd going!
If the prison walls could speak…
One of the stories that I learned at Hotel Katajanokka was that in 1946 a very creative tunnel was uncovered.
It turns out that the male prisoners had spent several weeks digging a passage that began in the third floor of the men’s common room, however, their path did not lead to freedom outside the prison walls, rather to jail cell #13 which held the women!
Well, well…good use of your time boys.
The Prisoner Experience
Hotel Katajanokka is quite popular with stag and hen parties, and the hotel offer a number of special party packages including one entitled Prison Break, where guests dress up in striped suits and then work together as a team to escape the prison grounds without being spotted by the guard.
I didn’t take part in this since it would obviously involve coming with a large group of friends and booking ahead of time, however, I think it sounds like a fun experience to check out in Helsinki!
00160 Helsinki, Finland
+358 9 686450
Have you ever stayed in a strange or unique hotel?
Would you stay at the Helsinki jail hotel?
Many thanks to Hotel Katajanokka for hosting me during my stay. I received a discount in exchange for a review.
Very cool! I’ll have to add that to my bucket list. It looks beautiful inside, but it does have that eerie prison feel. I love that it’s so popular for stag and hen parties! That’d be fun!
Interesting. From the picture of the room, you’d really have no idea this place used to be a prison. Looks like a nice place!
Now this is a hotel I would love to stay at!
I’ve visited a prison turned into a children’s museum. If you can believe that! It was amazing 🙂
That sounds like a unique transformation. Does the museum still retain a bit of a prisonlike feel or was it completely remodelled?
I love seeing historic structures put to good re-use! Too many buildings are left to sit and decay. This is such a great idea, and I love finding unique places to add to my travel bucket list. Thanks for posting!
We stayed at the liberty hotel in Boston. Amazingly urban and modern. We totally didn’t get the feeling that it was once a prison. And i think that may have been because they brought in monks to clear out the bad aura while It was being built.
Haha, I’m sure guests feel a bit better spending the night there knowing it has been cleansed. 😉
What a novel concept and a great idea. The bedrooms look very cosy and I love the idea of the plates and tin mugs in the restaurant. It keeps the novelty going.
It was such a great idea to transform the place into a hotel. It makes staying in a hotel so much more memorable. And I have to agree, the metal plates and tin mugs were a nice touch.
This place is beyond cool. That’s crazy how they remodeled the interior, but you can most definitely still get the prison feel out of it. I can’t believe it was still a prison in 2002, it doesn’t seem so long ago! The prison break experience sounds right up my alley!
It’s a fine balance to strike – having it look like a prison, yet having it feel like a place where guests would want to spend the night – I think this place got it just right. 🙂
What a lovely prison! What an odd sentence…
Anyway, this seems like such a fun thing to do. I really enjoyed reading this!
Pretty cool! Ottawa also has a jail hostel but I have only visited it when one of my friends worked there, never slept in it. I’ve stayed in a few weird hostels in New Zealand (well, the owner was known to be weird… and he was!) and unusual places, such as cabanas on the beach or remote jungle posadas in Latin America.
I’ve heard a lot about Ottawa’s jail hostel, but I’ve always had friends to stay with so I haven’t tried it out. I’ve also had a few people recommend a few jail hotels in other European countries, so I may have to book a stay in those when I make it over there. 😉
Well, Audrey, Boys ill be Boys 🙂 I was thinking of Shawshank Redemption when I started reading that paragraph, but the end was even more dramatic here 😉
Would love to stay in such a quirky place. Saw your video about the beer and meat tasting – was so tempting.
How long was your trip?
Haha, they were quite determined. 😉
My trip was very quick. I spent about 4 days in Helsinki (which is enough time to cover the city), and then an additional 5 days in the archipelago region. Now I’m tempted by Lapland in winter…
This is an amazing idea to turn this historic building in Hotel. You title scared me but thankfully i enjoyed your post after that 🙂
I guess this is a fun place to stay 😉 Meaning for a night or two 🙂 I am not fan of jails at all. The cell/room looks like a normal room in an old European hotel. I’ve stayed in a room of a similar size and with a similar window in an old hotel in Edinburgh. The corridor and iron railing, however, are really creepy.
This looks like a really cool place! Am making a note of it, should I ever go to Helsinki, I’ll know where I’ll want to stay! Does the hotel provide any extra information about its history? I’d be interested in reading about that.
Yes, they had pamphlets that talk about the hotel’s history with a few anecdotes sprinkled in. If you go to their website (link is in the post) you’ll be able to read up on it. 🙂
I always said that I would never want to stay in old prisons/mental institutions/foreboding buildings because of how freaked out I’d be. But this looks awesome! You’re making Finland look like the place to visit :).
I’m curious about how their beer tastes too!
The rooms were quite bright and warm; I think that helped make it less eerie. However, I’m not sure I would want to spend the night at a former mental institution turned hotel either. That sounds downright terrifying!
wow what an experience! the corridor grounds does look pretty creepy lol but Id stay there anyway! Great post and review of the hotel… just bookmarked this post so when its time to plan europe, this is goonna be on the list…(shh, don’t tell the wife lol)
Glad to hear the post was helpful. 🙂
I stayed at this hotel on my visit to Helsinki and I would be quite happy to go back there again on future visits; loved my time in prison there!
That’s great that you also stayed there! I find that after a trip it’s easy to forget what a hotel looked like, however, this was such a memorable stay.
Amazing conversion, no! Between the divine food, live music, playful atmosphere and retro decor – it could hardly be further from it’s previous incarnation – with the exception of the rather blatant jailhouse architecture. So much fun to read about such creative re-use!
thats pretty cool, I love the idea that the rooms still feel like a prison! great article.
What a cool place to stay. I would be freaked out at night though in case there a ghosts of angry former inmates lurking around. 🙂 There is a prison hotel in Berlin too, but unfortunately it was booked out when I went earlier this year.
I probably would have a hard time sleeping in a former prison. Although this looks just hotel enough. I once stayed in a former hospital which was a little eerie!
I really want to visit this place! I love the story about the tunnel and I really want to try the prison break experience! What a great idea!
What is so fantastic about it is even though it still looks like a prison from outside it isn’t inside. The environment inside absolutely looks like a luxury hotel 🙂 Thanks for sharing your adventure and I am sure you had a lot of fun staying there. Cheers!
This place is right up my alley! I must try to arrange a prison break party in the near future.
Apparently there’s a prison hotel in Stockholm as well – we didn’t stay there but heard about it!
(I haven’t had a bad dish of reindeer yet but my favourite has to be in appetizer form with cold meat, crispy lettuce and a compote of sorts.)
Really interesting hotel concept! I would love to experience staying here myself!
This is totally extraordinary hotel as well as the one that turned into children’s museum. I haven’t tried staying in this kind of hotel yet, but surely I’ll do in my future trip. I’ve watched the tv series Prison Break so I guess that is something to try as well.
They have done a wonderful job of converting the prison to such luxury. Your rap sheet is now growing by the day…hah..hah
Haha no way! To stay a night in jail is on my bucket list. Maybe I’ll just check in here for a night 😀