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.