No, it’s not what you are thinking.
I usually do not write about hotels in this blog but sometimes a hotel, itself, is a special tourist attraction worth a post.
In Helsinki, in the shadows of the Uspenski Cathedral, the Best Western Premier Hotel Katajanokka, is a renovated prison. The oldest part of the jail dates from 1837 with newer parts of the prison dating to 1888. The prison was in use until 2002 and over the years has housed prisoners including political inmates (many of the leaders of Finland following World War II served time here) as well as acting as a temporary jail for prisoners awaiting trial.
The current hotel, which opened in 2007 with 106 rooms, includes the original prison walls as well as narrow halls and black iron stairs. On the ground floor, the Jailbird Restaurant includes an isolation cell (what I would call solitary confinement) as well as a group cell that was in use in the 1800s. Stepping inside either of these cells is both creepy and claustrophobic.
From the moment visitors arrive, staff members are dressed in black and white prison stripes, greeting visitors with the question “First time in?” Jail-themed gifts are available including prison uniforms, hats, handcuffs and chess pieces.
The neighborhood is residential, located just off the number four tramline and close to the city center. Rooms are comfortable and with the thick prison walls, extremely quiet. I slept very well during my stay and enjoyed hearing the sea gulls and boats on the nearby water.
The hotel’s open hallways and corridors give guests an idea of what life was like when the prison was operational including photos scattered throughout the floors of previous prison life. Some of the black and white photos are sad.
Downstairs in the Jailbird Restaurant is both a pub and restaurant. The restaurant carries on the jail theme with lit candles, tin cups and tin plates. A breakfast buffet is included in the hotel rate, while dinners are tasty, including soups, pasta, fish, lamb, and chicken. Also located on the ground floor is a gym, a sauna for rent (don’t miss out on this!), as well as a colorful playroom for children.
The hotel even includes a separate chapel as weddings are held here.
Being a residential neighborhood, for guests looking for sandwiches or snacks during the day, five minutes away following the tramline toward the Uspenski Cathedral, is a local supermarket, the K Market, which is open daily with lots of food options. Helsinki’s Market Square is also no more than a ten minute walk from the hotel with lots of treats. Be sure to go early and look for the stalls of berries for sale. I have never tasted juicy strawberries or blueberries like the kind I tried in Finland. On one day, I didn’t even realize I was walking about Helsinki with a face covered in blueberry juice!
Hotel Katajanokka is a find in a quiet part of Helsinki. Finnish design is world-renowned and the work done changing the previous prison into a hotel is fascinating. Rooms are relaxing (I felt like a part of the neighborhood) and staff go out of their way to make guests’ stays enjoyable.
A prison-themed hotel is historical, creative and unusual. I wasn’t sure what to expect initially but am glad I visited. Hotel Katajanokka is a must for anyone staying in Helsinki.
Best Western Premier Hotel Katajanokka
Helsinki 00160, Finland
Phone: 358 9 686450