Night in a Cell

The World's Best Prison Hotels

By Emily H. Bratcher, ContributorApril 12, 2013
By Emily H. Bratcher, ContributorApril 12, 2013, at 10:54 a.m.
U.S. News & World Report

Night in a Cell

There are expensive hotels and chain hotels, weird hotels and cozy hotels, but have you have heard of jail hotels? Never before has the phrase "it's like a prison in here" rung more true. These hotels are former clinks, offering you a one-of-a-kind introduction to life behind bars. But, as you'll see, these past penitentiaries afford very different experiences: Some provide luxurious amenities while others haven't broken their correctional habits. Unlike the jailbirds that frequented these lockups, you get to pick your prison -- choose wisely.

Masquerading as a luxury hotel in the posh Beacon Hill neighborhood of Boston is the former Charles Street Jail, aka the Liberty Hotel. The 220-cell slammer was completed in 1851 and at certain points held inmates like the Boston Strangler, who was responsible for murdering more than 10 women, and Malcolm X, who served time for larceny along with breaking and entering. During World War II, the crew of German submarine U-234 was also placed behind bars here. By the mid 1970s, the jail was overcrowded, leading it to close in 1990; the prisoners were transferred to a new institution. Nearly two decades later, the jailhouse has become a grand hotel, charging upward of $200 a night.

A TripAdvisor user says, "The hotel itself is very beautiful. The staff are there to be at your [beck and] call and they are, but what impressed me the most was Carlos, chef at the restaurant Clink." To book a stay, visit the Liberty Hotel's website.

Not only can you tour this dungeon-like jail, you can also stay the night. But this prison might not appeal to everyone because it asserts that it's "unfriendly, unheated, uncomfortable and open all year round." In fact, this former KGB lockup pretends that it's still incarcerating unsatisfactory Soviet soldiers, which means that visitors can experience everything from a kick to loud shouting to solitary confinement. If you're intrigued albeit rather frightened, keep in mind that you can choose from one of four tour levels, which range in scariness. Level one is fairly tame, while level four's tour includes a one-night stay at the very inhospitable prison. And if you choose level four, know that you'll be locked in, and that no one has ever escaped from Karosta. According to the Baltic Times, most of the Soviet prisoners only survived this jail's harsh conditions for three days. Luckily, your stay will only be one.

One TripAdvisor user says, "This is a perfect way to get a [glimpse] of how horrible it was only 25 years ago!" A one-night stay is cheap -- 8 LVL or about $16 USD -- but then again, this is truly a prison. To book a stay, visit the Karosta Prison's official website.

Located in England's university town of Oxford, this swanky Malmaison hotel used to shelter criminals rather than hipster intellectuals. Mary Blandy was one such inmate -- she murdered her father with arsenic and was later hanged outside the prison's somber stonewalls. Today, the renovated prison appeals to the collegiate and moneyed set, who either gather in the hotel's brasserie and bar or book a suite, which comes complete with everything from drench showers to Plasma TVs. It's come a long way from its Victorian prison days, but you'll still feel that vibe -- this keep showcases thick metal doors and ironwork stairs.

A TripAdvisor user, who stayed in one of the hotel's original cell rooms, says, "the conversion has been done brilliantly and you really feel like you are in a luxury prison cell, with roll top bath and under floor heating." To book a stay, visit the official Malmaison Oxford's website.

This artsy youth hostel was once a military prison. Now, the formerly dank and depressing cells are infused with a little funk, since different artists (mostly Slovenian) have redone each of them, making the rooms that "used to confine people into an open and welcoming place," according to the hostel's website. Still most retain a very prison-like feel, with intact bars and 10 to 12 prisoners, ahem visitors, sharing a bathroom. You can also tour a couple outright eerie solitary-confinement chambers in the hostel's basement.

Despite its history as a prison, one TripAdvisor user says, "the rooms are snug, only a little cell-like." Other travelers recommend the hostel's tortilla buffet. To book a stay, visit the hostel's official website.

Raised in the early 1900s, the Sultanahmet Jail became a place of confinement for intellectual dissenters. Notable prisoners include poet Nâzim Hikmet (imprisoned multiple times) and novelist Kemal Tahir (for 13 years). Unbelievably, this was current-day Istanbul's first jail, and it was built in the Turkish neoclassical style. It fell into disrepair until the '90s when the Four Seasons converted it into a luxurious hotel, replete with spa services and several dining options. And it's located within walking distance to several of the city's top things to do, including the Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace.

There is more than one Four Seasons in cosmopolitan Istanbul, but TripAdvisor users seem to prefer this one: "the Sultanhamet location, being a converted Turkish prison is by far more unique and [architecturally] splendid than the Bosphorus location. … this [locale definitely] has more charm, character and attentive staff!" To book a stay, visit the Four Season's official website.

Is the Jailhotel more jail or more hotel? Formerly a 19th-century Swiss prison, this penitentiary closed its doors to criminals in 1998 before re-opening them to tourists. Now it presents suites and so-called "unplugged" rooms that offer tourists an authentic inmate experience, which some travelers say equates to small, cold and technology-less rooms. Of particular note are the library suite, full of the former prison's now-antiquated books; and the Barabas suite, the former prison's rec room. If imprisonment gets to be a bit much, you'll also find that the hotel's Alcatraz-Bar is there to soothe your sorrows -- an indulgence this prison's former patrons never had.

One TripAdvisor user says: "People who are in for something fun and unique should get this hotel. … the facilities offered there are equivalent to those you're more likely to find in a prison rather than a hotel." To book a stay, visit the Jailhotel's official website.

This former penal colony for women (try saying that five times fast) is a favorite among recent travelers, who call it "lovely" and "charismatic" and even recommend it for families. Situated on Stockholm's Langholmen Island, the penal colony's prison labor consisted of cultivating the rocky landscape. Across about 250 years, the inmates gardened the stony landscape into submission, making it a lush and vibrant oasis. No wonder visitors today descend on the island -- now perfect for stopping to smell the blommor (flowers). Both the penal colony and the prison itself have been converted into overnight accommodations: You can either stay in the former jail, a hotel or the former Crown Remand Prison (a hostel), but either way, do stop inside the prison museum.

One TripAdvisor user, who spent some time in the hostel, says: "The best hostel I've every stayed in. Very clean, state of the art bedrooms (heated towel rails!), helpful friendly staff and great food all set in the eccentric and fun environment of an ex-prison." To book a stay, visit the Langholmen's official website.

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