Former prisons, jails and a state asylum, these historic properties have been completely reimagined
A neoclassical jewel in Istabul’s oldest district — Photo courtesy of Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet
Whenever I check into a hotel housed in a historical structure, I’m eager to hear about its history and the lives that unfolded within its walls. These transformations have ranged from former monasteries and palaces to castles and lighthouses.
But a recent stay at a former prison had me curious about what other accommodations are out there with darker histories and how the hotels have respectfully retained some of the property’s original features and paid homage to its past. Here are six that we found intriguing and worth checking out.
The Liberty Hotel, Boston, Massachusetts
On the cell block at The Liberty Hotel in Boston — Photo courtesy of Wendy O’Dea
Once the home to the Charles Street Jail, The Liberty Hotel in Boston’s Beacon Hill has leaned into its history by preserving some of the prison cells and hallways, giving guests an idea of what prison life was like. And that life couldn’t have been good, because it was here that prisoners revolted in 1973 to bring attention to poor living conditions.
However, today, the property has been transformed into a luxury hotel. If you can’t book a stay, at least check out the lobby, once the jail’s central atrium. It rises 90 feet and is topped with a cupola, designed to bring light and air into the rotunda. Or grab a drink at The Clink, the hotel bar and lounge.
During the winter holidays, fully decorated Christmas trees hang upside down from the lobby’s dramatic wrought-iron chandeliers. Every Wednesday, guests can join a 30-minute history tour, hosted by the hotel’s knowledgeable concierge. (Reservations are required.)
Hotel Katajanokka, Helsinki, Finland
Helsinki’s Hotel Katajanokka — Photo courtesy of Marriott International, Inc / Hotel Katajanokka, Helsinki, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel
Until 2002, the building that now houses Hotel Katajanokka was the Helsinki county jail and a pre-trial detention center — a dark history that dates back to 1837. After extensive renovations, in 2007, Marriott reintroduced the historic building as a modern luxury hotel. Though the interior has been dramatically reimagined, the building’s red-brick exterior walls and central corridor remain in tact and protected by the National Board of Antiquities. Also still standing is the white stucco building that once housed the prison chapel.
Now a member of Marriott International’s Tribute Portfolio, Hotel Katajanokka has been recognized by the World Travel Awards as one of Finland’s leading boutique hotels.
The Richardson Hotel, Buffalo, New York
The Richardson Hotel in Buffalo — Photo courtesy of Wendy O’Dea
The trend of transforming houses of detention into upscale hotels isn’t limited to prisons. The Richardson Hotel in Buffalo is housed in a gothic structure that originally opened in 1880 as the Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane. Ghost sightings and paranormal activity have been reported over the years, but guests at this National Historic Landmark mostly report enjoying the fine architecture, manicured grounds, and recently renovated AKG Art Museum, which are part of the magnificent, 40-acre Olmstead Campus in the heart of the city.
Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet, Turkey
Sweepy view of Istanbul’s Four Seasons Hotel — Photo courtesy of Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet
The first jailhouse in the capital of the Ottoman Empire, this prison building was adjacent to a courthouse building in Istanbul’s Old Town and primarily held those awaiting trial.
Now more than a century old, much of the marble and stones were preserved when it was renovated and reopened as the five-star Four Season Istanbul at Sultanahmet.
According to the hotel, many imprisoned and famous novelists and poets wrote some of their most well-known works while locked up in what was then known as a “luxury prison,” because detainees had sweeping views of the Bosphorus. Today, guests can soak up those same views from one of hotel’s 65 rooms or suites and, ideally, serve some time in the hotel’s ultra-luxe Turkish hammam.
Långholmen Hotel, Stockholm, Sweden
Exterior of the Långholmen Hotel in Stockholm — Photo courtesy of Långholmen Hotel
For about 250 years after it opened in 1724, this building on an island in Stockholm served as the Crown Prison, a penal institution for women. But guests have been willingly checking in here since it opened as a hotel in 1989.
You can learn about the hotel’s history at its Crime to Chains Prison Museum, which highlights what a day in the life of a prisoner may have been like.
The rooms at Långholmen Hotel are still referred to as “cells” and include more traditional hotel rooms and youth hostel rooms to accommodate up to four guests.
Het Arresthuis, Roermond, Netherlands
Het Arresthuis in the Netherlands — Photo courtesy of Het Arresthuis
Given that the name translates to “The Detention House,” it should come as no surprise that for nearly 150 years Het Arresthuis housed petty criminals, drug smugglers, and other law breakers. Located in Roermond, Netherlands (not far from the German border), it opened in 2011 as a luxury hotel after more than 100 prison cells were transformed into 40 luxury rooms, which surround the easily identifiable old prison hallway.