1. Jailhotel, Lucerne, Switzerland
Built in 1862 and operating as a prison until 1998, Jailhotel in Lucerne, Switzerland kept prisoners from attempting to escape for more than 135 years.
Now a full-fledged hotel, it offers guests “unplugged rooms” that mimic the sparseness of imprisonment (cold, technology-barren digs) to those who want a taste of the criminal life.
Make sure to visit the library suite, complete with the former prison’s books, and the Barabas suite, the prison’s old rec room. If that’s too isolating, imbibe with fellow inmates at the Alcatraz-Bar.
Everyone’s been on a vacation they wish could last forever, but there’s little doubt any traveler would wish to stay anywhere indefinitely or without choice. While they may now be renovated, luxurious escapes, these hotels put properties to use that otherwise would have been raised, demolished, or deserted – namely, jails and mental institutions. Some of these hotels honor the building’s former identity by naming rooms or dishes after it, some simply rebuild where an institution once stood, a few chillingly remind of the inmates (not guests) that came before, and still others try to forget it all together.
2. Malmaison, Oxford, England
Decked out in lush purples, reds, and mahogany, Malmaison caters more to hip, well-bred brandy drinkers than a bunch of rowdy hooligans thrown in the pen for dirty deeds. But its legacy as a former Victorian prison lives on through its thick metal doors and ironwork stairs, reminding guests that it isn’t all frills.
While the hotel’s stonewalled façade may relay fears of solitary confinement, it’s anything but at this Oxford hangout. Dine on classic British fare in a private cell dining room before guests are made to answer the bartender when he asks “any last requests?” at last call.
3. Karosta Prison, Liepaja, Latvia
Forget Revolutionary War reenactments — this is way more extreme. History buffs and Cold War fanatics will rejoice when they hear they can relive USSR military imprisonment at the Karosta Prison in Liepaja, Latvia. Serving as a penitentiary from 1900 to 1997, it was home to deserters, dissenters, rebels, and enemies of Stalin and the Soviet Army.
Today, visitors pay to be arrested outside the hotel and brought back for a sparse lunch in the prison canteen. And though most of the Soviet prisoners only survived this jail’s conditions for three days at most — they limit your stay to just one night of torture.
4. Langholmen Penal Colony, Stockholm, Sweden
A penal colony for women until 1975, this Swedish retreat on Langholmen Island has upped the ante for its visitors by transforming itself from inhospitable badlands to a modern oasis. The rocky terrain once cultivated by inmates has been replaced by blooming gardens.
Whether visitors choose to stay in the renovated jail cell hostel or generously outfitted hotel rooms, this historic Stockholm site is one not to be missed. It’s only too bad the former convicts couldn’t enjoy the hotel pub’s Sunday brunch or book a wedding in one of the hotel’s banquet rooms.
5. Old Jail Bed and Breakfast, Taylors Falls, Minnesota
This four-cell jail-turned-bed-and-breakfast in Taylors Falls, Minnesota has a unique back-story. Built next to a saloon in 1884, it served as the town lockup until 1923, but has since been re-purposed as an icehouse, a shoe repair shop, and even a garage.
In 1981, the former jail was restored and became Minnesota’s first licensed B&B. Not only does this inn have historical importance, but it also boasts delicious home-style breakfasts, suites with wood-burning fireplaces, an array of sweets and popcorn for guests, and great views of the St. Croix River.
6. The Mount Gambier Gaol: Mount Gambier, Australia
A backpacker’s haven in southern Australia, this refurbished jail offers simple, modern accommodations. Operating as a prison until 1995, The Mount Gambier Gaol has since updated its penitentiary décor, although they maintained some of its macabre charm — even restoring a cell where three prisoners spent their last hours before hanging in the 1800s.
Opt for twin shares and doubles in former cells or three bed dorms in the jailer’s residence, make use of the old prison’s chapel (now a library and lounge), cook in the hotel’s communal kitchens, and marvel in the striking surroundings of the infamous Blue Lake.
7. San Clemente Palace and Resort, Venice, Italy
Just a short boat ride from St. Mark’s Square, the San Clemente Palace Hotel and Resort is a private island retreat off the canals of Venice.
The island once hosted a hospital for pilgrims returning from the Middle East and later a convent was built to house a quarantine station. Soon after, it was turned into Europe’s first all-female mental hospital, which operated until 1992.
The hotel now boasts high Venetian ceilings, three sumptuous restaurants, two Old World style bars, a glistening pool, and spa treatments to make you feel like you’re living la dolce vita, but it’s strange to think that anything this sprawling could have once been so confining.
8. The Liberty Hotel, Boston, Massachusetts
It’s hard to imagine that The Liberty Hotel was once a jail declared unfit and in violation of inmates’ constitutional rights. But in 1973, after 120 years of housing some of Boston’s most disreputable criminals, the inmates of the Charles Street Jail revolted and, as a result, were all relocated to the Suffolk County Jail by 1990. And thus the property was left empty and waiting for — what else — a lavish hotel.
Even though the renovations were sweeping and deluxe, some of the historic facets remain from the granite exterior to the trademark windows and the preserved jail cells that sit within the hotel’s restaurant, Clink.
9. The Alcatraz Hotel, Kaiserslautern, Germany
It’s doubtful inmates in this German prison were served such a generous, mouth-watering breakfast buffet. The Alcatraz Hotel may have converted 56 cells into rooms and suites, but they left some of the old prison intact for tours and curious visitors.
Choose between “Comfort Rooms,” “Suites,” or “Cell Rooms” for a stay, which will also include a concierge (behind bars), access to the hotel’s Japanese garden, and, they promise, no bars or barriers. Getting thrown in here may not be so bad after all.