Saturday, June 23The Voice of London

Four reinvented prisons in Europe where you can sleep, drink and party

Prison beds are terrible; prison food might be even worse. But these jails offer great service, and people are trying to break in.

Reporter: Mariya Grinina | Sub-Editor: Alina Isachenka

As crime rates are falling down (from about 4000 incidents in 1995 to just over 1200 in 2015), many prisons lose their relevance. What to do with the abandoned cellars, large common rooms and huge outdoor spaces? Instead of demolishing the jails, creative architects and designers around the world reinvent the vacant buildings as go-to exhibition centres, restaurants, hotels and cultural hubs. Such positive tendency gives a hope that we are on the way to a better world, where prisons are no longer needed. But now, why not to head to some of the former-jails to enjoy the very special atmosphere?

Hostel Celica, Ljubljana, Slovenia

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One of the hostel’s cells

A prisoner-of-war camp dating back to 1883 is now a youth hostel in the centre of Ljubljana, offering beds in former cells for travellers around the world. Established in 2003 by the Student Organisation of Ljubljana, and over 80 artists took a part in hostel’s development. The cells are all individually designed by local and international artists, and each of them has special features, such as a wall in a ‘Russian cell’ painted with the blue acrylic colour and with thin small lines carved into it. These little lines are the countdowns of days of prisoners’ reclusion waiting to be set free.

In addition to the cells there are eight common rooms with four to eight beds, three cafes with different themes, and a garden, where visitors can attend workshops, seminars, and occasional parties.


Prices start from: £16 per bed

Hotel Het Arresthius – Roermond, Netherlands

The Het Arresthuis hallway
The Het Arresthuis hallway

Just four years after the 19th century Het Arresthuis jail in Roermond closed its doors in 2011, it was reinvented as a chic boutique hotel.

The building has undergone an extensive makeover by Dutch hotel group Van der Valk, but many of its original features remained there. The lounge has the original hallways, though with new purple lighting and modern furnishings, and even each of the overhauled rooms retains its old iron door.

The 105 prisoner cells of the Het Arresthuis jail were in use for nearly 150 years before they we converted into 40 rooms and suites. Four of the luxury suites are named The Jailer, The Lawyer, The Director and The Judge, as a reminder of the building’s past. The former courtyard now serves as a café with a terrace and olive trees. There are also several hotel bars, herb garden, and sauna.


Prices: from £96 per night.

Malmaison – Oxford, England

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Housed in a converted prison in a medieval castle, one of the Oxford’s trendiest hotels offers 38 rooms and suites in original jail cells (the other 57 are available for less adventurous visitors). Keeping up with the hotel’s fascinating history, all of the authentic rooms feature original jail doors, thick walls and barred windows.

Located in Oxford Castle Quarter, one of the oldest, busiest and most popular spots in the city, the hotel boasts quick access to everything that the English town has to offer. But those who’d rather like to stay in the historical building, there are an on-site neon-lit cocktail bar, cosy brasserie and the garden. Gary Davis, the CEO the UK chain of boutique hotels Malmaison, says the former prison is one the most popular options and one of his biggest earners.


Prices: from £127 per night.

Le Murate – Florence, Italy

The residential building in Le Murate
The residential building in Le Murate

If all of the above are hotels and hostels, this building is an actual home for some Florentines. Having served for much of its life as a prison, Le Murate is now considered the Florence major architectural success story of the past 20 years.

It was build in 1424 as the home of the Benedictine sisters of Santa Caterina, but when Tuscany fell under French rule in the 19th century the sisters were forced out of the building. After the fall of Napoleon Le Murate was fitted to serve as a jail for male prisoners. Later, during Italy’s fight for independence, it was a home for political prisoners, and during WWII the complex was a place where dissidents captured by the fascists were sent. By 1985 the prison moved further from the city centre, and the renowned Italian architect Renzo Piano decided to take the abandoned building as a project on behalf of UNESCO.

Watch the video to view more of Le Murate:

Today Le Murate is a highly innovative mixed function cultural and recreational hub which includes a cultural centre, bar, restaurants, cafes, housing complex and even European HQ of the Robert F Kennedy Centre for Justice and Human Rights.

Come here to meet friends for coffee or a glass of wine, or for a cheap breakfast. Listen to life music with apperitivo in the Café Litterato, dine in La Carceri restaurant, view art exhibitions, hear poetry readings, attend readings by authors and discuss their latest books, or watch a film or sport games on the big screen in a former courtyard. Even the radio station Controradio broadcasts from within the centre’s walls. Yet the space is also a housing complex, with modern apartment balconies overlooking the courtyard.

As a reminder of the past, there are massive doors with huge metal padlocks in almost every single corner, tabletops are made from old jail windows, and restrooms are the actual carcers.