Where you were once only allowed one phone call, a bologna sandwich and a rock hard bunk bed, you’re now pampered with concierge service, decadent dishes, and the coziest of accommodations. Gone are the dark days of detaining criminals, as today these former prisons are hosting travelers from around the world in their new life as luxury hotels. Some may downplay their past, while others proudly show off their rich history, but all are still looking for ways to keep their guests from escaping.
Photo Credit: The Lloyd Hotel
This hotel has a long history of housing many different types of guests since it was first built in 1921. The Lloyd Hotel started off as just that, a luxury hotel for Europeans coming in from South America on Royal Dutch Lloyd ships, as it is conveniently located on the Eastern Docklands in Amsterdam. After a bankruptcy in 1935, Russian Jews took refuge here, but it was later used by the Germans during WWII to hold prisoners. Fast forward to the 90s and the building was once again renting out rooms, this time to artists as work spaces. In 2004, it was reopened as a boutique hotel and is now one of the city’s iconic landmarks. The Lloyd Hotel is the first in the world to offer one- to five-star rooms for guests of all economic backgrounds, with 5-star rooms featuring special surprises like a bathtub peering out to a view of the moon, a playful swing hanging from the rafters, or an elegant grand piano to inspire a romantic serenade.
Photo Credit: The Thief
You would never know this now bustling business, art, and nightlife district in Oslo was once where the corrupt and callous were brought to justice in the 18th century. “Thief Island,” as it was once called, is now Tjuvholmen, a peninsula boasting beautiful European architecture, modern art museums, shopping venues, restaurants, bars, and in the center, the aptly named The Thief. You will feel far from an inmate with guest room amenities like flat screen LCD TVs, complimentary high-speed Internet, and a Geneva sound system for your iPod. There's also a fully stocked refrigerator, down duvets and pillows by Høie, Nespresso coffee machine, and spacious bathrooms with rainshowers. Savor authentic Norwegian cuisine in the on-site restaurant and lounge, or sip on a glass of champagne while you watch the sun set on the rooftop terrace. The hotel also gives guests access to the sights and sounds of the city via Oslo Escape Routes, four walking paths designed specifically to showcase the stunning architecture of Tjuvholmen.
Photo Credit: Four Seasons Istanbul at Sultanahmet
Four Seasons Istanbul
Only mere steps from some of the city’s most famous historical landmarks, such as the 6th century Haghia Sophia, the 15th century Topkapi Palace and the 17th century Blue Mosque, sits the Four Seasons Istanbul at Sultanahmet. As a former jail, it was used to detain political prisoners, including famous Turkish poet and communist revolutionary Nazim Hikmet. In 1996, this neo-classical beauty was converted into an intimate luxury hotel with 65 guest rooms built around a communal courtyard complete with fragrant herb garden. The spacious accommodations were designed in keeping with the architecture of Old World Istanbul with Oriental details, hardwood flooring and marble bathrooms. Outside of the suites, enjoy afternoon tea or a light meal in one of the three lounge areas or a taste of the local fare at the glass-enclosed Seasons Restaurant.
Photo Credit: Malmaison Hotels
The Malmaison Oxford doesn’t try to hide its penitentiary past, but rather embraces it. Inside the guest rooms, accents like exposed brick, heavy metal doors and dim, moody lighting play up the jail cell feel, while modern amenities like free Wi-Fi, CD players and digital TV remind visitors they’re not on the most wanted list, but welcomed guests. Make your way down the original prison staircase to the Mal Brasserie, where you’ll hear the staff throwing around one-liners like “Any last requests” and “You’re behind bars.” On your way out, make sure to “steal” as many of the room’s exclusive toiletries as you can fit into your suitcase. Don’t worry, they won’t hold you hostage, this act of defiance is highly encouraged.
Photo Credit: The Liberty
The Liberty Hotel may have been named one of U.S. News’ “2011 Best Hotels in the U.S.,” but before 1991, it was known in Boston as The Charles Street Jail. After a $150 million renovation to relinquish its delinquent past, it reopened in 2007 to warmly welcome discerning travelers and locals alike. The new design features more inviting details like the three-story-high arched windows in the main building to allow lots of natural sunlight and bright, contemporary furnishings throughout the guest rooms and common areas. Whimsical dining venues include Clink, with bars in the doorways and windows and a menu full of seasonal and sustainable dishes; and Alibi, located in the old drunk tank, is a dimly lit hot spot offering craft cocktails and light snacks among pictures of celebrities above their supposed “alibis.”