That Night we Spent in a Helsinki Prison
It wasn’t my idea of an ideal first night in a new country, but sometimes circumstances beyond your control, force you into situations you never expected to be in.
My initial impression of Finland as an organized, law-abiding society, wasn’t too far off the mark, but I didn’t think they’d go as far as putting tourists visiting the country in a jail cell of only 7 square metres for the night.
Still, that’s exactly what happened to us. We spent our first night in Finland in a Helsinki jail cell.
Okay, so it was a renovated jail cell with a feather duvet, multiple pillows, and a designer bathroom, but it was still a jail cell.
In 1837, the Helsinki County Prison located on Katajanokka housed up to 200 prisoners, most awaiting trial for various crimes. It’s estimated that up to 40% of the country’s criminals passed through the Jail’s corridors at one point or another. It’s most infamous prisoners include author, Hella Wuolijoki who was convicted of treason and former Prime Minister, Väinö Tanner.
Modeled after the Philadelphia style of prison invented in the early 1800s, the prison had a huge, open centre area, which was surrounded by narrow corridors, fitted with walls of cells on both sides.
In 2002, the jail was finally closed down. Not enough people breaking the law in Finland I guess. 😉
Today, the jail has been renovated and turned into the Best Western Premier Hotel Katajanokka and it provides an atmospheric, albeit gimmicky place to stay, walking distance to the city’s centre and the Helsinki Cathedral.
The hotel has really worked the prison theme to the extreme, with staff members wearing striped jailbird uniforms, complete with prisoner number. The Jailbird restaurant in the basement of the hotel, serves up it’s meals on prison style steel plates, the wood tables are worn and scratched, and you can even visit the isolation cell of the original jail (perhaps the only sobering reality of our entire stay).
We booked our stay directly on the hotel’s website, and received an early bird booking rate of 78 euros, which included a truly fantastic breakfast buffet and free wifi.
Getting to the hotel from the airport
There are multiple options, including taxi and airport limousine, but we opted for the public bus. Economical, clean, comfortable and quick, it doesn’t make sense to pay more for the 18 kilometre ride into the city centre.
Take bus 615 (the fastest) or 620 (a longer route with more stops), and get off at the Central Train Station. The bus ends its route there, so there’s no danger of missing the stop.
From there, take tram 4 or 4T, which is located about 150 metres from the station on the right-hand side. Ask someone for directions – the Finnish are very friendly and helpful, unless you accidently walk on the bike path (in which case, they might yell at you). The tram stops right in front of the hotel, and takes approximately 10 minutes.
The ticket costs 5 euros, includes all transfers and can be purchased directly from the bus driver.