The last time Maneesha spent time in jail was on the Monopoly board. Now she’s in a real cell at a prison themed hotel for an alternative weekend in Helsinki…
Beyond the unshakeable knowledge that it was going to be freezing, I hadn’t done much research into Helsinki before landing. Why am I going to Finland in the middle of winter, you might ask? Sometimes you just need a break from London, and a hotel in a former prison fits the bill for an ‘out there’ city break. Plus, it’s not as hard on the wallet as a last minute ski trip. So we bundle up into our coats in preparation for the cold, and make our way to the urban island of Katajanokka.
The hotel’s high walls and dark red brick exterior are unmistakably that of a prison, although almost none of the windows have bars. The windows in my room overlook the courtyard where prisoners would have exercised.
The hotel has kept some of the original cells exactly as they were so guests can see what their now luxurious rooms used to look like. In certain rooms, there are small plaques by the doors with the names of the prisoners that inhabited those cells. Included among them is Risto Ryti, Finland’s wartime president (his former cell is the only room that retains its bars.) For a bit of fun, the hotel offers dinner for two in one of the original isolation cells. Presumably you and your date are locked in for the duration. Valentine’s Day plans, anyone? And the fun doesn’t stop there…
ESCAPE ROOM GAMES
On our first night we take part in some escape room games, complete with black and white striped prison uniforms. We are split into groups and set with 12 tasks to complete within an hour such as; locating the previous cells of former inmates and cracking seemingly impossible riddles.
For a faster paced option for the adrenaline junkies, the hotel offers a “riot in a jail” game. The premise is simple. There’s a riot going on in the jail and the prisoners are planning an escape. The guards and police have taken control of the situation, but a small group of prisoners are still at loose inside the prison, looking for a hidden mobile phone to call for reinforcements. Your job (should you choose to accept) is to figure out where the phone is hidden and stop the prisoners from making the call. But who will get there first? You have exactly an hour to find the phone.
After losing the game to the prisoners (who are presumably now on the run), we commiserate at the Linnankellari restaurant with a delicious five-course jail themed meal complete with authentic tin cups. The Finnish-Scandi food is made from local and organic ingredients with lots of vegan and free-from options for even the pickiest inmates. After sampling the aperitifis (I recommend Lina’s grog – cucumber vodka, Cointreau and sparkling water), I decide against the grilled reindeer and make do with the catch of the day.
There’s a lot of fun to be had here. Hotel Katajanokka differs from other hotels simply by virtue of its history. Anywhere else would offer a generic wedding package, here it’s the start of a couple’s ‘life sentence’. Even if you’re not planning a wedding, Hotel Katajanokka is perfect for anyone looking for to ‘escape the ordinary’. It’s as close to an adrenaline rush as you can get while still staying within a luxe hotel in walking distance of Helsinki’s main sights, including the golden-domed Uspenski Cathedral and Kauppatori open-air market. Perfect for an alternative hen party or corporate away day.
Hotel Katajanokka, Helsinki, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel, Finland. Classic room priced from €121 per night. Visit The Marriott Tribute Portfolio for more information.