Lonely Planet Writer

The Netherlands is turning the country's empty prisons into luxury boutique hotels

Hotels are often an oasis of comfort and calm, a break from the real world. However an increasing number of prisons in Europe have gotten a new lease of life as luxury hotels.

A cell door at Het Arresthuis prison hotel
Thankfully inside the rooms is more luxury, less prison. Image by Het Arresthuis

The most famous of these is probably the Netherlands’ Het Arresthuis (the Arrest House). Located in the Roermond region, this hotel is located inside an 1863 prison, complete with barred windows, the original cell doors and cast-iron staircases.

Inside, the cells have been transformed into luxury rooms and suites, combining high-end touches in a rather austere setting. You can even rent an entire cell block for parties of up to 200 people.

At least 19 Dutch prisons have closed in the last four years after a 25% drop in crime over the last decade, coupled with reduced prison sentences and an emphasis on rehabilitation. So far the Dutch government have leased some cells to the Belgian and Norwegian governments, while many other prisons have been renovated to house refugees. A report last year suggested more prisons will be closed and possibly re-purposed, so there may be soon be more prison hotels to choose from.

The outside of the prison hotel
The famous prison hotel still manages to look imposing from the outside. Image by Het Arresthuis

Where to get the prison hotel experience

Het Arresthuis is not the only prison hotel to bring a touch of the cell block to your holiday. The Malmaison in Oxford is probably one of the most popular, where hotel rooms are converted from three cells. Originally a medieval castle, the rooms associated with corporal and capital punishment are reserved for offices, so you can be assured you’ll be away from the more gruesome elements of history.

The interior of Oxford's prison hotel
The Malmaison is a prime example of converted prison hotels. Image by Malmaison Oxford

For an unadorned jailhouse room for a budget price, Switzerland’s Hotel Jail Luzern have a host of cell and ‘most wanted’ rooms to choose from, although suites built in the old library and director’s office are also available.

For a truly transformed penitentiary experience, look no further than Istanbul’s Four Seasons hotel. Once a prison housing many famous political dissidents and artists, the hotel has capitalised on its dramatic neoclassical architecture with domes and towers to turn it into a luxury hotel just minutes from the city’s most famous landmarks.