Today, our ‘My Favourite Hotel’ review is from a converted prison in Helsinki.
We are currently running this reader-written feature to provide some positivity and inspiration to Head for Points. You can find all of the ‘My Favourite Hotel’ reviews so far by clicking here. This was scheduled to be a series of about 25 hotels, but a good response from readers means that we have commissioned another batch and are continuing the series.
Today’s hotel is Hotel Katajanokka, a former prison in Helsinki, Finland. It is reader Arkadiusz’s favourite hotel and here is his review:
“Have you ever been to prison?” – I’ve always considered such question to be rather personal and would not expect to be welcomed this way while checking in at a Tribute Portfolio hotel in Helsinki. However, such greeting was fully justifiable as the Hotel Katajanokka, located on the island of the same name, is a former historic 19th century jail.
Getting there and around
There are many licenced taxi companies operating from Helsinki-Vantaa International airport. The cost to the city centre or to the hotel oscillates between €30-€35 and the journey takes less than half an hour.
The Katajanokka hotel is located in a quiet residential area just a ten-minute walk from Market Square and Senate Square. On your walk, you will pass one of Helsinki’s landmarks – Uspenski Cathedral. Still on Katajanokka island, there is also an open year-round Allas See Pool – a venue with three sea water pools. The ferry terminals to Tallinn or Suomenlinna island are just a few metres further. If you prefer to avoid walking, there is a tram stop just on the doorstep of the hotel and it takes just 3-4 stops to the centre.
Hotel building and service
Hotel Katajanokka functioned as a prison until 2002. There were numerous famous convicts kept here including the Finnish President during World War II, Risto Ryti and the last woman to be executed in Finland, Martta Koskinen, a communist spy convicted of high treason.
After the conversion into a hotel, the Philadelphia-style prison model has been preserved with open atrium and iron staircases running top to bottom. The hotel even kept one cell in original condition for guests to have an experience of solitude.
I was lucky to be offered a private tour by chief concierge Sami Joutsenvuo. Apart from learning about the history of the building, I was entertained with numerous anecdotes about former inmates visiting this facility and sharing their personal experiences. I would strongly recommend asking the concierge for a tour if you have time.
The reception also offers some prison-themed souvenirs and some of them are hand made by current female inmates of different penitentiary.
All staff members are very eager to offer advice on what to do and see in Helsinki.
I visited Hotel Katajanokka with my family just before restrictions and lockdowns were introduced due to coronavirus in March 2020. Due to the limited number of guests we were offered a Junior Suite. My daughter, who just started walking, enjoyed the room as it was very spacious. The bed was comfortable as per usual Marriott standards.
As a non-Finn, the most unusual, but pleasant facility was a private sauna in the bathroom. It took around half an hour to switch it on, but it lasted for two hours after all. The sauna could easily accommodate two sitting people or one person lying down.
The window view for obvious reasons was not particularly impressive but there was another feature which some guests would find important. As my daughter was just 16-months old at the time, I was afraid that her crying might have been disturbing to others. When I asked at the reception about any potential complaints, I was re-assured that the walls were specifically designed to suppress any noise!
The hotel restaurant Linnankellari is located in the refurbished, redbrick basement and it was obviously themed in prison style with tin cups and items on the menu like ‘jailbird burger’. The cellar layout gave some private space for guests and ironically created a romantic atmosphere.
The food was of excellent quality and I would definitely recommend trying some typical Finnish cuisine dishes like fish soup or delicious smoked reindeer roast. A selection of local beers was also available from the bar.
Hotel Katajanokka is a perfect location for a city break and is very decent value for money. The hotel has a unique atmosphere and the prison concept has its charm. It is important to mention that the penitentiary theme has not compromised the comfort of this top tier hotel.
Helsinki is a city worth exploring and the hotel is close to most of its landmarks. Unfortunately British Airways has recently dropped the Helsinki route, although you can use Avios on BA’s oneworld partner Finnair from London, Manchester, Edinburgh and Dublin.
As a Marriott Bonvoy redemption, Hotel Katajanokka is a Category 4 which means it costs between 20,000 and 30,000 points per night depending on demand. During August, however, ‘Welcome Back’ rates are as low as €110 per night.
If you want to find out more, the hotel’s website is here.
How to earn Marriott Bonvoy points from UK credit cards (April 2021)
There are various ways of earning Marriott Bonvoy points from UK credit cards. Many cards also have generous sign-up bonuses.
You can also earn Marriott Bonvoy points by converting American Express Membership Rewards points at the rate of 2:3.
Do you know that holders of The Platinum Card from American Express receive FREE Marriott Bonvoy Gold status for as long as they hold the card? It also comes with Hilton Honors Gold, Radisson Rewards Gold and MeliaRewards Gold status. We reviewed American Express Platinum in detail here and you can apply here.
You can also earn American Express Membership Rewards points with American Express Gold (20,000 bonus points), the American Express Rewards Credit Card (5,000 bonus points) and – for small business owners – American Express Business Gold (20,000 bonus points) and Business Platinum (40,000 bonus points).
(Want to earn more hotel points? Click here to see our complete list of promotions from the major hotel chains or use the ‘Hotel Offers’ link in the menu bar at the top of the page.)