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‘My Favourite Hotel’ review – Hotel Katajanokka, Helsinki (part of Marriott Bonvoy)

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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 PointsYou 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.

Review Hotel Katajanokka, Helsinki, Finland

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.

Review Hotel Katajanokka, Helsinki, Finland


Review Hotel Katajanokka, Helsinki, Finland

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.

Review Hotel Katajanokka, Helsinki, Finland

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.

Review Hotel Katajanokka, Helsinki, Finland

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.

Mariott Bonvoy American Express credit card

How to earn Marriott Bonvoy points and status from UK credit cards (September 2021)

There are various ways of earning Marriott Bonvoy points from UK credit cards.  Many cards also have generous sign-up bonuses.

The official Marriott Bonvoy American Express card usually comes with 20,000 points for signing up, 2 points for every £1 you spend and 15 elite night credits per year.

You can apply here.

American Express Marriott Bonvoy credit card

Marriott Bonvoy American Express

20,000 points sign-up bonus and 15 elite night credits Read our full review

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.

Until 2nd November 2021, The Platinum Card comes with a sign-up bonus of 60,000 Amex points. This converts into 90,000 Marriott Bonvoy points.

American Express Platinum card Amex

The Platinum Card from American Express

60,000 points and an unbeatable set of travel benefits – for a fee Read our full review

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).

Click here to read our detailed summary of all UK credit cards which can be used to earn Marriott Bonvoy 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.)

Comments (19)

  • Dominic Barrington says:

    Reminiscent of the Malmaison in Oxford, which is similarly fun if one pays for the converted cell rooms.

  • Eugene says:

    It’s also a 10 minute walk to a whole parade of waterfront bars and restaurants and a great yoga studio.

  • E says:

    The train and tram gets you there from the airport for under 5 euros per person. Quick train and frequent trams with a tram stop outside the hotel entrance, so a good option to take public transport if you prefer.

    • Paul74 says:

      Yes, or the bus which I took in both directions between the airport and the city centre in 2017. 2.80 each way according the website.

    • Ian says:

      Yes exactly, public transport is cheap, efficient and inexpensive to get into the city. There’s no need to assume everyone will jump into a taxi.

  • Adam says:

    Ideal if you have just done the overnight booze cruise Stockholm to Helsinki, the Viking Line terminal is a laughably short walk away. Also, if you’re off to Suomelinna, there’s a small car ferry round the corner to save you going into the city, and you can use a city travel ticket on it, far cheaper than the tourist ferries.

  • memesweeper says:

    The great reviews keep on coming — many thanks Arkadiusz.

  • Doug says:

    Amazing, so this is how middle class can explore prison life! I always wonder how curious my life is around this world, I watch prosecution and crise series, how to get away with murder, prison break, orange is the new black, etc. Fascinating!

  • KP says:

    Not sure I would ever want to stay in a converted prison. Find it too eerie

    • Rob says:

      Malmaison has a hotel in Oxford that is also an ex-prison.

      • RussellH says:

        Hillesheim in the Eifel (Germany, close to the Belgian border) has the Hotel zum Amtsrichter, a former Prussian prison that closed in 1967. An Amtsrichter is a judge, though, not a jailer.
        Many years ago I booked holiday customers there – people rather liked it as a novelty.
        [There are other hotels in Germany named Amtsrichter; these seem to be in former local court houses.]

        • Cat says:

          I’m surprised nobody is mentioning San Pedro, Bolivia. I’ve read enough stories here to know that many of us started our travels as backpackers – surely somebody must have visited or stayed…

  • Mikey says:

    The Liberty in Boston is also formerly the Charles Street jail (a Marriott Lux property) converted to a hotel.

    If staying in Helsinki, I’d also recommend checking out the Hotel Lilla Roberts, in the design district.

    Safe travels everyone

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