Hotel Kakola in a former state prison in Turku, Finland
Hotel Kakola in a former prison in Turku, Finland | FinnsAway travel blog

Hotel Kakola – a new boutique hotel in a former prison in Turku

Kakolanmäki Hill is one of the most important historical landmarks of the oldest city of Finland, Turku. Kakola used to be the largest and most dangerous prison of Finland, and all the most famous criminals in the country have done time within its walls. Today Kakola has been turned into a modern neighborhood, but the legends about the bad boys of Kakola will for sure live long, and the new Kakola honors the history of the area. In this post we introduce the Kakolanmäki area, especially the newly opened Hotel Kakola, but first, let’s dive back in time to the history of the most famous prison of Finland.
Kakolanmäki Hill | Hotel Kakola in a former prison in Turku, Finland | FinnsAway travel blog
Enjoying summer night sun on Kakolanmäki Hill

History of Kakola in a nutshell

Before becoming an actual town, Turku was a market place close to the mouth of the Aurajoki river. The foundation date of the city remains unknown, but the construction of both Turku Castle and Turku Cathedral begun in late 13th century. Until the 17th century, Kakolanmäki Hill, located between the city center and the castle, was known either as a “Stable Hill” or a “Castle Hill”, as the stables of the castle were located on the side of the hill. The history of the actual prison buildings dates back to year 1839, when the Russian emperor Nikolai I issued an order for the construction of several workhouses and correctional facilities in Finland. The facility of Turku was built on top of Kakolanmäki Hill, and the first residents moved in the facility in 1853. Ten years later the correctional facility was turned into a prison, that was later expanded several times. In the early 1900s, the hill was home to three different institutions for criminals: the county prison, which served as a detention center, the prison asylum and the central prison.
Kakolanmäki is nowadays a trendy neighborhood | Hotel Kakola in a former prison in Turku, Finland | FinnsAway travel blog
The buildings of the former Kakola prison area have a new life
In the 1930’s there was more than 1300 prisoners in Kakolanmäki Hill, and it was a dangerous place for both the prisoners and for the guards. In the cells that were originally planned for just one person, lived up to five prisoners, which of course caused disorder and depression. During the 1940’s the prison system was reformed and the prison conditions slowly improved. As forced labor was part of the prison sentences, there was a lot of workshops in Kakola area too, and the inmates built for example furniture and toys, made clothes and shoes and printed and bound books.
Kakolan myymälä shop | Hotel Kakola in a former prison in Turku, Finland | FinnsAway travel blog
Kakolan myymälä shop sells products made by the prisoners of Kakola
The discussion of the state and future of Kakola prisons started in the 1980’s – the facilities were old-fashioned and the location right next to the city center was problematic. A new prison was finally built in the early 2000’s and opened in 2007. By the autumn 2007 the legendary Kakola prisons were empty, and the buildings stayed quiet for years. In 2015 Kakola was sold to a private operator, and now the handsome old buildings on Kakolanmäki Hill have a completely new life. Kakola area has been turned into a trendy neighborhood with around 350 modern apartments and services such as restaurants and small shops, a bakery and a brewery, a boutique hotel and a spa too (to be opened in 2022).

History, design and environmental sustainability meet in Hotel Kakola

Hotel Kakola is a privately owned boutique hotel, that was built in the old, red-brick county prison building between 2018 and 2020. This stylish hotel honors the history of the Kakola area, and the prison theme is visible in the interior design and details, as well as in the names of the different rooms and restaurants, and even in the drink menus. Hotel Kakola wants to operate responsibly, respecting the principles of sustainable development. Local producers and small businesses are favored, and the menus of the restaurants follow the harvest seasons. For example, in the breakfast buffet you’ll find Finnish forest berries instead of exotic fruits from the tropics.

Hotel Kakola in a former prison in Turku, Finland | FinnsAway travel blog
Hotel Kakola in the former state prison building

There are altogether 148 rooms in Hotel Kakola, most of them very spacious and well-equipped. However, for those who are after a bit more authentic “prison experience”, there are a few rooms built right in the old small prison cells, with bars, bunk beds and very simplified interior – these rooms for sure offer a unique accommodation experience! The environmental responsibility also extends to the hotel rooms, and to the small details that matter in the long run, like using refillable bottles for toiletries and favoring carbonated tap water over bottled water.

Cell room | Hotel Kakola in a former prison in Turku, Finland | FinnsAway travel blog
The cell rooms have been very popular (picture: Hotel Kakola)

The restaurants of the hotel are open for all visitors, and offer delicious meals in unique environment. Restaurant Ruben is open from morning to night and focuses on locally produced ingredients. The breakfast, that includes in the hotel room price, was delicious, and the seasonal á la carte dinner menu looked very appetizing too. The atmospheric wine room of the hotel, Hilarius, is named after one of the prison’s most infamous inmates, and the details of the interior take the visitors back in time. Furthermore, there is also a sunny summer terrace restaurant called Riviera – a great place for sunset drinks!

Wine bar Hilarius | Hotel Kakola in a former prison in Turku, Finland | FinnsAway travel blog
Wine room Hilarius
Hotel Kakola in a former prison in Turku, Finland | FinnsAway travel blog
Bar counter in Restaurant Ruben
Hotel Kakola is also a popular venue for organizing events, meetings and celebrations. In addition to several meeting rooms and dining halls, there is a beautiful chapel in this former prison, suitable for religious ceremonies like weddings.
Chapel in Hotel Kakola | Hotel Kakola in a former prison in Turku, Finland | FinnsAway travel blog
The chapel of Hotel Kakola (picture: Hotel Kakola)

Tip for those who’d like to learn more about the history of Kakola area; there are guided walking tours available during the summer time, until late September. The tours begin with a walk around the former prison buildings, with the guide telling stories about the legendary escape routes. The second part of the tour is indoors, with a photo exhibit of the history of Kakola, and tales about the lives the inmates.

Did you know that there are dozens of former prisons turned into hotels around the world? Have you ever stayed in one, or would you like to? Leave a comment below!

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Hotel Kakola in a former prison in Turku, Finland | FinnsAway travel blog

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