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Two guitarists and two drummers on a stage in the grounds of a former prison in Vilnius
Photograph: Lunatikai

Three old prisons in Europe are being turned into epic cultural venues

Former detention centres in Cornwall, Kyiv and Vilnius have been given a new lease of life

By
Rosie Hewitson
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A creepy old prison isn’t the first place you’d think to visit if you felt like taking in some culture or spending a night away from home. But with their massive floor plans and often prime locations, it seems that former prisons are becoming pretty desirable real estate these days – at least, if you consider three recent developments in Cornwall, Kyiv and Vilnius. From a luxury hotel to a city-centre culture hub and the site of a new dance music festival, these three detention centres have become unlikely tourist attractions.

Bodmin Jail Hotel in Cornwall

An overnight stay in the poky cells of an eighteenth-century Cornish jail sounds like the polar opposite of a relaxing holiday to us, but that hasn’t stopped one Russian businessman from forking out £60 million to transform the abandoned Bodmin Jail into a swanky new hotel. Each of its 70 bedrooms are formed from three knocked-through prison cells and feature freestanding bathtubs, underfloor heating and luxurious soft furnishings. 

The accommodation might be worlds away from what previous inhabitants experienced, but they’ve really leaned into the whole ‘prison’ theme. Guests can hear stories of the building’s dark history from the mixologists in the Chapel Bar, dine in the Jolly Hangman Tavern or enjoy an alfresco lunch in the very courtyard where executions took place. 

Each bedroom even features a photograph of one of the jail’s former inmates, including a plaque detailing their unfortunate fate. Sinister and a little distasteful it may sound, but it’ll certainly be memorable. Fancy a night in the cells? Head over to its website to book. 

Khvylia Sanatorium in Kyiv

Under Soviet rule, workers would be given state-sanctioned vouchers for restorative holidays at the local sanatorium, but these spa-cum-psychiatric-hospital complexes were also handy for confining political prisoners. The Soviet Empire might be a thing of the past, but there are still dozens of old sanatoriums found around the former USSR.

Now, the team behind legendary Tbilisi club Bassiani are bringing a new music festival to Khvylia, a still-in-use sanatorium hidden in a forest on the outskirts of Kyiv. With a techno-heavy line-up featuring Jeff Mills, Nastia and Salome, ICKPA is a celebration of post-Soviet dance culture taking place from July 23 to 24. Like the idea of raving in the cavernous treatment rooms of a crumbling brutalist relic? Grab a ticket here

Lukiškės Prison in Vilnius

This century-old prison in the heart of the Lithuanian capital was built when the city was part of the Russian Empire and was used as a filming location for Stranger Things before it closed down in 2019. 

Reopening last month as Lukiškės Prison 2.0, it now houses workshops and studios for 250 resident artists, as well as a bar and exhibition space. With 1,000 visitors attending its opening ceremony (see above), it’s expected to host gigs, theatre, film festivals and other arts events as Vilnius emerges out of lockdown. Check out the official website to see whaton.

Rather not spend a night in the clink? This four-poster bed in the middle of an English meadow looks pretty dreamy.

And if youre a fan of unusual cultural spaces? You have to visit this epic Frank Gehry-designed arts centre in Provence.

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