Recently, I had the opportunity to stay in the most unique accommodation I’ve ever stayed in; a jail! During the year I lived in Ottawa I’d walked past the HI-Ottawa Jail a million times, so when Logan and I decided to take a trip to Ottawa before the new year I knew exactly where I wanted to stay.
To watch our video of the jail hostel click HERE.
The Jail Hostel is centrally located in Ottawa, right under the Mackenzie King bridge, just across from the Rideau Centre. It’s only a five-minute walk to the famous Byward Market which is home to an endless array of shopping and dining options. It’s easily accessible by bus as the Mackenzie King/Rideau Centre stop is just above the hostel and the stairs are open to get under the bridge year round.
The jail is a bit more difficult to access by car because of the bridge and all the one way streets in Ottawa. If using a GPS make sure it doesn’t try to take you OVER the Mackenzie King Bridge. This is what mine did and we circled the hostel three times before we figured out how to get under the bridge and onto Nicholas street. Once you find the hostel there is parking available right next to the building.
When you first walk into the hostel you’ll be greeted by friendly staff from all over the world. Another neat thing about Hosteling International is that they offer internships for people to work abroad in one of their hostels. Travelers from all over the world spend months at a time working at different HI-hostels and getting to experience new cultures. If you want to learn more about the Hosteling International Internship program, click HERE.
The check-in process was simple and the staff provided us with our keys and all the necessary information we’d need during our stay. The hostel offers free tours of the jail every day at 11am, which Logan and I did and absolutely loved. You’ll get to visit the creepiest spots in the jail including the solitary confinement cell and death row, as well as see the only functioning gallows left in Canada. The staff is incredibly knowledgeable on the jail’s history and will even have some creepy ghost stories to share with you.
They also host events for guests to interact and mingle with one another during their stay. During our stay they were hosting a Friday Night Pub Crawl through the city for hostel guests.
The hostel rents out skates in the winter so you can hop on Canada’s largest skating rink, the Rideau Canal, and they rent bikes during the summer for those who want to explore the city on two wheels.
There are several security measures in place at the hostel, which I was incredibly impressed with. The main door leading from the outside to the front desk is always open, however the door to access the rest of the hostel is locked by a keypad. The code changes daily, so guests are the only ones who can request it each day. After that, each individual cell is locked by a good old fashioned key.
The authenticity of this hostel is what makes it such a hit. The walls are made of stone and brick and almost all of the original jail architecture has been kept intact – including the authentic jail cells.
There are a wide variety of rooms to choose from at the hostel ranging from shared rooms of 4-6 beds, or private rooms with twin beds, bunk beds, or double beds. You also have the option to stay in an authentic jail cell, or a more traditional hostel room. Logan and I stayed in a double jail cell and we loved it. I highly recommend anyone looking at staying at HI-Ottawa Jail stay in one of the jail cell room options for the most authentic experience. For more on the variety of room options at the HI-Ottawa Jail, click HERE.
In our double jail cell, we had a double bed, a small night stand, a cupboard, garbage bin, fan, a plug for our electronics, and the cell door lock that operates from both sides. The rooms are tiny and don’t give much space to move around, but they were exactly what we were looking for in an authentic jail experience.
As far as amenities go, linens and towels are available to guests at the front desk whenever they need. There is also free wifi and free continental breakfast available daily.
Washrooms and showers are also located on every guestroom floor. Both are shared, as this is usually the case with hostels. Both are extremely clean and well-kept and I hardly ever even ran into anyone when using the washroom or the shower. As with any shared shower though, I’d recommend a pair of shower shoes or flip flops just for sanitary reasons.
There is a note inside each cell outlining that there is to be no food consumed in the cells, and no outside alcohol is permitted in the hostel. There is a kitchen on the second floor that is available for guests to use and this is where the hostel asks guests to keep their food. On this floor there is also a laundry room available for guests as well as several tables and a foosball table. There is also a bar that opens every evening with specially priced drinks for hostel guests.
The Ottawa Jail Hotel is also a part of a not-for-profit organization known as Hosteling International Canada. HI-Canada has a network of 60 hostels all over Canada. One of the best things about this organization is that they offer a membership card for frequent travelers. Adult membership cards are available for $35 CAD, plus taxes, and save you 10% at all HI hostels as well as offer many other valuable discounts to travelers. It’s also good to note that if you’re looking for a hostel in Canada all hostels that are apart of Hosteling International Canada are regularly inspected for high standards of cleanliness, safety, environmental sustainability, and available facilities.
I’ll be upfront in saying this is not a five-star accommodation; there are no bells and whistles and the hostel doesn’t market itself to be anything more than it is. However, for travelers on a budget, this accommodation cannot be beat. It was everything we needed: a bed, a shower, and wifi. With those three things and being within walking distance to literally everything in Ottawa, I’m confident in saying there is no better choice than staying at the HI-Ottawa Jail.
Double jail cells available from $87/night
HI members save $10 on private rooms at HI-Ottawa Jail
For more information and to book , click HERE.