Why you NEED to stay in this Ottawa Hostel


I was so excited to stay at this Ottawa Hostel that I was counting down the days to my flight. It might seem like a strange sentiment and maybe even a strange way to kick off this post, but that’s how I felt.

This Ottawa Hostel ticked all the boxes:

  • It’s in an Ontario Heritage Building
  • A building with an intriguing past
  • It’s close to the heart of Ottawa
  • And it’s really affordable
  • They run some great activities, including a tour of the building and its history
  • It’s like the ultimate experience travel

Now that I’ve teased you enough, I had a room booked Hi Ottawa Jail* … actually, make that a cell. The Hi Ottawa Jail is a  150-year-old former jail that housed everyone from death row inmates, to immigrants waiting out a quarantine period, people who couldn’t pay debts and children convicted of crimes.

If I believed in all things ghostly I’d tell you that “some” say it’s haunted. Numerous hangings have taken place inside the building, so I suppose that could be true.

Want to know more about why you need to stay at this Ottawa Hostel? Here we go.


From the outside, it doesn’t look like a jail. In fact, I trudged right past it through ice and snow, dragging my suitcase behind me.

Hi Ottawa Jail Hostel gate
This Ottawa Hostel can be a little spooky in the right light.

Then I realised I’d gone too far, turned around and saw the imposing wrought-iron gates that lead up to the building that looks more like a Victorian-era county hall than a jail.

Hi Ottawa Jail first opened as an Ottawa Hostel in 1973 just a few months after the jail (known as Carleton County Gaol) closed down.


Can you believe that Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh opened the place? Me neither, but he did. Anyway, the building underwent major renovations (so don’t worry about the conditions, they’re great) to restore it and was sold to the Hostelling Association by the City of Ottawa for just $10.

Of course there’s more to the $10 story, the city has the option to buy the building back for the same amount at a later date.

Want to know more history? Keep reading, it’s below my review and experience at the hostel.


You can’t be expected to explore a city like Ottawa without a full stomach. Especially in the colder months with you’ll definitely be using extra energy to keep warm.


The kitchen, dining and common rooms all adjoin on the ground floor of the building. Breakfast is free and includes cereals, boiled eggs, toast, bagels with jam or cream cheese and fresh fruit like oranges and rockmelon.

And coffee and tea. Lots of coffee and tea.

Like most hostels, you’re welcome to bring your own food, store it in the kitchen fridges and cupboards and cook your meals there too. It’s a great way to meet other travellers, especially if you’re on a solo trip. The kitchen is well equipped for whatever you feel like making, and you’ll be saving previous adventuring money.

Hi Ottawa Jail Kitchen


History buffs take note, the 11am daily tour of the jail is pretty cool. You get a bit of history of the place but not so much that it’s overwhelming or boring.

Hi Ottawa Hostel Lobby
Sign up for and meet in the lobby for the Jail Tour.

And you get to see parts of the hostel that you may not want to venture to on your own. It all kicks off in the lobby and you might want to get there a little early because my Sunday morning tour was packed.

Funnily enough it all begins in the dining area, which used to be the “minimum security” area of the prison. It also housed immigrants for their six month quarantine period, though it turned out to be a death sentence for many of them since hygiene wasn’t great and disease was rife.

Hi Ottawa Jail Stairwell
Stairs between floors had holes cut in them so guards could see inmates ascending or descending.

I won’t spoil the tour by revealing everything, but you get to see solitary confinement cells, where prisoners were stripped and shackled spread-eagled to the floor for months on end sometimes. With just 15 minutes “exercise” time.

Not a comfortable way to life, especially since there was no glass in the windows. Imagine the freezing winters. Plus any misdemeanor could land you in solitary.

Children (of which there weren’t many as beatings were a preferred form of punishment) and women were kept on a higher level of the building.

There was a hospital at one time but it was shut down because of the poor hygiene standards in the jail. If you were lucky, you’d get one bath a month. All in the same bathwater.

Death Row and the Hangman’s Noose

Then there’s death row on the upper floor, which is also where hangings took place. Each inmate moved up a cell as they got closer to their execution date, until they were in a cell on their own, between two steel doors.

The public window for viewing hangings at Ottawa Jail
The doors above would be opened for the public to view executions.

From there they were paraded back past the death row cells to an alcove off a stairwell, where a door would open so the public could view the hanging.

Although only three court-sanctioned hanging took place here, it’s thought that guards carried out their own unofficial hangings here as well.

Patrick James Whelan was one of the most famous executed inmates because of the circumstantial evidence he was convicted on.

Whelan was said to have assassinated one of the Fathers of the Canadian Confederation, Thomas D’Arcy McGee in 1868. McGee was opening the door to a boarding house when he was shot in the neck by someone waiting inside.

Whelan’s protested his innocence up to his death, and it is thought that he was just an Irish-Catholic immigrant in the wrong place at the wrong time. Half of the population of Ottawa turned out to watch his hanging after a trail that is widely known to be a farce.

The last hanging at the jail took place in 1946, when bandit and murderer Eugene Larment was executed. You can read more about him here.

The Rooms

Yes you will be staying in jail cells. Some have had walls knocked out to create double rooms and dorms but others are a single jail cell that inmates would have experienced.

Hi Ottawa Hostel double room
The Hi Ottawa Jail Hostel cell I stayed in was the double cell.

Actually, a cell meant for one would have had three people bunking together. Without bedding for much of the jail’s history, so I guess body warmth was necessary at night.

So, what should you expect from this Ottawa Hostel in terms of rooms? There’s the top tier of jail comfort – the deluxe double room that comes with a en-suite or kitchenette so you don’t have to mix with the great unwashed. It’s spacious nicely decorated.

Exterior of Hi Ottawa Jail Hostel room
Each cell is labelled with the name of a former inhabitant and their crime.

Or you can go for the Historic Double Cell, which is located in the former solitary confinement area. Don’t worry, there’s glass in the windows now and no shackles.

I stayed in a double jail cell for white collar criminals and it had everything I needed. A comfy double bed, warm bedding, a reading light and bedside table, hooks and a shelf for clothes etc and enough space for my suitcase and boots.

As mentioned above, there are dorms with bunk beds for bigger groups or single cells for solo travellers who want to keep to themselves. Known as the “Authentic Jail Cells” these single cells are just 3×9 with one single bed. A little squeezy but a cool experience.

The Facilities

The showers and bathrooms are clean and warm which is a huge compliment compared to other hostels I’ve stayed in.

The Hi Ottawa Hostel Showers

On my floor the toilets were on one end of the hall, while the showers were on the other end. There are hooks for your clothes and towels in the shower stalls and separate bathrooms for males and females.

Hi Ottawa Jail Toilets

Downstairs you’ll find a little common area where you can hang out and watch TV or talk to other travellers. I visited during the 2018 Winter Olympics so there were always people down there watching events.

There’s also an impressive collection of VHS videos (blast from the past!) and board games.

Things To Do

Solo travellers don’t need to worry about feeling left out, especially when there are groups staying at the hostel, there are heaps of activities to take part in.

The Ottawa hostel runs pub crawls on Friday nights (weather permitting) – a staple of hostel life, let’s be honest. The pub crawl will take in a live music venue and a bar for the all-important drinking games. And you can be quarantined in your cell if you get too rowdy.  Or if you’re still upright, go on to a club for some dancing.


The pub crawl locations are chosen with safety in mind, but they’re also places that will be easy on the hip pocket.

If you visit in winter like I did, join the hostel’s tour of the Winterlude festivities. Winterlude is lots of fun and there are some great attractions to see and skating to partake in. You can hire skates from the hostel as well.

Sundays is pub trivia night over at the Kat & Kraken pub. Now can you see why I was so excited to stay here? It’s basically got everything I’m interested in! I will pub trivia to the end!

Things You Should Know

Staying in a jail brings with it a few unique experiences and issues that you wouldn’t normally face in a hostel or hotel.

  • Your door has a steel sheet over it for the most part but the bars are exposed at shin level and above head-height. This means that you can hear everything that everyone else is saying.
    Jail cell with bars
    While you still get your privacy, there are open bars to keep with the jail aesthetic.

    That’s why there’s a strict quiet policy after 11pm. I didn’t mind it at all, but you can grab a pair of earplugs from the 24-hour front desk if you’re worried. I think it added to the atmosphere of being an inmate in the jail.

  • Amenities include free wifi, laundry facilities, luggage storage, a backyard and bbq for the warmer months (it was covered in snow when I arrived), lockers, and a little library in the lobby.
  • The hostel is located in the heart of Ottawa, walking distance from heaps of major attractions like Parliament Hill, Byward Market, Winterlude, and the National Gallery of Canada just to name a few.


Online: http://hihostels.ca/en/destinations/ontario/hi-ottawa

In person: 75 Nicholas Street, Ottawa, Ontario, K1N 7B9

Getting there frrom the Airport: Take the 97 Airbus from Ottawa International Airport and stop at Laurier 2A (the next stop is written above the driver). Then it’s less than a 5 minute walk to the hostel.

Ottawa | Hostel | Ottawa Hostel | Where to stay in Ottawa | Ottawa Jail Hostel | #wheretostayinOttawa | #OttawaHostel | #Coolplacestostay | #coolplacestostayinottawa | #Hostel | Aussie Expat | Aussie | Expat Life

*Disclosure: While all opinions in this post (and all others) are honest and my own, it was sponsored by Hi Ottawa Jail Hostel.

69 thoughts on “Why you NEED to stay in this Ottawa Hostel

  1. Oh, this is excellent. Love this!! I know a jail in the north of The Netherlands that has turned the cells into little shops for creative entrepreneurs. The vibe is excellent.

  2. I do not know if what I am going to write makes sense but this looks like a cool experience. Well, who knows if I would freak out once it is time to go to sleep. Yes, it is a bit crazy that the Duke of Edinburgh opened this place. I a history nerd so, that is why I would like to stay in such a place. The tour sounds great! #FlyAwayFriday

    1. I’m a history nerd too so I LOVE things like this! You should definitely stay here if/when you visit Ottawa. It’s such an awesome experience. Maybe bring someone with you so you don’t freak out at night though.

  3. Oh my goodness! This sounds like the kind of place I would really want to stay, but then not be able to sleep all night! I would by psyching myself out with every noise! Love it.

    1. Hahaha, I was surprisingly fine. I guess it helped that the advertised occupant of my cell was in for theft. So, you know, not a particularly hardened criminal.

    1. Thanks Faith! It was such a cool place to stay in. I did a Ghost tour in Toronto last night and they were talking about the Ottawa Jail and I was such a proud/lame tourist saying “I actually stayed there!”

  4. Omg this looks amazing but also so spooky!! Love when hostels are in interesting places. Awesome review I really want to go check it out!

  5. This looks like such a unique experience! I’m definitely a history nerd so I’d love to stay in an old jail. It sounds like they’ve tried to retain as many original features as possible to retain character, yet keep it comfortable. Not easily done!

    1. You know what, it really didn’t. Maybe because I could hear other people talking it wasn’t scary at all. Or maybe it was because I was tired from travelling and sight seeing.

  6. This is a really interesting hostel, and looks really clean and welcoming too! I’m more of a flashpacker, but this Ottawa hostel really looks inviting, and yet spooky at the same time!

    1. That’s funny because I flat-out refuse to watch scary movies on TV. But I had no issues with staying here. Maybe I’m just strange. Thanks for visiting Sherrie!

  7. I love staying in unusual places and this is right up my alley! I would go to Ottowa just to stay here! I love doing out of the ordinary things and what a cool concept this is! Its like creepy meets comfort.
    Thanks for adding one to my list!

    1. Well you wouldn’t be disappointed by Ottawa Dee. There’s so much to see and do and it’s got heaps of history.

    1. I kicked myself that I didn’t stay at one of their places in Toronto to be honest. It was such good value.

  8. Oh boy, that looks so cool! Though I am not so sure that I could sleep well in those tiny rooms 😀 Anyway, it looks like a great adventure to experience how does it feel to be in “jail”

    1. My bedroom in London was probably as big as the double room I stayed in while I was there. I guess I’m used to that size now?

  9. Oh wow this sounds such a fascinating experience – I’ve come across a few old jails converted into hostels but don’t think I’ve ever read a proper review of what it’s like to stay there. What grim conditions it must have been originally. But would definitely be intrigued to check in these days. Thanks for linking up with #citytripping

    1. It would have been an absolutely awful place to be incarcerated all those years ago. I can’t believe they kept migrants there to quarantine them. And that most of them died in there because of the diseases they caught in the terrible conditions.

  10. It’s been many decades since I stayed in hostels, mostly because I have more income now and need more comfort than I did when I was young! But I love the look of this hostel in Ottawa, the character of the building, its history and the public areas look really nice too.

    1. I’m getting a bit like that Kavita. If I have the money I’ll stay somewhere a little further up the chain. But when it comes to historic buildings, it’s just too good of an opportunity to pass up.

    1. It’s probably spookier in winter than in summer when it’s raining or snowing outside like it was when I arrived.

  11. Ok, so I don’t know how to feel about this accommodation lol. It’s both creepy and cool! I think I might actually want to try a night there since it’s so different! Going to pin this for a future trip 🙂
    Thanks for sharing your experience!

    1. Hahaha, it’s so creepy that it’s cool I think. I hope you get to stay here Louise and have a great time!

  12. Oh, now this is an unusual place to stay! I think I would actually like to try staying here for one night, but probably would like a friend to join me. What an adventure you were on! #farawayfiles

    1. That might be wise Hilary. Plus then you’d have someone to prank and scare in the middle of the night 😉

  13. Very interesting place, a jail converted into a hostel is a rare thing. The rooms, once cells look little eerie. Hope you had a great experience there. Thanks for sharing.

  14. This is a hostel?! This is amazing!! I have saved this for when I make it to Canada. This looks like such a cool place to stay! We love experiencing history. Plus we have actually never stayed in a hostel before and it is super high on our travel bucket list. That breakfast kitchen looks so enchanting, especially given that it is in an old jail.

    1. It’s funny, but I’ve come across a lot of Americans who’ve never stayed in Hostels before. I’m not sure where you’re from though Melanie. But I’ve been having fun explaining hostel-stays to coworkers over the past couple of weeks.

    1. It’s definitely much more comfortable. I can’t believe they’d pack three people into a cell built for one and they didn’t have beds or bedding when it was a jail.

  15. Ok, this is SO UP MY ALLEY!!!! As a former federal police officer and an undergrad in Forensic Linguistics & Criminology, I’m really digging the theme! I can’t wait to stay there – I’ve pinned it and saved it too! Thanks for sharing Kat! Thanks for joining Fly Away Friday – see you again this week! xo

    1. I’ve learned something interesting about you today! Even you have a cool history. I hope you get there one day and have a great time. It’s pretty mesmerizing.

  16. Hey Ontario! So glad to see read of another spot in my own backyard. I have heard about this jail hostel in Ottawa. It is a little confining for my liking, but the novelty is certainly something to consider! Thank you for coming to Fly Away Friday! See you this week!

  17. Oh crazy! What a unique stay! And while the idea of staying in a prison doesn’t seem so cozy necessarily – they did a fab job of making the minimalist space seem inviting and interesting and not so spooky. Always love something quirky and interesting! Thanks for sharing with #FarawayFiles, your post was a host favorite!

    1. They really did Erin. Painting the rooms white would help to make it feel a little brighter and airier as well. They did a great job on the storage side as well. There were plenty of hooks to hang things and a shelf as well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.