I’m proud to say that in 30 years of living on this planet, not once have I had to spend a single night in prison. Well, that all changed two weeks ago, and it happened in Ljubljana, Slovenia, of all places.
Thankfully, this decision was totally mine, and totally worth it.
Hostel Celica ain’t your average hotel/backpackers. Like in much of Europe, the building that Hostel Celica occupies has a ton of history behind it. But how many hostels used to be prisons, still with all the original cells? Let me tell you: none, nada, never – until now.
But Hotel Celica is more than just a hostel with a chequered past. It’s also an art gallery/space and venue situated in Metalkova, the alternative epicentre in this compact European capital. Step outside its doors and you’ll find yourself surrounded by Technicolor murals and street art. And come during the weekend (especially during summer), and you’ll see the area alive with music and beer.
I recently did three days of “hard time” in Hostel Celica on a recent trip to Slovenia, and this is my story.
Sitting inside the alternative Metelkova district, which is just a ten minute walk from both the city centre and the train station, Hostel Celica is pretty much perfectly placed. The local surrounds are very quiet and very safe, and there are museums, cafes and galleries within walking distance from the hostel’s front door.
As the hostel is located in Metalkova – itself a major tourist attraction for the city – it’s not uncommon to see camera-wielding tourists taking snaps of the colourful street art and outdoor sculptures just outside Hostel Celica.
Years ago, the room I stayed in was an actual prison cell. It’s hard to imagine what life would’ve been liked for the prisoners, but I found it spacious and clean. Wi-Fi was strong inside too, and the multiple windows kept the room nice and bright during the day. There were also multiple power plugs in the room which is always awesome.
Each of the 20 former prison cells have been transformed into unique rooms by teams of artists, each with its own specific story to tell. I stayed in cell 110 which contains a large rock left over from demolishing attempts on the building (the rock now serves as a step onto the elevated beds) and a wooden pillar from the Faculty of Theology that would have otherwise been destroyed.
None of the cell rooms at Hostel Celica have ensuites (however the standard rooms and dorms do) so you’ll need to shuffle down to the toilets at the end of the hall if you need to do your business.
During my time in Ljubljana, the temperature never went below 12 degrees, so it’s hard to say how comfortable it would have been in the rooms at night during winter. However, each cell has a heater which I found kept the room pleasantly warm during my stay.
For over 100 years, the building that is now Hostel Celica was a prison, built by the Austro-Hungarian Army in 1881. However, after Slovenia declared its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, the building was occupied by Slovenian artists keen on turning the premises into a multicultural centre.
Yet for the next 12 years they and the local community had to struggle to against continual efforts by the authorities to bulldoze the historic building. Finally, in 2003, after years of planning, the former prison was turned into Slovenia’s first art hostel with the help of more than 80 local and international artists, with the first guests staying overnight in July of that year.
As mentioned in the intro, the hostel isn’t just a hostel: it’s an art gallery/space and venue too. But it also has a fully functioning bar which serves various beers and wines, as well as excellent coffee and tea.
An on-site restaurant is also a major drawcard of the hostel for the locals who flock here for lunch many times during the week. Lunch (main course plus two additional courses of your choice) costs €7.
Hostel Celica is ideal for solo travellers keen on staying in the coolest part of town, which also happens to be close to both the city centre and the train/bus station.
Although it would be disappointing to not stay in one of the cells during your stay at Hostel Celica (either due to budget constraints or availability), I still think this is definitely the most interesting hotel in town. All the staff were really friendly and helpful too (which is totally normal in Slovenia in my experience).
The hostel has a very social feel, but there are many places where you could simply chill and relax when in the mood to do a little reading or check Facebook. The hostel was also warm throughout, which is definitely important when trying to escape the cold that can sometimes descend on Slovenia during winter.
However, if you’re looking for a hostel right in the heart of the action then you should probably look elsewhere. It’s about a 7 minute walk to the centre of town where all the bars, restaurants and cafes are. But in my honest opinion, how cool would it be to say you slept in a former prison? That alone I think is worth the decision to stay here.
Twin cell rooms with shared bathrooms start at €24 per person, per night including breakfast.
A bed in a dorm with ensuite starts at €18 including breakfast.
Learn more about Hostel Celica and make a booking here.
The writer stayed courtesy of Hostel Celica during March 2017.