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Malmaison Oxford Castle 4.0

Oxford, Oxfordshire, England

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Review Summary

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  • Housed in a former Victorian prison on the site of an ancient medieval castle
  • Stylish boutique hotel with historic preservation
  • In the heart of Oxford, a 10-minute walk from the Oxford Train Station
  • Most rooms are comprised of three former jail cells with original fixtures
  • Modern bathrooms have rain showers, tubs, and heated towel rails
  • Free continental breakfast
  • Rooftop bar overlooking the Oxford roofline
  • Free, fast Wi-Fi throughout
  • Hotel used as a location for famous Hollywood movies like The Spy Game


  • Some rooms can get stuffy
  • Lighting too dim in places
  • No fitness center or spa facilities
  • Charge for parking
  • Ambiance may be too spooky for some

Bottom Line

This 95-room, upscale boutique hotel is housed in a beautifully refurbished former Victorian prison that retains a large portion of its original fixtures. Most rooms comprise three cells and are cozy and contemporary, though some can get stuffy. The rooftop bar looks out over the hotel's prime central Oxford setting and is lovely on sunny days. Rates aren't cheap though -- comparable to the five-star Macdonald Randolph Hotel nearby -- but you'd be hard pressed to find a more unique hotel experience than at the Malmaison Oxford Castle. It's hard to imagine that the posh surroundings once housed (and hanged) British prisoners, though period furniture and preserved dungeon-like punishment cells are scattered throughout the property.

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Foreboding former Victorian jail with modernized interiors

Originally the site of a Norman keep dating back to the 11th century, the castle that now houses the Malmaison played key roles in various conflicts throughout the ages. It ended up the site of a prison complex at the end of the 18th century. The prison was operational all the way up until 1996, when it was closed and redeveloped as the Malmaison Oxford Castle Hotel, and it has retained an abundance of the jail's original features. From the outside, the building has the foreboding presence of a Victorian correctional facility, and stepping inside there's no doubt as to the property's previous purpose. A small reception area processes new "inmates" and leads them to the main holding area, a vast, bright airy space flooded with natural light and complete with all the familiar fixtures and fittings you'd expect in a 19th-century penitentiary -- albeit one with immaculate white walls, glass-paneled balconies, and funky contemporary furnishings. The hotel also has a modern wing with contemporary architecture that contrasts starkly with the rest of the brooding, period property. It's easy to see why the hotel has been used as a location in The Italian Job and The Spy Game.


Set in the heart of historic Oxford, a five-minutes walk from Trinity College

The hotel is set in the heart of historic Oxford, a 10-minute walk from Oxford train station and five minutes from Trinity College and the renowned Oxford University. Most of Oxford's attractions are actually within walking distance -- Ashmolean Museum, the 18th century Covered Market, and Tom Tower can all be reached within 10 minutes on foot. Oxford is about an hour by train or an hour and a half by car from London. Heathrow Airport is a one-hour drive away. There's a daily charge for hotel parking.


Most rooms comprise three former cells and retain many original fixtures

The rooms in the main jail are all former prison cells, consisting of slab metal doors and thick brick and stone walls. Many have small barred windows. Rooms comprise three original cells, two for the bedroom area and one for the en-suite bathroom. Rooms in the modern wing of the hotel (the non-prison block) are slightly larger, and have colorful contemporary decor and fresh modern furnishings. Modern day technological features includes free Wi-Fi and widescreen TVs with DVD players, while sleek modern bathrooms come with rain showers with tubs, heated towel rails, and high-quality toiletries.


Rooftop bar with deck and lawn overlooking Oxford roofline

The on-site Malmaison Brasserie is a cozy, classy eatery with subdued lighting, exposed industrial pipes, and unfinished hardwood floors. The menu blends Modern European cuisine with American favorites such as steak and burgers. While the Malbar is an impressive, high-ceilinged, beautifully lit space, the real show-stopper is the second, rooftop bar with a deck and a square of manicured lawn, parasols, and beanbags that looks out onto the grey-stone buildings of the Oxford roofline. Downstairs, the hotel has kept one of the cells in its previous form, complete with the bunk bed that prisoners used to sleep on. The 18th century "Punishment Cells" in the basement have also been kept in their original state.

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3 Oxford Castle, Oxford OX1 1AY, United Kingdom

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