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8 criminally good prisons to visit

Fascinating, culturally significant and sometimes a little bit spooky.

There’s something within us that can’t help but be captivated by how the other (naughty) half live; and law, order and punishment are such important aspects of culture that it’s an interesting and important way to get right under the skin of the country you’re visiting and really understand it.

If you have a hankering for a soft taste of hard labour continue reading as we introduce our top 8 prisons to visit from around the world.

Top Prison Escapes

Old Melbourne Gaol

The oldest prison in Melbourne. Most of Australia’s infamous villians, including the iconic bushranger Ned Kelly and notorious gangster Squizzy Taylor have done time here. Today, the prison doors are left open for day trippers to step back in time and walk the road to the gallows, be arrested in a modern-day Police Station and put themselves on trial in court.


Positioned 1.5miles off the shore of San Francisco Bay and often referred to as ‘The Rock’ Alcatraz prison is probably the most legendary prison in the world, and is a huge attraction for travellers on a visit to Americas west coast. Once home to some of America’s most notorious criminals including Al ‘Scarface’ Capone, and Robert ‘the Birdman’ Stroud, Alcatraz is now home to rare flowers and plants, marine wildlife, and thousands of nesting sea birds.

Probably the most notorious prison in the world; Alcatraz

Eastern State Penitentiary Philadelphia

Currently a U.S. National Historic Landmark Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary is open to the public for view 7 days a week. The self-guided tours are available with the tape narration done mainly by Steve Buscemi of Reservoir Dogs fame – which let’s be honest is pretty damn cool. The facility has been kept in ‘preserved ruin’, meaning no significant attempts have been made at renovations or restoration making it a popular attraction for travellers interested in getting an authentic sample of tough prison life – without having to actually do hard time themselves!

Kilmainham Gaol

This former prison is located in Kilmainham, Dublin and is now a museum open to all. There was no segregation of prisoners here; men, women and children were incarcerated up to 5 in each cell, with only a single candle for light and heat, most of their time was spent in the cold and the dark. The prison played a pivotal role in the struggle for Irish independence and the architecture is pretty incredible making it a intriguing place to visit.

The incredible arcitecture of Kilmainham, Dublin

Robben Island

Robben island is an island in Table Bay, a 3.5hr ferry ride off the west coast of Cape Town, South Africa. It’s infamous as the prison that housed former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela and lots of other political prisoners including current South African President Jacob Zuma; who was imprisoned there for ten years. Today Robben Island Prison is a World Heritage Site and museum, and a poignant reminder to democratic South Africa of the price paid for freedom.

Doge’s Palace

A famous landmark in Venice, Doge’s Palace stands regally on the banks of the Rio di Palazzo. The view from the charming Bridge of Sighs that connects the New Prison to the interrogation rooms of the palace was the last sight of Venice that convicts saw before being sent to the chambers. The bridge name comes from the suggestion that prisoners would sigh at their final view of stunning Venice before being taken down to their cells.

The palace holds a number of lead chambers thought to be escape proof until their most infamous prisoner Giacomo Casanova (yes, that Casanova) managed to escape and perminantly regain his freedom.

It may look peaceful and serene, but 'the bridge of sighs' meant something very different years ago

Port Jesus Kenya

Located on Mombasa Island it was originally constructed to guard the Old Port of Mombasa, Kenya, with walls up to 18 meters high, Port Jesus look more like a fort than a prison. It has a pretty nifty trick in the architecture, if you stand back and look the shape it apparently represents the rough outline of a person lying on their back, with their head towards the sea.
In 2011 it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and highlighted as one of the most outstanding and well preserved examples of 16th century Portuguese military fortifications, so there.

Port Jesus, Kenya is an impressive fort like monument

Port Arthur

Port Arthur is one of Australia, and the world’s, most renound prison sites. The area surrounding the prison is rich in beautiful bushland and relaxing nature walks and trails around the coast of Tasmania. The site is a strong reminder of Australia’s attempt to deal with issues of crime and punishment and also played a key role in the colonial system of convict discipline making it an area of huge national and international significance and a poignant place of reflection.

What do you think of our list? Maybe you have visited a crime hotspot on your travels that you think should have been included? Let us know in the comments box below
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Showing 13 Comments

  1. Jenni

    The Chateau d’If (setting for the prison of the Count of Monte Cristo) off Marseilles is well worth a visit!

    1953 days ago
  2. Nigel

    Porto old prison in Portugal – the Cadeia da Relacao dates from 1757, and was in continual use until 1974. In 2000, it reopened as the National Museum of Photography.

    1953 days ago
  3. If anyone is in, or is going to go to, Ghana they should definitely visit Elmina Castle. Not only is one of the oldest European style buildings in that part of Africa, but is a really important site in the history of the old slave trade. A fascinatingly horrible but beautiful historical site.

    1953 days ago
  4. Steve

    Tool sleng,phnom penn,Cambodia.
    Eye opener was there 2001.

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