Go directly to Jail – do not collect £200 (in fact you need to pay to come in)

Jails may not be the most obvious tourist spots. Yet more and more places around the world are turning their former prisons, often synonymous with cruel conditions or famous villians, into visitor attractions and historical museums. Having recently noted in a quiet, reflective moment that we have now visited prisons in 6 continents (is there one on Antarctica?) I thought I would share one from each continent here.

1 Port Arthur, Tasmania

The baddest of the bad. Where the convicts sent their convicts, and then committed unspeakable horrors on these people. It is perhaps one of Britain’s darkest historical chapters. The prison closed in 1877.

Now a large site and considered one of the most haunted places on earth, you can tour this prison by day or night and learn about the way that the prisoners were treated and the conditions in which they were kept. You may even meet one during your stay.

2 Alcatraz

Maybe the most famous prison, thanks to well-known movies that bear its name. Alcatraz was considered impossible to escape from, and the sight of the city of San Francisco so close by must have only added to the isolation of those kept here. Tours of the prison can now be taken by day or night, and you will often be escorted by an ex-con. Al Capone’s cell is one of the popular spots of the tour, although I remember more the story from our guide of how he witnessed a fatal stabbing in the prison kitchens.

3 Robben Island

This notorious prison off the coast of Cape Town is now a shrine to Nelson Mandela, and visits to the prison tell the story of how he and the many others kept here lived, ate and suffered throughout their time on the island. Again tours are taken by ex-inmates, and if there is one who has not been asked if he knew Mandela personally, I would be shocked. Look out for the penguins that have made their home here and can often be seen hiding in the cells.

4 Ushuaia Prison

This must be the southernmost prison in the world. Established as a penal colony in the early 20th century, Argentina’s baddies were sent down to Ushuaia and re-settled. They spent their time here building roads, constructing buildings and railways and making a new life.
Now a museum, this prison actually includes an exhibition of the world’s prison museums.

5 Bukhara Zindan (Gaol)

This is the place where the Emir of Bukhara would keep his prisoners before deciding when to throw them from the tower to their deaths. In its centre is the Bug Pit, where prisoners would be immersed in vermin and insects for long periods.

Once a site of terror, the gaol is now a humble museum and includes the tacky and rather disturbing figures of Stoddart and Connolly, the British officers who were executed by the Emir in 1842.

6 The Tower of London

Maybe the most famous building of all, yet the least obvious prison. Now more well known for housing the Crown Jewels, in its day the Tower was the home of many famous guests, including Walter Raleight, Guy Fawkes and the English prince Edward V. It is one of London’s most visited attractions, and walking through the Tower it is easy to forget its bloody past.

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14 Responses to “Go directly to Jail – do not collect £200 (in fact you need to pay to come in)”

  1. Trudy #

    Alcatraz is fascinating. I felt as if I felt "something" while I was there…like a spirit or something. Sounds cooky, but that place is more than what it appears. You can really see how time has passed there through the old smell, the chipped paint, and the sounds of the echos when someone speaks near the cell area. I think it was one of the scariest places I've ever photographed. I do want to visit Robben Island one day as well. Great blog, thanks for sharing.

    August 10, 2009 at 9:35 pm
  2. Andy Jarosz #

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting Trudy. Did you visit Alcatraz by day or at night? It is an eerie place, and the site of many more horrors than we probably know about. Funny how many of these prisons are in beautiful locations. I guess isolation is a good criteria for choosing a place to house the mad and the bad. Hope you make it to Cape Town and Robben Island.

    August 10, 2009 at 10:55 pm
  3. Tim Russell #

    Great posting. The old French prison colony on Vietnam's Con Dao island is also worth a visit – its eerie atmosphere seems to pervade throughout the whole island. Pics at http://picasaweb.google.com/timmyruss/ConDao?feat=directlink

    August 11, 2009 at 8:06 am
  4. Andy Jarosz #

    Thanks Tim. It does look a desolate place from your photos. Have they made the island into a museum now? (by the way, your other pictures look stunning!)

    August 11, 2009 at 1:50 pm
  5. Anonymous #

    You should check out the prison on the Andaman islands in India. It's totally isolated and also totally over grown and looks really amazing. There's a couple of photos half way down this blog: http://diving.horstvaeth.de/trips/AndamanIslands/AndamanIslands_March2008_en.htm

    September 12, 2009 at 1:25 pm
  6. Danie #

    I love travel lists–although, they do make me a little crazy too. So many places to see and not enough time or money to see them! I'm only 2 for 6 on the jail list.

    Nice blog! I'm looking forward to reading more!

    Danielle Barkhouse
    Author of The Expat Arc

    October 6, 2009 at 3:19 pm
  7. Andy Jarosz #

    Thanks Danie! Which two have you visited? I guess London and San Francisco are easier to reach than the others, although each place is well worth the visit for more than just the prison!

    October 6, 2009 at 5:59 pm
  8. Very Interesting! This is fascinating to read about and the photos were great. As a destination though I think I will pass….Not sure why people pay to see these places? Human nature is perplexing.

    November 22, 2009 at 4:28 pm
    • Hi Lindsay, thanks for the comment. As destinations they may not be the most happy or glamorous, but without exception they all provide a fascinating insight into the history of a place/time. A museum with a very specific focus.

      November 23, 2009 at 7:57 am
  9. Celica in Ljubljana, Slovenia, could have made that list. A former prison, an art gallery and a hostel rolled into one! :-) That’s their website http://www.souhostel.com
    And a propos prisons (and hotels, and not always being able to tell the difference)… this might be of interest too. Halden Prison, in southeastern Norway. Europe’s most modern prison, and yes, the cells are better equipped than some of the budget hotels I’ve stayed… I mean, they even have flatscreen TVs! Really! More here http://www.elusivemoose.eu/2010/02/halden-prison/

    March 31, 2010 at 11:05 am
  10. Ali #

    I would also recommend visiting Eastern State Penitentiary, in Philadelphia, USA. It’s a uniquely historic prison from 1829 — built as a panopticon — that once held Al Capone.


    April 1, 2010 at 8:20 am
  11. So many prisons, so little time.
    Thanks for the great suggestions Ali and Elusive Moose. I chose the 6 based purely on the fact that I have been to these, but there are so many more prisons to visit than I ever realised!

    April 1, 2010 at 1:16 pm
  12. Interesting! Nice post.

    June 13, 2010 at 5:37 pm


  1. 6 Prisons to Visit on 6 Continents - June 25, 2010

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