A Visit To Eastern State Penitentiary - REVIEW

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

I attended optometry school in Philadelphia. Whenever my husband and I would hang out in Center City, we would drive by this big old building. I knew it was an old penitentiary, but I never got a chance to actually visit it when I lived in Philadelphia.

A couple weeks ago, my husband and I had the opportunity to take a quick weekend trip without our kids. We thought it would be fun to go back up to Philadelphia and do all the touristy things we didn't get a chance to do when I lived up there.

We bought a CityPass and one of the attractions that we chose to visit with it was the Eastern State Penitentiary. I didn't really know too much about it before going in, so I really had no idea what to expect.

The Eastern State Penitentiary was the world's first true penitentiary, designed to inspire penitence, or true regret, in the hearts of prisoners. The prison, which opened in 1829, was known for its architecture and strict discipline. Prisoners were kept in solitary confinement, so they could reflect on their crimes and behavior. The prison's unique hub-and-spoke design was the model for several prisons worldwide.

We visited early on a Saturday morning, about an hour after its 10 AM opening. It wasn't very crowded. After scanning our tickets, we were each given an mp3 player and headset for the self-guided audio tour. I normally don't care for audio tours, but I really liked this one. Steve Buscemi is the narrator!

Though, with our headsets on, my husband and didn't really interact too much with each other during the tour. And sometimes, one of us would end up ahead of the other and we'd have to wait until the other person caught up.

Each section of the prison had a different little segment on the audio tour. You could listen to them at your own pace or skip ones that weren't of interest to you.

The tour started outside on the prison grounds and proceeded to Cell Block 1.

Cell Block 1
The tour discussed prisons before Eastern State and the building of the prison. There was also a restored section that showed what a typical cell was like for a prisoner.

Each cell was about 8 by 12 feet with a bed and a toilet. There was a small door in the back of the cell that led to an individual exercise yard. Each cell was lit by a skylight or window, representing the "Eye of God" watching the prisoner.

There was also an empty cell that you could go inside and see how small the cells were.

The tour continued into the Center of the prison. Eastern State was originally designed to be like the hub and spokes of a wheel. From the center, one would be able to spin and look down each corridor.

Next, we went into Cell Block 7 and went up to the Gallery. There was a nice view of the two stories in the cell block.

After touring another cell block, we went outside to the baseball field. It was interesting. You could see Philadelphia's skyline just beyond the prison walls.

The baseball field had an exhibit showing how the United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world and how it compared to other countries. It also broke things down by race.

It was really cold the day we went to visit. (It even snowed that night.) One of the exhibits at the prison was about Prisons Today and it was heated!

One of the most famous inmates at Eastern State Penitentiary was Al Capone. We got a chance to see what his cell looked like.

Overall, it was a pretty interesting visit. I actually wouldn't mind visiting again. We didn't get a chance to look at all the exhibits or participate in any of the interactive experiences.

Eastern State Penitentiary is open daily 10 AM - 5 PM. Tickets can be purchased at the door or online. If you order online, you can save $2 on admission. Eastern State does not recommend children under the age of 7 visit the penitentiary. The prison is in a state of semi-ruin and can pose a safety hazard. There are also some audio tour stops that contain adult content.

Eastern State Penitentiary
2027 Fairmount Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19130


  1. How interesting! I recently read a novel that was based around this prison -- it's called The Long Black Veil.

  2. Oh nice! I'll have to check that book out! Was it non-fiction?