A destination for lovers of history, architecture, art, cultural exhibits, haunted houses and more—Eastern State Penitentiary is one of the coolest places in Philadelphia. Here are five reasons why you need to visit.
It’s America’s Most Historic Prison
Opened in 1829, Eastern State Penitentiary is one of the most historic prisons in the world, and was at the time the most expensive public building ever constructed in the US. Its radial design, with 7 wings surrounding a central atrium, revolutionized prison architecture, and influenced hundreds of other prisons worldwide. Inmates—who had private cells, complete with running water—included iconic American criminals “Slick Willie” Sutton and Al “Scarface” Capone. Declared a National Historic Landmark in 1965, it closed in 1971.
The Daytime Tours Are Great
There are many interesting ways to visit Eastern State Penitentiary, with tours seven days a week all year long. You can book tickets ahead of time online, and opt for an immersive audio tour, or the Hands-on History tour, which features interactive tours, artist installations, and historical exhibits.
In addition to the historic cells and aged prison walls, Eastern State Penitentiary also has a number of contemporary exhibits looking back on a variety of topics. Come here for educational insights into topics like Prisons Today, Modern Incarceration, Jewish Life at Eastern State, and Al Capone’s Cell.
Creative Artist Installations
Since 1995, Eastern State Penitentiary has invited color and creativity to flourish inside its walls with an artist installation program. To date, it’s seen the work of over 100 artists, and this year it features 11 returning installations, and three new ones. Come check out the work from these established, and emerging young creatives.
Eastern State Penitentiary is now arguably most well known for its amazing events that take place each year. The biggest ones on the calendar include a rollicking annual Bastille Day party, and an ongoing haunted house coming back this Halloween season.