Not recommended for children under 7, Eastern State Penitentiary is a historic site smack-dab in the middle of downtown Philadelphia. Opened in 1829 as the world’s first “true” penitentiary, Eastern State’s very design — from the architecture to the behavioral policies — was geared toward inspiring true penitence in its inmates. Rather serving just as a place to hold criminals, the penitentiary was supposed to help bring prisoners to a deeper, more spiritually enlightened understanding of their crimes. But things didn’t always work out that way…
What was once the most expensive prison ever built is now a decrepit shell of its former self, sitting atop a crumbling frame — but boy, does it make for an interesting tour! With activities and lessons for older kids and adults, a walk around one of America’s most famous (and allegedly most haunted) prisons is an excellent way to spend a few hours. Explore and learn about the penitentiary, its construction, its history and some of its more famous guests — including Al Capone (yes, that Al Capone).
Included in admission is an audio and/or guided tour of the building, the opportunity to unlock and open a typical cell, play bocce ball (a popular game played by inmates throughout the 20th century), see the murals painted in the Chaplain’s office by inmates during the 1950’s, climb into one of the penitentiary’s four “punishment cells,” and explore the property’s Death Row, surgical space and the hallway leading up to the prison’s dining halls (also known as Soup Alley).
You’ll also get a rare chance to learn about one of the penitentiary’s most famous prison escapes, and stand in the cell from which it all began!
And if you’re looking for something terrifying to do with the family around Halloween, Eastern State Penitentiary has one of the best and well known haunted houses in the Northeast. They have several equally terrifying attractions, 3D haunted houses and more.