What You Need To Know Before Visiting Eastern State Penitentiary

Visiting Eastern State Penitentiary is one of the most interesting things to do in Philadelphia. Here’s what it’s really like to visit this infamous haunted prison!

Eastern State Penitentiary

Eastern State Penitentiary is a former prison in Philadelphia.

Eastern State Penitentiary

Was Al Capone at the Eastern State Penitentiary?

Yes! Notorious criminals such as Al Capone were once imprisoned here. You see a picture of his cell below!

Eastern State Penitentiary

If you have 1-2 free hours in Philadelphia, I highly recommend visiting the prison. It is centrally located and very easy to get there. It is open 7 days a week from 10 am to 5 pm. The audio tour takes around 45 minutes and is narrated by Steve Buscemi.

Read More: Best Things To Do in Philadelphia

Eastern State Penitentiary

How old is Eastern State Penitentiary?

The prison was was from 1829 until 1971. At the time, it had a brand new system of incarceration.

Eastern State Penitentiary

At the time, the prisons in America forced the convicts to share cells, work together, and used physical punishment.

Eastern State Penitentiary

However the purpose of Eastern State was to create genuine regret and “penitence” in each prisoner. The prison emphasized inward reflection and reform rather than harsh punishment. It was the world’s first true penitentiary.

Eastern State Penitentiary

Prisoner Confinement at Eastern State Penitentiary

This new penitentiary system held each prisoner in solitary confinement. Each cell entrance had two doors: a short metal door, and a heavy wooden door to filter out noise, so the the prisoners couldn’t communicate with each other. Some believe the small doors forced the prisoners to bow when entering their cell.

Eastern State Penitentiary

The halls of the cellblock were designed to have the feel of a church.

Eastern State Penitentiary

Anytime a prisoner left his cell, the guard wrapped a hood over his head to prevent knowledge of the building or interaction with the guards.

Read More: Best Philadelphia Restaurants

Eastern State Penitentiary

The Cells at Eastern State Penitentiary

Each cell had a small, private exercise yard attached. The yard was enclosed by thick, 10-foot high walls so prisoners could not communicate with each other. The guards scheduled exercise time so that no two prisoners next to each other would be out at the same time. In contrast, the prisoners were allowed garden and even keep pets in their exercise yards.

Eastern State Penitentiary

The cells were surprisingly advanced for their time. Eastern State’s earliest cell blocks may actually be the first modern building in the United States.

The cells had central heat and running water with a flushable toilet and even a skylight.

This was during a time when the White House (and its current president, Andrew Jackson) had no running water and was heated with coal-burning stoves.

Eastern State Penitentiary

Al Capone’s Cell at Eastern State Penitentiary

One of the most notable inmates of Eastern State is the infamous gangster Al Capone.

Eastern State Penitentiary

In 1929 he spent 8 months in this cell. The Philadelphia Daily Ledger reported that Capone enjoyed many luxuries during his stay.

Eastern State Penitentiary

Reportedly his cell had large oriental rugs, oil paintings, and a radio.

Eastern State Penitentiary

Death Row at Eastern State Penitentiary

In 1959 a new maximum security cellblock opened. It became known as “Death Row”. A second set of bars in the center of the hall prevented contact between the inmates and guards.

Eastern State Penitentiary

The Barber Shop

The remains of the barber shop. The barber shop had fluorescent lights, outlets, mirrors, and barber chairs. Inmates trained to be barbers and used straight razors for shaving the other prisoners. The guard on duty issued and signed out razors to the inmates.

Eastern State Penitentiary

Shower Room at Eastern State Penitentiary

Above is the shower room. The prisoners shared one large shower.

Eastern State Penitentiary

Guantanamo Bay at Eastern State Penitentiary

This summer there is an interesting new art installation inside one of the former cells at the penitentiary. This metal cage is an exact recreation of a cell from Camp X-Ray, the former holding cells at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

Eastern State Penitentiary

By placing the Guantanamo Bay cell inside an Eastern State Penitentiary cell, the artist William Cromar illustrates opposite means to a similar end. The Eastern State cells are larger, opaque, and stone, where the Guantanamo Bay cages are smaller and nearly transparent.

Eastern State Penitentiary

Eastern State Penitentiary is like Alcatraz… If you go to San Francisco, you have to go to Alcatraz. If you go to Philadelphia, you should definitely check out Eastern State!

Read More: Best Things To Do in San Francisco

Read More: What It’s Really Like To Visit Alcatraz

Save it on Pinterest!

Eastern State Penitentiary

Eastern State Penitentiary

You May Also Like:

17 Responses
  1. Rebecca W

    Thanks to your posts, we had a fabulous time in Philadelphia a couple weeks ago, so I just had to take a moment to thank you! While there, we met up with family and since all of our boys are teenagers, the Eastern State Penitentiary was the perfect, extremely unique, spot to tour with them! We also loved touring the historic area where we saw Independence Hall, Carpenters Hall (perfect for this book nerd), Betsy Ross’ House, Elfreth’s Alley, the Liberty Bell, etc. We also loved Reading Terminal so much that we ate there 3 times in 3 days haha. Before Philly, we hit NYC and had a great time there as well. Thanks again, and have a great weekend!

  2. D. Scott

    Amanda. This post could not come at more perfect time…we are headed up the east coast very soon and are planning to tour the ESP. Thank you!

  3. Missy

    If you visit Philly in the fall, they do a great haunted house in Eastern State Penitentiary. Super spooky and so much fun!

  4. Jill

    If I ever get out to Philly I will definitely go and I’ve always wanted to after watching Ghost Hunters as well. I love GH and am just dying for more from them as well.

    Thanks for sharing this!

  5. Rosemary S.

    Your photography always inspires me! I definitely could feel (on a small scale, I’m sure!) what the prisoners must have experienced as they were incarcerated here! (Mr. Capone’s “digs” didn’t appear to be too bad, actually!) :)

Do you have a question or comment?

Meet Kevin & Amanda

Kevin and Amanda

We love to travel and to eat! Here we share our favorite quick and easy recipes, plus travel tips and guides for our favorite places around the world. If you have any questions about what camera I use or how I edit my photos, check out my photography tutorials.


Subscribe via Email: