At the time of its construction in 1829, Eastern State Penitentiary was the most expensive public structure ever built, housing notorious criminals such as gangster boss Al Capone and bank robber Willie Sutton. No longer a functioning prison, the structure is now open to the public as a National Historic Landmark.
Explore the vaulted stone halls and learn about the prison’s Enlightenment-inspired efforts to reform inmates rather than merely punish them—a system that was eventually abandoned to create solitary confinement and Death Row blocks. Audio guides provide insight into prison history, while docent-led tours cover off-limits areas such as the guard towers.
Many Philadelphia city tours include a visit to Eastern State Penitentiary, including private excursions and hop-on hop-off tours. A Philadelphia Pass provides entrance to the historic site along with other attractions such as the Academy of Natural Science and Betsy Ross House. It’s also possible to visit the prison as part of a day trip from New Haven, Connecticut.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Since the site is nearly 200 years old, some sections are not ADA compliant.
- Equipment for "The Voices of Eastern State" audio tour includes special features for those with sight, hearing, and mobility impairments.
- The building does not have climate control, so be prepared with appropriate seasonal clothing.
How to Get There
Located in Philadelphia’s Fairmount neighborhood, Eastern State Penitentiary is accessible by SEPTA bus routes 48, 43, 33, 32, and 7. Street parking is available nearby and there is a paid lot adjacent to the prison. Guided city tours and hop-on hop-off bus routes allow you to bypass the hassle of navigation and parking.
When to Get There
Eastern State is open year-round. Around Halloween, the prison remakes itself into a terrifying haunted attraction—definitely not suitable for kids. From December to March, special Winter Adventure Tours cover the indoor and outdoor areas of the complex and are given in lieu of regular tour programming.
Exploring Philadelphia’s Fairmount Neighborhood
The section of Fairmount Avenue facing the prison gates is lined with restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and boutiques—the perfect place to enjoy lunch or a stroll through the neighborhood. The Philadelphia Museum of Art, located on Benjamin Franklin Parkway, is just a 4-block walk from the prison.