Eastern State Penitentiary - Philadelphia, PA

I can’t believe it’s been almost two years since I was in Philadelphia and I’m just now writing about it! This trip ended up being completely overshadowed by my Italy trip. I think there were only two weeks between when I arrived home from Italy to when I flew to Philly.

Anyway, back in October 2015 I went to Philly for a business trip. I lucked out and traveled with a couple of my favorite coworkers and had an amazing time. We stayed at the Doubletree in Downtown Philadelphia and it was such a great location. We were kinda far from the office, but it was worth it to be able to walk to dinner every night and be within walking distance of the major landmarks. We flew in Monday, worked full days Tuesday/Wednesday, explored the city Thursday morning (worked in the afternoon) and flew home on Friday. It was a quick trip, but we were able to see some of the most famous places in the city.

Before we flew out Friday afternoon, we spent the morning exploring Eastern State Penitentiary. 

Opened in 1829, the prison was the largest building in the United States at that time. It’s now surrounded by houses and shops in downtown Philly, but originally it was two miles outside of the city. Reminiscent of a medieval castle, the architect who designed prison wanted the exterior to be imposing enough to scare people into not committing crimes. I love that there are gargoyles surrounding the entrance. I feel like not enough buildings in the US have gargoyles. If I ever win the lottery and buy a mansion, I’m putting gargoyles on it!

We arrived a few minutes before it opened, so we were the first visitors for the day and got to explore a lot of the prison by ourselves. Honestly, it was a little creepy walking through the abandoned cell blocks with no one else around.


The prison was built in a hub-and-spoke design with a center surveillance hub and the seven cell blocks radiating out from there.  Most of the cell blocks are open to the public, but a few are closed for safety reasons. The medical wing is one of the cell blocks that’s closed off, but it’s worth walking down to the end to see the red cross on the gate.

The most famous inmate at Eastern State Penitentiary was notorious gangster Al Capone. In 1929 he was arrested in Philadelphia and sentenced to a year in prison for carrying a concealed, unlicensed gun. He was connected with the prison officials so his stay was actually pretty comfortable. His cell has been restored to show the furniture, rugs, paintings, and radio that adorned his space.

Although I think the most interesting inmate was Pep the dog. Pep, the pet dog of Governor Pinchot, was sentenced to life for allegedly killing the governor’s wife’s cat. He was even assigned an inmate number and you can see his mug shot below. However, a few years later the wife cleared Pep’s name and said that Pep was actually there as an experiment in prisoner reform and to help boost morale. You can read more about Pep here.

As you can see, Eastern State Penitentiary has an interesting history and all of us really enjoyed our visit. I’m so happy that we had time to stop by before our flight out that afternoon. We spent about two hours touring the prison and that was plenty of time to see everything.

Eastern State Penitentiary is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and as always, I suggest getting there early to beat the crowds. Tickets are available online or at the door are prices range from $10-$16. The audio tour is included with your ticket and it’s excellent. It’s narrated by Steve Buscemi and includes interviews from former wardens, guards, and inmates.

Also, if you’re in the area around Halloween, they set up a haunted house inside of the prison. I’m a total chicken, so I would NEVER do it, but it’s probably awesome if you like scary stuff. You can read more about Terror Behind the Walls here.

Linking up with:


  1. great pics! i live about 20 mins from philly and went there for the first time last year. every fall, they do a halloween scare walk thru thing there, but i've always wanted to go on an actual tour. glad you went!

    1. You should definitely take the tour sometime. It's so interesting!

  2. We visited the former state penitentiary in Boise, Idaho, when we were there a few years ago, it was pretty fascinating, though a bit spooky, too!

  3. I went here last December. I almost didn't make it since I was rushing for the last entrance of the day. It sounds crazy but I was really impressed by the place (I know, a jail). Learned so much and thought the place was worth that sprint I had to make to get in.

  4. I've visited a prison in Berlin once and it was so cool! Creepy too but also incredibly interesting! I'll have to make sure to put this on my itinerary if I ever get to visit Philadelphia :)

  5. Old prisons from the 1800s always feel cold to me(must be the stone walls). The dog as an inmate is very amusing.

  6. We've been to Philly so many times and I've never come across this. I bet it's interesting but i wouldn't get my daughter anywhere near it. great find! #wkendtravelinspiration

  7. A reasonably priced tour and it looks interesting too. Capone's room looks quite inviting. Thanks for linking up with Travel Photo Thursday.

  8. Al Capone had piano in his cell and the prison had a dog! Some great bits of information. Sounds a fascinating place to visit..although probably a bit creepy. I definitely wouldn't be doing the Halloween tour! Thanks for linking #citytripping

  9. I love this type of attraction. We went to the Eastern State Pen a few years ago and found it to be photogenic, fun, and informative.

  10. I think this really validates my threats of sending my dogs to jail if they don't stop misbehaving. I'm going to show them this picture. Ha!

    Just kidding! You are awesome! This looks like so much fun.


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