JAILS MAY NOT be the most obvious tourist spots. Here are six worth visiting on six different continents (if someone knows of one in Antarctica, please share).
1. Port Arthur (Australia)
The baddest of the bad. Where the convicts sent their convicts and then committed unspeakable horrors on them. It is perhaps one of Britain’s darkest historical chapters. The prison closed in 1877.
Now a large site and considered one of the most haunted places on earth, you can tour this prison by day or night and learn how the prisoners were treated and the conditions in which they were kept. You may even meet one during your stay.
2. Alcatraz (USA, North America)
Arguably the most famous prison in the world, thanks to popular movies that bear its name. Alcatraz was considered impossible to escape from, and the sight of San Francisco so close must have only added to the frustration of isolation.
Tours of the prison can now be taken by day or night, and you will often be escorted by an ex-con. Al Capone’s cell is one of the popular spots on the tour, although my favorite memory from my visit was our guide’s eyewitness recollection of a fatal stabbing in the kitchens.
3. Robben Island (South Africa, Africa)
This notorious prison off the coast of Cape Town is now a shrine to Nelson Mandela, and visits to the prison tell the story of how he and the many others kept here lived, ate, and suffered throughout their time on the island.
Again, tours are guided by former inmates, and it would be a rare case to come across one who was not asked if he knew Mandela personally.
Look out for the penguins that have made their home here and can often be seen hiding in the cells.
4. Ushuaia Prison (Argentina, South America)
This must be the southernmost prison in the world. Established as a penal colony in the early 20th century, Argentina’s baddies were sent down to the Southern Patagonian city of Ushuaia, where they resettled. They spent their time here building roads, constructing buildings and railways, and making a new life for themselves.
Now a museum, this prison actually includes an exhibit on the world’s prison museums. (Yes, you read that right.)
5. Bukhara Zindan (Uzbekistan, Asia)
This is the place where the Emir of Bukhara would keep his prisoners before deciding when to throw them from the tower to their deaths. In its center is the Bug Pit, where prisoners would be covered in vermin and insects for long periods.
Once a site of terror, the gaol is now a humble museum and includes the tacky and rather disturbing figures of Stoddart and Connolly, the British officers who were executed by the Emir in 1842.
6. The Tower of London (UK, Europe)
Maybe the most famous building of all, yet the least obvious prison. It is more well known today for housing the Crown Jewels, but in its heyday the Tower was the home of many famous guests, including Walter Raleigh, Guy Fawkes, and the English prince, Edward V.
It is one of London’s most visited attractions, and walking through the Tower it is easy to forget its bloody past.
Editor’s note: This post first appeared at 501Places titled Go directly to Jail – do not collect £200 (in fact you need to pay to come in). First published on Matador on June 25, 2010.