When Is the Best Time
The best time to visit Eastern State Penitentiary is during the autumn. There are fewer visitors, and the weather is perfect for visiting such a towering structure of the past. Clouds or rain will only add to the drama.
Eastern State Penitentiary Parking
There is no dedicated parking for visitors at Eastern State Penitentiary. However, there is a nearby parking lot at 22nd St & Fairmount Ave.
Visitors can also park along any side of the penitentiary. The building complex is quite big, and parking is often free and unlimited. Nevertheless, please check the streets via Google Maps before you go. Some parking spaces are not free, and you have to feed a parking meter with cash. However, metered parking is relatively cheap. Arrive early enough if you plan to look for a parking space.
Tip: Parallel parking at the penitentiary is only free and unrestricted on the Eastern State side of the street. It’s possible that parking somewhere else in the neighborhood is not allowed. Read the signs carefully.
Is Eastern State Penitentiary Free
Eastern State Penitentiary is not free. Free admission is only available to members. A member can access all daytime tours without buying a ticket. Otherwise, there are no times or options to visit the penitentiary for free.
Discounts are available for groups of 15 or more visitors.
Is Eastern State Penitentiary Indoors
Most of the Eastern State Penitentiary tour takes place indoors. However, there are some outdoor sections, and visitors need to go from one part of the building to another. Additionally, doors are always open, and the inside is not heated.
Many visitors consider the tour an outdoor visit. Dress accordingly during the colder month.
In 2021 tickets must be purchased in advance. It’s not possible to buy them at the door. In general, it’s highly recommended to buy them online and in advance, regardless of the year.
One of the most haunting places I have visited in the US, haunting in the way the stories of the past cling to the walls and to your ears on the tour. You will be unable to resist connecting with the personal stories of the prisoners. There is a self-guided audio tour that pairs nicely with walking slowly through the halls. Tickets are under $15 a person, and if you can make it in the fall, for higher ticket prices ($13 – $39 a person depending on how late in the evening you go) there is a special “Terror Behind the Walls” haunted house tour.
Personally, I think the whole place carries enough mystery, that its authentic story is rich enough to leave a lasting impression. Fascinating that a place that was the home of honorific tales was founded on a Quaker concept that criminals could have penitence given lengthy isolation, leaving ample time for reflection. In the 1800’s this was a ground-breaking idea, just as the structure’s layout was considered revolutionary and became the example for the criminal justice system world-wide. Atul Gawande’s New Yorker article on solitary confinement, Mary Hawthorne described the Quaker-inspired experiment in incarceration eliminated corporal punishment (whipping, stocks, and the like) and called for “the complete isolation of the prisoner from all human society.”
The system, Hawthorne writes, was “ironically and perversely, a reform attempt, based on the notion of “penitence” (hence “penitentiary”), conceived by the Philadelphia Society for Ameliorating the Miseries of Public Prisons.” Prisoners were kept alone in their cells to work, read the Bible, and contemplate their crimes. To ensure that they did not know precisely where they were, and did not catch sight of other inmates, their heads were covered with hoods whenever they were taken from their cells.