The jury finds you guilty: you’ve been given a short prison sentence. Well don’t worry, it’s just for a day or so! You see, I’ve found you some short excursions to five of the most famous jails… which are also open to the public!

Robben Island, South Africa –

A long walk to freedom

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Photo : meunierd/Shutterstock.com

This prison was made famous for having accommodated the famous “guest” Nelson Mandela. Robben Island, which for 18 years had been home to the most emblematic figure of the fight against apartheid (he was to be imprisoned for 27 years in total), is just a short boat ride from Cape Town. Guided by a former prisoner, you will learn more about the very harsh isolation conditions that prisoners faced and have the opportunity to visit the 4 m² cell where Mandela hatched his plan to unite the people of South Africa and form a diverse rainbow nation.

The Tower of London, England –

Monarchs and prisoners under the same roof

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The tower is one of a long list of highlights in London, but a ‘must-visit’ as they say. It has had so many different uses over the years – royal residence, menagerie, seat of government, armoury, impenetrable fortress – that we almost forget that the Tower of London also housed prisoners for more than eight centuries. So book your visit and immerse yourself in the history of the monument, from the torture chambers to the Beauchamp Tower graffiti… you’re guaranteed to get chills and shudders, especially if you book the night tour. 

Alcatraz, San Francisco, USA –

One does not escape from the Rock

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A former military fort converted into a prison for much of the 20th century, Alcatraz, known as “The Rock”, is one of the main tourist attractions of the region. Established as a high-security prison, it housed the notorious Alphonse Gabriel, aka Al Capone, leader of the Chicago Outfit during the period of Prohibition. The two kilometres separating the island from the coast of San Francisco combined with the low temperature of the water and the strong currents of the ocean practically eliminated any chance of escape – but that didn’t stop people trying… and failing. Alcatraz shut down due to excessively high management costs in 1963 and after discussions about its future use was opened to visitors ten years later.

The Doge’s Palace, Venice, Italy –

Romantic escape and final sighs

In one of the most beautiful cities in the world, it’s difficult to imagine that this building with delicate architecture could accommodate a whole load of sordid criminals. Yet it’s true! The Palazzo Ducale has housed many detainees since the 12th century, either in basement cells, “Pozzi,” or in jails located just under the roof,“Piombi”. Legend has it that the famous Giacomo Casanova escaped from the latter, nimbly sliding along a gutter before escaping by gondola… The prison is connected to the equally as famous Bridge of Sighs, which takes its name from the fact that the prisoners who passed through it, contemplating the splendour of Venice before returning to the cell, sighed at the idea that they could no longer walk there as free men. 

Hostel Celica, Ljublijana, Slovenia –

Jailhouse or safehouse?

What is your first reflex when the alarm clock sounds? Whacking it to turn it off, moaning about life while getting dressed, rushing to have breakfast… Here, in the Hostel Celica, leaving your cell is the first thing you’ll have to do! Welcome to Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, where a youth hostel has been built in place of a former prison from 1882. Redecorated and equipped with the help of more than 80 international artists, it has regained colour and since its opening in 2003, it’s certainly one of the most unusual hostels in existence! Rest assured: the hotel restaurant won’t limit you to dry bread and water.

Make the most of your freedom and take a stroll through some of the most mysterious and macabre places. That’ll definitely satisfy your curiosity! If you want to know what prison life is like, but don’t want to spend the rest of your days in one, explore some of the most famous prisons in the world today, open to visitors. It would be a crime not to take advantage of the opportunity!

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