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Behind Bars: 5 Fascinating Prisons to Visit on Holiday

April 17, 2014 Travel Deals No Comments Email Email

Alcatraz Island, United StatesIf you’re looking for unusual and adrenaline-inducing spots to visit around the world — that don’t involve jumping, skiing or hiking — it’s time to consider a stint in prison. That’s right, how about a break from work for a bit of jail time?

From prisons that have held famous faces to those of legend or built centuries ago, there is something sure to put a chill up the spine of even the most experienced traveller. If you’re keen to test your mettle in some of the most foreboding jails across the globe, read on for five prisons you can visit in 2014.

Alcatraz Island, United States

If you’re planning a visit to San Francisco then you can’t miss a tour of the infamous Alcatraz Island, the site of the first lighthouse and United States–built fort on the West Coast. Explore the mysteries of the Island’s maximum-security federal penitentiary. Alcatraz was off-limits to visitors for many years and once housed inmates such as mob legend Al Capone, bank robber George “Machine Gun” Kelly and notorious criminal Robert Stroud, “The Birdman of Alcatraz”. Travellers can choose from a day or night tour of the Island, with both including round-trip transportation to and from the island with Alcatraz Cruises and an audio tour. The exploration that runs at night is the most complete tour option and includes extra activities such as a personally narrated boat tour around the island and from the dock to the main prison building, several exclusive presentations and sunset views of San Francisco as night falls.

Robben Island, South AfricaUntitled2

With the recent death of humanitarian and politician Nelson Mandela as well as the release of the bio-pic “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom”, this infamous jail is sure to be on the itinerary of even more travellers to South Africa. Located off the coast of Cape Town, Robben Island prison was a maximum security facility that housed many political prisoners and anti-apartheid campaigners. Nelson Mandela is the most famous prisoner who was held here, having spent 18 of his 27 years of imprisonment on the Island. The location was also used as a lunatic asylum and a leper colony during its unhappy history, but these days the location is World Heritage–listed and a popular tourist attraction. Visitors can view the jail cells (including Mandela’s) at Robben Island on a 3.5-hour long tour that departs from Cape Town. Tours include transportation plus commentary about the site’s 500-year-old history from former political prisoners on the Island.

Karosta Prison, Latvia

If you would prefer to spend a whole night in the lock-up, you might like to book accommodation at Karosta Prison in Liepaja in Latvia. The site was formerly an infirmary-turned-military-detention-facility for the Soviets, then later the Nazis and the Latvians (until as recently as 1997). It is also said to be one of the most haunted properties in the world. Nowadays Karosta is a hotel and museum where visitors can not only learn about the way inmates used to live and watch a documentary about the construction and Untitled3history of the site, but also experience a  night behind bars.

Fortezza Medicea, Italy

Located in Volterra in Italy, Fortezza Medicea has found a new calling as a spot for top-notch Tuscan grub as part of a rehabilitation program — leave it to the Italians to turn a prison into a restaurant, hey? The medieval fortress is now one of the hottest tickets in town, no thanks to the on-site restaurant that offers up gourmet cuisine prepared and served by convicted criminals and ex-mafia members. Heavy security keeps an eye out at the site, with background checks even made into each diner. The program has become so popular and successful that the Italian government plans to launch further sites in the future, so keep an eye out for prison-turned-restaurant meals popping up around the country.

Cebu Prison, Philippines

Cebu Prison and Detention Rehabilitation Centre in Cebu, Philippines, is a maximum-security jail that is making waves for an entirely different reason — dancing inmates. Tourists can head to Cebu once every month when the prison opens its doors to visitors who are treated to a free performance by over a thousand inmates.

Fortezza Medicea image by alessandraelle from Flickr’s Creative Commons

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