Going to prison is not exactly a life goal for most of us. As such, seeing inside a modern prison is not easy to do sans illegal activity. But there are a few places where you can get that opportunity without giving yourself a criminal record. The Kingston Penitentiary in Canada is one of those places.

A former maximum security prison, the Kingston Pen was one of the world’s oldest prisons in continuous use by the time it closed. It was first opened in June 1835 and it closed in September 2013. The prison saw its fair share of famous criminals and riots; some of these stories you can hear on a tour of the prison. Unfortunately, taking a tour is the only way to visit this prison.

On a visit to the Kingston Pen, you’ll hear from a variety of people – the tour guides themselves as well as former prison guards. Their stories are fascinating and add an element of “realness” to the visit. They won’t, however, talk about the prisoners, even famous ones, in order to protect the privacy of victims as well as to avoid the glorification of crimes. While my macabre curiosity was thwarted, I did agree with the sentiment.

Expect to spend a couple hours here; it is a large complex and is completely fascinating. When we visited the jail cellblocks, I understood why those “scare them straight” programs can work. Just seeing the tiny cells with their total lack of privacy was enough to keep me on the straight and narrow! I can only imagine how stressful it would be, confined for years on end with other unhappy people.

The other great thing about the Kingston Pen is its historic architecture, especially for someone who loves photography. So many beautiful lines and angles! Unfortunately, you do have to keep up with the tour so you won’t be able to linger as much you’d want. But it is still definitely worth the visit!

Practical Information

Location: Kingston, Ontario, Canada

Tour availability: May to October

Cost: 90 minute standard tour for $35

Website: https://www.kingstonpentour.com/