Why Crumlin Road Gaol Is One Of Belfast’s Most Unique Attractions

Crumlin Road Gaol belfast
Photo left: Dignity 100. Photo right: trevorb (Shutterstock)

A visit to the historic Crumlin Road Gaol is arguably one of the best places to visit in Belfast.

As the only remaining Victorian era prison in Northern Ireland, a visit to Crumlin Road Gaol is a must during your time in Belfast.

The gaol operated for 150 years, housing murderers, loyalists and republican prisoners. Now you can take a tour of the Grade A listed building to discover the fascinating history of the former prison.

In the guide below, you’ll find everything from how much the tours cost to what you’ll experience when you visit.

Some quick need-to-knows before you visit Crumlin Road Gaol

Crumlin Road Gaol tours
Photo by Dignity 100 (Shutterstock)

Although a visit to Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.

Note: if you book a tour via one of the links below we may make a small commission. You won’t pay extra, but it helps us pay the bills and we greatly appreciate it (cheers!).

1. Location

The former gaol and now conference centre is located out on Crumlin Road to the north of the city centre. It’s a 15-minute walk from St Anne’s Cathedral, a 20-minute walk from the Belfast Peace Wall and a 30-minute walk from St George’s Market.

2. Opening hours 

The Gaol is open seven days a week. From Sunday to Thursday, from 10.30 until 3.20pm and from Friday to Saturday it’s open until 6.20pm.

3. Admission

Admission prices are £12 per adult, £7.50 per child and £10 for concession. There are also group discounts such as £30 for a family of four. Otherwise, you can also purchase the tickets online before you go, which will give you a nice little discount as well.

4. The tour

The main tour at the gaol is a 70-minute self-guided trip through the stories and history of the building. You’re taken through the tunnel that connects the Gaol to the courthouse before exploring the C-Wing, including the Condemned Man’s Cell and gaol gravesite. 

5. Gaol Grub

If you fancy a feed after your tour, there’s now a licensed bar and grill restaurant inside the Crum. Open for lunch and dinner, the menu features locally sourced ingredients and meals to suit everyone. They have some great specials too, including Steak Saturday and Sunday Roast. It’s certainly much nicer than what the prisoners would have been served up!

History of Crumlin Road Gaol

a history of Crumlin Road Gaol
Photo left: Dignity 100. Photo right: trevorb (Shutterstock)

The prison was built from 1843 to 1845 to replace the County Gaol on Antrim Street. It was constructed of black basalt rock and was considered one of the most advanced prisons of the time.

There are four wings of the gaol up to four stories high and all stretching off from the central area known as the Circle. It was the first prison in Ireland to be intended to have one prisoner per cell, however, up to three prisoners eventually shared a cell even into the 1970s.

Executions

For the first few decades, executions were carried out in public view. Although from 1901, an execution chamber was built inside the prison compound and used until the last hanging in 1961.

The condemned would live in a cell and were buried inside the prison beside the hospital. It’s known that 17 prisoners were executed during the 150 years of operation, with the last being Robert McGladdery in 1961.

Escape attempts

No prison is without some escape stories and the Crum is no different. It was considered to be the Alcatraz of Europe but there were still escape attempts made.

The most famous escape was in November 1971, when nine Provisional IRA members escaped down rope ladders, with all but two getting away.

The Troubles and closure

In November 1991, the Loyalist wing of the prison was the target of a Provisional IRA bomb which killed a couple of inmates during the Troubles. 

It officially closed down in 1996 and remained empty for years. It wasn’t until 2012 that the prison opened again to visitors for tours and as a conference centre.

The self-guided Crumlin Road Gaol tour

the tunnel in the gaol
Photo by Dignity 100 (Shutterstock)

The gaol operated from 1846 until 1996, housing over 25, 000 men, women and children over the years. The tour allows you to get an insight into the history and stories of the place and people. 

What to expect

The tour is a self-guided walk including videos, audio and holograms throughout the building. The tour will take between 60 and 90 minutes depending on how long it takes you to read and listen to the boards and videos throughout the site.

Unique attractions

The self-guided tour gives you a unique look into all the different parts of the gaol. You can walk through the tunnel which connects the prison to the courthouse, before heading off into the holding cells, condemned cell and hangman’s cell. 

You’ll also walk through the gaol circle or centre, as well as the main C-Wing before heading out to the graveyard. The information boards and videos take you into the daily lives and routines of both the prisoners and staff over the 150-year history.

Things to do near Crumlin Road Gaol

One of the beauties of Crumlin Road Gaol is that it’s a short spin away from many of the best things to do in Belfast.

Below, you’ll find a handful of things to see and do a stone’s throw from the jal (plus places to eat and where to grab a post-adventure pint!).

1. Discover Belfast’s past

black cab tour belfast
Photos via Google Maps

The Belfast Black Cab Tours are well worth doing. Over the course of an hour, you’ll discover the different Belfast murals on the Shankill Road and the Falls Road and you’ll learn about the city’s turbulent past.

2. Peace Wall Belfast

the peace wall
Photo via Google Maps

Not too far of a walk down from Shankill Road, you’ll find the now-famous Peace Wall on Cupar Way. The wall is used to separate Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods but is now covered in a mix of murals and Belfast street art.

3. Food and drink

food at the gaol
Photos via 5A Coffee on Instagram

There’s endless restaurants in Belfast. In our guides to the best vegan food in Belfast, the tastiest brunch in Belfast (and the best bottomless brunch!) and the finest Sunday lunch in Belfast, you’ll find plenty of places to make your belly happy.

4. Explore the city’s top attractions

titanic belfast
Photos via Shutterstock

There are countless things to do in Belfast. Whether you’ve got just a day or longer, there’s plenty of attractions to keep you busy. See our guides to the best walks in Belfast and the best day trips from Belfast for more.

FAQs about the Crumlin Road Gaol tours

We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from why did Crumlin Road Gaol close to what the tour involves.

In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.

Are the Crumlin Road Gaol tours worth doing?

Yes – 100%! The Crumlin Road Gaol Tours are arguably one of the most unique things to do in Belfast, and they’re a fantastic rainy day activity.

How long does the Crumlin Road Gaol tour take?

The Crumlin Road Gaol Tours tend to last around 1 hour in total, but you’ll want to allow at least 1.5 hours for getting your ticket checked, queues, etc.

What do you see when you visit Crumlin Road Gaol?

The self-guided tour gives you a unique look into all the different parts of the gaol. You can walk through the tunnel which connects the prison to the courthouse, before heading off into the holding cells, condemned cell and hangman’s cell.

Elisha is a freelance writer, content creator and blogger and her work can be read in Lonely Planet, Remote Lands and Matador Network. You’ll usually find her travelling in offbeat places or hiking wherever there are mountains; always with a camera in hand.

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