Since opening full-time in 2012, Crumlin Road Gaol has become one of Belfast's hot tourist tickets. Designed by Charles Lanyon in 1841, the gaol originally opened in 1846 and at its height held more than 500 prisoners. Throughout its 150-year lifetime, around 25,000 convicts passed through its doors. During the worst years of the Troubles, between 1969 and 1996 (when the prison closed), it held some of the North's most notorious murderers, including many involved in paramilitary
violence. The building has undergone a £10 million restoration, and, with its cream-walled corridors and black railings, has been transformed to reflect the way it looked in Victorian days. The engrossing 75-minute tour takes in the holding, punishment, and condemned cells—the latter where the prisoners were held before being taken to the gallows for execution. The highlight is the execution chamber, hidden behind a moving bookcase where the guide explains the gory details of how the long-drop method was used to break the prisoner's neck. Exhibits in the museum include handcuffs, uniforms, a flogging rack with the birch used for punishment, photographs, and maps. The gaol is said to be one of the most haunted buildings in Belfast, and paranormal tours are also held regularly. Check the website for details of the schedule.