Lonely Planet Writer

The Alcatraz of Ireland named Europe’s leading tourist attraction

A former notorious prison off the coast of Ireland has been named Europe’s leading tourist attraction.  Spike Island in Cork,  beat off competition from the likes of Buckingham Palace, the Eiffel Tower and Rome’s Colosseum to scoop the top prize at the World Travel Awards in St Petersburg.

Spike Island has been voted Europe’s leading tourist attraction for 2017. Image by Spike Island

The history of the island dates back to the seventh century when it was a monastic settlement. British rule saw the introduction of military fortification on the island in the 18th and 19th centuries, and during the Irish potato famine of the 1840s the fortress was used as a detention centre for convicts before they were transported to Australia for penal servitude.

Fort Mitchell On Spike Island. Image by Getty Images

The prison, which incarcerated prisoners until 2004, reopened to visitors in June 2016 following a €5.5 million upgrade after it was identified as being a historical tourist site. Today tours to the island leave by boat from the port of Cobh, and visitors are given access to, amongst other things, the punishment block and an exhibition on an infamous riot that took place in the prison in 1985.

This was the third win in a row for Ireland at the Europe Travel Awards. Last year the Titanic in Belfast scooped the prestigious first prize, and the previous year saw Dublin’s Guinness Storehouse take the top accolade.

The town of Cobh with Spike Island in the distance. Image by Getty

Fortress Spike Island will now represent Europe at the Grand World Final in Phu Quoc, Vietnam in December. Also among the winners  going on to the World finals will be Geneva and St. Petersburg. Switzerland’s second-largest city claimed the title of Europe’s Leading City Break Destination while St. Petersburg  picked up the award for Europe’s Leading City Destination.  Portugal was named Europe’s Leading Destination.