Things to Do in Philadelphia
The Liberty Bell, a 2,000-pound (907-kilogram) piece of American history, was forged in London's Whitechapel Foundry and represents freedom in the city where the Declaration of Independence was crafted. Now set in the Liberty Bell Center, the bell was commissioned in 1752 and has been in Philadelphia since British Colonial rule.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art is one of the largest public art galleries in the United States. Along with its main Greco-Roman style building—home to works by Rubens, Monet, and van Gogh—this cultural treasure boasts four smaller museums and is fronted by the “Rocky Steps,” immortalized in the hit 1976 film Rocky.
George Washington supposedly asked Betsy Ross to stitch the first-ever American flag. The seamstress is said to have created the Stars and Stripes in 1776. Today, visitors can explore the 18th-century house where Betsy Ross purportedly lived, examine artifacts from her life, and even meet a costumed Betsy Ross impersonator.
The Philadelphia Zoo is perfect for families with kids looking for a break from the historical sites, though it has some historical significance as well—it was the nation’s first zoo. It’s home to over 1,300 different animals, many of them rare and endangered, and renowned for successfully breeding animals that are difficult to breed in captivity.
Known as “America’s Church,” this 1744 city landmark was the first Protestant Episcopal congregation, the post-Revolution version of a Royalist, Anglican church founded in 1695. Early parishioners included George Washington and Betsy Ross, and its cemetery hosts the remains of several signers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, including Benjamin Franklin.
One of the most-visited sites in Philadelphia, the church is chock full of historic objects, including communion silver commissioned by England’s Queen Anne and mahogany cabinetry by some of the city’s most renowned woodworkers. Topped by a 200-foot-tall steeple, it was once the tallest building in America.
Philadelphia City Hall, in the middle of Center City at the intersection of Broad and Market streets, is visible from all over town. For nearly 100 years, it remained the tallest structure in the city. Though it no longer bears the accolade, City Hall remains one of the city’s most recognizable historic buildings.
Billed as the oldest residential street in the United States, Elfreth’s Alley dates back to 1702. A National Historic Landmark and a living museum, the narrow, cobbled alley features 32 buildings in Georgian and Federal styles. It’s also home to Elfreth's Alley Museum House.
Congress Hall played an important role in the history of the United States. Following the American Revolutionary War, Philadelphia was declared the capital city and Congress Hall served as the home of the U.S. Congress from 1790-1800. Today, the building is part of Independence National Historic Park and is open to the public for tours.
Families visiting Philadelphia with kids won’t want to skip the Please Touch Museum, which has been the children’s museum of Philadelphia since 1976. The guiding principle of the museum is teaching through play, and it offers a multitude of engaging hands-on activities for young people. The 157,000-square-foot site has six unique zones over two floors, like Wonderland, where kids can have a tea party with the Mad Hatter, and Flight Fantasy, where kids learn about historic and futuristic flying machines. They can even play George Washington, sailing a boat on a mini Delaware River. There are also four areas designated specially for children under 3 years old, making the Please Touch Museum a spot for kids of any age.
Located on Philadelphia’s historic Independence Mall, the National Constitution Center is dedicated to honoring and exploring the United States Constitution, which (ratified in 1788) is the supreme law of the nation. The sprawling, tech-savvy museum brings the Constitution to life via interactive exhibits and dramatic presentations.
More Things to Do in Philadelphia
Old City is a neighborhood in Central City Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, known for its antiquated charm and many historic sites important to the birth of the United States. Wander down its narrow cobblestone streets and you'll feel like you're stepping through a time warp into 18th-century colonial America.
Spanning 55 acres and bridging two neighborhoods—Old City and Society Hill—this national park is often called "America's most historic square mile" for encompassing many of Philadelphia’s famous historical landmarks. These include the UNESCO-listedIndependence Hall; theLiberty Bell Center;Franklin Court; theFirst and Second Banks of the United States; and theNational Constitution Center, among many others. Visitors should plan to spend one to two days in the park in order to visit several of these sites and explore the extensive grounds.
TheIndependence Visitor Center, set at the corner of Sixth and Market streets, is the nerve center of the park. Tourists can pick up area maps; get free, timed tickets to Independence Hall (required from March to December); and find bathrooms, WiFi, and snacks.
The larger-than-life bronze statue standing at the base of the steps to the Philadelphia Museum of Art has become an essential stop on any visit to the hometown of fictional fighter Rocky Balboa. The massive Rocky Statue—both arms raised—was made for the movie Rocky III (1982) and gifted to the city by actor Sylvester Stallone.
An extension of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Rodin Museum houses the largest collection of works by French sculptor Auguste Rodin outside of Paris. Inside you’ll find more than 140 sculptures, including bronze casts of The Gates of Hell and The Thinker. Many of Rodin’s sculptures are displayed outdoors in the surrounding gardens.
Sandwiched between Columbus Boulevard and the Delaware River on the east side of Philadelphia, Penn's Landing is skinny in shape but important in stature. The waterfront area served as the 1682 landing spot for William Penn, founder of the Pennsylvania colony, making it a must-see spot for any American history buff.
At the time of its construction in 1829, Eastern State Penitentiary was the most expensive public structure ever built, housing notorious criminals such as gangster boss Al Capone and bank robber Willie Sutton. No longer a functioning prison, the structure is now open to the public as a National Historic Landmark.
One of Philadelphia’s oldest and most popular destinations for food lovers, Reading Terminal Market has catered to hungry visitors since the 1860s. Just steps from Jefferson Station and the Philadelphia Convention Center, the market hosts dozens of stalls, from hot food vendors to gift shops and Pennsylvania Dutch baked goods sellers.
Originally settled in the mid-19th century by Cantonese immigrants, Philadelphia's Chinatown is a vibrant and eclectic neighborhood known for its fresh-food markets, authentic restaurants, and diverse crowds. Its streets and alleyways are jam-packed with shops, including those selling gifts and souvenirs, novelty items, and artisan crafts.
If you love people watching, love fountains, and love the history of skateboarding, then chances are you’ll love Love Park when visiting Philadelphia. Officially known as JFK Plaza, the nickname is derived from the iconic “LOVE” sculpture that graces the downtown park. Originally constructed for the nation’s bicentennial in 1976, the sculpture lasted only two years before its temporary removal from the park. It wasn’t until the Chairman of the Philadelphia Art Commission purchased the sculpture and returned it to the park that it was once again open to the public. Though the sculpture is smaller than you’d originally think, what isn’t small is the level of crowds all waiting to snap a photo. Seemingly as iconic as the Liberty Bell and a modern symbol of the city, the sculpture is an artsy, feel-good centerpiece in the City of Brotherly Love. The sculpture, its crowds, and onlookers aside, Love Park is famous as an urban birthplace of the modern sport of skateboarding. Though skateboarding in the park is banned today, skaters still make pilgrimages to the park to see where their idols honed their skills and pulled their most famous tricks. Now, the activities of choice in Love Park are splashing about in the fountain, and soaking up the energetic vibe of the international crowd. As of 2015, the city is planning to give the park a large scale renovation, which will add more green space, clean the park up—and keep the famous sculpture.
Philadelphia is home to plenty of old-school American history, and the roots of its local music scene run deep, too. Travelers in search of an elegant establishment showcasing some of the best international talent will find it all at the Academy of Music.
This unassuming building in the heart of Philadelphia is actually the nation’s oldest continually operational opera house. Its stunning interior houses a 5,000-pound chandelier and is modeled after Milan’s La Scala Opera House. In addition to being a destination for travelers seeking live, classical entertainment, the Academy of Music is a worthy stop for history buffs as well. The National Historic Landmark is the site where President Ulysses S. Grant was nominated for his second term and it’s the site where Martha Graham first performed “The Rite of Spring”. Visitors who arrive during the month of January can watch the Philadelphia Orchestra perform their anniversary concert, which has occurred each year for more than a century.
One of the country’s first science museums, the Franklin Institute takes its name from inventor and former Philadelphian Benjamin Franklin. Today, it serves as an entertaining and educational destination for visitors of all ages—its hands-on exhibits, temporary exhibitions, planetarium, and other offerings make it a family-friendly must.
Set within Philadelphia’s Independence National Historical Park, the Second Bank of the United States was the country’s national bank from 1816 to 1833. An architectural inspiration for later American banks, the Greek Revival building now houses a “People of Independence” collection of portraits and sculptures of leading 18th-and 19th-century Americans.
In the early days of the nation, Philadelphia served as the capital of the United States, and the Philadelphia mansion at 6th and Market streets was the first President’s House. Here George Washington served his entire presidency, and John Adams served three years, until June of 1800 when he moved to the newly completed White House in the District of Columbia. Today, much of the original house is gone—only the side walls and foundation remain. Visitors can walk through the historic site, exploring the footprint of the building. There’s also a a commemorative exhibition called "The President's House: Freedom and Slavery in the Making of a New Nation" located on the grounds.
One of the most popular spots for visitors to Philadelphia is bohemian South Street on the southern edge of downtown Philly. The stretch of South Street from Front to Seventh Streets is known for its eclectic scene and lively nightlife, where the crowds comprise a diverse mix of people, from punk rockers to local business people. South Street is loaded with great bars and restaurants, but most first timers make a beeline to Jim’s Steaks South Street for an award-winning Philly cheesesteak sandwich. During the day, you can visit the nearby Mummers Museum to learn about Philadelphia’s history of Mummers—costumed citizens who dress up to parade around the city on New Year’s Day. And after the sun goes down, hit local spots like Legendary Dobbs or Bob and Barbara’s for drinks and live music.
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