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Quest for Freedom: The Underground Railroad

Landmarks, food, shopping and music along the historic trail

The historic Johnson House is a stop on this three-day itinerary.


Welcome to Philadelphia, the Birthplace of Freedom — and one of the main scenes of abolitionist activity prior to the Civil War.

This weekend-long itinerary will take you on a regional tour of Philadelphia’s Underground Railroad landmarks, as well as the best places to enjoy delicious soul food, jazz and blues and, of course, do some shopping.

You’ll explore the landscape that gave birth to the very term “Underground Railroad” and engross yourself in the struggles and triumphs of freedom-seekers along these once-secret pathways.


Click here to download the 2009 Quest for Freedom brochure (PDF).


Click here to watch a video overview of Quest for Freedom.

Archive Site

Click here for all of the Quest for Freedom attractions and activities on our archive site.


Continue reading below for the three-day Quest for Freedom itinerary.

Friday 12 p.m.

Symbol of Freedom

Start your visit to Philadelphia with a visit to the Liberty Bell . The historic symbol of freedom and human rights was commissioned in 1751 to mark the 50th anniversary of Pennsylvania’s Charter of Liberties.

The Bell is inscribed with the Biblical quotation, “Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof” (Leviticus 25:10). Very fitting, because in the 1830s, the Bell became a major symbol of the abolitionist movement.

6th and Chestnut Streets
The Liberty Bell Center
Philadelphia, PA 19106

Friday 12:30 p.m.

The President’s House

From the Liberty Bell Center, walk across Independence Mall to the President’s House Commemorative Site, which in 2010 will be home to a new museum that will include an outdoor exhibit honoring the slaves that George Washington kept. Walk around the future site, taking in the series of signs that will tell the story until the museum’s completion

6th and Market Streets
The President’s House
Philadelphia, PA 19106

Friday 1 p.m.

Lunch in the Square

Stop at a sandwich shop — good choices are El Fuego (7th and Walnut), Campo’s or Sonny’s (both at 2nd and Market) — and take your lunch over to Washington Square for an easy picnic.

One of William Penn’s five original public squares, this patch of urban greenery was a spot where African Americans gathered in the early days of the city. It served as meeting spot, a space for celebration and a cemetery. Today, it’s a great spot to enjoy a nice day with a picnic and a book.

7th and Walnut Streets
Washington Squqare
Philadelphia, PA 19107

Friday 2 p.m.

Quest for Freedom at the Atwater Kent

Every Friday at 2 p.m., the Atwater Kent Museum — which, in the 1840s, was one of the few spots in the city where interracial groups could gather — offers a half-hour-long Quest for Freedom program that explores the African-American experience in Philadelphia between the years 1692 and 1906.

After the program, walk around the Museum to see the world’s largest map of Philadelphia, as well as the original wampum belt that the Lenni Lenape Indians gave to William Penn in 1682.

15 S. 7th Street
The Atwater Kent Museum
Philadelphia, PA, 19106

Friday 3:30 p.m.

Get Your History Here

Walk north up 7th Street to Arch Street to explore The African American Museum in Philadelphia . Founded in 1976 for the Bicentennial, the Museum traces the experiences and contributions of African-Americans from the kingdoms of Africa through to the present with a huge collection of fine and folk art, photographs, memorabilia and costumes.

The Museum premiered a new, permanent exhibit in 2009 entitled Audacious Freedom. Make sure you check it out before heading to your next stop.

701 Arch Street
The African American Museum in Philadelphia
Philadelphia, PA 19106

Friday Dinner in the Garden

6 p.m.

After a stop at your hotel to freshen up and drop off anything you may have accumulated during the day, head down to South Street for dinner at the Jamaican Jerk Hut .

This Caribbean restaurant has a sprawling side yard for summer dining. The tables are covered in white butcher paper and there are small cups of crayons, so it’s the perfect spot to bring kids.

And it may go without saying, but their jerk chicken platter, served with coconut rice and beans, is a must.

And the best part? It’s a BYOB. Stop by the Wine and Spirits Shop at either 724 South Street or 12th and Chestnut Streets and pick up your favorite bottle of white.

Broad and South Streets
Jamaican Jerk Hut
Philadelphia, PA 19146

Friday Historic Haunts

8 p.m.

If you’re up for squeezing one more activity into your first day in Philly, get tickets for the Ghost Tour of Philadelphia , a candlelit walking tour that combs Independence National Historic Park and Society Hill. It runs from April through November (although days for the tours vary each month), peeking into Philly’s historic nooks and crannies for the ghosts of our Founding Fathers.

5th and Chestnut Streets
Ghost Tours of Philadelphia
Philadelphia, PA 19106

Friday Friday Night Improv

10 p.m.

If you’re traveling without kids and don’t want to call it a night yet, head to Chris’ Jazz Café at Broad and Sansom Streets.

You can get some stellar cocktails and late-night food, all the while taking in local and established jazz acts until 2 a.m.

1421 Sansom Street
Chris’ Jazz Café
Philadelphia, PA 19102

Saturday Breaking the Fast

9 a.m.

Today is going to be a big day of touring, so make this morning’s breakfast a quick one. A good choice is Old City Coffee for coffee and a muffin — it’s one of the best to-go breakfasts you can get in the city.

Then, properly start your day at the Independence Visitor Center to pick up maps and a copy of the Philadelphia: Quest for Freedom brochure. While you’re here, get free, timed tickets for your tour of Independence Hall .

6th and Market Streets
Independence Visitor Center
Philadelphia, PA 19106

Saturday The Seat of Liberty, For Some

10 a.m.

Time to get in line to tour Independence Hall , the Birthplace of Freedom — but also the site of great contradiction and deeply unfortunate compromises.

You’ll stand in the rooms where the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were born — and where Congress enacted the Fugitive Slave Law in 1850.

5th and Chestnut Streets
Independence Hall
Philadelphia, PA 19106

Saturday We the People

11:30 a.m.

After your Independence Hall tour, walk up Independence Mall to the National Constitution Center . Opened in 2003, it’s the nation’s only museum dedicated to the Constitution — and here, the thematic question is “What will you do with your freedom?”

The Center offers exhibits that explore the Dred Scott decision, the 13th and 14th Amendments and the Emancipation Proclamation.

525 Arch Street
National Constitution Center
Philadelphia, PA 19106

Saturday Lunch at the Market

1 p.m.

For lunch, walk over to 12th and Arch Streets to the famous Reading Terminal Market . You have a wide variety of meal choices there, including Delilah’s (which serves Oprah Winfrey’s favorite mac ‘n’ cheese) and the famous roast pork and greens sandwich at DiNic’s.

But your options don’t end with good-for-you foodstuffs. Take a walk around and pick out some homemade candy or ice cream.

12th and Arch Streets
Reading Terminal Market
Philadelphia, PA 19107

Saturday The Abolition Mission

2 p.m.

After lunch, head south to 12th and Spruce Streets — 244 S. 12th Street is the last known address of stationmaster William Still (1821-1902).

Still was born in slavery, but his father was able to buy his freedom. He went on to become a highly successful coal merchant, amassing a fortune estimated at $1 million, and used his position to further the abolition cause.

Still assisted some 649 men, women and children to freedom, and is also known for writing the 1872 book, The Underground Railroad.

244 S. 12th Street
William Still House
Philadelphia, PA 19107

Saturday Time for Church

3 p.m.

Now head east to 6th and Lombard Streets to the Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church . The first A.M.E. church in the world, Mother Bethel also sits on the oldest parcel of land continuously owned by African Americans in the United States.

A focal point in the African-American struggle for freedom and justice, the Church (while under the leadership of founder Richard Allen, a former slave) served as a key station in the Underground Railroad. Many of the movement’s major figures, including Lucretia Mott, Frederick Douglass and William Still, spoke from the rostrum of Mother Bethel.

419 S. 6th Street
Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church
Philadelphia, PA 19147

Saturday A Little Shopping

4 p.m.

Take a break from the museums and history and do a little shopping on South Street. This is one of the city’s most eclectic shopping districts, and you’ll find clothing shops alongside jewelry, books, antiques and furniture. Make sure to check out Pearl of Africa Gates of Zion.

6th and South Streets
Pearl of Africa Gates of Zion
Philadelphia, PA 19147

Saturday A Soulful Meal

7:30 p.m.

Have dinner at Ms. Tootsie’s Soul Food Café . Recently named “Best Soul Food” by Black Enterprise Magazine, they serve the best smothered pork chops and fried catfish in town.

Menu highlights include golden fried chicken, sinfully cheesy macaroni and cheese, turkey chops smothered in a delightful, peppery gravy and sweet caramelized candy yams.

And be sure to try the signature drink: Ms. Tootsie’s Tootsie Roll. It’s a chocolate martini made with vanilla vodka in a cocoa-rimmed glass, with a Tootsie Roll as a super sweet garnish.

13th and South Streets
Ms. Tootsie’s Soul Food Café
Philadelphia, PA 19147

Saturday The Night is Still Young

9 p.m.

Still ready for more? Grab a cab to Columbus Boulevard and enjoy some genuine Southern Hospitality at Warmdaddy’s, Philadelphia’s iconic blues venue. You’ll get the chance to see big-name acts like the Blind Boys of Alabama, Melvin Taylor and Bobby “Blue” Bland.

And if you still have an appetite, their chocolate moose cake and cornbread are melt-in-your-mouth good.

1400 S. Columbus Boulevard
Philadelphia, PA 19147

Sunday Rise and Shine

11 a.m.

This morning, you’re going to drive or take public transportation to the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia.

For a relaxed brunch, head to North by Northwest. Though it’s known for being one of the best music venues in the city, NXNW offers a fantastic all-you-can-eat brunch on Sundays with a Belgian waffle bar, collared greens, made-to-order omelets and some serious Bloody Marys.

7165 Germantown Avenue
North by Northwest
Philadelphia, PA 19119

Sunday Going Underground

12 noon

After breakfast, you’ll start your Underground Railroad tour with a visit to the Johnson House . Built in 1768, the house is a National Historic Landmark.

In the 1850s, the house served as a meeting place for leaders of the Underground Railroad — Harriet Tubman, the most famous of the conductors, conferred here with Philadelphia stationmaster William Still.

6306 Germantown Avenue
The Johnson House
Philadelphia, PA 19144

Sunday Cliveden

1 p.m.

The last stop on your Quest for Freedom trip through Philadelphia is Cliveden of the National Trust. Cliveden’s rolling property was the scene of the 1777 Battle of Germantown, and the house is also known nationally for its collection of art and furnishings.

But in the 19th century, the land was home to Benjamin Chew, one of the most notorious slaveholders in the area. Chew owned more than 100 slaves, including Richard Allen, who was later minister at Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

6401 Germantown Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19144

Hotels + More The Basics


If you’re traveling from New York, New England, DC, Baltimore, Harrisburg, etc., Amtrak is easy – Book online at Amtrak or call 1-800-USA-RAIL.


If you drive here, stash your car off-street until you leave. Though you might enjoy an occasional cab, trolley or carriage ride, there’s nothing you can’t reach on foot. Parking regulations are enforced in the historic area, and you may find yourself getting towed with un-municipal efficiency.

Start at the Center

The Independence Visitor Center (IVC) — the exclusive pick-up location for free tickets to Independence Hall — offers personalized trip-planning services, free WIFI, brochures and maps, informational exhibits and films, a gift shop, two cafes and tickets to all major tours and attractions in the Philadelphia region. Located at 6th & Market Streets across from the Liberty Bell, the IVC is your one-stop-shop for tickets, souvenirs, itinerary planning, maps and more. Stop at the IVC when you arrive in Philadelphia, or call 800-537-7676 to speak to a live concierge.


A great choice for your stay is the Marriott Downtown Philadelphia . Located in the center of Center City, the Mariott is one of Philadelphia’s biggest hotels. And with its newly completed, $6.3-million renovation, the Marriott offers guests a modern and interactive lobby, as well as 13, the hotel’s new signature restaurant.

The Independent, meanwhile, is a new boutique hotel right in Center City. Each guest room features its own unique design, while the building — an example of Georgian-Revival architecture — is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Hyatt Regency is one of the historic area’s newest hotels, a tower right on the Delaware River. You can sit at the outdoor bar and listen to the creak-creak of moored boats.

The Philly Overnight® Hotel Package is a popular getaway — and a terrific deal. It’s available throughout the year and gives you free parking (worth $50 or more) and special offers and discounts – in addition to deluxe accommodations in Center City Philadelphia. Check out the package, then pick your favorite hotel.

More Food and Drink, Please!

Of course, what we’ve recommended is just a sample of the amazing range of food and drink in Philadelphia. Take a closer look at the city’s Dining and Nightlife offerings and pick your favorites.

1201 Market Street
Mariott Downtown Philadelphia



Philadelphia, Chestnut Hill and Germantown (Philadelphia’s Historic Northwest)


Walking, trolleys or cabs through Center City; 30-45 minute car ride to Philadelphia suburbs


36 hours or so (Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon)

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