The birthplace of the nation is rich in history — lots and lots of history. But how to decide exactly what to do?
Consider this the essential 23-stop guide to Philadelphia’s Historic District, an area that spans from the Delaware River to Seventh Street and from Vine to Lombard streets.
While the heart of Philadelphia’s original city boasts serious historical cred, it’s also home to buzzed-about restaurants and beer gardens, owner-operated boutiques and pushing-the-boundaries art galleries. That means there’s plenty of fun to be had.
Read on to learn more about the Official Trail of Philadelphia’s Historic District, and head to the Historic District landing page for tips on everything to do in the area.
Even locals pop into the Independence Visitor Center for info on what’s happening around town. This is also the place to pick up free, timed tickets to Independence Hall. Consider this the essential get-the-scoop, purchase-tickets, grab-a-snack, buy-a-gift spot.
Where: Independence Visitor Center, 599 Market Street
Located next to the Liberty Bell Center, The President’s House: Freedom and Slavery in the Making of a New Nation tells the stories of Hercules, Oney Judge and the other enslaved people who served George and Martha Washington. The open-air site is open 24/7, so sightseers can watch the on-site videos any time for an often-overlooked history lesson.
Where: President's House, Philadelphia, PA, USA
It doesn’t make a sound, but its message rings loud and clear: “Proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” Discover how the cracked but mighty Liberty Bell became a symbol to abolitionists, suffragists and other freedom-seekers around the world.
Where: The Liberty Bell Center, 6th and Market streets
Independence Hall is where it all happened. Where the upstart colonies declared independence and where representatives of a young nation framed its Constitution. Check out an original copy of the U.S. Constitution in the adjacent West Wing, and learn how the terms “upper” and “lower” house came to be at Congress Hall.
Where: Independence Hall, 520 Chestnut Street
It’s all about science, art and history, so it’s no surprise that the American Philosophical Society was another of Ben Franklin’s ideas. Exhibitions come from APS’s collection of nearly 13 million early American manuscripts, maps, Native American languages, scientific instruments and more.
Where: American Philosophical Society, 104 S. 5th Street
Everyone has a story, and the “It’s Your Story” booth at the National Museum of American Jewish History offers the chance to tell it. See the exhibitions that explore the issues that come with being a religious minority, summon memories of summer camps and more. Don’t miss: Einstein’s pipe, Streisand’s dress and Berlin’s piano.
Where: National Museum of American Jewish History, 101 S. Independence Mall East
The Museum of the American Revolution sits just steps from Independence Hall and in the heart of a city that served as the headquarters for the Revolution. Through immersive exhibitions and priceless artifacts, the museum traces the evolution of the colonies from the earliest days of unrest through a legendary war and the improbable victory that led to a new nation. Highlights include General George Washington’s original headquarters tent, Revolutionary War weapons, centuries-old military documents and hundreds of other authentic objects.
Where: Museum of the American Revolution, 101 S. 3rd Street
Inventor. Statesman. Postmaster. Printer. Name it, and Ben Franklin probably did it. Get up close with Philadelphia’s favorite Founding Father at Franklin Court, home to a Franklin-focused museum, a working printing shop and a post office that still marks mail with a B. Free postmark.
Where: Benjamin Franklin Museum, 317 Chestnut Street
To get the picture of America’s roots, pop into the Second Bank of the United States. The walls are lined with portraits of the nation’s earliest movers and shakers. Just steps away is the First Bank, which, although closed to the public, boasts a photo-worthy exterior.
Where: Second Bank of the United States, 420 Chestnut Street
Spying. Upheaval. Revolution. Those feisty colonists fanned the flames of independence during the First Continental Congress at Carpenters’ Hall. Exquisite architecture, original details and artifacts give a hint of the dramatic — and sometimes secretive — events that shaped a new nation.
Where: Carpenter's Historic Hall, 320 Chestnut Street
Ahoy, matey. The Independence Seaport Museum is the place for fans of seafaring history. Exhibits focus on daring river rescues, Philly connections to the Titanic sinking and African experiences on the Delaware River. Don’t leave without touring the Olympia cruiser and the Becuna submarine.
Where: Independence Seaport Museum, 211 S. Christopher Columbus Boulevard
Whatever the season, there’s always something fun going on at Penn’s Landing, where founder William Penn first arrived in Philadelphia via the Delaware River. Summer means festivals, concerts, free movies and the cool vibe at Spruce Street Harbor Park. Spring and fall bring free yoga at Race Street Pier. Winter? Time for skating at Blue Cross RiverRink Winterfest.
Where: Spruce Street Harbor Park, 301 S. Christopher Columbus Boulevard
Christ Church is nicknamed “America’s Church” for good reason. George Washington, Betsy Ross, Ben Franklin and John Adams all worshiped here, and Reverend Absalom Jones was ordained here. Nearby is the who’s-who Burial Ground of the Colonial era, where visitors can toss a penny on Franklin’s grave for good luck.
Where: Christ Church Burial Ground, 340 N. 5th Street
It doesn’t get more charming than Elfreth’s Alley, America’s oldest continuously inhabited street. Tiptoe along the cobblestones and check out the 32 homes once owned by the nation’s earliest craftsmen, merchants and artisans. But no peeking in windows — real folks still live there. Be sure to pop into the quaint museum, too.
Where: Elfreth's Alley, 124-126 Elfreth's Alley
What’s a Colonial-era widow to do when she has an upholstery shop to oversee, a family to raise, a (very tiny) household to run and a flag to sew for a new nation? Find out from the woman herself at the Betsy Ross House.
Where: Betsy Ross House, 239 Arch Street
The U.S. Constitution is a four-page document that changed the world. At the National Constitution Center, visitors can take the presidential oath of office, vote on legislation and get the lowdown on what makes the American government tick.
Where: National Constitution Center, 525 Arch Street
Wheee! A carousel ride is just part of the fun at Franklin Square. Mini-golf, a playground, a snack bar and lots of events for the family make this one of the liveliest of William Penn’s five original squares.
Where: Franklin Square, 200 N. 6th Street
Follow the African American Museum in Philadelphia’s winding ramp to the artwork and artifacts that showcase the African Diaspora. Then step right up and listen to Octavius Cato, Richard Allen and other trailblazers tell their stories — with a little help from modern technology.
Where: The African American Museum in Philadelphia, 701 Arch Street
Such a small house to hold such big ideas. Known as the Declaration House, the home of Jacob Graff is where Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence and slept in a (really tiny) bed. Hours are limited, so check at the Independence Visitor Center for tour times.
Where: Declaration House, 700 Market Street
Let history take the lead at Washington Square, a former animal pasture and burial ground for victims of the 1793 yellow fever epidemic, African-Americans and 2,600 soldiers who died during the Revolution. Today it’s a peaceful and popular place for picnicking, reading, playing Frisbee and more.
Where: 210 W Washington Square, 210 West Washington Square
Pay homage to Bishop Richard Allen, who is buried at Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church, which he founded after his original church began to insist on segregation. In the museum, see sacred artifacts that trace the denomination’s roots from a small congregation of African-American worshipers to one with an international presence.
Where: Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church, 419 S. 6th Street
Think America’s forefathers were stodgy? Think again. Explore the elegant Physick House, where scandal erupted when the wife of Dr. Phillip Syng Physick, father of American surgery, left him. Then head to the Powel House to get the scoop on George and Martha’s big 20th wedding anniversary party.
Where: Physick & Powel Houses, 244 S. 3rd Street
Fragile. That’s the message at the National Liberty Museum, where glass sculptures depict just how tenuous freedom can be. Touch a replica of the Liberty Bell and hear it ring, and be sure to bring tissues for taking in the emotional three-story tribute to the heroes of 9/11.
Where: National Liberty Museum, 321 Chestnut Street
Book the Visit Philly Overnight Hotel Package for stays through November 30, 2018 and get FREE hotel parking as well as free tickets to the iconic Philadelphia Museum of Art, a $25 gift card to the must-visit Reading Terminal Market, free Philly-themed mini-golf at Franklin Square and a $10 Lyft credit.