RECOMMENDATIONS AS EXCERPTED FROM KAREN BROWN’S E-BOOK:
Sometimes called the “Cradle of Liberty” and often referred to as the “City of Brotherly Love,” Philadelphia is where the United States of America was born on July 4, 1776 with the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. This is also where the Constitution of the United States was drafted in 1787. The city was founded in 1682 by William Penn who, with a group of Quakers, left religious persecution in England to establish a community in the New World based on freedom of conscience. Philadelphia has always carried with it a sense of its own history and its citizens bring to this current time values whose roots go deep into the past.
As with many American cities, sections of Philadelphia have been developed not only in different centuries but at varying paces, leading in time to its expansion into the surrounding countryside. The visitor to Philadelphia, whether from the USA or from overseas, can partake of what the city offers on many levels: its history, its commercialism, its educational institutions, and, in the areas that surround the city, museums, gardens, and residential areas of great charm with homes made of local stone. Philadelphia is easy to reach although there are fewer non-stop flights from more distant domestic and international cities than you will find into New York or Washington airports. With its location on the Eastern Seaboard, it has good rail service and bus transportation. A subway system provides visitors with convenient access to the most sought-after destinations. The ease of getting into and out of the heart of Philadelphia gives you the choice of staying in a downtown hotel or driving in from the suburbs.
Recommended Pacing: The length of time you spend in Philadelphia depends entirely on the degree of interest you have in the history of the founding of America and your desire to explore not only that history but also the threads that go forth into the surrounding area. To understand the historical significance of all that went on in the 18th century, the visitor should plan to spend two days in the city. To the degree that you want to include shopping and exploration of the suburbs, particularly the areas that include the Valley Forge National Park, you should allow at least another couple of days in the area. For these excursions, see our itineraries to Bucks County and to the Brandywine Valley.
Independence National Historic Park lies at the heart of historic Philadelphia. This area covers approximately 12 blocks and contains all the most important historic sites. The visitors’ center, located at 3rd and Chestnut Streets, is the place to begin your visit-don’t miss the 28-minute film and interactive computers, which explain much of the history of the founding of the country. There is a bell tower at the center that houses the Bicentennial Bell, a gift from Great Britain. In many of the historic buildings within this area are guides who provide wonderfully educational tours for children and adults alike, guaranteeing a lasting memory of a visit to Philadelphia. (215-965-2305www.nps.gov)
There are many buildings within the park that played important roles in our country’s history. Some of the ones not to be missed include:
Second Bank of the United States and the National: This Greek-Revival building with its marble columns was opened in 1824 as the Second Bank of the United States under a 20-year Act of Congress. Subsequently this structure was the Philadelphia Custom House and now has within its walls the exhibit “Philadelphia, Portraits of the Capital City.” Portraits of delegates to the Continental Congress, signers of the Constitution, and the officers of the Revolution and the War of 1812 hang there. One of the galleries has a collection of street scenes and portraits of life in the Federal period in Philadelphia.
Independence Hall: Constructed as the Pennsylvania State House between the period of 1732 and 1756, this is a modest brick structure with a bell tower in which the Liberty Bell hung. Tours of this building should include the large central hall, the Assembly Room, the second-floor Long Room, and the Governor’s Council Chamber.
Congress Hall: This was built in 1787 as the home of the Philadelphia County Courthouse but was actually used as the hall where the delegates of the newly founded country met-the Senate in the second-floor courtroom and the House of Representatives in the first-floor chamber.
Old City Hall: The mirror image of the Congress Hall, this building served for a while as the home of the Supreme Court. It has now been restored to show how it looked when it served as the nation’s highest court.
Liberty Bell Pavilion: This building was newly constructed for the Bicentennial Celebration in 1976 and now houses the Liberty Bell. There is an especially wonderful talk here by national park rangers on the history of the Liberty Bell, its creation, and it’s subsequent recasting.
Franklin Court: This was originally built as the home of Benjamin Franklin and now houses audio presentations of his life and his many accomplishments. The 18th-century printing office and bindery of Benjamin Franklin’s grandson has also been re-created in this building.
Beyond Independence Park
Philadelphia is one of those wonderful U.S. cities where, with good walking shoes and a desire for exercise, you can walk to almost everything. Some less centralized attractions worth considering are:
Atwater Kent Museum: This museum is the official museum of Philadelphia’s 300-year-old history. (15 S. 7th Street, 215-685-4830.)
Old City: This area, the heart of the original city of Philadelphia, has been extensively restored and includes galleries, restaurants, and various historic buildings. It’s located a few blocks north of the Independence National Historical Park, south of Race Street and east of 5th Street-within walking distance except perhaps in the heat and humidity of the summer.
Christ Church: Dating back to 1695, Christ Church is one of the nation’s most historic churches. The architecture is magnificent and well worth a visit. (North 2nd and Church Streets, 215-922-1695.)
Elfreth’s Alley: Take the time to walk down this street, between North 2nd and Front Streets, lined with 33 narrow brick houses dating back to 1725.
Betsy Ross House: The home of Betsy Ross, the Quaker seamstress who made the first Stars and Stripes flag, is well worth a brief visit for the legends that are now associated with the role of the flag in our country’s history. (239 Arch Street, 215-686-1252.)
United States Mint: This is the largest of all the United States mints. There is a self-guided tour of the building showing historical information on the creation of coins and commemorative medals. You can look down through windows onto the floors where coins are being produced today. (5th and Arch Streets, 215-408-0114.)
Society Hill: With a great deal of history dating back to the 18th century, the streets and houses of this part of Philadelphia, bounded on one side by Independence Hall and Lombard Street and on the east and west sides by South Second and South Fifth Streets, have now been restored.
Physick House: Dr. Philip Physick, known as the father of American surgery, lived in this house with his family from 1815 to 1837 and his descendents lived here until 1940. The building has been restored to be a showpiece of the Federal period. (321 South 4th Street, 215-925-7866, Visiting hours: afternoons, Thursday through Sunday.)
Penn’s Landing & South Street: This area along the Delaware River, between Chestnut and Spruce Streets, is a recreational area with parks, jogging and walking paths, a skating rink, an amphitheater, and a seaport museum. The Seaport Museum displays permanent exhibits, two historic ships, and continually changing traveling exhibits. (211 South Columbus Boulevard, 215-925-5439.)
Center City: Anchored by some of the city’s finest architecture, the modern Center City is Philadelphia’s vibrant downtown area. Next to old buildings with restaurants, theaters, shopping areas with great boutiques, and grand department stores, there is architecture dating back to the 19th century. City Hall, with its 700 rooms, is one of the finest examples of French Renaissance architecture. On the top of the building is a statue of William Penn, designed by Calder, and an observation deck. (Broad and Market Streets, 215-686-2840.) Also in this area is the Masonic Temple (1 North Broad Street, 215-988-1917), the Museum of American Art of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (Broad and Cherry Streets, 215-972-7600), and the Rosenbach Museum and Library (2010 Delancey Street, 215-732-1600), renowned for its collection of rare books and manuscripts.
The Benjamin Franklin Parkway leading from the center of the city was modeled after the Champs Elysées in Paris. It stretches from City Hall to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the beginning of Fairmont Park. Within this area there are many worthwhile places to visit, including:
Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul: An Italian Renaissance-style cathedral built for the Irish Catholic immigrants who came to settle in Philadelphia. (Benjamin Franklin Parkway and North 18th Street, 215-561-1313.)
Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia: Reputed to be the greatest place to learn about dinosaurs. (1900 Benjamin Franklin Parkway at Logan Circle, 215-299-1000. www.acnatsci.org)
Franklin Institute Science Museum: This museum has a science center with exhibits for children and adults, the Fels Planetarium, a Victorian railroad station with a steam locomotive, a walk-through version of the human heart, and the Tuttleman Omniverse Theater with its Omnimax screen. (North 20th Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway, 215-448-1200. www.fi.edu)
Rodin Museum: Exhibits of the drawings and sculpture of Auguste Rodin-one of the largest exhibits outside France. (North 22nd Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway, 215-763-8100.www.rodinmuseum.org)
Philadelphia Museum of Art: One of the major art museums in the United States, this museum also hosts Wednesday evening programs devoted to the arts. (North 26th Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway, 215-763-8100.www.philamuseum.org)
In the area of Fairmont Park, one of the largest city parks in the world, are the Museum of Art; historic homes; the Horticulture Center (North Horticultural and Montgomery Drive, 215-685-0096); Boathouse Row, off Kelly Drive just north of the Water Works, with its private boating clubs; an azalea garden; the Fairmont Water Works Interpretive Center (off Kelly Drive behind the Museum of Art), which originally supplied the city with its water; and the Philadelphia Zoo (3400 W. Girard Avenue, 215-243-1100www.phillyzoo.org), the first in the United States and now the home of animals from all over the world.
In West Philadelphia you find the University of Pennsylvania, between South 34th Street and South 40th Street, with the university’s Institute of Contemporary Art (215-898-7108) and the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (33rd and Spruce Streets, 215-898-4000.www.upenn.edu/museum).
These are some of the highlights of a visit to Philadelphia, but only highlights. There is always more to do and to explore based on your interests and the time you have for your visit.
From Philadelphia easy excursions take you into the Brandywine Valley to visit mansions, museums, and gardens; charming and historic Bucks County; and Lancaster County, home of the Amish and Mennonite people.