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Things to Do in Philadelphia

Get an up close look at American history in the City of Brotherly Love, an early capital of the United States. History lovers, foodies, and adventurers will all find plenty to explore in this bustling city: Book a private or group tour to experience Philly’s sights, sounds, and tastes. Start with a hop-on hop-off city sightseeing tour on a double-decker bus. You’ll get your bearings and stop wherever you like — and hop back on when you’re ready. Tour major historic sites such as the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, and Congress Hall, plus the Betsy Ross House, Constitution Center, and the immense City Hall topped with a statue of William Penn. Or get some exercise with a walking or bike tour around the city center. Culinary tours focus on Philly’s vibrant local brewery scene and regional specialties, such as soft pretzels, Philly cheesesteaks, and cuisines from around the world. (Try an Uzbekistan restaurant.) Peruse the outdoor Italian Market, one of the country’s oldest, for cannoli and fresh pasta. Then turn your focus to culture: Take a tour of public art, including sculptures and murals, and discuss what the artists intended with your guide. Head to the Philadelphia Art Museum, the Franklin Institute, and the 42-acre Philadelphia Zoo. And cap off your day with an evening bus tour through the city’s lights, a dinner cruise, or a pub crawl, for a great night’s sleep, before starting again in the morning.
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Liberty Bell Center
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Few places in the United States offer as much historical and cultural legacy as the Philadelphia Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. Located across the street from one another, the two landmarks serve as the most potent symbols of the American revolution and the birth of the young nation.

Independence Historical National Park is the home to both Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. While the Bell was rung at several key moments of the American independence movement, today it is more famous for its symbolic message of universal liberty than its functional purpose.

In addition to the two main attractions, Independence National Historical Park is also the home of several other sites associated with the American Revolution. This 45-acre park comprises much of the historic downtown area of Philadelphia.

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Betsy Ross House
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This may or may not be where patriotic upholsterer Betsy Ross lived when she made the original Stars & Stripes, but it’s certainly one of the most visited attractions in Philadelphia. Set just a few blocks west of Independence Hall near Franklin Square, the house is the site of a local Flag Day celebration held each year on June 14.

Built in 1740 in the Pennsylvania Colonial Style, this humble home was rescued by a local radio personality in the late 1930s and both renovated and expanded, using Colonial-period materials. Self-guided and audio tours are available here ($5 and $7, respectively), and out in the added-on courtyard, a costumed Betsy Ross re-enactor tells stories with flag in hand.

Throughout the summer and early fall on Friday nights, movies are shown in the courtyard on a big outdoor screen; bring a blanket or chair, and the $5 fee includes a tour of the house. It’s open daily from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

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Christ Church
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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.
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Second Bank of the United States
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Set within the Independence National Historical Park, this stately building was designed in 1818 by Philadelphia architect William Strickland, renowned for pioneering the Greek Revival movement in America. Based on the Parthenon in Greece, this was the original home of the country’s second national bank, which was discontinued with great vitriolic fanfare in 1836 by President Andrew Jackson, who feared the institution was gaining more economic power than the still-new United States itself.
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President's House
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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.
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First Bank of the United States
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America’s founding father established their original government in Philadelphia after the winning the Revolutionary War, and among their goals to help build the nation was creating a single currency and found national bank. Today that bank still stands, and can be found on Independence Mall. Alexander Hamilton created the First Bank of the United States, and the Roman-style of the building was intentionally imposing. The building was completed in 1795, and it served as the nation’s first bank until 1811. Today the building is a National Historic Landmark; however, visitors can only explore the bank from the outside, as it is not open to the public.
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Philadelphia Italian Market
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No trip to Philadelphia is complete without a stop at the Italian Market, one of the oldest open-air markets in the country. This South Philadelphia landmark is not only home to endless vendors hawking spices, fish produce and cured meats from their stalls, but it’s also home to two legendary Philly cheesesteak locations: Pat’s and Geno’s. And while the Italian heritage of the market still underlies the area, it’s far from Italian-only as many shops also cater to Philadelphia’s many diverse ethnic populations. Today the Italian Market is the perfect place to find everything from Vietnamese banh mi, to Korean barbeque and authentic Mexican food.
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More Things to Do in Philadelphia

Philadelphia Academy of Music

Philadelphia Academy of Music

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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.

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Reading Terminal Market

Reading Terminal Market

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National Constitution Center

National Constitution Center

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Elfreth's Alley

Elfreth's Alley

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Dating to 1702, Elfreth's Alley is a cobblestone lane in Old City, between North 2nd Street & North Front Street and Arch & Race Streets, and is billed as “our nation’s oldest street.” Named for an 18th-century blacksmith who lived and worked here, this block-long wander features Federal and Georgian-style brick buildings that once served as shops and houses for a variety of Philadelphia tradesmen: glassblowers, pewter smiths, furniture makers, shipwrights and more.
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Penn's Landing

Penn's Landing

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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.
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Philadelphia Old City

Philadelphia Old City

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One of the best places in the United States to visit if you want a sense of the nation's roots, Old City is a neighborhood in Central City Philadelphia known for its antiquated charm and many historic sites. Wander down the narrow cobblestone streets and you'll feel like you're stepping through a time warp into 18th century colonial America.

Perhaps the most popular destination in Old City is Elfreth's Alley, one of the oldest continuously inhabited residential streets in the country. Owners of the historic homes along this alley take pride in the old-fashioned exteriors of their homes, some of which are nearly 300 years old. Also worth checking out is The Betsy Ross house, supposedly the site where the first American flag was stitched.

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Dolley Todd House

Dolley Todd House

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Society Hill

Society Hill

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Rodin Museum

Rodin Museum

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Franklin Court

Franklin Court

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Independence National Historical Park

Independence National Historical Park

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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 most famous historical landmarks. These include Independence Hall, a UNESCO World Heritage Site; the Liberty Bell Center; Franklin Court; the First and Second Banks of the United States; and the National 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.

By the time City Hall was completed in 1901, Old City – a couple of miles to the east -- began to lose its importance as a cultural center. Between 1915 and the late 1940s, a park was proposed as a means of salvaging and promoting what leaders of both the city and the state saw as vital to Philadelphia’s place in American history.
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Philadelphia Old City Hall

Philadelphia Old City Hall

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Eastern State Penitentiary

Eastern State Penitentiary

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Once the most famous prison in the world, Eastern State was initially renowned for its Enlightenment-inspired efforts to reform inmates rather than merely punish them. Eventually, this system was abandoned in favor of solitary confinement and a Death Row block. But the once-genteel penitentiary allowed one of its most notorious inmates, Prohibition-era gangster Al Capone, to keep a private cell with fine antiques and oriental carpets.

When Eastern State’s unique wagon-wheel-shaped building was completed in 1829, it was the most expensive public structure ever built. It was a tourist attraction from the start, and remains so today. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966 and closed in 1971, the building and its many art installations are consistently being restored and preserved by a variety of architects and artists.

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