Philadelphia is a historic city founded in 1682, and it’s one of America’s most important economic and cultural hubs. It was the capital of the Pennsylvania Colony and also served as the capital for the budding nation while Washington itself was under construction. Characterized by its many historic landmarks and world-class museums, Philly presents many attractions for the culture-hungry visitor. Here are 10 highlights for a trip to Philadelphia.
1. Independence Hall
Philadelphia’s Independence Hall is where the Declaration of Independence was signed and the United States Constitution was adopted. Essentially, it’s the birthplace of the nation. Formerly the Pennsylvania State House, construction of the Georgian-style building began in 1732. You can’t miss this important historic building on a trip to Philadelphia.
2. Museum of Art
With a collection of almost 230,000 items, the Philadelphia Museum of Art is one of the largest in the US. Receiving 800,000 visitors annually, this world-class gallery should be near the top of the list of places to visit in Philly. The museum was opened in 1876, and as it continues to expand, it puts on at least 25 special exhibitions annually. The museum is open daily except for Mondays. If art isn’t your thing, at least stop by for a triumphant Rocky pose at the top of the museum steps.
3. Eastern State Penitentiary
An infamous maximum security prison from 1829 to 1971, the Eastern State Penitentiary was home to many notorious felons, including Al Capone and “Slick Willie” Sutton. Now a National Historic Landmark, the prison is open to tourists who can choose from a range of tours. For those seeking an adrenaline rush, it is possible to take the Terror Behind the Walls night tour, complete with actors who bring the spooky place to life.
4. Society Hill
As one of the most historic cities in the US, Philadelphia is home to the largest 18th- and 19th-century residential neighborhood in the country. Society Hill, located downtown, features cobblestone streets and brick rowhouses built in the Georgian and Federal style. With its historic architecture and many quaint shops, restaurants, pubs and cafes in the area, it’s easy to feel like you’ve stepped back in time.
5. Fairmount Park
The enormous Fairmount Park complex is a great place to escape the busy urban sprawl. Rather than being a single park, it is a system of public green spaces envisioned by William Penn that consists of 63 parks totaling 9,200 acres. The park is home to the former Lemon Hill estates, the Centennial Exposition grounds and the Philadelphia Zoo. Cyclists, walkers and picnickers should check out the leafy Pennypack Park area in particular.
6. Fort Mifflin
Fort Mifflin on the Delaware, established in 1772, played an instrumental role in the American War of Independence. Now a National Historic Landmark, it remained in service until 1962. Since then, historians and preservationists have restored the fort to reflect the architectural style and features from 1777 to 1875.
7. Liberty Bell Center
No trip to Philadelphia is complete without a visit to this historic landmark. The Liberty Bell Center, located in front of Independence Hall, symbolizes American freedom and victory in the War of Independence. The bell itself features a timeless inscription which has inspired abolitionists, civil rights activists, suffrage supporters and many others over the years. The accompanying exhibition tells the story of the bell (crack and all) and its inspirational role in US history.
8. Elfreth’s Alley
More than 300 years old, Elfreth’s Alley prides itself on being the oldest residential street in the US. One of the most important sites of all in any trip to Philadelphia, this beautifully preserved colonial street features original Georgian brick architecture spanning centuries of history. There is also a museum sporting exhibits detailing the lives of the alley’s first residents.
9. Italian Market
The oldest and largest farmers market in the US, the Italian Market (also known as the South 9th Street Curb Market) is in the social and cultural heart of Philadelphia’s Italian community. Characterized by its bright and colorful awnings and vast array of fresh produce and other wares, the market is open year round, with most stalls and shops being open every day of the week except for Monday. It’s a somewhat gentrified community these days, with plenty of upscale galleries, cafes, restaurants and gourmet shops to peruse.
10. Longwood Gardens
Longwood Gardens is less than an hour away from Philadelphia by car, making it an excellent option for a daytrip. One of the largest botanical gardens in the US, the 1077-acre estate features beautiful landscaped grounds, fountains, woodlands and meadows. It is also home to many conservatories featuring exotic collections from all over the world.