The 7 Most Patriotic Things to Do in Philadelphia
Philadelphia has to be in the running for most patriotic American city. It's where the Founding Fathers declared independence, and, years later, where they drafted the U.S. Constitution. It's also where Ben Franklin came of age as an inventor and public servant, and it's the hometown of true American hero Rocky Balboa, who single-handedly ended the Cold War with his inspiring victory over Soviet boxer Ivan Drago in the mid-1980s.
So it follows that many of the best things to do in Philadelphia have patriotic overtones. The highest concentration of American-ness is found in Independence National Historical Park, a cluster of landmarks and museums in the Old City neighborhood near the waterfront. Sights from the park dominate our list of things every American history lover should see, though a few other activities also snuck their way on. Here are our picks:
1. See the Liberty Bell
The Liberty Bell has a bit of a complicated history—it's unclear whether it actually rang out to announce American independence in 1776, for instance, and it didn't even acquire the nickname "Liberty Bell" until abolitionists adopted it as a symbol for their cause in the 1830s. But the bell's power as an enduring emblem of freedom makes it a must-see. (It's also a pretty sweet selfie spot.)
Tour free or die: Admission to the Liberty Bell Center is free, and you don't need tickets to get in, though the wait in the security line can sometimes reach upwards of 30 minutes.
Make a day of it: If you start your day at the Liberty Bell Center when it opens at 9 a.m., you'll miss most of the crowds, plus you'll be near many other attractions (including several on this list) within Independence National Historical Park.
2. Visit Independence Hall
Across from the Liberty Bell sits Independence Hall, the stately red brick building where both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were debated and adopted (not bad right?). Today it houses such awe-inspiring artifacts as an original draft of the Constitution and the actual inkstand used to sign the Declaration of Independence. You can only enter with an official tour, and most of the year you'll need a free ticket with an assigned time to get in.
Tour highlight: The Assembly Room, which is arranged as it was during the first Constitutional Convention, right down to the elaborately engraved "rising sun" chair that belonged to George Washington.
Ticketing tip: If you want to ensure a particular tour time, you can reserve tickets in advance online for a small fee.
3. Tour Christ Church Burial Ground
Benjamin Franklin's grave alone would make this spot hard for the patriotic to pass up, but there's much more history waiting inside. Notable burials include four signers of the Declaration of Independence, military heroes of the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, and many other early leaders of the country. Plus all those old, faded headstones look pretty sweet.
Lost to time: The burial ground features more than 1,400 markers, but there are an estimated 3,000 more grave sites whose markers have been lost to erosion. Some of the now-lost inscriptions were even collected in an 1864 book available on site.
Get a guide: Regular admission is $3 for adults, but for only $5 more you can take an official guided tour of the grounds. (It's even cheaper with our deal.)
4. Explore the National Constitution Center
This museum opened in Independence National Historical Park on July 4, 2003, and since then has added welcome context to the historic sites nearby. Visits begin with a 17-minute multimedia show called "Freedom Rising," then continue with exhibits on the meaning of the Constitution from its origins to the present.
What you'll see: In the main exhibit, you can glimpse artifacts such as Sandra Day O'Connor's robes and a rare copy of the Emancipation Proclamation. You can also watch yourself recite the Presidential Oath of Office on a giant screen.
Signers' Hall: This recreation of the final day of the 1787 Constitutional Convention features life-size bronze statues of all 42 delegates, including giants like George Washington, Ben Franklin, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton.
5. Check Out the Museum of the American Revolution
One last highlight of Independence National Historical Park is this museum focused on the story of the Revolution itself. Inside you'll find a full-size replica of Boston's famous Liberty Tree (where rebels gathered to plan their revolt against the British), photographs of aging Revolutionary War veterans, and a panoramic battlefield experience that puts you on the business end of a British infantry charge.
Set sail: Climb aboard the life-size replica of a privateer ship to see what it was like to operate one of the privately owned vessels Congress enlisted to attack British ships.
After-hours events: Once a month the museum hosts a themed night program complete with food and drink specials, games, and full access to the exhibits.
6. Take a Bus or Walking Tour of the City
If you don't have enough time to linger at all of the landmarks on this list but still want to get a sense of them, Philadelphia tours such as the Franklin Footsteps Walking Tour are a great way to get a relatively quick overview. You can also book a bus tour to see a wider swath of a city that has more than its share of noteworthy sights.
Time saver: Hop-on, hop-off tours like this one from Philadelphia Trolleyworks are a convenient way to hit just about all the places a visitor might want to see, from Independence Visitor Center and City Hall to the Philadelphia Zoo and the Rocky steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Pick a theme: See Philly through a different lens by taking a more narrowly focused tour, such as this historic ghost tour, or—why not?—this Segway food tour. (We're not sure how, but cheesesteaks are definitely patriotic.)
7. Tour City Hall and Visit the Observation Deck
The famous statue of city founder William Penn tops this architectural landmark, the tallest habitable building in the world at the beginning of the twentieth century. Sign up for a two-hour tour to learn about the art, history, and architecture of City Hall, still the largest municipal building in the United States more than a hundred years after its completion.
Tour the tower: Take in a breathtaking view of the city's skyline and landmarks from the open-air observation deck, located just beneath the Penn statue at the building's apex.
Park space: The plaza at the foot of City Hall, known as Dilworth Park, underwent major renovations in 2014 to add new plantings, a fountain, and an outdoor cafe. In the winter it even becomes an ice-skating rink.
More Patriotic Things to Do in Philadelphia:
- Visit the National Liberty Museum to see the famous Flame of Liberty sculpture and learn about important activists in America and around the world. [Shop deals on admission here.]
- Stop into the African American Museum in Philadelphia to learn about the city's important place in black history and watch full-size video projections of notable figures. [Shop deals on admission here.]
- Get another angle on the city's landmarks from One Liberty Observation Deck, which also houses exhibits on Philly culture and a big ol' statue of Ben Franklin's head. [Shop deals on admission here.]
- Tour the U.S. Mint to watch coining operations in progress and see artifacts like an authentic 1792 coining press.
- Head to the Philadelphia Museum of Art to snap a pic with the statue of immortal American legend Rocky Balboa (they also have paintings or something). [Shop deals on admission here.]
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