History buffs won’t want to miss Philadelphia because, as you may know, the city played a rather key role in the founding of the country. In the city’s Old City neighborhood, you can see important sites of historic Philadelphia, like the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, and Constitution Hall. It’s a traveler’s delight because many of the most important and interesting historic attractions are free and allow you up-close access. You can easily get it all in within a single day. So strap on your walking shoes and let’s get going. Here’s my guide to a day in Philadelphia for history buffs!
Philadelphia for History Buffs Morning – Old City
Before a long day of time traveling you’ll need a nourishing breakfast. Kick the day off at Old City Coffee Cafe. The local spot has been around for more than 35 years, serving all sorts of beverages (both hot and cold) as well as a small menu of food. Their location on Church Street is a short walk from Christ Church, a historic church, and Ben Franklin’s final resting spot. Old City is a great place to kick off the day as it’s the heart of the Philadelphia historical sites.
Once you’ve filled your belly, your day in Historic Philadelphia can really start. Simply head south a couple of blocks to the Museum of the American Revolution. The museum is fairly new, having only opened in 2017. It offers an insightful exploration of the Revolutionary War. It also puts the war into context to explain how it affected ordinary citizens and how they, in turn, felt about it. While the museum has many fascinating artifacts on display, the real gem is General George Washington’s tent. The tent has its own special presentation and room within the museum. Be sure not to miss it!
Nearby you can also stroll past two important Philadelphia historical sites: the Betsy Ross House and Elfreth’s Alley. The latter is the oldest residential street in the United States. The small street still has so much of the same charm and architecture that it would have had more than 200 years ago. As for the Betsy Ross House, while the building is in fact quite old and important, historians generally don’t believe it was “her” home. But it doesn’t make it any less neat to see.
Philadelphia for History Buffs Mid-Day – Lunch Break at Reading Terminal Market
Time to refuel. Historic Philadelphia isn’t limited to the 18th century. While Reading Terminal Market might not be colonial it is an important part of Philadelphia history. At the famous farmer’s market, you can go for something traditional to the region, like a cheesesteak or a roast pork sandwich. Or you can take a stool at a restaurant and get some diner fare or authentic Pennsylvania Dutch cooking. Pick your poison and be sure to stroll around the century-old marketplace before you leave. (And maybe grab a cannoli at Termini Bros.)
Philadelphia for History Buffs Afternoon – Old City
The heart of historic Philadelphia is only a few blocks west of the museum. Most of the buildings and sites of interest are on or around Independence Mall. It is also largely accessible free of charge.
With that said, you can — and, depending on the time of year, should — reserve a free ticket for a tour of Independence Hall online for the nominal fee. If you’re visiting in the off-season you can simply visit the Independence Visitor Center to pick up a ticket. Tickets are available daily but are first come, first served.
Tours of Independence Hall allow visitors to see where many things important to the fledgling nation occurred: the Constitutional Congress met, where the Declaration of Independence was adopted and the drafting of the Constitution.
In separate buildings around historic Philadelphia’s Independence Mall you can also see Old City Hall, the Liberty Bell, and Congress Hall.
Additionally, there are walking tours from private companies you can take. For example, you can learn more about the Founding Fathers or Black Philadelphia.
Historic Philadelphia in the Evening – Old City
The only proper way to finish a day in Historic Philadelphia is with a meal fit for a Founding Father. City Tavern is just the spot. The restaurant transports diners back in time not just with wait staff in costume and pewter dishes but with recipes that are authentic or pay tribute to 18th-century cuisine. Sure, the bread’s a bit dry but that will just leave more room for dessert! Be sure to try the pepper pot soup, a real Philadelphia specialty. The place is a little touristy but history comes alive at City Tavern. And it’s delicious!
For drivers, Philadelphia can be challenging. There is street parking, especially on side streets. However, finding a spot can be like winning the lottery. This is especially true in the extra narrow cobblestone streets of Old City where you’ll find most of Historic Philadelphia. If you’re driving, your best bet will be one of the parking lots or garages around the area. Public transit can be a better option. There are nearby bus stops around the multiple block Independence Mall area. The closest Market-Frankford Line rapid transit stop is 5th and Market. If you’re coming with regional rail, Jefferson Station, at Market Street between 10th and 12th Streets, will be your stop. You’ll find yourself surrounded by the Philadelphia historical sites.
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All photos are my own. This post contains affiliate links.