I had no idea that Philadelphia was the largest city in Pennsylvania, or the fifth largest city in the United States, for that matter. I only knew Philadelphia as the place where our Declaration of Independence was signed. And the place where my German ancestors immigrated to in 1751. Because of that connection, I was thrilled when the opportunity came to take our family there to learn more about US history. I hope I’m not too irreverent when I refer to it as “Philly”, but Philadelphia actually means “brotherly love.” We definitely enjoyed our visit!
There are so many things to do and see in Philadelphia, but our itinerary only allowed for one day. We were commuting from New Jersey (cheaper hotels), so we got up pretty early and drove across a bridge to reach the center of Philadelphia.
1. First stop: Liberty Bell & Independence Hall
There’s no charge; you just have to stop in the Liberty Bell Visitors’ Center and pick up a timed ticket. We had the added challenge of dealing with pouring rain, but there were exhibits we could look at inside the visitors’ center until our appointed time for Independence Hall.
After seeing “National Treasure”, starring Nicholas Cage, our kids were pretty psyched to see Independence Hall. I know they were hoping to find the secret hidden compartment where the spectacles were found in the movie!
But the story of Independence Hall, and the incredible history that took place there — the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 — proved to be interesting enough to my kids, ages 11 to 19 years.
Inside the hall, everything is arranged the way it would have been the day of the signing. It was wonderful to just stand there and imagine it. Especially when you consider the sacrifice that each signer was making.
2. Congress Hall
Our tour of Independence Hall included Congress Hall as well. This is where the House of Representatives assembled while the Senate met upstairs (from 1790-1800). That’s how the Senate came to be known as the “upper chamber”. Congress Hall is also where the inaugurations for George Washington (second term) and John Adams were held.
3. Constitutional Walking Route
I had read about this walking route, and we weren’t sure how much time we would have to devote to it. The entire route is 3 miles long and includes 33 sites. If you were to explore each one thoroughly, you could probably spend days on this route. However, there’s a limit to how much history one can absorb in a day, so we decided to check out the most interesting places. We also took time to just let the kids relax and goof off a little, too.
Here’s the walking route map:
If you go to the Constitutional Walking Route website, you will find detailed information about each location on the map. It’s a self-guided tour, and it’s totally free! We stopped by the Christ Church where Betsy Ross and George Washington worshipped, and learned its steeple was the tallest structure in the colonies for 83 years!
We also passed the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the first and second banks of the United States, the Betsy Ross home, and a burial ground where Benjamin Franklin and four other signers of the Declaration of Independence are buried.
There’s the quaint Elfreth’s Alley (our nation’s oldest residential street) and several museums and historic homes along the route, too. But our next favorite stop was…
4. Franklin Court
Franklin Court includes an open framework representing the location and size of Benjamin Franklin’s home, the B. Free Franklin Post Office, and the Printing Office. The post office is official, but it doesn’t fly a US flag because there wasn’t one when Benjamin Franklin was Postmaster in 1775. It includes a museum, and archaeological ruins in the basement. The Printing Office was also very interesting to our entire family. It was fun to watch the demonstration of how a printing press would have worked in the late 1700’s, and just how intricate a process it was to print a newspaper or book!
5. Philly Cheese Steak sandwiches!
Of course, we had to stop at a street vendor to buy Philadelphia’s most famous sandwiches — the Philly Cheese Steak sandwich! Our verdict? They were awesome!
6. The United States Mint
This is not part of the Constitutional Walking Route, but it is less than a mile from Independence Hall and highly recommended! As it turned out, it was another of the highlights for my kids. (And it is also free!!) The tour is about 45 minutes long and is self-guided. Here, you can watch actual coining operations from 40 feet above the factory floor. You can see the first coining press, used in 1792. Did you know that it took coiners at the first U.S. Mint three years to coin the first 1 million coins? Now, in Philadelphia, it takes only 30 minutes! If you’d like more information about the mint, you can find it at www.usmint.gov.
We really enjoyed our visit to Philadelphia! We learned a lot, had great fun, and brought back some wonderful memories…and we’re waiting for another “National Treasure” sequel to help us decide where to go study history next!
If you’re wondering how to keep kids happy in a car while you’re traveling from one place to another, read Road Trip–Keeping the Kids Happy