This post was most recently updated on February 8th, 2022
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 to learn more about US history for a day in Philly. 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 in Philadelphia: 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 of Philadelphia
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. Philadelphia’s 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! And yes, we did have to pay for these. Everyone’s got to eat, right? But this is the most cost-efficient and tasty meal you can get…
6. The United States Mint
This is not part of the Constitutional Walking Route, but it is in Philadelphia and 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’d like to download this article free to your device, so you can read it offline, click here. For a small fee, you can upgrade it to a GPS-guided article. You won’t need the internet or data to follow our path through Philadelphia. I’ll receive a few cents, and I can keep providing more travel tips like these.
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
And if you’re interested in more US History, see Colonial Williamsburg: the ONE thing to do in Williamsburg, VA
I really enjoyed our time in Philadelphia, too! I loved walking around the historic streets and imagining what life would have been like all those years before. The U.S. Mint was definitely a favorite, too; I still have the mini penny earrings I bought from the souvenir shop. 🙂
Hey Tami, loved your new blog. Really enjoyed the detail you put into your narrative. Great photos too. Philly Cheesesteak!!! Yummmmmm
Thanks for checking it out, Yvonne!
Cool, I am reading a book that takes place in Philly right now and it is great to see some pictures! I would love to go there one day soon and check it out. Looks like a very cool place with lots of history and industrious charm.
What book are you reading? I hope you get to visit Philadelphia someday.
It’s called “The Book of James” by Ellen J. Green. It’s an ok book, but so far (I haven’t finished it yet) not something I would recommend as one of my “must-read” books. It is well written and the story is interesting, but the plot line and pace is a bit too linear and unvaried for me. It just trots along…
Walking tours are definitely the best way to explore a new city! I’ve never been to Philly, but I figure with all the history, it’s my kind of town!
If you like history, then you would love Philadelphia!
Thanks for including the walking map. I’m pretty meticulous so would enjoy going through that and seeing what’s on offer to take a peek at. I was waiting to see a picture of that cheese steak haha. Looks good!
The walking map was a great resource to us, too! And yes the philly cheese steaks were very good!
We haven’t been to the States yet, but I guess I would love places like Philly as we are both history and culture buffs and I think there is a lot to explore there.
Thanks for checking out my post! I think Philadelphia hooks universal appeal…
Hi! So manz places to go. The senate looks quite interesting! I just love places where big historical moments have taken place.
It was very interesting. What historic places have you especially enjoyed visiting?
I remember doing this as a little kid. Its actually such a cool place to visit. I remember doing a lot of art galleries there.. havent been in a while tho
Ahhh, how cool! This throws me nine years back in time when I was wandering through the streets of Philadelphia. Thanks for sharing your story! 🙂
Well who wouldn’t be excited to see a landmark where Nicholas Cage is related to? Great way t spend a day
Ha-ha! So true!
Walking is my 2016 mode of transport, so this ‘tour’ sounds ace. 🙂 Its cool to see people posting about the other side of a town, my home town is all art gallery, politics and public servant, and have found many don’t know how to make it fun. You should totes come for a visit and try. Lol!
Now I really want to plan that US history road trip I’ve always wanted to do.
It is so much fun! But you almost have to take several history road trips because there’s so much to see and do!
This sounds like a wonderful place to see how history unfolded I’m putting it on my list .
This is a city that’s always been on my list to visit if I ever make to the US, Iove the look of the walking tour and that there was lots of free stuff for families to do.
Philly has been on my list of places to go for a while. Now I want to go even more. Did not know they had a walking route, a bit like Boston. And yes to the Philly Cheese Steak sandwiches 🙂
Did this in 2012 and would do it again in a heartbeat. Such great history.
I went there as a kid and would love to go back and explore. For one day, you sure did a lot of things. It’s nice there are some free things to do too. I would really like to see the US Mint and have a real Philly sandwich.
Thank you for your post! This will be very helpful in planning our visit. Where did you park when you went?
We found parking about 6 blocks from Independence Hall. I think it was a paid parking lot, but only about $10 for the day. But then that was several years ago now.
You missed the mudder’s museum. It is a museum full of medical oddities. Like the four cases full of thousands of items that have been swallowed by people or the really scary things to syphilis does to people.
I seriously had never heard of it! Thanks for enlightening me…
I have never been to Philadelphia – there I said it.
I’ve passed close but never stopped to explore “The City of Brotherly Love” and reading your article about Philadelphia brings into sharp relief just how great an omission that is.
Thanks for an enlightening post about one of great historic American cities. You have given me a blueprint for my trip there.
I’m so glad you’ll be able to use my article to help you explore Philadelphia!
I grew up in a small town that bordered Philly. I now live about 1 1/2 hours away but still like to get together with friends and spend the day. A great place to have lunch is at the Reading Terminal markets. Tons of great food merchants. Make sure to try Termini’s bakery. I had forgotten how moving the tour of Independence Hall is until a few years ago when I took a visitor sightseeing. Hearing the park ranger tell the story and being right there in that room is amazing. So many other places to see right outside the city too. Valley Forge National Park, Brandywine Battlefield. All free and so full of history. Enjoy!
Marla, those are great tips! Thanks for sharing them…
I haven’t been to Philadelphia yet but it has been on my list for a long time. I would eat Philly Cheese Steak sandwiches for every meal! I knew the liberty bell is there but wasn’t aware of all the other history. I would love to take the Constitutional Walking Route and see the Betsy Ross home.
NOT “Philly Cheesesteak”, JUST cheesesteak.
Good to know!