The Old City, in Philadelphia, is the site of the first United States capital. It’s also home to the oldest continually inhabited street in America, so there’s plenty of history to soak up between the museums and the waterfront. Here’s our roundup of the best way to spend your time here.
Independence Seaport Museum
This museum, on the Delaware River, is the place to explore the city’s maritime history. It features two historic ships that you can board and explore – Olympia is the oldest steel warship still afloat, and the Becuna is a WWII-style submarine. There are many artefacts and equipment to see dating back to a time when seafaring was at its height. Throughout the year, several visiting ships dock at the port, so you can learn about them, too.
The Constitution Center, across from Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, is home to interactive exhibits highlighting the US Constitution, and even includes a hall full of statues of all the signatories. You can view many rare artefacts, such as an original printing of the Constitution or watch theatrical re-enactments. The goal of the center is to get visitors to learn more about the Constitution and then decide what it means to them.
Just across the street from Independence Hall, the National Museum of American Jewish History seeks to explore and celebrate American Jewish culture and the many people who significantly influenced this vast country through various programs and exhibits. In the pursuit of inspiring appreciation for cultural diversity, the museum holds many artefacts from famous Jewish Americans such as Steven Spielberg, Estée Lauder and Barbra Streisand.
A museum dedicated to one of the United States’s most prominent founding fathers, the Benjamin Franklin Museum is home to many of his personal artefacts. You can take part in many programs and through the exhibits learn more about this renaissance polymath, who held many different jobs throughout his life – including printer, scientist, diplomat and founder of many civic institutions that are still open today.
The birthplace of the American flag, the Betsy Ross House is a popular attraction in Philadelphia. The house itself is over 250 years old and features seven period rooms, which include bedrooms, a kitchen and a parlor. Here you’ll see many replicas of Betsy Ross’s upholstering tools and even some family objects. Children can interact with the real-life portrayal of the amazing woman as she sews the flag and recounts the story of her life during the Revolutionary War. The museum also features two audio tours for children and adults that explain the history of the house and what occurred within the many rooms.
This fascinating museum, in a restored firehouse from 1902 in the heart of Old City, is one of the nation’s premier fire museums, housing many artefacts that celebrate Philadelphia’s firefighting history alongside several heroic moments. You can view tools, uniforms, photos and old trucks from different points in time, while simultaneously learning about fire safety.
Christ Church, founded in 1695, was the chosen place of worship of many revolutionary leaders including George Washington and John Adams. The present building, which dates from 1744 and still holds services today, boasts a prominent steeple designed by architect Robert Smith. The old graveyard, which can also be toured, is the resting place of seven signatories of the Declaration of Independence and five signatories of the Constitution.
Built and owned by the Carpenters’ Company of the City and County of Philadelphia, Carpenters’ Hall is the meeting place of the oldest existing craft guild in the United States. During the colonial period, this building was a key gathering spot for the founding fathers and even hosted the first Continental Congress in 1774. In the summer, visitors can participate in the Meet the Makers of American History program and listen to stories of the revolution.
Founded in 1932, the Philadelphia History Museum welcomes visitors to step in and explore more than 300 years of Philadelphia history. Visitors can see artefacts from the Revolutionary War until the present, with a range of items such as William Penn’s plans for this historic city to memorabilia from the many sports teams locals go crazy for.
Take a self-guided walking tour through the first United States Mint. The tour lasts about 45 minutes, and you can view coins being made in real time from 40ft (12m) above the factory floor, as well as see the first coining presses from 1792. You’re also able to see the key to the first mint as well as the deed signed by Andrew Jackson, among other artefacts, from over the centuries.