Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, plays an immense role in America’s history, so it only makes sense that there are a numerous historic sites in the city that are worth your attention.
Philadelphia, also known as the birthplace of America, is Pennsylvania’s largest city. During the American Revolution, it was the meeting place of the Founding Fathers, where they signed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Until 1800, it was temporarily the nation’s capital while Washington DC was under construction. There’s a great deal to see, but luckily a large number of the notable houses, government buildings, museums and cemeteries are gathered together in the “most historic square mile in America”: Independence National Historical Park. Here, we help you navigate these attractions, from the more well-known to the slightly more peculiar. History has never seemed so fresh.
Previously known as the State House Bell, the Liberty Bell is a symbol of America’s independence. It hung in the tower of the Pennsylvania State House and was used to call lawmakers to legislative sessions and alert townspeople about public meetings. The bell cracked when it was first rung and was melted down to be recast. How it got the crack you can see today wasn’t recorded. At the Liberty Bell Center, you can get close enough to read the engraved inscription: “Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” Entrance is free, and tickets are not required, but be warned – during peak season, lines can be lengthy.
Presidents George Washington and John Adams both lived on this site during their terms. The Founding Fathers struggled to attain freedoms for the nation, yet Washington bought at least nine slaves to serve the household just one block from Independence Hall. It now houses a 24-hour, open-air exhibit for quiet reflection and contemplation, a chance to honor those who labored there. President’s House: Freedom and Slavery in the Making of a New Nation includes video vignettes, timelines, foundations of the house and a glass vitrine that houses archeological fragments found in 2007.
Both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were created and signed in this building, which created the foundation of American democracy. The guided tour of the Unesco World Heritage site will take you through the Assembly Room, where you can view George Washington’s Rising Sun chair. In the West Wing, you will find the actual inkstand used to sign the Declaration and an original draft of the Constitution. Entrance is free, but tickets are needed from March to December. None is required in January and February, or after 5pm during the summer. The entrance to the Hall is on Chestnut Street.
Perhaps not as historic as the Liberty Bell, but no less iconic, are the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, forever immortalized by Sylvester Stallone in the classic movie Rocky. Work off all those tasty cheesesteaks by climbing the steps and punching the air in victory (if you haven’t watched the movie, that’s now your homework). The Rocky statue, originally created for Rocky III, was donated to the city by Stallone in 1982 and stands at the bottom of the steps.
Poe lived in Philadelphia for six years, but the year he spent in this house, 1843 to 1844, was an important one. While residing there he wrote The Tell-Tale Heart and The Gold Bug. Make your way down to the cellar that is surmised to have inspired Poe when he wrote The Black Cat. In the chilling tale, a husband murders his wife and walls her up (with said cat) in a basement that is uncannily similar to the one you will visit here. The museum is located on Seventh Street and includes photos, a screening room, exhibits and a reading room where you can browse your favorite works.
While exploring a graveyard might not be on everyone’s sightseeing list, this one is worth it for its notable “residents.” Benjamin Franklin is buried here, along with this wife, and four other signers of the Declaration of Independence. Traditionally, visitors toss a penny on Franklin’s tombstone in honor of his phrase “A penny saved is a penny got.” The cemetery is open March through November, Monday to Saturday from 10am to 4pm, and on Sundays from 12pm to 4pm.
These recommendations were updated on June 29, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.