One Day in Philadelphia: Hitting the Highlights of the Historic City

One day in Philadelphia is just enough to see some of the highlights and to get a taste of what this city has to offer. There is so much to see here that it’s hard to narrow it down for a quick visit, so we’ve opted to focus on the things that truly set Philadelphia apart from other destinations.

In this itinerary, we suggest beginning the day with some of the city’s top historic sites. Then, in the afternoon, decide if you want to stick with the historic attractions or explore some of the other places to see. No matter what, you’re in for a unique experience.

Breakfast at the Bourse Food Hall

The Bourse is a unique space in the heart of Old City, the most historic part of town. This 125-year-old building was once home to the first commodities exchange market in the US, and it now houses an artisanal food hall packed with local businesses. It’s a great place to start out your day in Philadelphia.

Menagerie Coffee is one of the best places for coffee in the city. They’re always ready with a perfect latte and a selection of breakfast sandwiches and pastries. Barry’s Buns specializes in made-from-scratch sticky buns, cinnamon rolls, and tons of other amazing treats. For a hearty breakfast, Grubhouse is the place. They serve breakfast bowls, pancakes, and even biscuits and gravy.

Visit the Liberty Bell

Large, cracked bell displayed in front of a window in a museum
The Liberty Bell

Just across the street in Independence Mall is the Liberty Bell. Originally known as the State House Bell, it rang in Independence Hall (then the State House) beginning in the 1750s.

The Liberty Bell is free to visit. Its museum features exhibits that cover a range of topics including the making of the bell, its famous crack, and how it became one of the country’s most prominent symbols of freedom used by abolitionists and civil rights pioneers.

Independence Hall

Brick building with a clock tower
Independence Hall on a summer afternoon

Independence Hall is a can’t miss part of any Philadelphia itinerary. It looks much like it did in 1776 when the Founding Fathers walked through its corridors. A free tour takes you through a brief history of the building and the momentous events that happened inside its walls.

You’ll see George Washington’s original chair in the Assembly Room and the inkstand used to sign the Declaration of Independence in the West Wing. Keep an eye out for an original draft of the Constitution.

If your timing is flexible, see our thoughts on the best time to visit Philadelphia.

Carpenters’ Hall

Brick building with white trim and windows and a cobblestone walkway
Carpenters’ Hall features free historical exhibits

Carpenters’ Hall is another one of the top free places to visit in Philadelphia. It was here in 1774 that colonial delegates to the First Continental Congress voted to take a stand against the King of England. The delegates’ chairs and the original banner from the 1788 Constitutional parade are displayed, and you’ll frequently find other rotating historical exhibits.

Museum of the American Revolution

If your interest in Revolutionary War history runs deep, the Museum of the American Revolution is only two blocks away. Its collection includes thousands of artifacts, artworks, weapons, and more in exhibits that take you on a chronological journey from the origins of the conflict in the 1760s through the final years of the war.

The exhibits are designed to make the stories engaging for visitors of all ages and to examine points of view that have often been overlooked, including those of Native and Black Americans. A dedicated theater houses the museum’s most magnificent artifact—George Washington’s original headquarters tent.

A thorough visit to the museum takes around 3 hours. However, you can hit the highlights as quickly as you’d like if you want to see the museum without having it dominate your whole day.

Lunch at Spruce Street Harbor Park

Chairs, tables, and people on colorful floating platforms
People relaxing and eating at Spruce Street Harbor Park

One of our favorite things to do is to visit the city’s waterfront park, which is also a great lunch destination. Spruce Street Harbor Park is the place go to when the weather is nice from May through October. It offers great views and lots of places to lounge, including hammocks that hang over the Delaware River. A selection of vendors offers Philadelphia food classics like crabfries from Chickie’s and Pete’s, tacos from Distrito, vegetarian options from HipCityVeg, or ice cream from Franklin Fountain.

Alternative: If you’re visiting off-season or simply want something that’s not a park, head to Talula’s Garden. This award-winning restaurant focuses on local ingredients, and their menu has a little bit of everything to please different palates.

Magic Gardens

Walls and walkway covered entirely in brightly colored mosaics
A small taste of Magic Gardens

Visiting Magic Gardens is one of the most unique things to do in Philadelphia in a day. The museum is a massive creation composed of tile and found objects such as glass bottles and bicycle wheels. Seeing the space is like walking through a giant mosaic.

Located on South Street, this one-of-a-kind experience is the creation of artist Isaiah Zagar. As you explore the painted corners and pottery-laden walls, you get the distinct feeling that the space is like the artist’s mind came to life. With indoor and outdoor components and spanning half a city block, there is a lot to see here.

Alternatives: If you’d rather continue to explore the city’s history, stay in Old City and visit Elfreth’s Alley and Christ Church. Thanks to its decorations and brightly painted doors, Elfreth’s Alley is one of the most Instagrammable places in the city. It also happens to be the oldest residential street in the US. Visit the museum that occupies 124-126, which tells the history of the street and the tradesmen who lived here when it was built.

Nearby is Christ Church and Christ Church Burial ground. The church itself welcomed Presidents and other notable figures beginning in 1695. A couple of blocks away at Fifth and Arch, the burial ground is the final resting place of many Revolutionary War figures and early leaders, including Benjamin Franklin.

With more time, see what to do in a weekend in Philadelphia.

The Italian Market

Philadelphia’s Italian Market is one of the oldest and largest open-air markets in the country. The area was originally settled primarily by Italians beginning in the 1880s, and the market developed to serve the community.  

The market spans about 10 city blocks along Ninth Street. It is filled with restaurants and vendors selling fresh produce, meats, and specialty items. One of the top purveyors of Italian products in the city, Di Bruno Bros. has a small location and an outdoor market with seating. You’ll also find the famous cheesesteak spots Pat’s and Geno’s here along with award-winning restaurants like South Philly Barbacoa and Kalaya.

Browse the shops, grab a snack, watch a bocce game at Bardascino Park, and appreciate the unique heritage of the neighborhood. If you need an afternoon pick-me-up, grab a coffee or gelato at Anthony’s or head to Rim for cannoli and some of the best hot chocolate in the city.

Dinner at Zahav

Pits bread, hummus, and small bowls of other food on a table
Part of the incredible mezze at Zahav

Zahav is not just one of the best restaurants in the city, it has been widely recognized as one of the best restaurants in the US over and over again. That means that if you want to partake of the delicious Israeli specialties here, you really have to plan ahead. But it’s worth the time. The hummus is amazing and the lamb shoulder with pomegranate molasses is life changing.

Alternatives: Amada serves some of the best tapas and pintxos this side of the Atlantic. There are more than 40 options for small bites and dishes of various sizes. From tortilla Española to gambas al ajillo, the selection is excellent.

The critically acclaimed Vedge is another of our favorite spots. Everything here is vegan and absurdly delicious, so don’t be put off by the lack of meat. We love the rutabaga fondue, the grilled avocado, and anything mushroom. And everything else, too.

Nightcap at Bok Bar

Orange and pink sunset over a city skyline
Sunset view from Bok Bar

For one of the best views in the city and a welcoming atmosphere, you can’t beat Bok Bar. Formerly Bok Vocational High School, this unusual space has many of the details you would expect from a former school, which makes it fun to explore. It’s a great place to enjoy the sunset or a skyline view at night.

Alternative: For a completely different environment, check out Franklin Mortgage & Investment Company. This speakeasy named after a Prohibition-era alcohol ring is singularly focused on making perfect cocktails. The cozy space is perfect for relaxed conversation.

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