One Day in Philadelphia

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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.

Highlights include…Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell are must-sees for history lovers. Spruce Street Harbor Park provides a lively riverside experience, and Magic Gardens is a creative environment unlike anywhere else. Bok Bar offers the best skyline view in the city along with good food and drinks.

Breakfast at the Bourse Food Hall

People sitting at tables in a large room.
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 featuring local businesses. It’s a great place to start out your day in Philadelphia.

For a hearty breakfast at The Bourse, head to Grubhouse. The food is excellent, and service is efficient and friendly. There are dozens of options to fuel up for your day ranging from chicken and waffles to bacon, egg, and cheese breakfast sandwiches. Our top choices are the blueberry pancakes and the sausage and pepper breakfast bowl.

Alternative: If you’re staying outside of Old City, head to Reading Terminal Market. Highlights of the remarkable market like the Dutch Eating Place–which serves Pennsylvania Dutch specialties–and Kismet Bialys are excellent options for breakfast. We also love Old City Coffee and Beiler’s Donuts, which are among the best in the city.

Visit the Liberty Bell

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

Just across the street from The Bourse in Independence Mall is the Liberty Bell. Originally known as the State House Bell, it rang in Independence Hall (then the Pennsylvania 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.

If the line is long, you can see the Bell from the outside through the glass wall on the building’s south side. It’s viewable 24 hours a day and is lit up at night.

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 20-minute 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. There is also an original draft of the Constitution on display. If you want even more history, visit Congress Hall next door (still within the secure zone). It was the meeting place of the House of Representative and the US Senate in the decade that Philadelphia was the US capital. It is also where George Washington and—eight years later—John Adams were sworn in as president, completing the nation’s first peaceful transfer of power.

Tickets are just $1 online and can be reserved here (tickets aren’t necessary in January and February outside of holiday weekends). Make sure to leave time to go through the security screening before your tour.

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 in the hall, and you’ll frequently find other rotating historical exhibits. The museum is small, but it’s worth a quick visit.

In December 2022, Carpenters’ Hall was damaged by fire, but it has since been renovated and is back open to the public.

Museum of the American Revolution

Large white fabric tent on a stage with the backdrop of a field.
General Washington’s headquarters tent

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 star of the show is the museum’s most magnificent artifact—George Washington’s original headquarters tent—that is displayed in a dedicated theater.

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. We were surprised to find the perspectives of women and Native and Black Americans included, since these groups are often left out of much of the discussion about independence and the American Revolution.

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 if you’re visiting on a weekend. 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, or water ice.

Alternatives: If the park is closed or you would simply like a different environment, head to Talula’s Daily. This cafe-market combination has a little bit of everything to please different palates. If you’re craving a cheesesteak, Campo’s is a 5-minute walk. This Philadelphia institution has served diners since 1947, and its cheesesteaks are a solid choice.

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 seasonal decorations and brightly painted doors, Elfreth’s Alley is one of the most photographed 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.

Rows of old tombstones in Christ Church burial ground surrounded by trees.
Historic gravestones at Christ Church burial ground

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.

It’s $5 to walk around the burial ground, but if you just want to see Franklin’s grave, it is visible through a cut-out in the northwest part of the wall. It is almost always covered with pennies–a reference to Franklin’s “a penny saved is a penny earned.”

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

The Italian Market

People eating at outdoor tables in front of a mural labeled "Di Bruno Bros, The House of Cheese."
Seating at Di Bruno Bros. in 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, a bottle shop, and ample outdoor seating. You’ll also find the famous cheesesteak spots Pat’s and Geno’s here along with restaurants like Casa Mexico, which is a must-visit if you like Mexican food (try their award-winning lamb barbacoa, if it’s available).

Browse the shops, grab a snack, watch a bocce game at Bardascino Park, and appreciate the heritage of the neighborhood. If you need an afternoon pick-me-up, grab a coffee or gelato at Anthony’s or head to Rim Cafe 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 lamb alblondigas, the selection is excellent. We particularly love the gambas al ajillo,

The critically acclaimed Vedge is another of our favorite spots. Everything they serve 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 grab a drink and enjoy the sunset or a skyline view at night. It’s open from mid-April through late October.

Alternative: For a completely different environment, check out Franklin Mortgage & Investment Company. This speakeasy offers a cozy space that’s perfect for relaxed conversation plus some of the best cocktails around. Andra Hem is another fabulous option in the Rittenhouse neighborhood. Reservations are recommended for both, but especially for Andra Hem.

If you book through the affiliate links below, we may earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you).

Where to Stay
Marriott Old City – This 4-star hotel noted for its comfortable beds and helpful staff is close to the sites in Old City.
Kimpton Hotel Monaco – Known for its views of Independence Mall, this modern hotel offers a rooftop lounge and top-notch service.
Loews Philadelphia – Centrally located, the Loews has modern rooms and an indoor pool.

4 thoughts on “One Day in Philadelphia”

      1. Looking for easy access for husband and his Walker? Many of this where on my list but walking maybe an issue.

        1. Laura Longwell

          I would suggest focusing on a few sites that are close together depending on how easy it is for him to get around. For instance, the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall are across the street from each other. Another option might be a hop-on hop-off tour, which would drop you right by the major sites.

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