Fun Things to Do in Old City, Philadelphia

Spending time in Old City is one of the best ways to uncover the heart of Philadelphia. Its mix of pleasant parks, riverfront fun, and attractions that date from America’s early days make a visit to the historic district one-of-a-kind.

Whether you’re a first-time visitor looking to see highlights like Independence Hall, or if relaxing by the water is more your speed, there are lots of fun things to do in Old City. Ongoing revitalization of historic sites and development along the waterfront ensures that there are always new sites to see.

Here’s a look at some of our favorite things in the neighborhood.  

Visit historic Christ Church

Two-level church sanctuary with pews and windows behind the altar.
The sanctuary of Christ Church

The birthplace of the American Episcopal Church, Christ Church was founded in 1695. These walls have seen the likes of presidents, signers of the Declaration of Independence, and other notable figures among its worshipers. Ranking among the ten most visited sites in Philadelphia, Christ Church offers daily talks and tours of the grounds located at 2nd and Church.

The educators inside can answer just about any question you have about the church and Christianity in early Philadelphia, so don’t hesitate to ask. Take a stroll through the sanctuary to learn about the history of the building, which dates from 1744. Don’t miss the plaques marking the pews frequented by George Washington, Betsy Ross, and the Penn family, among other notable parishioners.

See Christ Church Burial Ground

Rows of old tombstones in a burial ground surrounded by trees.
18th-century headstones at Christ Church Burial Ground

Christ Church Burial Ground is located at 5th and Arch, a few blocks away from the main church site. The burial ground is a fascinating place to visit. It is the final resting place of many Revolutionary War figures and early leaders. A walk among the headstones is a who’s who of people who shaped the early days of the United States. Fortunately the headstones of notable figures are well marked and easy to spot as you wander the grounds.

Make sure to stop at Benjamin Franklin’s grave at the northwest corner of the burial ground. Its large stone is almost always covered with pennies left by visitors–an homage to Franklin’s adage that “a penny saved is a penny earned.” If you don’t want to pay the $5 to enter, you can still see Franklin’s grave through a hole in the wall.

Enjoy Cherry Street Pier

People at tables on Cheery Street Pier with Benjamin Franklin Bridge in background
The Cherry Street Pier and the Ben Franklin Bridge

An indoor/outdoor hub for local creatives, Cherry Street Pier offers a revolving event space with a spectacular view of the Delaware River. Enjoy an impressive selection of local food vendors while admiring the work of Philly-based artists in the 14 artist studios housed within the pier.

Tour Independence Hall

Exterior of a 2-story building with a clock tower.
South side of Independence Hall

Several of the most important meetings in America’s history happened at Independence Hall. Once the Pennsylvania State House, this iconic building hosted the meetings where the Constitution and Declaration of Independence were hammered out, and it’s the center of the Philadelphia historic district. You’ll know it by the prominent statue of George Washington in front (and the park rangers clearly keeping watch).

On a guided tour, visitors can see the original drafts of both historic documents and explore the very courtroom that their drafters once occupied as well as a chair that belonged to Washington. At about 20 minutes long, the tour is brief but worthwhile and informative. You may also have a chance to explore the first Congressional building and Supreme Court while you’re here, if they are open.

If you’re visiting in the busy summer months, plan ahead by reserving a ticket for just $1. Note that you need to pass through security to enter the Independence Hall complex, so leave plenty of time before your scheduled visit.

See the Liberty Bell

Large cracked bell on display in a museum in front of a window.
The Liberty Bell with its famous crack

Nothing symbolizes Philadelphia more than the Liberty Bell. This monument to civil rights and freedom is free to visit just a few steps from Independence Hall.

A visit to the Liberty Bell is quick, generally only about 20-30 minutes depending on your interest level in the museum’s exhibits. You can also make a beeline straight to the back of the building if you only want to see the bell. Alternatively, the bell is visible through a window 24/7, and it’s lit up at night, so you can see it whenever your schedule allows.

Grab a bite at The Bourse

People standing in line at a counter in a food hall.
Stands at the Bourse Food Hall

If you’re seeing the sites of historic Philadelphia, the Bourse Food Hall is a good place to take a break for something to eat. Stop for ice cream at Scoop De Ville or poke bowls at Abunai Poke. We particularly love the sandwiches at Freebyrd Chicken.

Stroll along Elfreth’s Alley

Home with green door, shutters, and a wreath covered with the colonial American flag.
A house in Elfreth’s Alley

Elfreth’s Alley is where historic Philly comes alive, capturing a time before large factories, when artisans and tradespeople worked out of their residential first floors. Each of the alleyway’s 32 colorful homes tells a story of pre-industrial livelihoods and has for the past 300 years, making it the oldest street in America. Residents regularly decorate for holidays and events in Elfreth’s Alley, so it’s fun to visit at different times throughout the year because we always see something different.

Two of the homes have been converted into museum that provides more detail about street’s history ($3 for adult admission; closed in winter). Explore the street on your own or join a 45-minute guided tour to enrich your existing knowledge. For even more stories about the people who lived and worked here, listen to the museum’s podcast.

Hang out at Spruce Street Harbor Park  

Chairs, tables, and people on colorful floating platforms at Spruce Street Harbor Park
The floating pier at Spruce Street

Spruce Street Harbor Park is one of our favorite places to visit in season. This comfortable spot along the Delaware River is hard to miss with colorful hammocks, floating gardens, and LED lights dripping from the tree branches. In addition to the lovely setting and scenery, the numerous vendors help create a space that’s perfect for hanging out.

At the park, you can relax above the river on a floating net while savoring ice cream or water ice, or take a load off in the beer garden over select craft brews and seasonal cocktails. Whether fall, spring, or summer, this park has something to offer for everyone.

Try a cheesesteak

Cheesesteak on black and white paper wrapper.
A cheesesteak from Sonny’s

Old City is a perfect place to try one of the city’s favorite foods–cheesesteaks. There are several good cheesesteak places to choose from, particularly around Market Street, which is a convenient stop if you’re spending the day in the historic area. Campo’s and Sonny’s, which have both made great cheesesteaks for decades, are our top choices in the area.

Visit Betsy Ross House

Courtyard of an historic home filled with tables and chairs and a flag of the 13 colonies hanging on the wall.
Betsy Ross House

Strolling through the Old City neighborhood, you’re guaranteed to run into a few characters, not the least of whom is Betsy Ross. At her 1740s home, you’ll learn all about her experience with the American flag, the first president, and, of course, the home itself.

In the courtyard, you’ll see the seamstress’s grave, which contributes to the legend that the home is haunted. Inside, it’s decidedly less spooky. There, historic interpreters work in an 18th-century upholstery shop of the kind Betsy owned, and Betsy herself can answer your questions about her famous work.

There are kids’ activities, too, including historic mysteries to solve as you visit the house and an audio tour about growing up in colonial America. In the summer, performers tell short 3- to 5-minute stories on the storytelling bench outside.

See the President’s House

Metal window and door frames set in a partial brick wall in the footprint of a demolished historic building.
The President’s House exhibit

The President’s House offers a revised history of George Washington and John Adams’s presidencies. When Philadelphia was the capital of the United States from 1790 to 1800, enslaved Africans suffered under the nation’s first leaders in the very spot where the open-air exhibit stands now.

The building that was here, which housed the Washington and Adams families, no longer survives. But this display in its original footprint commemorates the nation’s first executive mansion and, more importantly, tells the stories that hid behind its walls.

Tour the Museum of the American Revolution

Large white fabric tent on a stage.
Washington’s Headquarters tent

You’ve learned about the American Revolution over and over again in the classroom and beyond, but what about seeing it for yourself?

At the Museum of the American Revolution, original artifacts from the colonial period of American history are on display, including General Washington’s original tent, which is the highlight of the visit. Authentic weapons, original military documents, and stories from soldiers and citizens help put the reality of war in perspective. Unexpectedly, exhibits also include the perspectives of women, Native Americans, and African Americans, whose voices have historically been left out of discussions about the Revolution.

Whether you’re a history lover, a casual observer, or even have kids in tow, there is a lot to learn at this museum. An average visit is around 90 minutes, but it’s possible to spend much more time here. If you’re visiting with kids, don’t miss the Revolution Place discovery center–a recreation of 18th-century Old City, complete with a military encampment–or the ship with movable canons and cargo.

Get outside at Race Street Pier

Race Street Pier, a multi-tiered recreation space, sits directly under the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. With gorgeous views of the water, you can walk the dog, enjoy free yoga classes, or just sit and take in the atmosphere. It’s open for enjoyment year-round.

See the exhibits at Carpenters’ Hall

Red brick building with a cupola surrounded by trees.
Carpenters’ Hall, built in 1740

In 1774, 12 brave colonies gathered to take a stand against the King of England at Carpenters’ Hall. Today, it’s one of the free historic sites to visit. You can see the chairs of the delegates of the First Continental Congress and the original banner from the 1788 Constitutional parade. Temporary exhibits change frequently, and many are celebrating the 250th anniversary of the Continental Congress this year. The building is worth a brief stop for the history alone.

Explore the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History

Founded for America’s Bicentennial, this specialty museum traces the experiences of Jewish life in America. Through thousands of artifacts, documents, images, and original films, the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History presents educational programing and highlights the contributions made by Jewish Americans to our collective history.

See the portrait gallery at the Second Bank of the United States

Large marble building with eight large columns.
The stately Second Bank

Modeled after the Parthenon in Athens, the Second Bank of the United States acts as the standard image for many subsequent American bank buildings. The interior is an art gallery featuring a pine sculpture of George Washington and an extraordinary collection of 18th-century portraits featuring the who’s who of 1700s Philadelphia.

The gallery’s most remarkable feature is its collection of more than 100 portraits by noted artist Charles Willson Peale who once had his own museum in the city (it closed in the mid-1800s). The works highlight the people whom Peale believed made the new nation and the world a better place.

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 lots of main attractions.
Kimpton Hotel Monaco – Known for its views of Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, this modern hotel offers a rooftop lounge and top-notch amenities.
Loews Philadelphia – Located across from the convention center, the Loews has well-appointed rooms and an indoor pool.

2 thoughts on “Fun Things to Do in Old City, Philadelphia”

  1. Dollie Giachetti

    This was really helpful! We are coming to Philadelphia for one day only in June 2023 and have so many things we want to see that I know it will be impossible to do so. Your article hit some of the highlights of the area we are sure not to miss!

    1. Laura Longwell

      I’m so glad it was helpful. Old City is certainly one of the top places for visitors, but there’s so much to see in Philly. Hopefully your visit will make you want to come back some time soon 🙂

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