If you grew up in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States, you’ve probably taken the obligatory school field trip to Philly— First stop: Liberty Bell, second stop: Independence Hall, third stop: cheesesteaks. Many recognize Philadelphia as one of the most notable cities in American history but cannot name more than two of its landmarks.
The following list will guide your trip through the historic Old City neighborhood, highlighting both the old and the new monuments that make this district worth noting. These are the best things to do in historic Philadelphia.
Christ Church and Burial Ground
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, and the burial yard, located a couple of blocks away at 5th and Arch. The burial ground is the final resting place of many Revolutionary War figures and early leaders, including Benjamin Franklin.
Without Independence Hall, the America we know today would feasibly not exist. This iconic building hosted the creation of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence, and is the center of the Philadelphia historic district.
On a 20-minute guided tour, visitors can see the original drafts of both documents prominently displayed and explore the very courtroom that our nation’s founding fathers once occupied.
A symbol of freedom, human rights, and liberty for all, this monument answers the city’s call for brotherly love. Nothing symbolizes the city more than the Liberty Bell. Many recognize Philadelphia as one of the most historic cities in the U.S. Today, the bell is free for all to visit in Old City.
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 tell a story of pre-industrial livelihood and have for the past 300 years.
While locals continue to inhabit these residences, two of the 32 houses are the designated museum and gift shop. Explore the street on your own or join a 45-minute guided tour to enrich your existing knowledge.
Spruce Street Harbor Park
Spruce Street Harbor Park is hard to miss with colorful hammocks, floating gardens, LED lights strewn throughout tree branches. Relax above the Delaware River on a floating net while savoring an ice cream cone from the Franklin Fountain stand 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.
Mother Bethel AME
With its expansive stained-glass windows, underground tomb, and large collection of Reverend Richard Allen’s artifacts, the Mother Bethel AME Church represents an integral piece of early African American history.
Known for being the mother church of the first Black denomination in America, this house of worship was also built on the oldest piece of land in the country that has been continuously owned by African Americans. Mother Bethel was a stop on the Underground Railroad and welcomed abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass and Lucretia Mott.
Betsy Ross House
Strolling through Old City, you’re guaranteed to run into a few characters, not the least of whom being Betsy Ross. Enter her 1740s home to learn all about her experience with the American Flag, the first President, and, of course, the home itself.
Cherry Street Pier
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.
The President’s House
The President’s House offers a revised history of George Washington and John Adams’ presidencies. When Old Philadelphia was the capital of the United States from 1790 to 1800, enslaved Africans suffered under the nation’s first leaders.
The building is one of the Philadelphia historical sites that no longer survives. However, this exhibit on the original building footprint and the corresponding information panels commemorate the nation’s first executive mansion and, more importantly, tells the stories that hid behind its walls.
The National Constitution Center
Using modern technology, the National Constitution Center has created interactive, high-definition ways to explore America’s most influential that was drafted just a few blocks away. The 160,000-square-foot building allows for an experience that is both immersive, educational, and one of the best things to do in Old City.
In 1774, 12 brave colonies gathered to take a stand against the king of England at Carpenters’ Hall. Today, the one of the best historic sites in Philadelphia displays the delegates of the First Continental Congress’ chairs and the original banner from the 1788 Constitutional parade.
Museum of the American Revolution
You’ve learned about the American Revolution over and over again in the classroom and beyond, but what about seeing it for yourself?
At this museum, original artifacts from this period of American history are on display, including General Washington’s original tent, authentic weapons, and original military documents/orders bring this historic occasion to life. With so many options for virtual learning, you’ll have no problem keeping the kids entertained.
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.
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 National Museum of American Jewish History presents educational programing and highlights the contributions made by Jewish Americans to our collective history.
Second Bank of the United States
Modeled after the Parthenon, the Second Bank of the United States acts as the standard image for many subsequent American bank buildings. The interior of this structure contains an extraordinary collection of 18th century portraiture as well as a pine sculpture of George Washington.