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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, then Independence Hall, then cheesesteaks. Many recognize Philadelphia as one of the most notable cities in American history but cannot name more than two of its historical sites.
The following list will guide your trip through the historic things to see in the city, highlighting both the old and the new places that make this district worth noting. These are the best things to do in Old City Philadelphia.
Visit historic 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.
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
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.
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.”
Tour Independence Hall
Several of the most important meetings in America’s history happened at Independence Hall. This iconic building hosted the creation of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence, and it’s the center of the Philadelphia historic district. On a 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.
See the Liberty Bell
A symbol of freedom, human rights, and liberty, 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.
Grab a bite at The Bourse
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 coffee at Menagerie Coffee, a fantastic sandwich at Freebyrd Chicken, and lots of other delicious options.
Stroll along 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.
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.
Hang out at Spruce Street Harbor Park
Spruce Street Harbor Park is hard to miss with colorful hammocks, floating gardens, and LED lights strewn throughout tree branches. Relax above the Delaware River on a floating net while savoring ice cream or water ice from one of the vendors, 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.
Learn the history of 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 in Philadelphia.
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.
Try a cheesesteak
Old City Philadelphia 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. Campo’s and Sonny’s are among our top choices in the area.
Visit Betsy Ross House
Strolling through the Old City neighborhood, 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.
Enjoy 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.
See the President’s House
The President’s House offers a revised history of George Washington and John Adams’s 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.
Explore the National Constitution Center
Using modern technology, the National Constitution Center has created interactive, high-definition ways to explore America’s most influential document that was drafted just a few blocks away. The 160,000-square-foot building allows for an experience that is immersive, educational, and one of the best things to do in Old City.
Tour the 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 the Museum of the American Revolution, original artifacts from the colonial period of American history are on display, including General Washington’s original tent. Authentic weapons and original military documents and orders help bring the historic events to life. With so many options for virtual learning, you’ll have no problem keeping the kids entertained, which makes this one of the best places for kids in Philly.
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.
See the exhibits at Carpenters’ Hall
In 1774, 12 brave colonies gathered to take a stand against the king of England at Carpenters’ Hall. Today, it’s one of the best historic sites in Philadelphia and displays the chairs of the delegates of the First Continental Congress and the original banner from the 1788 Constitutional parade.
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
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.
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.