Philadelphia has so much history in their many museums, exhibits, and attractions, families could easily be here 3-4 days. We only had two, so we had to make some tough decisions. We did manage to tour all the following Old City attractions in Philadelphia over the course of a day and a half, plus visited the Philadelphia Museum of Art and enjoyed some good eats
There’s no cost to tour Independence Hall, the site of the meeting of the first congregational congress and signing of the Declaration of Independence. You do, however, need to reserved timed tickets for entry. This can be done day-of at the Visitor’s Center one block away, but on busy summer days, we highly recommend doing this ahead of time online (there’s a small service fee of $1.50 per ticket). Arrive at the hall 30 minutes before your tour time to go through security (you can bring bags in) and then queue up in the back courtyard. The tour is only 30 minutes long, but is fantastic: our National Park guide kept all the kids’ attention and conveyed her obvious passion for history with all the adults. The whole process will take an hour. Tip: Remember, many sites, such as Independence Hall, are run by the National Parks service. Kids can earn Junior Ranger badges here. Get a booklet at the Visitor’s Center.
Visitor’s Center and Liberty Bell:
I’m lumping these two attractions together because of their proximity to each other. Start at the Liberty Bell first thing in the morning, as the line does get crazy long, crazy fast. Tip: if you just can’t wait in the line, there is a glass window at the very front where people can glance in at the bell (and you’re not cutting in front of anyone). What you miss: the exhibits explaining the significance of the bell that unfold as the line continues). Head to the Visitor’s Center next and see one of two 20-30 minute movies continuously running in the theater. This is the time to grab those Junior Ranger booklets. There is no cost for either attraction.
Betsy Ross House:
We really enjoyed touring Betsy Ross’ house. Before the self-guided tour through her little home, I had no idea what her life had been like, other than the fact that she sewed the first flag. The tour gives you a great overview of what life was like for average citizens in the late 18th century, but also gives more details of Betsy’s life. Tickets are $5 for adults and $4 for kids, and there’s an audio tour option. Definitely worth the cost of admission.
Christ Church and church graveyard:
Christ Church is stunning, and there’s a particular wow factor to sitting in George Washington’s pew. This is a living, working church (with a congregation today) so entry is free, and docents are on-hand to point out where Betsy Ross sat, Washington sat, and more. The church graveyard is located a few blocks away, and costs $2 to get in. Inside, most of the signers of the Declaration of Independence are buried here, including Ben Franklin. It’s possible to see Franklin’s grave from outside the gates through an opening in the fence, if you don’t want to go all the way in. We really enjoyed touring through the old gravestones.
Near Christ Church is Elfeth’s Alley, the oldest neighborhood in the US that has been continuously occupied by residents. Walking down the narrow alley is free, but remember that people live here…it’s not ok to look in windows, etc. A small museum is open part-time. Be sure to walk all the way down and turn left though another small alley to the end: there’s an interesting board that tells about the residents from the 18th century.
National Constitution Center:
The National Constitution Center is a larger museum on Arch Street and houses the Museum of We the People, plus America’s Town Hall and many civic exhibits. Kids can vote in a voter’s booth, see a replica of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, take the oath of office as President of the US, and learn about the Constitution. There’s a lot of reading in here, so we recommend skipping it if your kids are all under age five. Definitely start with the multi-media theater production; it’s fantastic.
This small court behind the row of Market Street buildings Franklin once owned features the Franklin Museum and the site of Franklin’s house. The house has long since been torn down, so a metal frame has been erected in its place, marking where it once stood. Exhibits talk about the house and show original bricks and the original basement. We didn’t get a chance to see the main museum; tickets had been sold out for the day. Hit this spot by at least lunchtime and you should be ok. The courtyard is quiet and cool, which is another plus.
Not to be confused with Franklin Court, Franklin Square is located at the end of the Old City district and features a working carousel, playground, and miniature golf course. The golf course’s features are all replicas of Philly historical landmarks. Play a game for about $25 for a family of four. This area is nice for a break from historical touring, but would be the first thing we omitted from the itinerary if time were an issue.
Philly Duck Tours:
A fun way to get an overview of any city is through a Duck Tour with Ride the Ducks! We take advantage of these in any city in which it’s offered: the amphibious ‘duck’ vehicle is operated by a funny, entertaining tour guide and takes guests over the land and water of Philly. The tour is 90 minutes, and by the end, adults are oriented to the city and kids have a grasp on what they’ll be seeing later that day. We book our Duck Tour for morning of our first day.
Where to find all the above attractions: Maps are available at the Visitor’s Center. Definitely pick one up. All the above attractions are within walking distance of each other.