12 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Philadelphia
Philadelphia is one of America's most important historical cities. At Independence Hall on July 4, 1776 the Declaration of Independence was adopted and in September 1787 the Constitution was drafted. A century earlier, William Penn, a prominent Quaker, was the catalyst for the changes which transformed these British colonies into an independent nation.
Today, modern office towers and streets exist side-by-side with narrow cobblestone streets. Independence Historic National Park is a highly concentrated strip of early buildings and sights, including the Liberty Bell, Franklin Court, and Independence Hall. To the south lies Society Hill, the city's original residential area. Many of the eighteenth-century buildings have been handsomely restored. Similarly, Germantown in northwest Philadelphia, is another old residential section, first inhabited by Germans and the Dutch. To the west, along Schuylkill River, lies Fairmount Park, a vast belt of greenland containing numerous Federal-style mansions as well as the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Rodin Museum. Just south of that lies the museum district, including the Franklin Institute of Science Museum and the Academy of Natural Sciences.
See also: Where to Stay in Philadelphia
1 Independence National Historical Park
Independence National Historical Park is quite possibly America's most historic square mile. Famous sites such as Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, and Congress Hall, along with many other important attractions line the cobbled streets of this old area.
Independence Hall has seen some of America's most important historical moments and hosted some of its most famous fathers. It stood witness to the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, and the creation of the United States Constitution in 1787. It is flanked by Congress Hall, in which the first Congress of the United States met from 1790 to 1800 and George Washington and John Adams were elected President, and Old City Hall, which was never in fact the town hall but was the seat of the Supreme Court from 1791 to 1800.
To the north of Independence Hall extends the park-like Independence Mall, laid out in 1948. On its east side, at 55 North 5th Street, is the National Museum of American Jewish History. North of the museum, in Arch Street, is Christ Church Benjamin Franklin's
Visitors' first stop should be the Visitor Center off Dock Street near 3rd Street, for information and walking tour maps. For a truncated tour, visit Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell Pavilion first. However, budget at least one full day to tour the park.
2 Liberty Bell Pavilion
The liberty bell has long been a symbol of freedom and independence in the United States. It went on tour around the country in the late 19th C in an effort to inspire a sense of freedom and conquer divisions left by the Civil War. The bell completed its journey in Philadelphia in 1915, where it has remained.
Address: 143 South Third Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106, United States
3 Independence Hall
Independence Hall originally served as the State House of the Colony of Pennsylvania and is best known as the place where the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776. It was also where the Continental Congress met again 11 years later and wrote the United States Constitution. The highlight is Assembly Hall, where the Second Continental Congress met behind closed doors to discuss their desire for independence from the British. This is where the Declaration of Independence was signed and where George Washington was chosen as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army. Across from Independence Hall is the Liberty Bell.
Address: 143 South Third Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106, United States
4 Philadelphia Museum of Art
The Philadelphia Museum of Art contains one of the United States' largest collections of art. It is housed in a neoclassical building fronted by a broad set of stairs which became famous after they were used the classic American "Rocky" films.
Among the finest sections of the museum are the medieval galleries, which include pictures by Rogier van der Weyden and the van Eyck brothers. In other rooms are Renaissance and Baroque works and art of the 18th and 19th centuries, including pictures by Van Gogh, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, Manet, Cezanne, Monet, and Degas. 20th century European art is represented by Picasso, Chagall, Matisse, Miro, Paul Klee, and other artists. There is also American art by the Philadelphia artists Thomas Eakins, Charles Wilson Peale ("The Staircase Group", 1795) and many others. In addition, there are fine collections of Asian art, with porcelain, jade and Oriental carpets.
5 Eastern State Penitentiary
The Eastern State Penitentiary was built in 1829 with the aim of rehabilitating criminals through solitary confinement. At the time of its opening, it was considered the world's most expensive and high-tech prison. Willie Sutton and Al Capone were some of the prison's notable "guests". It closed in 1971. Today it is open to the public as a museum with tours of the facility showing some sections which remain much the same as they were during its operational years.
Address: 2027 Fairmount Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19130-2694, United States
6 Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts Museum
This Fine Arts Museum features a strong collection of American Art from the 18th, 19th, and 20th Centuries, including works by early American artists right through to Andy Warhol. The academy is also known for being the oldest of its kind in the United States.
Address: 118 North Broad Street, Philadelphia, PA 19102-1510, United States
7 City Center
The Philadelphia City Center is home to some interesting areas and sites, both old and new. The main attractions are the landmark City Hall with its outstanding Gothic tower, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts Museum, along with a modest Chinatown and numerous other architectural delights. Broad Street is a good place to start a walking tour. Though not as concentrated an area as neighboring Independence Historic National Park lying to the west, this area does contain a fair amount of important attractions, from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts to the Civil War Library & Museum and the Reading Terminal Market. Other highlights in the City Center include the Gothic revival style Arch Street Methodist church, the African-American Museum in Philadelphia, the Masonic Temple, and Rittenhouse Square.
8 Society Hill Historic District
This interesting neighborhood, south of Walnut Street and east of Washington Square, contains a unique blend of 18th Century buildings, restored warehouses, new homes, colonial homes, and apartments. Some of these are occupied by galleries and other tourist friendly retailers. Attractions in and around this area include Washington Square, the Polish American Cultural Center, and Old St. Mary's Church, along with the Old Pine Street Presbyterian Church and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania Library.
In Washington Square, once the burial-place of those who died in the fight for independence, is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier of the Revolution, with an eternal flame. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is the only tomb in America erected to the memory of the unknown Revolutionary War soldiers.
9 Rodin Museum
With more than 100 works by famous French sculptor, Auguste Rodin, this museum contains one of the most extensive collections of his work outside of France. On display are bronze casts of some of his most famous masterpieces.
10 Franklin Institute Science Museum
This creative museum is a tribute to scientist, Benjamin Franklin, complete with a huge marble statue of a seated Franklin located in one of the large halls. The Franklin Institute Science Museum, which is in fact several museums under one roof, displays many of Franklin's own experiments. It is particularly concerned with the physical bases of technology and offers visitors the opportunity to try their own experiments, in many fields - computers, information technology, space travel, astronomy, oceanography.
In addition to the museum, the center is also home to an IMAX Theater and the Fels Planetarium.
11 Fairmount Park
This lovely park along the Schuykill River and Wissahickon Creek is home to the Philadelphia Zoo, the Rodin Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Japanese House and Garden, along with numerous other attractions. There are also gardens, ball fields, swimming pools, tennis courts, hiking paths, picnic areas and playgrounds.
12 Fort Mifflin
Near the junction of the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers is Fort Mifflin, the sight of a Revolutionary War battle. It was built by the British in 1772. During the War of Independence it fell into the hands of the American patriots and defended Philadelphia against British attacks. Both Fort Mifflin and the hospital that is on the grounds are listed on the National Register of Historic Buildings.
Address: Fort Mifflin Road, Philadelphia, PA 19153, United States
Where to Stay in Philadelphia for Sightseeing
To appreciate this historic city and all of its treasures, it's best to stay right in the heart of it all, in the downtown's Old City. This is where many of the major attractions are located, including Independence National Historic Park. The hotels listed below are all highly-rated and conveniently located for sightseeing.
- Luxury Hotels: One of the most highly-rated hotels in the city is the Hotel Monaco Philadelphia, by Kimpton. This is a boutique hotel in a restored building in the Old City, with a great location near Independence National Historic Park. Nearby, and overlooking the park, is the charming Franklin Hotel at Independence Park by Marriott. Near Rittenhouse Square is the Rittenhouse Hotel, a luxury property in a good location in the city center that prides itself on being family friendly, with extras for children, and pet friendly.
- Mid-Range Hotels: The Morris House Hotel is set in a 1787 mansion that is now a National Historic Landmark. This quaint boutique hotel, with large rooms and a lovely courtyard, is in an excellent location in the Old City. Also listed on the National Registry of Historic Places and in a good location for sightseeing, is the Best Western Plus Independence Park Hotel. A little further out from the Old City but still in a decent location and close to attractions is the Doubletree, by Hilton.
- Budget Hotels: The Alexander Inn is a reasonably priced boutique hotel in the city center with large, comfortable rooms. Another good budget choice, within walking distance of some of the main tourist attractions, is the Sleep Inn City Center. Also in the budget category is the Rodeway Inn Center City, with decent rooms and a good location.
Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Philadelphia
Joining an organized tour is a great way to see all the highlights of Philadelphia without the hassle of navigating the busy city streets and finding a parking spot. Along the way, you'll learn stories about the city's history from an audio commentary or a professional guide, depending on the tour selected. Below are some fun sightseeing tours that guarantee the lowest price:
- See the Sights: On the Philadelphia Hop-On Hop-Off City Tour, you can relax and see all the sights from an open-air double decker bus. This convenient tour travels on a 1.5-hour loop around the city encompassing 27 different attractions, including the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, and you can hop on and off at your favorite stops. This pass gives you maximum flexibility to plan your itinerary, with courtesy shuttles from city center hotels and the option of a two- or three-day validity. If you prefer a more intimate, on-the-ground experience, consider the Philadelphia Segway Tour. You can choose between a one- or two-hour loop around the city, stopping to see sights such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Italian Market. This small-group tour, with a maximum of six people, offers a more personalized experience and includes Segway training and photos.
- Travel back in Time: If you're a history buff, the Founding Fathers Tour of Philadelphia is a fun way to learn about the birthplace of American freedom on a walking tour around the city. Accompanied by an expert guide, this two-hour tour helps you appreciate all the stories behind Philadelphia's top historical attractions and includes a visit to the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, and other important landmarks, as well as admission fees and a refreshment.