15 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions 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 and namesake of Pennsylvania, was a catalyst for the changes that transformed these British colonies into an independent nation. Today, modern office towers exist side-by-side with the narrow cobblestone streets of Independence Historic National Park, which is home to historic 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 these 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 green 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 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 century 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. Today, the bell is open to free public viewing in a pavilion that houses exhibits and videos about its history.
Address: 143 South Third Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
2 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. Independence Hall sits across from the Liberty Bell Pavilion in the Independence National Historical Park. There is no entrance fee, but tickets are timed and limited, and all visitors should be prepared for security screening. Free ESL services are available with advance request.
Address: 143 South Third Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
3 Independence National Historical Park
Independence National Historical Park is quite possibly America's most historic square mile. In addition to housing famous sites, such as Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, 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, where 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. The park is also home to the Ben Franklin Museum, which has a collection of exhibits dedicated to celebrating this revolutionary inventor's many remarkable qualities. The Visitor Center off Dock Street is a good place to begin the day to get current information, tickets, and walking tour maps.
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 featured in 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, Cézanne, Monet, and Degas. A collection of 20th-century European art is represented by Picasso, Chagall, Matisse, Miró, 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.
Address: 2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
5 Reading Terminal Market
The Market at Reading Terminal has been a National Historic Landmark since 1995, and is a deeply rooted Philadelphia institution. It has been in operation since 1893, when the Reading Railroad Company built this space beneath their new station to accommodate the farmers and butchers who had been using the area for their open-air markets for decades prior. The old market has undergone renovations, but it has retained its unique ambience and many of the structure's original features. Today, you will find more than 80 merchants, 75 of whom are small independent businesses. Both locals and tourists come to buy local produce; free-range meats; canned goods; fresh-baked Amish breads; and handmade crafts, including clothing, jewelry, and gifts.
Address: 51 North 12th Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
6 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," and visitors can see Capone's lavish cell as it was during his stay. The prison closed in 1971, and today it is open to the public as a museum. Tours of the facility show many sections that remain much the same as they were during its operational years. Exhibits include an in-depth look at incarceration in the United States, how it compares to other countries, and the ever-increasing disproportionate imprisonment of minorities.
Address: 2027 Fairmount Avenue, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
7 Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts Museum
This Fine Arts Museum features a collection of American Art from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, including works by early American artists right through to Andy Warhol. It is housed in a National Historic Landmark building designed by American architects Frank Furness and George W. Hewitt. The museum is part of the Fine Arts Academy, and its exhibits and archives are an important resource for the school. In addition to contemporary and historical art exhibitions, the museum features exhibits of work by the academy's students. The academy is also known for being the oldest of its kind in the United States.
Address: 118 North Broad Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
8 The Barnes Foundation
Established by Dr. Albert Barnes, this museum is an integral part of Philadelphia's Parkway museum district. It houses some of the world's biggest collections of French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings, including the world's largest Renoir collection and more of Cézanne's works than there are in all of France. There are just short of 60 Matisse paintings, as well as numerous works by Degas, Manet, and Titian. Additional collections include early modern artists, including Picasso, as well as a large collection of African sculpture. The museum welcomes guests free of charge on the first Sunday of the month for gallery viewings, activities, and family friendly entertainment, while monthly on the first Friday, adults are invited to spend the evening exploring collections, attending lectures, and mingling with like-minded aficionados while enjoying live music and refreshments.
Address: 2025 Benjamin Franklin Parkway Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
9 Please Touch Museum
The Please Touch Museum is every kid's dream - a place where they can "look with their hands" instead of just their eyes. This completely interactive museum encourages kids of all ages to learn through play, giving them the chance to explore history, fantasy worlds, space, and the big wide world around them. Exhibits like the kid-size city include costumes they can use to play the part while experimenting with different professions. As educational as it is fun, the River Adventures exhibit encourages children to learn about science and physics by using dams, waterwheels, levers, locks, and other water-manipulating equipment. Kids even have an opportunity to explore the garden, where the museum's café grows its produce. Outdoors, you will also find a Dentzel Carousel that is more than a century old, originally operated at the nearby Woodside Park and now fully restored to its former glory.
Address: Memorial Hall, Fairmount Park, 4231 Avenue of the Republic, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
10 Philadelphia Zoo
The Philadelphia Zoo is home to a wide range of animals from around the world and is active in wildlife conservation and rehabilitation efforts, focusing on educating visitors about the ways humans impact the earth's other residents. One of its most remarkable habitats is Big Cat Falls, a spacious area where the world's largest cats can roam among plants and flowing waterfalls, as well as explore the entire park through a system of tunnels that wind above other habitats - including the human visitors. Another favorite with both kids and adults is the African Plains habitat, where you can meet some of the zoo's most impressive residents, including giraffes, hippos, and a white rhinoceros.
Outback Outpost is home to some of Australia's most fascinating wildlife, including red kangaroos and emus. Other habitats include Bear Country, which is home to species from Asia, South America, and North America, and Carnivore Kingdom, where you can meet dwarf mongooses and even the (vegetarian) red panda. There is also a reptile and amphibian house; an aviary; and Monkey Junction, which is home to two pairs of spider monkeys. At the small mammal house, visitors can see the nocturnal residents as they go about their day, thanks to clever lighting that inverts their sleep cycle. The zoo also operates a primate reserve and a rare animal conservation center, where you can see some of the earth's most endangered animals, learn about issues affecting them, and find out how to help.
Address: 3400 West Girard Avenue, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
11 Rodin Museum
With close to 100 works by famous French sculptor Auguste Rodin, this museum contains one of the most extensive collections of his work outside France. The museum includes plasters, bronzes, and marbles of some of Rodin's most famous masterpieces. In the outdoor sculpture garden, visitors can view some of his best-known works, including The Thinker and Rodin's seminal work, The Gates of Hell. Rodin's career was remarkable for his unconventional training and his philosophy that sculpture should stay true to the natural form, and he is considered the father of modern sculpture.
Address: 2151 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
12 The 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, and oceanography. In addition to the museum, the center is also home to an IMAX Theater and the Fels Planetarium.
Address: 222 N 20th Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
13 Fairmount Park
This lovely park along the Schuylkill 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 and things to do. There are also gardens, ball fields, swimming pools, tennis courts, hiking paths, picnic areas, and playgrounds. The park is a National Historic Landmark, and it is one of the nation's first parks created to serve as both a public green space and a watershed protection area.
Address: Reservoir Drive, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
14 City Hall
Philadelphia's City Hall is the United States' largest municipal building, with nearly 15 acres of floor space. Built on a foundation of solid granite, the building supports a 548-foot tower, which is the world's tallest masonry structure lacking a steel frame. At the top of the tower sits a 27-ton statue of William Penn, and at his feet, an observation deck provides tourists with a view of the entire city, as well as the park below, which features a fountain, lawns, and a café. Tickets for the guided tour are required for both City Hall and the observation deck.
Address: 1401 John F Kennedy Blvd, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
15 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.
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.