Visiting Independence National Historical Park
Your first stop should be the Independence Visitor Center, where you can buy tickets for tours and pick up maps and brochures. From here you can easily explore the park on your own; in each building a park ranger can answer all your questions. In summer more than a dozen storytellers wander through the park, perching on benches to tell tales of the times. At Harmony Lane, 4th and Walnut streets, there's a Colonial street scene, with games such as hoops and scotch hoppers (known today as hopscotch) and activities such as butter churning. Special paid guided tours are also available through the Independence Visitor Center.
Hours and Fees: The Independence Visitor Center is open daily 8:30 to 5, and Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell Pavilion are open daily year-round from 9 to 5. In summer the closing times are often later. Other park buildings are also open daily, although their hours may vary from season to season. Call 800/537–7676, the 24-hour hotline, for current hours plus a schedule of park programs; or visit www.nps.gov/inde. Except as noted, all attractions run by the park are free.
When to Go: The best time to visit America's birthplace is on America's birthday; just expect big crowds. The city throws the weeklong Wawa Welcome America! party. From June 27 to July 4 there are more than 50 free events, including parades (the Mummers and an illuminated boat procession), outdoor concerts, historical reenactments, and eye-popping fireworks. The rest of the summer is filled with plays, musicals, and parades.
Lights of Liberty. Liberty 360: This 15-minute, 3-D film, narrated by Benjamin Franklin, tells the story of the founding of the nation and the meaning of its symbols in an indoor theater-in-the-round. Although the narrative offers little new information for history buffs, kids of all ages will enjoy wearing the 3-D glasses and getting a unique perspective on the nation's founding history. PECO Energy Liberty Center, 6th and Chestnut Sts., Historic Area, Philadelphia, PA, 19106. 215/629–5801 or. www.lightsofliberty.org. $7. Hours vary by season.
How Long to Stay: Budget a full day here. An early start lets you reserve timed tickets for a tour of the Todd and Bishop White houses and adjust your schedule to catch some of the special events on the visitor center's daily schedule. Allow about 40 minutes for the Independence Hall tour and another hour each at Franklin Court and the Todd and Bishop White houses. Allow 30 minutes each at Declaration House and the visitor center, where it's a good idea to see the film Independence before you set out. You might want to dine in the area before wrapping up for the day.
Ride the Ducks. Take 80-minute surf-and-turf tours of Philadelphia's historic district, Penn's Landing, and the Delaware River using military-designed land-sea vehicles. You'll board the "ducks"—circa-1945 Army DUKW trucks with watertight hulls converted into 38-passenger open-air vehicles—across from Independence Hall. On land you'll proceed through the historic district, Old City, and South Street before taking a 20-minute plunge into the Delaware River via a specially constructed ramp just south of the Ben Franklin Bridge. On the water, you'll have close-up views of the USS Olympia and USS Becuna and the four-masted Moshulu, and panoramic views of the skyline and the bridge. 6th and Chestnut Sts., Historic Area, Philadelphia, PA, 19106. 215/227–3825. www.phillyducks.com. $26. Mid-Mar.–Nov., schedule varies.
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