In a city with as many museums, historical sites, parks, gardens, and more that you’ll find in Philly, you risk seeing half of everything or all of nothing. With a day, you'll be hard-pressed to move beyond the city's primary historical sights, but if you have a week, you can delve deeper as you explore both the top attractions and what’s off the beaten path.
The Best of Philadelphia in 1 Day
Sign up at the Independence National Historical Park Visitor Center for a walking tour hosted by a National Park Service guide, or try a go-at-your-own-pace tour offered by The Constitutional Audio Walking Tour (www.theconstitutional.com). At the very least you'll want to see the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, the Carpenter's Hall, and Franklin Court. If you get started early, you can finish all that in about three or four hours. For lunch, visit Reading Terminal Market, where you can sample the cuisine Philadelphia is known for—like cheesesteaks, soft pretzels, and Bassett's ice cream. If you're interested in art (and make a reservation in advance), you can visit The Barnes Foundation on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Then walk nine blocks east on Arch Street to Old City; Christ Church, the Betsy Ross House, and Elfreth's Alley are all in close proximity. In the late afternoon, head back toward Independence Hall for a horse-drawn carriage ride. Have dinner in Old City; then catch the Lights of Liberty 3-D show.
Philadelphia in 5 Days
Five days is enough time to take in Philadelphia's cultural and historic highlights as well as spend some time exploring the appealing neighborhoods, and take a day trip Valley Forge, the Winterthur Museum, or Longwood Gardens.
Day 1: History
It’s possible to get a good taste of what the city has to offer even if you only have a couple of days. You'll want to get the tour of the historic sights accomplished on Day 1.
There's no getting around the fact that colonial history is the primary reason most people visit Philadelphia, and most visitors will want to devote their first morning to exploring Independence National Historical Park. The two most popular sights are Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell Center. But don't neglect the Independence Visitor Center, where you must make a reservation (March through December) to tour Independence Hall; be sure to set aside 28 minutes from your schedule to see the film Independence, directed by John Huston, or the 20-minute Choosing Sides. There are usually lines to see the Liberty Bell, so do that while you wait for your tour time. If you have extra time, visit the Benjamin Franklin Museum on Franklin Court. Have lunch at nearby Reading Market. In the afternoon, you have a choice. You can keep up your historical pursuits, staying in Old Town to see more historic sights, including the Carpenter's Hall, Christ Church, the Betsy Ross House, and Elfreth's Alley, or you can delve deeper into the Constitution at the National Constitution Center, which has fascinating programs and interactive exhibits. At night, dinner and nightlife beckon in nearby Center City.
Day 2: Art and Museums
Philadelphia has more than enough museums to occupy a visitor for a full week, but it's worth spending one day to visit a couple that are particularly interesting. The Philadelphia Museum of Art on Benjamin Franklin Parkway, followed by lunch in the museum's lovely dining room, will be enjoyable to almost anyone; it's the city's widest ranging art museum. But if your interest is impressionist, post-impressionist, and early modern American art, The Barnes Foundation may be a better destination (reservations required). In the afternoon you could visit Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site for a tour of a former prison or to the Franklin Institute. Another option is to explore one of Philadelphia’s distinct neighborhoods. Stroll around Rittenhouse Square and stop in at the Rosenbach Museum and Library, which has a diverse collection ranging from the original manuscript of James Joyce's Ulysses to the works of beloved children's author Maurice Sendak. There’s also Society Hill, Queen Village, and South Philadelphia for the Mummer Museum on 9th Street and the outdoor Italian Market. Set aside time to dine in one of the city's best restaurants or take in a concert.
Day 3: Neighborhood Exploration
With more time, you can go deeper into your personal interests, whether they include art, shopping, history, the outdoors, or keeping your kids happy and occupied.
The best way to do that is to delve into more Philly neighborhoods. Check out Chinatown or Northern Liberties, or take a drive through Germantown and Chestnut Hill (stopping at Cliveden). If the weather's nice, you can drive or bike to the northwestern tip of Fairmount Park and check out the Wissahickon—a local favorite for all sorts of activities, from strolling to cycling. Afterward, head back into the city to check out the University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in University City and stroll down Locust Walk, the heart of University of Pennsylvania’s leafy urban campus. In the evening, drive or catch the SEPTA R6 train to Manayunk, where you can have dinner in one of the restaurants lining Main Street; many stores here are open late, too.
Day 4: Further Adventures
On Day 4, families will enjoy spending the morning visiting Penn's Landing, where they can check out the Independence Seaport Museum and take the ferry across the river to the Adventure Aquarium and Camden Children's Garden. In the afternoon hit the Philadelphia Zoo. If you didn't already visit, it, consider the Eastern State Penitentiary or the Franklin Institute—whichever attractions you didn’t get to visit on Days 2 and 3—or another neighborhood, where you can dine at a local BYOB (Locate the nearest wine store at www.lcb.state.pa.us). Check the local papers for an evening activity—perhaps a sporting event at the South Philadelphia stadiums, a show in Center City, or live music at a jazz club. If it’s the first Friday of the month, go to Old City for First Friday, when stores and galleries stay open late.
Day 5: Time for an Excursion
Head out of the city by car to Valley Forge National Historical Park, where you can hike or picnic after you've taken the self-guided auto tour of General Washington's winter encampment, or take a day trip to the Brandywine Valley. Your first stop will be the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, which features the art of Andrew Wyeth and his family. Next, head south to Winterthur, Henry Francis du Pont's extraordinary mansion. Last, stroll through Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, which is in bloom even in winter. If it's a Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday in summer, stay for dinner and the fountain light show.
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