Philadelphia Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), Philadelphia

The sixth largest city in the U.S. and the birthplace of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness", Philadelphia is a dynamic city heaped with old-world charm and contemporary infrastructure. This historical city was born in 1701 when Charles II of England granted William Penn, a famous Quaker, a charter for the Pennsylvania Colony.

As soon as the area was settled, Penn made treaties with the Native Americans to ensure peace for everyone living on the land. He wanted Philadelphia to be a place where everyone was free to practice whatever religion they pleased without the fear of persecution. Penn then named the city Philadelphia, which stems from the Greek word for fraternal affection or brotherly love. Take this self-guided tour to explore the most famous of its downtown attractions, some of which shaped what the U.S. is today!
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Philadelphia Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Philadelphia Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: USA » Philadelphia (See other walking tours in Philadelphia)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 13
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.5 Km or 2.2 Miles
Author: leticia
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Independence Hall
  • Liberty Bell
  • Museum of the American Revolution
  • Benjamin Franklin Museum and Court
  • Christ Church
  • Betsy Ross House
  • Christ Church Burial Ground
  • Independence National Historical Park
  • Chinatown Friendship Gate
  • Reading Terminal Market
  • Masonic Temple
  • Philadelphia City Hall
  • One Liberty Observation Deck
Independence Hall

1) Independence Hall (must see)

World-famous for being the place where both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were discussed and adopted, this American landmark and World Heritage Site is now the centerpiece of Philadelphia's Independence National Historical Park. Completed in 1753, the simple colonial hall, designed in Georgian style, is a nice reminder of the nation's humble beginnings as rebellious colonialists wanting to make a change for the better ("We have it in our power to begin the World over again", as Thomas Paine fervently told his fellow citizens-to-be in his revolutionary pamphlet). Inside, you will get to see an original copy of the Constitution, and the inkwell used to sign the Declaration of Independence – both brilliantly constructed documents of declared and ratified Freedoms.

The complex which houses Independence Hall is a must to check out the historical sites; nearby are the museum of the Benjamin Franklin-founded American Philosophical Society, as well as the Second Bank of the U.S. You do have to go through security to get into the Independence Hall, and you must get your free tickets at the Visitor Center about a block north, at the corner of 6th and Market Streets (opens at 8:30am, but tickets are usually all gone by 10am in peak season, so plan ahead or reserve online!). The first ticketed tour begins at 9am and tours start every 30mins until 4:40pm, with rangers serving as guides. During extended hours (summertime only), no ticket is required from 5 to 7pm. Tickets also aren't required in the months of January and February and on July 4th, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Eve. 

Why You Should Visit:
To stand in the room where the nation was born almost 250 years ago – the same room where Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, and later George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and so many others stood, making incredibly courageous decisions.
Among the highlights is George Washington's original Rising Sun Armchair, known so because of Benjamin Franklin's hopeful observation about the symbol carved on the headrest: "I have often looked at that behind the president without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting. But now I... know that it is a rising...sun."

Sitting in the back of the Hall, don't miss the statue of Commodore John Barry – one of the most underappreciated figures in colonial history. Barry was the first captain to be placed in command of a U.S. warship under the Continental flag and after the war he was the first commissioned U.S. naval officer at the rank of Commodore in 1797 by President Washington. Barry is often credited as "The Father of the American Navy", sharing that moniker with John Paul Jones and John Adams.
Liberty Bell

2) Liberty Bell (must see)

Originally rung to summon Assembly lawmakers to sessions in the State House (now renamed Independence Hall) in the mid-1700s, the Liberty Bell – one of the world's greatest symbols of freedom – was commissioned from a London firm to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Pennsylvania's first Constitution, and was cast with the lettering "Proclaim Liberty throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof", a Biblical reference from the Book of Leviticus (25:10).

Famous for its irreparable crack, the 2,080 lb (940 kg) bell was moved to its current home in the Liberty Bell Center in 2003. Inside the small compact space, you'll get an account of the bell's history and significance, from its manufacture and various travels to the initial crack development and attempted repairs, and, finally, to how it became an icon for other freedom struggles. Depending on the time of day, you may or may not be able to get a selfie or picture without other people in it.

You can save yourself the long security line by going around the outside to see the backside of the bell through the glass wall (though, by doing so, you will not get to see the crack). If you want a penny press of the Liberty Bell, head to the Visitor Center, where you pay a dollar and then 'crack' the machine.
Museum of the American Revolution

3) Museum of the American Revolution (must see)

Fairly recently opened in April of 2017 and located near other historic sites in the heart of the "olde" city, this museum is still new, and the facility is really nice – clean, modern, bright, well laid-out, and spacious enough to handle crowds. Fittingly enough, its displays take you through the colonial periods leading up to the war, to Yorktown and beyond with films and exhibits that are fantastically comprehensive for all to enjoy no matter the level of interest.

In addition to artwork and sculpture, textiles and weapons, manuscripts and rare books, there also are some interactive areas for children, plus a large and very well-appointed gift shop on the 1st floor as well as a pretty nice quick service café that even has outdoor seating and is also open to the general public. If you only have time for a few stops, this should be one of them – but plan on 2 hours at a bare minimum (3 or 4 would be better).

You may skip the introductory film on the 1st floor, but don't skip the presentation on George Washington's tent, which may well be the museum's highlight. Check to see what times the presentation is playing and make sure to show up a little bit early, as the theater is not large and fills up quickly.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am–5pm
Benjamin Franklin Museum and Court

4) Benjamin Franklin Museum and Court

The Benjamin Franklin Museum lies in the the fully-enclosed courtyard where the Founding Father's house and print shop once stood. Although these were torn down long ago, some archaeological remains were excavated, which are visible beneath glass windows in the ground (along with explanatory signs); moreover, "ghost houses" were built in the exact spots where the house and print shop once stood, so one gets a real sense of how the site would have looked when those structures were standing. There is also a working 18th-century print shop adjacent, which is a neat experience.

It doesn't cost anything to walk through Franklin Court, view the ghost houses, or visit the working print shop. The museum costs a very reasonable fee, and one hour is exactly the right amount of time needed to view the exhibits. While the space is not huge, it provides a very thorough, interesting, and thought-provoking overview of Franklin's life and contributions. There are lots of interactive things for kids and there are lots of fascinating things to see, read, and ponder for adults.

Why You Should Visit:
To get both an overview of Franklin's life, as well as little interesting tidbits of trivia about him. They even have cute entertaining videos that illustrate some humorous (and informative) episodes in his life, which seem to be everyone's favorite part. All in all, there is something for everyone, regardless of age.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am–5pm
Christ Church

5) Christ Church (must see)

Dating to 1744, this Church is considered one of the finest Georgian structures in America and is often called the "Nation's Church", having hosted members of the Continental Congress, including Washington, Adams, Rush, Franklin, and others.

The building itself is large and impressive; it was the town's tallest at the time and, for some 50+ years, the tallest structure in the U.S. Outside, the walkways are lined with the graves of early church members; one may recognize a few as being Founding Fathers and/or signers of the Declaration of Independence. This was a church where many famous Americans worshiped during the country's founding, and the pews are labeled with their names, including Washington's.

One of the most striking aspects of the place is that the windows, of which there are many, are not stained-glass, but are clear, letting in not only the daylight, but pristine views of the outdoors. That is very unusual for churches of the era, but it makes the interior quite lovely and bright. Docents are there to answer questions, or just wander around on your own.

Don't miss the nice historic collection, including the 14th-century baptismal font in which William Penn was baptized, along with a rare book collection.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Sat: 10am–5pm; Sun: 12:30pm–5pm
Closings: Wed: 12–12:30pm, 5:30–6:30pm (during services); Mon/Tue in Jan/Feb; for funeral services or weddings
Betsy Ross House

6) Betsy Ross House (must see)

No visit to historic Philadelphia would be complete without experiencing one of its most visited sites – the home of Betsy Ross, the woman credited with sewing the very first American flag of 13 circular stars. This house-turned-museum gives the complete picture of the woman behind the flag. Born in 1752 to a devout Quaker couple in New Jersey, she was quite an accomplished seamstress having embroidered shirt ruffles for George Washington in the days before his appointment as the Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Army. She also stuffed paper tube cartridges with musket balls, sewed flags and repaired Continental Army uniforms all while running her upholstery business.

With its narrow stairwells and low ceilings, the simple colonial home was built over 260 years ago, is completely furnished in period antiques, and contains objects that actually belonged to the Ross family, including a family Bible and an American Chippendale walnut chest-on-chest. On their self-guided tour, visitors can also see authentic 18th-century upholstery tools, learn about their uses, have a snack, or check out the hands-on children's area and the nice gift shop.

There is a small museum and exhibit area to view before going into the actual historical part of the house. Don't skip it, as it's actually where you'll learn the most about Betsy, the history of the flag, and other very interesting facts about her life.

Opening Hours:
[Mar-Nov] Daily: 10am–5pm; until 6pm: Jun 9–Sep 2; until 8pm: Rebel Thursdays through Aug 29; First Fridays, Jun–Oct;
[Dec-Feb] Tue-Sun: 10am–5pm; closed at 3pm on December 24 (Open Martin Luther King, Jr. Day / Presidents' Day)
Christ Church Burial Ground

7) Christ Church Burial Ground

The Christ Church Burial Ground is actually three blocks west of Christ Church and was acquired in 1719 when the church's property was full and the new land was on what was considered "the outskirts of town." Many historic national figures and prominent Philadelphians are buried here, including Ben Franklin, whose grave can be viewed through a wall opening without going into the cemetery – it seems to be something of a wishing-well with people tossing coins onto the ground marker (at one point, the granite had to actually be repaired due to that tradition's success). Further away from Franklin, however, you will see a small but neatly kept space with lesser-known graves, some of which are even more interesting.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Sat: 10am–4pm; Sun: 12–4pm (Mar-Nov)
Guided Tours: Mon-Sat: 11am–3:30pm; Sun: 12:30–3:30pm
Independence National Historical Park

8) Independence National Historical Park (must see)

Independence National Historical Park is a rival to Williamsburg's claim of Duke of Gloucester Street being the most historic mile in the United States. The 45-acre park is shaped like an "L" starting at 2nd Street heading west between Walnut and Chestnut streets to 6th St then heading north to Race St. In between is the crown jewel, Independence Hall, along with the First and Second National Banks, Carpenters' Hall, Congress Hall, the Liberty Bell, parks, gardens, statues, cemeteries and historic building after historic building. The sites "off the beaten path," like the Second Bank and Carpenter's Hall are worth taking a peek at and provide a nice background to the events and people behind the American Revolution and eventual signing of the U.S. Constitution. Truly an American treasure!

Make sure to get your tickets for Independence Hall online ahead of time as they frequently sell out on-site. The park map at the Independence Visitor Center is an excellent tool to figure out what the park has to offer in terms of sights.
Chinatown Friendship Gate

9) Chinatown Friendship Gate

This gateway at 10th and Arch Street is a beautiful, welcoming entrance into the lively Chinatown district filled with great Asian restaurants, bakeries, shops, markets, and places of worship. A symbol of cultural exchange and friendship between Philadelphia and its sister city of Tianjin, it is the first authentic Chinese Gate built in America by artisans from China.

Weighing about 88 tons and standing 40 feet high, the Gate has bright colors and elaborate designs that reflect early Chinese imperial construction. One may see themes of mythical creatures and graphic patterns typical of the Ming and Qing Dynasties; the phoenix is meant to ensure good luck while the dragon, said to have the magical power of retaining water in its mouth, is intended to protect the structure of the Gate and the community from fire.

Originally dedicated in 1984, the Gate was rededicated on November 19, 2008, after being repainted with the help of Tianjin artisans using ancient techniques and traditional materials. Take your pictures, then find a place to eat and/or shop!

Serious foodies will not want to miss the EMei Restaurant – a nice, no-frills eatery serving classic Chinese dishes alongside spicy Sichuan specialties. Mei Cai Kou Rou (steamed pork with preserved mustard) is something to die for!
Reading Terminal Market

10) Reading Terminal Market (must see)

The Reading Terminal Market was founded in 1893 and today serves as a popular location for local Philadelphians to buy their goods and produce as well as singular culinary treats and unique merchandise. Location-wise it is adjacent to two Marriott Hotels, a Hilton Garden Inn, the Pennsylvania Convention Center, SEPTA's Jefferson Station, the Philadelphia Greyhound Terminal, and another Philadelphia landmark, the Fashion District Philadelphia shopping mall.

The large market has it all: fresh produce, meats, fish, artisan cheese, groceries, ice cream, flowers, baked goods, crafts, books, clothing, seafood and restaurant stalls of every kind, including a bar and a winery. You may get pushed around by the crowds and may struggle to find a place to eat or drink on the busiest of days, but a visit is one of a kind, whether to pick up a quick bite or simply wander through the market enjoying the scintillating aromas. A must-see for sure!

Why You Should Visit:
Domestic and international cuisine are all under one roof for you to enjoy.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 8am–6pm
Masonic Temple

11) Masonic Temple

Although the intricately carved, fortress-like exterior of this 1870s building is quite impressive, it's the spectacular interiors – which took 15 years to complete and which can only be seen with a guided tour – that really dazzle visitors, with each lodge room decorated in a different theme (Egyptian, Moorish, Asian, Renaissance, etc.) and serving different purposes. It was built to be 100% fire-proof, and so nothing in there is made of wood, although if you didn't know better, you'd swear on the life of your first-born that most of the interior IS wood.

The structure is immense and sits on prime downtown Philadelphia real estate; it's also shrouded Masonic secrets. Visitors are allowed in some rooms, but not in others; some questions you might ask will be readily answered; others will not...

Why You Should Visit:
Learning about Masonic history can be quite fascinating and it's worth visiting this Temple for that purpose alone, but of additional interest is the grand building itself; the two taken together can be an intriguing diversion. If you're looking for something that's quite a bit off the cultural beaten path, then definitely consider checking this place out.

The tour is great, but just make sure there is no function going on so you can see the whole place.

Tour Times:
Tue-Sat: 10am / 11am / 1pm / 2pm / 3pm
Philadelphia City Hall

12) Philadelphia City Hall

Completed in 1901 following three decades of construction, Philadelphia's Second Empire-style City Hall is the largest, most expensive municipal building in the U.S. and among the tallest and largest masonry buildings in the world. The absence of steel framework called for extremely thick, up to 22 feet, walls at the first floor in order to support the weight of the floors above; from the outside the eight-floor building appears to only have three floors.

The central tower stands 511 feet tall, and is topped by the statue of William Penn – 37 feet high and weighing 27 tons – which is just one of 250 creations sculpted by Alexander Calder for both the interior and exterior. Though somewhat lengthy (~90mins), daily interior tours are a treat, too, and will give you a greater appreciation of this grand building. Aside from the many murals depicting events relevant to Philadelphia's history, you will stroll through beautiful meeting rooms and be taken to the observation tower where open-air views of the city can be enjoyed.

15-minute tours of the tower are also offered throughout the day for a separate fee.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri: 9am–5pm; Select Saturdays: 11am–4pm
One Liberty Observation Deck

13) One Liberty Observation Deck (must see)

The One Liberty Observation Deck, also called Philly from the Top, opened to the public in 2015, is fully glassed in and pretty plain, but offers incredible 360-degree panoramic views of the city from 883 feet above street level, which is the highest public access level and the tallest standing building attraction in Philadelphia as of 2016.

The attraction consists of 3 levels – the ground floor entry area, a 2nd floor ticketing, lobby and gift shop area, and the 57th floor observation area. After purchasing a ticket, visitors may choose to stand in front of a green screen to have a photo taken. They then board an elevator where a surround-sound video gives general facts about the structure and the city. Once on the 57th floor, visitors enter an area with tables, seating and vending machines. The observation area completely encircles the building core with windows in all directions. Available are multiple interactive maps that allow to zoom in on surrounding neighborhoods – very helpful to see the main points of interest and just perfect for a self-guided attraction.

Pray for a clear day and bring your binoculars, snacks and water.
Consider going as close to closing time as possible to catch the sunset.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am–8pm (Sept 3–Apr 30); 10am–9pm (May 1–Sept 2)
Last entry: 30 mins before closing time

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