Philadelphia Old City Walking Tour, Philadelphia

Philadelphia Old City Walking Tour (Self Guided), Philadelphia

Let Philadelphia tell you the great history of the United States through its many outstanding historic places – from the tale of the Liberty Bell to the legend of Betsy Ross. Take this self-guided tour to learn more about America's founding fathers, key events during the 18th century, the country's long-awaited independence and its glorious attainment of liberty. Standing in the same places where the country's most famous founding documents were debated, ratified, and signed, is a moving experience.
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Philadelphia Old City Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Philadelphia Old City Walking Tour
Guide Location: USA » Philadelphia (See other walking tours in Philadelphia)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 10
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.4 Km or 1.5 Miles
Author: leticia
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Independence Hall
  • Liberty Bell
  • Independence National Historical Park
  • Christ Church Burial Ground
  • Betsy Ross House
  • Elfreth's Alley
  • Christ Church
  • Benjamin Franklin Museum and Court
  • Museum of the American Revolution
  • City Tavern
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.
Independence National Historical Park

3) Independence National Historical Park (must see)

Independence National Historical Park is a rival to Williamsburg's claim of Duke of Gloucester Street and has been nicknamed "America's most historic square mile" for the abundance of historic landmarks found here. This federally protected district in Philadelphia preserves several sites associated with the American Revolution and the nation's founding history. Truly an American treasure!

The 55-acre (22 ha) park is shaped like an "L" starting at 2nd Street heading west between Walnut and Chestnut streets to 6th Street, then heading north to Race Street.

The crown jewel of the park is Independence Hall, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution were debated and adopted by America's Founding Fathers in the late 18th century. Independence Hall was the principal meetinghouse of the Second Continental Congress from 1775 to 1783 and the Constitutional Convention in the summer of 1787. Next to it is Carpenters' Hall, the 1774 meeting site for the First Continental Congress. Across the street from the Independence Hall is the Liberty Bell, an iconic symbol of American independence, displayed in the Liberty Bell Center.

Other historic buildings, "off the beaten path," are also 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. These include the First Bank of the United States, the first bank chartered by the United States Congress, and the Second Bank of the United States, which had its charter renewal vetoed by President Andrew Jackson as part of the Bank War. The Park also contains City Tavern, a recreated colonial tavern, which was a favorite of the delegates and which John Adams felt was the finest tavern in all America.

Franklin Court, the site of a museum dedicated to Benjamin Franklin and the United States Postal Service Museum are also found here. An additional three blocks directly north of Independence Hall, collectively known as Independence Mall, contain, apart from the Liberty Bell Center, the National Constitution Center, Independence Visitor Center, and the former site of the President's House. Among other peculiar historical artifacts here is the Syng inkstand which was used during the signings of both the Declaration and the Constitution.

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.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Christ Church Burial Ground

4) Christ Church Burial Ground

Christ Church Burial Ground in Philadelphia is an important early-American cemetery, which is still active. Despite the name, it is actually three blocks west of Christ Church – the notable place of worship for many of the famous Revolutionary War participants, including George Washington – and was acquired in 1719 when the church's property was full and the new land was sought on what was back then considered "the outskirts of town."

Here is the final resting place of many historic national figures and prominent Philadelphians, including Benjamin Franklin and his wife Deborah, as well as four other signers of the Declaration of Independence: Benjamin Rush, Francis Hopkinson, Joseph Hewes and George Ross. Two more signers (James Wilson and Robert Morris) are buried at Christ Church itself.

The Burial Ground is open to the public for a small fee, weather permitting; about 100,000 tourists visit it every year. When the Burial Ground is closed, one can still view Benjamin Franklin's gravesite from the sidewalk at the corner of 5th and Arch through a set of iron rails. The rail opening in the brick wall was added for public viewing in 1858 by parties working at the behest of the Franklin Institute in response to the criticism of the city's maintenance of the grave.

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, you can 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
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Betsy Ross House

5) 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)
Elfreth's Alley

6) Elfreth's Alley (must see)

Known by many as America's oldest (entirely intact) residential street, the cobblestoned Elfreth's Alley is truly preservation at its finest and will take you back 250 years when it was inhabited by tradesmen and their families – including shipwrights, silversmiths, glassblowers, and furniture builders. Named for Jeremiah Elfreth, an 18th-century blacksmith and property owner, the street is still lined with quaint Georgian and Federal-style row houses, two of which (#124 and #126) are open to the public and serve as museums, although they all were built individually, with each one retaining a unique style.

It is not a long street, but the residences are meticulously cared for on the exterior (and presumably inside), while the path itself is very charming, making for a lovely, leisurely stroll, safe from worries about cars or other traffic. If you're visiting Philadelphia and are interested in history, it's well worth your time to indulge in a picture-perfect jaunt.

Visitors can explore on their own or join a 45-minute guided tour.

For more hidden history, be sure to check out the side alley which is about 3/4 of the way down THIS alley.
Christ Church

7) 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
Benjamin Franklin Museum and Court

8) 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
Museum of the American Revolution

9) 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
City Tavern

10) City Tavern

The City Tavern is a combination of great food, fantastic service in period dress, and outstanding atmosphere. Though not the original built in 1773, but a historically accurate replication from 1976, you would be hard pressed to know. The original suffered fire damage in 1834 and was razed in 1854, but Congress petitioned the Independence National Historical Park to preserve and protect this property – literally one where the Founding Fathers dined, drank ale, and argued political philosophy. Curiously, it was Ben Franklin who introduced tofu to the Americas, and the tofu pasta inspired by his recipe can be enjoyed in his (reconstructed) private dining room.

One just needs to see the menu, including such delicacies as Thomas Jefferson's favorite sweet potato biscuits, chocolate bread pudding, or other signature big hits like turkey pot pie (based on Martha Washington's recipe), West Indies pepperpot soup, and ales brewed according to Washington's and Jefferson's original recipes. You can stay inside for the colonial ambience or choose to dine outdoors in the back garden area.

The restaurant also features an acclaimed kids' menu, so a visit here with young ones isn't just about the historical and educational experience.

Opening Hours:
Sun: 11:30am–8pm; Mon-Thu: 11:30am–9pm; Fri, Sat: 11:30am–10pm

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