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First time in Philadelphia: 5 must-see attractions

Philadelphia skyline

Philadelphia Travel Guide

As a city full of cultural and historical significance, Philadelphia is visited by thousands of people every year. Located less than two hours away from New York City and Washington, D.C., Philadelphia is also a stop for many people traveling onward to those cities. From her professional sports teams to her entertainment venues and outdoor green spaces, Philadelphia has something for everyone in your family to enjoy.

A Bit About Philadelphia, PA

One of the things Philadelphia is so well known for is its cuisine. The “Philly cheesesteak” is something the city is especially famous for making. According to Visit Philadelphia, the Top 10 restaurants for Philly cheesesteaks include John’s Roast Pork, Tony Luke’s, Pat’s King of Steaks, Geno’s Steaks, and Jim’s Steaks. Philadelphia is also known for soft pretzels, with some of the best locations for this treat being the Philly Pretzel Factory, Philadelphia Soft Pretzels Incorporated and Denise’s Delicacies.

Image Source: Michael Righi

Philadelphia’s historical ties to our nation’s founding also attracts a multitude of people. During the Revolutionary War, it served as the country’s capital, and also was a top meeting place for the Founding Fathers when drafting the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. Considered the “Birthplace of America”, it has historical attractions that are perfect for everyone from school children to adults to visit.

The city also boasts having more outdoor sculptures and murals than any other city in the country. Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program has largely contributed to the popularity of her murals, a number of which can be seen on walking tours in different neighborhoods.

The Top 5 Sights for First-Timers

If you’re looking for a fun yet enriching getaway, Philadelphia is the perfect location. People of all ages and walks of life can find something they’ll enjoy awaiting them here in the City of Brotherly Love.

Independence Hall

No visit to Philadelphia is complete without a stop at Independence Hall, the birthplace of both the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. The two-story brick structure remains much as it did during the founding of our nation, and the knowledgeable National Park Service tour guides will help you take a step back in time to get a better idea as to what our Founding Fathers were thinking during the early days of our nation’s history.

Image Source: Jim D

Independence Hall is open 364 days per year, being closed only on Christmas Day. Tickets are required from March through December, but they are not needed in January or February. You may obtain tickets on a walk-up basis, or reserve them online. Walk-up tickets are free, but there is a $1.50 charge for tickets reserved via the Internet.

A tour typically begins in the East Wing of Independence Hall with a brief introduction by a Park Ranger. This is followed by a tour of the first floor, including the Assembly Room, which is still arranged much as it was in 1776. The actual chair George Washington sat in when presiding over the Constitutional Convention is still intact and in its original position.

After touring the first floor, you are then free to explore the second floor at your leisure. The second floor has been used as the Pennsylvania State House, and once housed American prisoners of war during the British occupation of Philadelphia in 1777-1778.

Independence Hall is only a short walk from the Liberty Bell center and many available Philadelphia hotel rooms, making it an easy stop when visiting this attraction. A tour of Independence Hall is something everyone who cherishes freedom will enjoy.

Betsy Ross House

While Independence Hall may be the birthplace of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, the Betsy Ross House is where the American flag was born. Visiting her home will allow you to take a step back in time and find out what it might have been like to sew our nation’s first Stars and Stripes.

Image Source: Ken Ratcliff

The house, which is located at 239 Arch Street in Philadelphia was constructed around 1740, and is a Georgia brick home containing 3 ½ stories. Betsy Ross never actually owned the home, but instead rented it from 1773 to 1786. Mrs. Ross and her husband John lived in the upper stories, and ran an upholstery shop out of the bottom floor.

Several other businesses have occupied the home over the years. It was eventually acquired by the Betsy Ross Memorial Association in 1898, resulting in two million people donating a dime to help restore it. The home was donated to the City of Philadelphia in 1937, and continues to receive generous donations that allow it to be available to the public.

Some of the features of this home include the courtyard, kitchen, storage and cartridge rooms, the workshop and flag room. There are several display cases with memorabilia, including photographs of flags and postcards of the home throughout the years. A few of these cases also contain popular images of Betsy Ross. These images are only “best guesses” as to what she might have looked like, as no official photographs actually exist.

Aside from Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell Center, the Betsy Ross House receives more visitors each year than any other Philadelphia attraction. Audio tours are available, and are only $7 for adults and $6 for children.

Philadelphia Zoo

Philadelphia isn’t just first for historical events, as it also boasts the nation’s first zoo. This zoo has continued to evolve over the years, and now provides you with unique animal exhibits in addition to hosting many special events throughout the year.

Image Source: Jim, the Photographer

One of the highlights of the Philadelphia Zoo is Big Cat Crossing, a three-tiered overhead trail system that allows lions, tigers and other felines to roam overhead throughout various sections of the zoo. You can watch these animals in action as they look down on you from as high as 17 feet above ground.

A passageway known as Treetop Trail allows monkeys and lemurs to perform a similar feat. This mesh tunnel-like trail system extends from the Rare Animal Conservation Center through the tree lines of the zoo and around to Impala Plaza. Treetop Trail allows these animals greater opportunity to run and play, which means you can have a closer encounter with them as you explore the park.

The Philadelphia Zoo is also known for having well landscaped grounds with a wide variety of fauna available. There are several spots throughout the park where you can relax and simply take in the scenery. You can also enjoy a boat ride at the pond or take a camel safari to learn more about the African desert.

Special events are held from time to time, including hot air balloon rides. The zoo is open daily with the exception of Christmas Day. Public transportation is recommended, as parking at the zoo is extremely limited. Purchase a season pass so you can visit the zoo during different seasons and enjoy everything this park has to offer.

Benjamin Franklin Museum

Benjamin Franklin is perhaps Philadelphia’s most notable historical resident. An excellent way to learn more about Philadelphia’s favorite son is by visiting the Benjamin Franklin Museum, which is located in the town’s historic district. Found in Franklin Court, this museum is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm, with the exception of Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.

Image Source: Jason Rala

Some of the displays on exhibit include artifacts and computer animations that detail the life of Mr. Franklin. There are a number of interactive displays that are perfect for children as well. Although the museum is relatively small, it nonetheless contains a great deal of information and interesting exhibits, making it an ideal place to visit when you don’t want to do too much walking.
Several of Franklin’s inventions are on display here at the museum, which has recently been reconstructed to replace an older one. If you’d like more information about any of the exhibits, knowledgeable park rangers are on hand to provide you with more details.

The museum pays tribute to the various roles Franklin played, including printer, scientist and government official. Live printmakers are also available to provide you with more information about the printing industry of the 18th Century; a number of period documents are available for purchase as well.

Just outside the actual museum is the “ghost house”, which is actually the remains of Benjamin Franklin’s former home. Only part of the foundation is left, yet it provides you with an idea as to what his actual home might have been like.

The Ben Franklin Museum is an ideal place for history buffs to visit. So much information is provided that more than one visit might be needed to take it all in.

Chestnut Street Skyspace

Philadelphia is known for having a large population of Quakers. Chestnut Street Skyspace is located at the Chestnut Hills Friends Meeting House, but is not only for Quakers. This “green” building was constructed fairly recently to provide people with a place to enjoy quiet time or to experience the sky in a brand new way.

What this sky space is best known for is its permanent art installation known as “Greet the Light”. Greet the Light is actually a room with an aperture in its raised ceiling that makes you feel as though the sky is actually closer than what it is. Designed by contemporary light artist James Turrell, it also contains cove lighting that helps to highlight the natural light and provide a more intimate experience.

The skyspace is especially captivating at sunset, which is one of the best times for you to visit. As the sun goes does, the light scheme inside the skyspace also changes in color and intensity. Ventilation inside the church allows you to feel the wind on your face, making it seem as though you are actually outdoors. The experience also tends to be different based upon the season you visit in.

To take advantage of the skyspace, you may lie on your back on one of the pre-arranged pews and look up into the sky from this vantage point. If you plan to visit at sunset, be sure to arrive early so you can get your pick of pews from which to enjoy the view.

The Chestnut Hills Skyspace is open at various times throughout the week, but never during Sunday service. To find out more, visit the Skyspace, which is located between Mount Airy and Chestnut Hill in the Northwestern part of the city.

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