Best sites of Philadelphia - Trip Report

Our third halt of the East Coast Road Trip in the Fall of 2009 was at Philadelphia. We did consider giving Philly a miss in favor of additional time in the capital provided our cousin and family could join us in DC. Plan B worked better instead and we joined them for the evening in the city of Flourtown near Philadelphia. For visitors on a time crunch, Philadelphia scores as several inspiring attractions exist right around Market Street.

If time is on your side, tours offered by the Philadelphia Trolley Works and Carriage Company are good options. They offer a number of choices and the more popular options are:
  1. 24-hour Hop-on Hop-off Big Bus Tour: The double-decker bus or trolley (your choice) tour takes 90-minutes for non hoppers. There are 21 stops starting with the Independence Hall in Market Street and includes most attractions of Philadelphia including Betsy Ross House (where American flag was designed), Chinatown, Eastern State Penitentiary (historic prison operational from 1829 until 1971), Museum of Modern Art, Zoo, and Society Hill (Center City neighborhood that features largest collection of original US 18th and early 19th century architecture). Internet Pricing: Adults - $25, Children (4-12) - $8, Senior - $23. Pricing at the ticket booths and Independence Visitor Center are higher.
  2. 48-hour Hop-on Hop-off Big Bus Tour: The same tour as above but valid for 48 hours. Internet Pricing: Adults - $41, Children (4-12) - $16, Senior - $38. Pricing at the ticket booths and Independence Visitor Center are higher.
  3. Carriage Tour (Medium – 30-35 minutes): A horse-drawn carriage tour that covers Independence National Historic Park and Society Hill. Pricing is $40, good for four people. There is a $5 discount when purchasing this ticket along with the bus tour tickets.

Another popular option suitable for families with young kids is the 70-minute ducks tour. Though on the expensive side (adults - $26, seniors - $24, kids 3 to 12 - $16) this amphibian tour is unique in that it includes the historic streets of Philadelphia as well as a short cruise in the Delaware!

We parked at the Bourse garage next to the Bourse building in downtown Philadelphia in 4th street and past Market. The covered parking lot is, typical to most US downtown areas, pricey (2-9 hours for $16.25) but with prime location. The historic Bourse Building adjacent to the garage is impressive with its dramatic skylight dome and pilaster columns. This is listed in the national register of historic places as the nation’s first commodity exchange (completed 1895) – currently it functions as a retail commercial complex complete with a food court and 50-odd businesses. We recommend the mouth-watering version of the famous Philly Cheesesteak at the Grand Olde Cheesesteak counter.

The Liberty Bell and Independence Hall are the top attractions of Philadelphia and admission to both are free. Liberty Bell is located at 6th and Market. There was practically no wait at the Liberty Bell – the open design of the Museum and the Liberty Bell display works well allowing the populace to set their pace without feeling rushed. The Liberty Bell is managed by the National Parks Service and their representatives on the premise are extremely friendly and helpful. Every so often, one parks personnel at the Bell’s display location gives a short lecture enlightening the visitors on the history of the Bell. The Visitor Center across the street sports a gift shop and is also the place to purchase tickets to area attractions. The Independence Hall is situated in the middle of a block of buildings called the Independence Square (few blocks from the visitor center) which include the Congress Hall, Old City Hall, Philosophical Hall, and the Independence Hall. Access to all the Halls except the Independence Hall is available on a walk-in basis. The Old City Hall and the Philosophical Hall tours are self guided. Congress Hall offers a guided tour and a 15-minute presentation, again very informative – the building hosts important documents such as the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Articles of Confederation, and the Anti Slavery Record. For Independence Hall, no tickets are required if visiting between January 1st and March 1st. Between March 1st and December 31st you have two options:
  • Get a reservation for a timed and dated ticket ($1.50 per person), or
  • Try for a walk-up ticket at Independence Visitor Center. They sell-out quickly and being the early bird has its returns (booth opens at 8:30 AM).
The guided tour with a park ranger takes around 30 minutes. The highlight is of course the room where the declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776.

Last Updated: 02/2011.

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