Even if youíve never visited Philadelphia, youíve been here before in your textbooks about the Continental Congress and the Declaration of Independence. Today, itís a city of soaring glass structures punctuated by historical brick buildings like Independence Hall and the Betsy Ross House.
Launch your visit from the Independence National Historical Park, which covers more than 55 acres encompassing 20 historic city blocks. It includes the Second Bank of the United States, Congress Hall and Old City Hall and tells the stories of the Declaration of Independence and Philadelphiaís most famous citizen, Benjamin Franklin.
The Visitors Center provides brochures, maps, movies, exhibits, restrooms, plus snacks and tables. A concierge staff helps you see what you want to see, whether itís information about Independence Hall (a UNECSO World Heritage Site), a self-guided audio walking tour with an MP3 player and map to 20 important historical sites, or information about museums for history buffs, art lovers, or families with young children. For an advance look, visit: www.nps.gov/inde.
For some time travel, start with Independence Hall. Except in January and February, tickets are required for the free tours. Walk-up tickets with specific time slots (so you donít have to wait in long lines) are available at the Visitor Center and you may request up to ten tickets for your party. Advanced tickets, available at recreation.gov or 1-877-444-6777, are free, but require a reservation fee of $1.50 per ticket.
On the other hand, tickets are never required to visit the Liberty Bell, adjacent to the Visitor Center. In its secure glass-sided display chamber, this icon of American liberty is always visible and inspiring, even after hours.
The nearby National Constitution Center tells the story of the Constitution from Revolutionary times to the present through more than 100 interactive, multimedia exhibits. Advance tickets online or by phone. Visit: www.ConstitutionCenter.org
A number of bus or trolley tours, some with hop-on, hop-off service, help orient you to city attractions and let you know what you might want to visit in more depth.
To really sample the blending of the historic and modern, take time to stroll through the nearby neighborhood that locals call "the most historic square mile in the country." The Old City District has been named one of the nationís top ArtPlaces, combining artists and artisans with businesses from attorneys to galleries, banks, boutique hotels, and numerous restaurants. The district includes the Betsy Ross House and the 32 row houses of Elfrethís Alley, some dating back to the 1720s. For a downloadable map and more information, visit www.OldCityDistrict.org.
The Parkway Museums District
Many notable museums and galleries are concentrated near the Sister Cities Park in the Parkway Plaza section of town, some free and others by admission. A brochure describes more than a dozen options.
A must-see is the Barnes Foundation, established in 1922. The remarkable collection of post-impressionist and early modern art is arranged in a unique fashion which the collector, Albert Barnes, termed "ensembles." These ensembles are symmetrical arrangements of furniture and paintings from varied periods and cultures, all punctuated with tools ranging from andirons to kitchen strainers to immense padlocks. Navajo jewelry is exhibited with Greek antiquities, African masks, and Native American ceramics.
An iPod Touch for each visitor, included with the ticket, offers excellent narrations by a variety of art experts and historians. Advance reservations, including guided tour times, are available online and we suggest choosing an early time slot. Once you are in, you may go at your own pace. Thereís a small cafe and a dining room. Visit: www.BarnesFoundation.org
The Franklin Institute is Pennsylvaniaís most visited museum with lots of permanent exhibits, special exhibits, a planetarium, and a five-story IMAX. Interactive carts offer hands-on opportunities at activities from papermaking to examining the workings of the heart. Live science programs are presented throughout the day in exhibits, theaters, and gathering spaces throughout the building. A Daily Program Sheet gives times and locations. Tickets are available online or at the Institute. For more information, visit: www2.fi.edu
Other museums with admission fees include the Eastern State Penitentiary and Drexel Universityís Academy of Natural Sciences. Some attractions, such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Rodin Museum are Pay What You Wish at certain times. Still others charge no admission including the Free Library of Philadelphia and the Fairmount Water Works Interpretive Center.
Also free is the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, a place for a quiet moment beneath soaring ceilings, and ornate side chapels. When we visit a Catholic church, we always light a candle for Lynnís Granmere. This was the first time ever it was a battery-powered candle, but it did flicker prettily in its red glass holder.
Havenít eaten in minutes!
No way can you go hungry in this city which boasts a marvelous variety of eating options from pubs to white tablecloth establishments. Many museums have cafeterias, cafes and snack bars. Tempting menus are posted in windows in many sections of the city. We especially enjoyed the memorable Reading Terminal Market with its fresh produce, Amish specialties, butchers, bakeries, seafood, poultry, flowers, jewelry, crafts and eclectic eateries with all sorts of ethnic specialties. In fact, we breakfasted there both mornings of our visit enjoying made-to-order food that was quick, but sure not "fast food." Another hit was the popular HipCityVeg with veggie and vegan offerings. For guidance on everything from Asian to gluten-free, visit www.visitphilly.com/restaurants-dining.
An evening "crawl"
Rather than visit one spot for dinner, itís fun to spend an evening "grazing" wherever your feet take you. We had no recommendations or information, so we just started walking. First stop: The Farmersí Cabinet with a beer menu reminiscent of a wine list, a nice charcuterie and good jazz. Next we found McGillins Olde Ale House, a two-story place lively with music and lots of energy thatís been operating since 1860! Right across the alley we wandered into Bru Craft & Wurst with a different vibe starring German food and beer. Then the Tracodero Theatre ó better known as The Troc ó with good bands ranging from Indie to Irish Punk on two floors. Last stop the Eulogy Belgian Tavern with a nearly endless beer list and lots of comfort food.
Lynn and Glenn Pribus travel from their home base in Charlottesville.
IF YOU GO
Philadelphia is 4.5-5 hour drive from Richmond on interstate routes. Once you arrive, itís easy to leave your vehicle at your lodgings because taxis are plentiful and seniors 65 and older always ride free on SEPTA busses, trolleys and subways.
The city is very visitor friendly. A number of bus or trolley tours, some with hop-on, hop-off service, help orient you to city attractions and let you know what you might want to visit in more depth. Walking tours with various themes are also popular.
The Visitors Center at Independence Park is a good place to purchase tickets for a variety of attractions and several different "Passes" offer discounts on various attractions.
To preview your visit, check in with: www.visitphilly.com, www.phillyvisitor.com, and www.phlvisitorcenter.com.