Best Historic Sites in Philadelphia

Top Philadelphia Historical Sites That Are Totally Worth Checking Out

Every city has its own unique feel and vibe, made up by the many sights, sounds, smells and tastes that emerge from its depth. The local historic sites here in Philadelphia are no doubt one of the largest contributing factors to the aura that surrounds the city. After all, it was here that many great things happened for our country, and the evidence is still here years an years later for us to view and imagine what it was like back then. When stopping here for the first time, many folks venture to big-impact-stops like The Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. Others enjoy sights such as Battleship New Jersey or Eastern State Penitentiary that pack a bit of a personality into their presence. Whatever preferences you have for attractions along your visitor's route, you'll appreciate the plethora of choices available here. Historic homes, famous buildings, interesting statues, pretty parks, well-known landmarks and scenic pieces of the past all come together to make Philadelphia's historical roots pair with the city's newer additions. Stop to visit the hotspots that interest you, your family, or your friends, or come up with a few sights of your own that make the grade. Fortunately in a city such as this one, there are so many good ones to pick from.


National Constitution Center
Photo courtesy of J. Fusco/Visit Philly

A visit to the National Constitution Center starts with a powerful multi-media theater presentation that describes the main points of our country's most important document. After the presentation, visitors are free to roam about the building exploring the hows and whys of the Constitution. As a family-oriented museum, the set-up is not heavy on reading plaques and boards. Instead, many of the exhibits are interactive, as guests may vote for their favorite president, or even take the presidential oath of office. Though it's possible to purchase walk-in tickets, you may also purchase timed tickets in advance, which is recommended during busy seasons.

Recommended for Historic Sites because: How much do you know about the Constitution? This wonderful interactive museum is a great way to find out in a fun manner.

Sharon's expert tip: The constitution center hosts some of the most prominent political and media-related speakers and public events in the world; check the website to coordinate your visit with one of these educational events.

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The B. Free Franklin Post office is the only free colonial-themed post office operated by the US Postal Service in existence. It also proves itself in staying true to the period in which it was created (for instance, it does not fly the American flag as there was no flag in 1775). This post office honors Benjamin Franklin, our nation's first post master, and explores his history and the history of the postal service through an onsite museum. In the museum, find postal memorabilia as well as objects and articles of historical interest and significance. The postal-stamp letters receive from going through this office still bear the mark "B. Free Franklin".

Recommended for Historic Sites because: While many of the historical buildings located in Philadelphia are no longer in use, this one is unique in that it is still operational.

Sharon's expert tip: This building is definitely more of a museum than a fully operational post office, so remember that they have mailing limitations and restrictions should you be looking for extensive postal services.

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Just across the Delaware River, in Camden, NJ, Philadelphia residents have access to our nation's largest and most decorated battleship, the USS New Jersey. Fully-restored, this battleship-turned-museum welcomes visitors of all ages, even hosting sleepovers and other opportunities for groups to get up close and personal with this piece of American naval history. The ship is 887 feet of armor-plated steel and weighs in at 45,000 tons. Tours on the ship allow you to climb ladders, crawl through passageways and experience things just as the crew did when it was operational. Mini deck tours are also available should climbing, crawling and shimmying through small spaces not be your thing.

Recommended for Historic Sites because: Who doesn't think a battleship is cool? Given the opportunity to head on board and to see what it was really like here is priceless.

Sharon's expert tip: Opt for a guide-led tour or an overnight stay on the ship if possible to experience it to its fullest. Also beware, it involves a good amount of stairs.

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Built in the mid 1700s, this Georgian-style house was owned by the Widow Lithgow, who rented rooms in it to Betsy Ross and her husband, from 1773-1786. They ran an upholstery business out of this house, and in 1776, Betsy allegedly sewed the first U.S. flag here. Fully restored in the 1930s, today the house is one of Philadelphia's most visited attractions. Betsy Ross is buried in the adjacent courtyard. The gift shop offers Betsy memorabilia and flag souvenirs, books, and toys. It's a short visit, but very worthwhile to see the humble building where one of the first symbols of our new nation was created.

Recommended for Historic Sites because: This small, historic house is reported to have played a great role in our country's history, and is an interesting way to experience the past.

Sharon's expert tip: For an additional treat, stop to chat with the historically-dressed Betsy in the courtyard as you head into the house.

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Christ Church Burial Ground

This cemetery is a veritable who's who of early America. Benjamin Franklin is buried here, along with four other signers or the Declaration of Independence. Wander through the cemetery, and you'll also spot markers for historic leaders in the fields of medicine, politics, and academics. The tradition of tossing a penny through the formerly locked gates to honor Franklin continues, and informative walking tours of the site are offered daily. If inclined, you may also walk through on your own, viewing the old headstones, walking the small pathways about the cemetery, and taking in the many names that played a role in the making of this country.

Recommended for Historic Sites because: Pretty as well as historic, this sight allows you to walk among some of the city's most prominent former residents.

Sharon's expert tip: Located nearby many other great historical sights, this outdoor venue is a great break when you want to spend a few quiet moments outside enjoying the day.

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Elfreth's Alley
Photo courtesy of Sharon Rigney

Still a residential street, Elfreth's Alley was constructed in 1702 and is the oldest continuously inhabited street in the U.S. Two houses on the cobblestone street are open to the public � the Museum House and the Chairmakers House. You'll get a close-up look at the interiors, and learn about the architecture and history of the homes. During the summer, you'll enjoy historic reenactments and demonstrations, plus special events and festivals. In December, the "Deck the Alley" celebration features tours of some of the private residences. Visit this street and share in the more than 300 years of Philadelphia history that has taken place here and in the nearby area.

Recommended for Historic Sites because: This street is a favorite among visitors, as it's historic, yet interactive at the same time. Walking down the cobblestoned alley is a great experience.

Sharon's expert tip: Stopping to visit the Alley's museum is worthwhile when visiting to get additional information and inside stories.

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Valley Forge National Historical Park
Photo courtesy of National Park Service

The site of George Washington's winter 1777 encampment, Valley Forge is one of the nation's best known Revolutionary War landmarks. The National Park Service-run park is a haven for nature lovers looking for a place to stroll, ride a bike or admire families of deer, and it's a can't miss destination for history buffs who can explore myriad sections and sites of the park either on their own, with an audio guide, on a trolley or under the tutelage of a ranger. Both kids and adults can build a strong affinity for the park and its history through a variety of interactive, age-appropriate, living history activities.

Recommended for Historic Sites because: Both a picturesque park as well as a wonderfully historic site, Valley Forge Historical Park is a great learning or recreational destination for all ages.

Sharon's expert tip: For an additional fee, a guide can "step on" your vehicle and lead you through the park on a private two-hour tour; inquire at the Encampment Store or call 610.783.1074.

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Liberty Bell
Photo courtesy of Visit Philadelphia

The Liberty Bell Center is a Philadelphia must-see. Visitors can not only view the famous Liberty Bell, one of the most recognized symbols of American freedom, but also learn its history. Films, historical documents, and visual displays enlighten visitors on its history and why it has become the symbol of freedom for many. Take the time to read the many informative plaques and view the pictures along the way telling the Liberty Bell's past and stories that pertain to its place throughout history. Viewing the bell itself at the back of the building it's now housed in allows for scenic photographs, and the privilege of taking in a huge symbol of this country's storied past.

Recommended for Historic Sites because: A visit to Philadelphia seems to be incomplete without at least one stop at this iconic spot.

Sharon's expert tip: Taking a photo at the Bell with Independence Hall and the flowers of Spring and Summer in the background out the back window makes for a scenic souvenir for anyone.

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Independence Hall
Photo courtesy of Sharon Rigney

Probably the most famous site in Philadelphia, Independence Hall is where Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and their rebellious compatriots approved and announced the Declaration of Independence. Built between 1732 and 1756, this notable building was also where George Washington was appointed commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, the design of the American flag was agreed upon and the U. S. Constitution was drafted. The restored structure is open year-round for tours. Head to the Visitor's Center first for tickets and information. New to this facility is a copy of the Bill of Rights, on display nearby the Declaration of Independence, both must-sees when visiting.

Recommended for Historic Sites because: Visiting the site where this country was so valiantly fought for and its foundations created is both moving and informative, and a great educational experience.

Sharon's expert tip: Though visiting this building is free, be sure to get timed tickets from the Visitor's Center across the street first.

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Museum District & Fairmount Park
Eastern State Penitentiary
Photo courtesy of Sharon Nolan

Opened in 1829, Eastern State Penitentiary was the world's first true "penitentiary," a prison designed to inspire penitence among convicts. Today, the massive structure stands in ruins as one of Philadelphia's most historic sites. Visitors can tour this haunting building that once held America's most notorious criminals, including gangster Al Capone. Narrated by actor Steve Buscemi, the audio tour offers an intimate and informative look at Eastern's storied cellblocks and yards. Take a camera, as the building is incredibly photogenic. Walk through and listen to the stories of the inmates, and imagine the past come to life as you stroll the halls. The hospital section is especially interesting. What must have gone on there...

Recommended for Historic Sites because: There's something incredibly interesting about an old prison; picturing the stories that took place here, and taking in the haunting, crumbling surroundings.

Sharon's expert tip: Remember that the prison is cooler, so head here with that in mind, and be sure to check this place out at Halloween when they host one of the scariest walk-throughs in the nation.

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Meet Sharon Nolan

Sharon is a native to the Philadelphia area, but loves to wander from its familiar borders. She has traveled to more than 30 countries, trekked five continents, ventured out with family,...  More About Sharon