|Like most cities, Philadelphia has invisible
layers of history running through the streets. Decide what
you're looking for on a particular day, and then everywhere you
look it seems there are parts of it to see, like a game of 'Wheres
Waldo?? thats put together for you specifically.
Hundred of thousands tour the nations first capital every year,
but there are other things to see here besides the famous
historical sites. Tour landmarks of ethnic and minority history.
There are major works of art and architecture. Or have a
cultural experience: Eat your way through Chinatown. First, a
look at Colonial history tours:
Tour 1: The Revolution that Never Ended
Any historic tour of Philadelphia starts with Independence
National Park. The new government formed in the rooms of
Independence Hall one stifling, sticky summer changed the way
the world has worked ever since. This is where the Declaration
of Independence was signed. This is where the Constitution was
signed, and the Bill of Rights. This is where Benjamin Franklin
said 'We must all hang together, or we shall surely hang
separately.' This is where the Liberty Bell cracked as it rang
out the good news.
The Park is a loose amalgamation of buildings and gardens
throughout the east end of town, centered at Fifth and Chestnut
Streets, where Independence Hall stands. The Parks Visitors?
Center is at Third and Chestnut. Stop by for a map, or sign up
for a tour. There are also private companies that provide tours
on foot or by bus. These are a very good way of seeing the area.
Particularly popular are the candlelit evening walking tours.
Guides in colonial outfits lead groups on tours of historic
buildings and private gardens, telling stories as they go. These
walks are built around a theme: architecture, horticulture, the
Revolutionary War, even ghost stories. The Lights of Liberty is
a multimedia tour. Through a combination of projections and
special radio headphones, the buildings of Independence Mall
come alive with battles and speeches, bringing the past back to
speak for itself in the summer night air.
Once you?ve been immersed in the broad view of how the United
States began, you begin to recognize the pattern throughout town
' the colonial houses of Elfreths Alley, the blue historical
markers, the word 'First? appearing in names (First Presbyterian
Church, First Catholic Church, First National Bank, etc.). You
begin to seek out your own connection to the major stream of
events: The first African Methodist Church at Sixth and Lombard,
the cornerstone of the free black experience in America even
prior to the Revolution; the Polish History Museum, tracing the
contribution of Polish freedom fighters to the American cause
even as their own freedom was threatened at home; and the
cemeteries, the graves of the great and the unknown who played
Tour 2: The Good Old Days
The Industrial Revolution, the Victorian Age ' strangely, theres
no American term that captures the 19th century. We have the
Civil War, the New Frontier, the Gold Rush, but no word for the
whole century. America was still trying to figure out what to do
with its new possibilities. Philadelphia reflects this, too.
Most of the cowboy hats in the Old West came from the Stetson
factory in Kensington. Most of the steam engines for the new
factories and trains came from here too. The influx of
immigrants created Chinatown and the Italian Market.
African-Americans arriving from the South (both before and after
the Civil War) brought in a strong workforce and the beginnings
of a rich jazz heritage that continues even now.
A tour of 19th century Philadelphia can start at Independence
Hall. Theres a statue on the spot where President Abraham
Lincoln stopped on his way to Gettysburg to deliver one of the
most important speeches in American history. From there, start
walking in any direction to see classic examples of Victorian
architecture: The Curtis Building, at Sixth and Walnut,
featuring the famous mural designed by Maxfield Parrish and made
by Tiffany; the Bourse, the old stock exchange now alive again
as a mall/office building/theatre; the Mütter Museum in the
American College of Physicians at 22nd and Chestnut traces the
history of medical practice; and then theres City Hall, worth a
tour entirely on its own, as one of the most beautiful and
terrible examples of the best and worst of 19th century excess.
But Philadelphia moved on from these times, and the 20th century
fits nicely into the mix.
Tour 3: Chinatown
Philadelphias Chinatown isn't quite as big as its more famous
sisters in San Francisco or New York. Nonetheless, the
neighborhood has found a niche in the cultural consciousness of
Most visitors come to Chinatown for its restaurants. People have
been enjoying Eastern cuisine in Chinatown since the restaurant
Mei Hsian Lou opened in 1870. Today, Burmese, Japanese,
Vietnamese and Thai restaurants have joined the fray of Szechuan,
Mandarin and Hunan establishments.
In addition to the eateries, there are the cramped little shops
filled with everything. Hong Fook sells giant Buddhas, Oriental
screens, and porcelain dragons along with other items from Asia.
A fortune cookie factory, Chinese-Christian Church, and many
grocery shops complement the roundhouse kick of restaurants.
Take restauranteur Joseph Poons Wok and Walk tour for Oriental
cooking tips and an insiders view on this exotic enclave of the
Chinatown is located to the left, right and behind the
Pennsylvania Convention Center, from 13th and Arch to Eighth
Street, and up to Vine Street.
Tour 4: Art and Design
American art sometimes seems to have started late compared to
its European cousin, but the history of art in Philadelphia is
the history of art in America. The portrait gallery in the
Second National Bank building at Third and Chestnut is a fine
collection of 18th century portraiture; the Academy of Fine Arts
and the Barnes Collection house famous collections of American
and European Impressionists; and then theres the Philadelphia
Museum of Art and the Rodin Museum on the Ben Franklin Parkway,
with their collections of 19th and 20th century masterpieces by
Renoir, Picasso, Matisse, Rodin, Eakins, Cassatt, Wyeth,
Muybridge, Brancusi, DuChamp, and hundreds more.
Probably the least known aspect of Philadelphia art is the
strong representation of modern and post-modern works around
town. The Philadelphia Museum, the Institute of Contemporary Art
(ICA), the galleries in Old City, even the galleries in the
Academy are frequent stops for New York visitors coming down to
see works by Charles Burns, Laurie Anderson, Richard Serra, etc.
Design is strongly represented here as well. The Philadelphia
Museum of Art, the Moore College of Art and the galleries in Old
City and around Rittenhouse Square are all good sources for
inspiration. The Foundation for Architecture provides a series
of walking tours and lectures on various aspects of Philadelphia
Tour 5: For the Family
Enough education and art; if you're traveling with children, you
need something else.
This is a child-friendly town. There is an aquarium, a zoo,
three museums designed to let children play with the exhibits
(the Please Touch Museum, the Franklin Institute and a section
of the Academy of Natural Sciences), old ships and a submarine
at Penns Landing, two ice rinks, six professional sports teams,
an Omnimax theatre and a planetarium at the Franklin Institute,
and a million places to get Pokémon cards.
Many of the downtown places (and the aquarium) are on the route
of the Phlash bus, a squat purple van that travels a complex
route around the city. The fare is a flat rate for unlimited
stops all day long. For many of the museums, a CityPass is
available, providing access to several places on a one- or
three-day rate with one ticket.
Tour 6: Get Out of Town
Philadelphia has close ties to the surrounding counties. Day trips
out of town are easy. Amusement parks such as Sesame Place, Six Flags
Great Adventure, and Dorney Park aren't far. State parks and the Jersey
seashore are one- to three-hours away. An hour north on I-95 is New
Hope, a pleasant little river town filled with restaurants and shops,
with the antique shops of Lambertville, New Jersey, across the Delaware
River. A half hour south on 202 is the Brandywine region, where you'll
find Longwood Gardens and the Wyeth collection at the Brandywine Museum
in Chadds Ford. New York City is two hours away to the north, and
Baltimore an hour and a half to the south. Or just get a boat up the
Delaware or Schuykill Rivers.