The indelible footprints of founding fathers such as William Penn and Benjamin Franklin make Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a treasure trove for history buffs, but it’s also a lively hub for those drawn to the arts, sports, and green spaces.
In northwest Philadelphia, 340 acres of fields, forests, ponds, and streams comprise the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education. There’s an active bird-watching club and, depending on the time of year, you can see hawks, wild turkey, sandpipers, cuckoos, owls, woodpeckers, chickadees, thrush, warblers, orioles, and finches.
Valley Forge National Historical Park features Revolutionary War cannons, log huts, fortifications, and George Washington’s headquarters. Within the city, national park sites include the Liberty Bell Center, Independence Hall, The President’s House, Christ Church, Carpenters’ Hall, Washington Square, Benjamin Franklin National Memorial, and Independence National Historical Park (a square mile of historic houses, banks, and cemeteries).
Tap into the Philadelphia Archaeological Forum and go to the Historic Philadelphia Burial Places Map to find the city’s many unmarked cemeteries and burial sites. Some of the sites that have been uncovered in the city include the James Oronoco Dexter House, Shofuso House and Garden, West Shipyard and Penny Port House Landing, and Franklin Square.
The birthplace of American democracy, Independence Hall was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979. This is where the Declaration of Independence (1776) and the Constitution of the United States (1787) were signed. In 2015, Philadelphia was inducted into the Organization of World Heritage Cities, a nonprofit entity representing 250 cities around the globe with UNESCO World Heritage sites.
To really get into the fight-not-flight spirit of the city, run up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art then bounce around at the top with your arms flung out in a wide V. Afterward, take a photo with the statue of Rocky Balboa at the foot of the steps.
Best Day Trip
Drive west for an hour to the Brandywine Valley and visit the Brandywine Museum of Art. Housed in a 19th-century mill, the museum features the works of three generations of Wyeths—N.C., Andrew, and Jamie. Also in the area are Du Pont family estates, now open to the public, including Longwood Gardens, Winterthur Museum and Gardens, Hagley Museum, and Nemours Mansion.
Off the Beaten Path
Although the Franklin Institute science museum is lively and anatomically entertaining with its giant, walk-in heart, the Mütter Museum has a darker, more squeamish appeal. A museum of medical oddities, some of its treasures include old skulls, weird body parts in jars, a plaster cast of George Washington’s carbuncle (like a boil), and a woman mummified in soap.
Lively South Street is peppered with pubs, wine bars, restaurants, clubs, and lounges, some with DJs or live music. Whether you are looking for snazzy cocktails, cheap suds, a fine vintage, or craft beer, you’ll find it here. There are more than 300 shops, bars, and restaurants to explore along this city center strip that ends at Penn’s Landing.
The Edgar Allan Poe house, a National Historical Site, is where the writer lived with his wife and mother-in-law for about a year. Check out the basement, likely the inspiration for his story "The Black Cat." Equally creepy is Eastern State Penitentiary, a crumbling fortress whose inmates included gangster Al Capone. Special events include the country’s scariest Halloween tour.
For Art Lovers
At the Rodin Museum spend a quiet moment with The Thinker or check out the Philadelphia Museum of Art and wander through rooms of international masterpieces. Enjoy Renoir’s voluptuous depictions at the Barnes Foundation, and at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts admire works of American artists from the 19th and 20th centuries, including Maxfield Parrish and Mary Cassatt.