If you're in need of a crash course in American history, don't crack open your old text book. Just head to Philadelphia where around two hours of intense sightseeing can give you a greater understanding of how our country began as well as a large dose of patriotic pride. Even more good news? Most of the attractions are free.
I was in the City of Brotherly Love in mid-August for a wedding. While Saturday was taken up with nuptial festivities in the lavish Philadelphia Park Hyatt at the Bellevue, a stunning property that's famous for not only its beautiful ballroom but the unfortunate 1976 outbreak of Legionnaire's disease. (Don't worry, it's safe now!) The hotel is on South Broad Street, close to Rittenhouse Square, which feels almost Parisian, and even closer to City Hall. Because it was several blocks from the heavy hitters such as the Liberty Bell (pictured left), it wasn't until Sunday afternoon — following brunch at the local mini-chain Marathon Grill — that I embarked on my history refresher course.
When you're doing the historic sights of Philly, your first stop should be the Independence Visitor Center. That's not because this modern building is particularly exciting but because you need to get your free timed tickets to Independence Hall, which is where the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were signed. Only a limited number of tickets are given each day, so you don't miss out.
Your ticket time may be a few hours later — ours was two hours later. So our next stop was the Liberty Bell, which is housed in its own building. The last time I saw the bell — or any of these sights — was on a field trip in the sixth grade. And my husband, who grew up in the Midwest, had never seen them at all. Well, the bell still looks pretty looks good after all these years. The crack appeared in 1846; I think it adds character.
After that, we continued on to the Portrait Gallery in the Second Bank of the United States. (Again, free admission.) The building is beautiful — much like cisterns, they sure don't make banks like they use to. Most of the portraits are of people you've never heard of — unless you're an expert on Colonial America. But the paintings and their descriptions give you a good sense of what the society was like.
The next stop was the Betsy Ross House. Here, admission was $3 per person but it was worth it. Interestingly, one of the reasons why she was asked to make the first flag was because she was a top upholsterer. It was cool to see the house where she and her family lived.
When we left the Betsy Ross House, it was raining so we needed another indoor attraction. I wanted the Free Quaker Meeting House, but Franklin Court won out. It was good to get some Franklin time in since we were in his city. The main thing to see there, it seemed, was the printing press demonstration.
Well, it wasn't quite time yet for our Independence Hall tour, but we decided to see if they would let us on an earlier tour because it was raining quite hard. Luckily, they did. We had a great tour guide — our park ranger (the whole complex in under the direction of the National Park Service) must have been a frustrated actor because he gave a great delivery. The tour lasts about 30 minutes and you see the rooms where all of those great documents were created and voted upon.
We fit a lot in, but there were still plenty of sights I would have liked to see. Something for next time…