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Did You Know … ?
- Edwin Booth was owner of the Walnut Street Theatre when his brother john Wilkes Booth killed President Lincoln.
- The U.S. Mint in Philadelphia can churn out more than 2 million coins an hour.
- Philadelphia’s City Hall is the world’s tallest municipal building (548 feet, almost twice the U.S. Capitol).
- Benjamin Franklin founded America’s first volunteer fire department in Philadelphia (1736).
- The 24.5-inch crack in the 2,080-pound bronze Liberty Bell is actually a repair.
Home of the Liberty Bell
American history isn’t the beginning and end of a visit to Philadelphia, but it’s awfully important to the city’s tourism business. The Declaration of Independence was adopted in Philadelphia, and 11 years later, the U.S. Constitution was written there. Philadelphia also was the temporary national capital (1790-1800). Everyone who was anyone during America’s founding era came to town.
The starting point for any even halfway interested visitor to Philadelphia is Independence National Historical Park, which covers 55-plus acres on 20 city blocks.
Sites encompassed by the park include Congress Hall, where Congress met 1790-1800; Old City Hall, interim home for the U.S. Supreme Court; the First Bank and Second Bank of the United States; Liberty Bell Center, and, not least, Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were signed.
The park’s Independence Visitor Center lets tourists customize their plans for managing this wealth of choices. For those who eschew structure, the history is everywhere anyway, in the churches, museums, cemeteries, gardens, houses, streets and even alleyways.
Elfreth’s Alley is the oldest continuously inhabited street in the U.S. (created 1702). In addition, Philadelphia is home to America’s oldest surviving hospital (1751); first stock exchange (1790); first theater (1809); oldest operating opera house (1857); first department store (Wanamaker’s, now Macy’s, 1861), and first zoo (1874).
The city encompasses several nicely restored neighborhoods — Northern Liberties, Old City, Rittenhouse Square, Society Hill, University City and Washington Square.
Further, Philadelphia boasts a rich collection of cultural attractions, starting with world class art institutions. Museums themes vary widely. The Benjamin Franklin Museum celebrates the city’s most famous resident. Among the more unusual choices are an Insectarium and a museum devoted to medical artifacts.
For entertainment, options run the gamut from orchestral and chamber music to the opera, from theater and dance to jazz and other popular music.
The city is a good destination for spectator sports, especially basketball, baseball, football, ice hockey — and a rowing regatta. For the active, the top draw is Fairmount Park, one of the country’s largest urban landscaped spaces. At 9,200 acres, it offers options for birding, fishing, horseback riding, jogging, rowing and more.
Things to do for Venturers
- In autumn, take a ghost tour of Eastern State Penitentiary. Former guests included the mafia’s Al Capone and bank robber Willy Sutton.
- Do what Philadelphians do. Go sculling down the Schuylkill River.
- The Mutter Museum in the College of Physicians houses some very bizarre exhibits ranging from diseased body parts, the skeleton of a seven-foot, six-inch giant and the Soap Lady, a woman whose body, after death, became encased in a wax similar to soap. Visit before lunch. Also, see the 19th century surgical amphitheater in Pennsylvania Hospital, America’s oldest operating hospital.
- Strap on your in-line skates and follow the 23-mile Schuylkill River Trail from the center of Philadelphia to Valley Forge National Historical Park.
- Make the huge Fairmount Park your playground. It has 75 miles of walking trails, plus Wissahickon Creek, which is stocked with trout and a popular location for fishing. A license is required.
- By day and then by night, seek out the galleries, clubs, taverns, restaurants and other nightspots in the Fishtown and Northern Liberties neighborhoods, a couple of old industrial sections of town.
Things to do for Centrics
- Tour the Betsy Ross House for the Betsy Ross story and for insights into 18th century housing in Philadelphia.
- Have a Philly cheesesteak. And, sample soft pretzels topped with mustard, a street tradition dating back to the 1820s.
- If boating military style is of interest, tour the battleship New Jersey, now a floating museum on the Camden, N.J., side of the Delaware River. And, at the Independence Seaport Museum (on Philadelphia’s side of the river), attractions include the USS Olympia, flagship of Adm. George Dewey in the Spanish-American War, and the World War II submarine USS Becuna.
- Saunter along Elfreth’s Alley with camera in hand. And, walk the streets — in order to see places like Franklin Square and Rittenhouse Square.
- Check out the pubs and restaurants — and the shops — in Manayunk. 15 minutes west of Philadelphia’s Center City. Manayunk is a former textile mill town turned artsy enclave, and it hosts an annual arts festival in the fall.
- Walk through, shop and eat in the Italian Market, which is variously called America’s oldest or one of America’s oldest outdoor markets.
Things to do for Authentics
- At the Liberty Bell Center, discover the history of America’s iconic bell, and get a look at the Liberty Bell itself. Glass walls allow you to see the bell from outside, too.
- Spend quality time with Asian, European and contemporary American art and furniture at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and head to the Barnes Foundation for its Impressionist collection. Or, attend the Art-at-Lunch lecture series at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and relish the exhibits, too.
- Take the de rigueur tour of Independence Hall (for which timed tickets are required). The Declaration of Independence was adopted and much of the U.S. Constitution was written here.
- Tour the city in a trolley. Or ride in a horse-drawn carriage.
- Sit where George Washington sat at Christ Church. In the church cemetery, toss a penny on Benjamin Franklin’s grave for good luck. Seven signers of the Declaration of Independence and five signers of the Constitution are buried here,
- Attend a performance at the Walnut Street Theatre, America’s oldest (from 1809), or at the Academy of Music, America’s oldest opera house still used for its original purpose (from 1857).
For more information, consult the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau at www.discoverphl.com