This is an age where it is fast becoming fashionable to show one’s patriotic spirit and truly feel a part of the country of our birth. What better way to get the kids (or yourself!) into the American spirit than a few days in one of the nation’s most historical and beautiful cities? Theme parks and other staples of vacation travel can’t begin to stand up to the many attractions and valuable vacation experiences you will find here in this huge city. Philadelphia, located in eastern Pennsylvania, the second state admitted to the union, is a visual gold mine of historical lore. True, it has grown up a bit since the colonial era; highways and traffic now thread past narrow cobblestone alleys, and t-shirts and jeans are seen where once gowns and tri-corner hats could be found, but still there is an underlying pulse that shows the truth. Deep inside, the city has never changed.
Let’s visit the legend of Philadelphia with a quick blast through history. William Penn, whose name is indelibly stamped in the history of the Keystone State, set down the pattern for what would become Philadelphia, the “city of brotherly love.” Where once only Indian villages and settlers’ small homesteads sprawled, a city grew up, tending lovingly by generations of loyal Americans. It eventually came to be separated into various districts as were other old and venerable cities such as New York City and Richmond, and was a haven for all sorts of religious groups and ideas. In 1777, the British Army took up residence in Philadelphia, testing the fortitude of the city’s populace. In this day and age, Philadelphia is known for its colonial and Victorian architecture, and many homes still stand that bear witness to the turbulent days of the American Revolution and the Civil War.
Witnesses to History
Our tour of Philadelphia will include the Betsy Ross House and Independence Hall, staples of Philadelphia’s tourism, but there are many other historic homes to be explored. Old homes and buildings give Philadelphia its rustic undertone, and there are some in particular that you should see to make your experience worthwhile:
– – The Friends Meeting House, a Quaker place of worship, has the distinction of being Philadelphia’s oldest still standing. Constructed in the early 1800s, its interior is very simple and unattractive, yet visitors can feel a sense of reverent piety. Youngsters may find it interesting to note that young boys and girls would have used separate stairs when they attended this church.
– – The Betsy Ross House is more than just the home of the reputed seamstress who fashioned the well-known American flag. It is a small quaint cottage, unusual in architecture and superbly refurnished for those who wish to take a tour. Oddly enough, this home was never actually Betsy’s; she paid rent to live in the tiny cottage in the years of the American Revolution and some years after.
– – Congregation Mikveh Israel Cemetery is one of the nation’s religious places of interest. It became a concern in 1738 that no Jewish cemetery existed in Philadelphia, and plans were put into motion to make the idea a reality. Famous persons are buried here, such as Haym Salomon, a man of high standing during the Revolution. In 1777 when the British troops arrived, it is said they shot at the cemetery’s fence to see if they could hit it. If you are interested in Jewish history, there is also a museum in Philadelphia dedicated solely to this subject.
– – For another religious perspective, tour Old St. Mary’s Church, a Catholic place of worship with a lot of history packed into its 200+ year existence. This church was used by the Continental Congress, and people fleeing from France’s revolution were also welcome worshipers at St. Mary’s. Although the church itself dates from the 1800s, the cemetery has existed since the mid 1700s.
One of Philadelphia’s Most Famous Names
Franklin Court is definitely worth a visit. The first thing you will notice is a bare steel frame stretching toward the sky. This structure is a sort of “plan” showing where a house was located in Benjamin Franklin’s time. His house was influential and full of extravagant tastes, and although the original residence no longer exists, there is a whole underground museum complex that has a ton of information for the would-be historian. Other buildings located nearby represent Franklin’s taste in building construction and also demonstrate life in the 1700s.
Want to expand your brain? Try a visit to the famous Franklin Institute. If technology or science happens to be of interest to you, chances are that you’ll find something to fascinate you here. Take at least a day to explore the Institute’s myriad of exhibits. You’ll definitely be surprised how much knowledge you will have when you can finally tear yourself away from this Philadelphia hot spot. Finally, learning becomes “fun” again!
History of All Kinds
Many students will be able to identify Independence Hall‘s important place in American history, as it is the home of the famous Liberty Bell. Visitors enjoy touring the Independence Hall complex and noting its period furnishings. Of course, any visit should involve stopping to snap that quintessential picture of one of America’s most well-known icons. Thousands of visitors have come to see this part of our history; keep in mind that the paths you are walking could very well have been tread by George Washington, Ben Franklin and many other colonial dignitaries!
Are you a Civil War buff? Do you know the size of General Grant’s trousers or the color of Stonewall Jackson’s horse’s mane? If you collect trivia like this, visit Philadelphia’s Civil War Library and Museum. Many different aspects of the war are covered, from women’s roles on the battlefield to conditions at a Civil War prison. Of course, this is just a “general” idea of what you will be seeing! Be prepared to learn some facts that may change your mind about the biggest catastrophe of the 19th century.
Immerse Yourself in the Bizarre
Everything you can see and do in “Philly” doesn’t necessarily revolve around history. You can also journey through the bizarre and capture memories so unusual that you’ll have to go back to make sure you really saw them. The Mutter Museum is one of the strangest, creepiest, oddball destinations the curious mind could ever hope to visit. Diseased limbs, oddities of nature, strange phenomenon, and various objects of vast interest to the thrill-seeking can be found in this museum which sports thousands of collections. I would recommend not visiting the museum if you are not a fan of the disgusting or if you have a penchant against things that go bump in the night!
If, however, you love the feeling of your skin crawling and can’t get enough of the unexplainable, take a ghost tour of Philadelphia. A city that has existed for so many centuries is sure to have its share of neck-prickling tales and strange sightings. Many enjoy these ventures out into the darkened streets. Be warned: If you notice something out of the corner of your eye and there’s nothing there, don’t always blame your imagination . . .
A Trendy Alternative
For a “hip scene,” try the acclaimed “Elfreth’s Alley.” Not only is it one of America’s oldest neighborhoods, dating from the colonial days, but it Philadelphia’s trendy marketplace. The fun of contemporary shopping and places to grab a bite to eat are a strange mix with the historic homes, many of which were standing when America was still part of the British Crown. This is a great place for families, for the romantic couple, or for the wandering traveler looking for a taste of something different. The Alley’s restaurants compete for class and style, and you’re sure to find a souvenir – or perhaps a dozen! – that will make your trip to Elfreth’s Alley worthwhile.
Things You Wouldn’t Expect to Find
There are many things you wouldn’t expect to find in Philadelphia. One of them may be the Italian Market that offers a taste of the “Old Country.” You might have the sensation that you’re walking through Tuscany or Venice, weaving through stalls in marketplaces that have been active for centuries. Not only Italian food, but everything you’d expect from an outdoor market can be found here: fish, baked goods, fresh meats, etc. You can even buy herbs to cure various ailments, just as our ancestors did back in the day. Keep a lookout for things you can’t find at any old grocery store in the country, such as cheeses imported from Italy.
There is something startlingly beautiful about the delicacy of Japanese architecture; Japanese gardens have become all the rage and look beautiful in any setting, especially where you don’t expect to find them. One such place would be the middle of Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park! The Shofusu (also known as Pine Breeze Villa) complex gives you a glance into 17th century Japanese culture. A scholar’s home and garden are reconstructed in a setting of tranquility. Bear in mind the park is closed from the month of April through November.
One Thing to Remember
Perhaps the best thing to do during your vacation to Philadelphia is just to walk; take in the melding of old and new, appreciate how even the tallest glass skyscraper seems small and insignificant next to the modest beauty of an ancient church. Even a large city like Philadelphia can be very safe if you take needed precautions. Choose a diligent driver, always travel in large groups if possible, especially in the evening, and don’t display items that may be of interest to pickpockets. If you follow all the rules, you’ve done all you can to assure happy travels.