Philadelphia is the largest city in Pennsylvania. It has deep roots in US history. It’s where the most prominent early American leaders gathered to discuss important topics that would shape the nation.
As such, the city is filled with historical treasures that make up some of the best places to visit in Philadelphia. Most of the landmarks shed light on early US history. However, some are also related to other aspects of Philly’s past.
Each of them offers an educational and entertaining experience. From old cobbled streets to important buildings and famous monuments, here are the top historical landmarks in Philadelphia.
Table of Contents
- Top Historical Landmarks in Philadelphia
- 1. The Liberty Bell
- 2. Independence Hall
- 3. Betsy Ross House
- 4. The President’s House
- 5. The Declaration House (Graff House)
- 6. Powel House
- 7. Hill-Physick House
- 8. Philadelphia City Hall
- 9. Independence National Historical Park
- 10. Elfreth’s Alley
- 11. Franklin Square
- 12. Rittenhouse Square
- 13. Carpenters’ Hall
- 14. Second Bank of the United States
- 15. Reading Terminal Market
- 16. Bartram’s Garden
- 17. Shofuso Japanese House and Garden
- 18. Boathouse Row
- 19. Edgar Allan Pоe National Historic Site
- 20. Christ Church and Christ Church Burial Grounds
- 21. Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church
- 22. Laurel Hill Cemetery
- 23. Eastern State Penitentiary
- 24. Fort Mifflin
- 25. Fairmount Water Works
- 26. The Rosenbach
- 27. Philadelphia Museum of Art
- 28. Fireman’s Hall Museum
- Historical Landmarks in Philadelphia | Final Thoughts
Philadelphia is a city where history is on full display. A good deal of the sites included in this list have to do with the founding of the nation, but there are also plenty of hidden historical gems too. This city has a lot to uncover, so let’s get started.
The Liberty Bell is a proud symbol of American independence. This massive 943 kg (2,080 lbs) historical landmark was first rung on July 8, 1776, after the Declaration of Independence was read publicly for the first time.
In the following decade, it became very significant among abolitionists, who used it to symbolize the wrongs of slavery in America.
The last time the Liberty Bell chimed was in 1846, for George Washington’s birthday. However, this caused the bell to crack. You can learn more about this iconic American landmark and see it on display in Liberty Bell Center. The entrance is free.
Independence Hall is a US civic building that holds monumental historical significance in the nation’s founding. It’s the site where America’s founding fathers adopted and signed the US Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution.
Admission into the building is by timed tours only. Guests need to reserve their ticket beforehand ($1.00 per ticket online) in order to secure their spot.
The Betsy Ross House is where American seamstress and US flag-maker Betsy Ross lived. It’s the place where she is purported to have sewed the first United States flag. Although some historians debate this claim, the house nevertheless provides a window into 18th-century living.
Tours of the house allow you to learn more about America’s most famous seamstress. You’ll be guided to the different rooms by an audio guide. There’s also a Betsy Ross reenactor that provides a nice touch to the learning experience.
From 1790 to 1800, the President’s House served as the official residence of the US President. This was when Philadelphia was the capital of the US, before the White House was built. It was home to the first two US Presidents, George Washington and John Adams.
Although the original building was demolished in 1832, it now operates as an open-air, outdoor exhibit. It sits at the original site, and you can still see the foundations of the house embedded in the ground. It features videos and exhibits that explore the paradox between independence in the new nation and slavery.
This landmark is a self-guided attraction and is free of charge.
The Declaration House is the site where Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. He rented a room from Jacob Graff, a brick-layer, who built the three-story house on the outskirts of town.
Jefferson most likely found his own lodging in the heart of the city too busy for his liking; it’s thought that he sought out the solitude of a more quiet residence to complete his important task.
The original house was constructed in 1775, however, it was demolished in 1833. A reconstruction of the original home was built in 1975. It features exhibitions and period furnishings to reflect what it would have looked like when Jefferson was residing there.
Powel and his wife loved to host lavish dinner parties in their home that would entertain notable guests, like George and Martha Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and the Marquis de Lafayette. The historical home now operates as a house museum. It’s accessible through tours, which are guided by a knowledgeable docent.
The Hill-Physick House was built in 1786. It belonged to Philip Syng Physick, who is considered the “father of American surgery.” The three-story brick mansion was built in Federal styling, an architectural type prominent in the US from the 1780s to the 1840s.
You can visit the house and tour the well-appointed rooms that feature Federal period furnishings. You’ll learn about Physick’s medicine practice before modern anaesthesia, and other interesting anecdotes from his day.
Philadelphia City Hall is the city’s ornate municipal building. This historical landmark is pretty remarkable. It was constructed from 1871 to 1901 and features 700 rooms. It’s the largest municipal building in the US.
When it was completed, it contained the world’s tallest clock tower. Currently, it’s the 5th tallest. Each side of the tower contains a clock face that’s larger in diameter than Big Ben in London. Apart from the large clock facades, the building also includes a giant statue of Pennsylvania founder, William Penn.
Guided tours of the interior are offered from the City Hall Visitor Centre. They also included access to the building’s impressive observation deck which provides excellent panoramas of the city.
The Independence National Historical Park is a protected area of Philadelphia that covers 45 acres. The historic district houses several of the city’s famous landmarks, including Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, and the Second Bank of America.
It also contains the Benjamin Franklin Museum and the United States Postal Service Museum. You’ll be surrounded by history as you stroll the scenic walking paths and admire the park’s beautiful gardens.
Elfreth’s Alley is often given the title as the oldest continuously inhabited street in the US. The picturesque cobblestone lane is full of old American architecture. It dates back to 1703 and features 32 houses that were built from 1703 to 1836.
There’s also a museum on the street known as the Elfreth’s Alley Museum that takes you inside one of the historic houses. You’ll truly feel like you’re walking back in time as you stroll this historical gem.
Franklin Square is one of Philadelphia’s five original open-space parks. It was designed by William Penn when he planned out the city in 1682. The historic space has a family-friendly atmosphere and is very well-maintained.
In the centre of the park sits the Franklin Square Fountain, which was built in 1838. It’s been recently updated to feature a fountain show with music, water effects, and colourful lights. There are other fun attractions to enjoy in the square, like mini-golf, a carousel, and a playground.
Rittenhouse Square is the name of a popular public park in Philadelphia as well as the surrounding neighbourhood. It’s another one of the five original open-space parks planned out by Penn when he planned the city’s layout.
The tree-filled park is full of grassy spaces and dozens of benches for relaxing. It’s a popular destination for locals, especially those working or living in Philadelphia’s city centre.
The neighbourhood of Rittenhouse Square is one of the most affluent communities in the city. It contains many luxury apartments as well as well-known shops and restaurants. It’s also close to other popular city attractions if you fancy some sightseeing.
Carpenters’ Hall was built from 1770 to 1774. It’s the official birthplace of the state of Pennsylvania and has served as an important meeting place in America’s early history.
The First Continental Congress held many key meetings here. It’s also the site where Pennsylvania declared independence from the British Empire, and where the Pennsylvania militia mobilized for the Revolutionary War.
Today, you can learn about its history by visiting the small museum housed inside.
The Second Bank of the United States was the country’s second federally licensed Hamiltonian national bank. It was founded in 1816.
The building’s design was based on the Parthenon in Athens, Greece. It has a large set of stairs leading to the entrance, which feature eight tall columns. It no longer functions for its original purpose. Instead, it houses a Portrait Gallery containing early American leaders, like George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and Benjamin Franklin.
The gallery is free to enter, and no reservations or tickets are required.
The Reading Terminal Market is an indoor farmer’s market that’s been operating since 1892. It’s one of America’s oldest public markets and it’s housed inside a National Historic Landmark Building.
This buzzing public space features more than 70 small businesses selling everything from the local cuisine, to fresh-cut flowers, crafts and gifts. The market is open every day from morning till evening.
Spanning 50 acres, Bartram’s Garden is a green oasis in Philadelphia. The public garden was founded by botanist John Bartram in 1728 and has been declared a National Historic Landmark.
It’s North America’s oldest surviving botanical garden and features an array of fascinating plant species, both native and exotic. The vast space is set in a picturesque location on the banks of the Schuylkill River.
If you’re interested in early American botany, or just fancy a nice nature walk, Bartram’s Garden is a lovely place to visit in Philadelphia.
The grounds are free to enter and open every day of the year from dusk until dawn.
The elegant Shofuso Japanese House and Garden is a 17th century-style Japanese house and garden. The house was built in 1953 as a gift from Japan and was commissioned to symbolize post-war friendship between the two countries.
It was designed using traditional Japanese techniques and the materials were imported from Japan. Surrounded by Koi ponds, cherry trees, bonsai trees, and other natural Japanese aesthetics, it’s a calming refuge in the middle of the busy city.
Boathouse Row is one of Philadelphia’s more unique historic landmarks. Set on the banks of the Schuylkill River, this landmark consists of a string of 15 boathouses. They are used as the headquarters for different rowing clubs, with the members competing at every level in the sport.
Each one is at least 100 years old and contains its own fascinating history. It’s a charming area of the city that provides an excellent location for a lazy stroll or a scenic jog.
If you’re a fan of early American literature, you’ll appreciate this next Philly landmark. The Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site is the former residence of the late great author. Although Poe occupied many houses in Philadelphia, this is the only home that still stands.
The site contains a reading room with a complete collection of Poe’s works. It also operates as a small museum, with a number of exhibits relating to Poe’s life.
Christ Church is a well preserved Episcopal church that was constructed from 1727 to 1744. It has deep ties to the founding of the nation. Many prominent, early Americans attended service here, including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Betsy Ross.
The Christ Church Burial Ground is also steeped in history. This important Colonial and Revolution-era graveyard is spread over two acres. It’s the final resting place of four signers of the Declaration of Independence. It also holds the grave of Benjamin Franklin and his wife, Deborah.
Both of these attractions are open to the public for a small fee.
The Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church served some of the nation’s first black denominations. The congregation was founded in 1794, making it the oldest African Methodist Episcopal congregation in the US.
The original building was damaged during riots in the city; the current structure was built from 1888 to 1890.
The beautiful three-story church was designed with Romanesque styling and features stunning stained glass windows from Germany. There is a small museum in the basement of the church where guests can learn more about its rich history.
The Laurel Hill Cemetery is a well-kept piece of history. It sits on an expansive piece of lush land overlooking the Schuylkill River. It’s been around since 1836 and contains the graves of many Civil War generals and well-known citizens of Philadelphia.
Before you visit, make sure to download the “Laurel Hill Cemetery,” app on your mobile device for a guided walking tour around the site.
If you’re interested in hauntings or the macabre, this landmark is for you. The Eastern State Penitentiary is a former prison that operated from 1829 to 1971. When it was built, it was the largest and most expensive public structure ever constructed in the US.
It housed some of the country’s most notorious criminals, including “Slick Willie” Sutton and Al Capone. Today, the massive building lays in ruin, with crumbling cell walls and rusting prison bars.
It’s rumoured to be haunted by its former inmates. You can visit and decide for yourself. The penitentiary is open for tours seven days a week.
Fort Mifflin is a little fort with a big history. It’s the oldest active military base in the US. It was commissioned in 1771, which means it pre-dates the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It’s been the site of many US conflicts, including the American Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and both of the World Wars.
You can tour the fort during the day and learn more about its fascinating history. Evening ghost tours and paranormal events are also regularly hosted.
Fairmount Water Works is a 19th-century waterworks that was developed in 1812 and was in use until 1909. The engineering structure was praised for its design and beautiful location next to the river.
It now contains the Fairmount Water Works Interpretive Center (FWWIC), which is an educational centre with hands-on science displays, and exhibits related to the history of the waterworks.
The Rosenbach is a small museum and library that contains old and rare books collected by brothers Phillip Rosennach and Dr Abraham Simon Wolf Rosenbach. The brothers helped build some of the nation’s greatest libraries in the 20th century.
This historic gem is contained within two 19th-century townhouses that are styled in period furnishings. For a small fee, you can tour the different rooms and learn more about the rare book collection as well as the life and legacy of the Rosenbach’s.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art was established in 1876. It was chartered for the city’s Centennial Exposition, with the main building of the museum being constructed in 1928. It has quite a distinguishable look, with classical Greek temple columns at the entrances.
The building in itself is a beautiful historic landmark, and when you step inside there’s even more history to discover. The museum collection contains over 240,000 artefacts. The items include sculptures, paintings, photographs, armour, decorative arts, and more.
If you’re planning on visiting the museum, they have a pay as you wish policy every Friday night and on the first Sunday of the month. Otherwise, general admission is $25 USD.
The Fireman’s Hall Museum is set inside a restored firehouse from 1902. Its purpose is to teach visitors about Philadelphia’s fire history. It displays things like old firefighting equipment, tools and photographs.
It’s great for all ages, especially kids. There’s even a section in the museum that educates children on fire safety. This historic landmark is free to visit and explore, you just need to reserve your ticket online before you arrive.
Philadelphia is a modern city that holds great significance in US history. It has witnessed many important events in the nation’s timeline, which you can easily explore and discover by visiting these different landmarks.
From the city’s first public squares, to historical homes and gardens, there’s something everyone will appreciate.
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