A perk of the east coast United States is access to some really fantastic historic cities. Case in point: Philadelphia.
A mere 2-hour bus ride from New York City, this city is probably the most historic in relation to the Founding Fathers and the beginnings of the United States as an independent nation. Because of this, it makes for a fascinating trip, especially if you enjoy history. Personally, history has always been a favorite subject of mine since school, so I knew Philadelphia – or Philly – would be an exciting visit.
I took the Megabus from New York City bright and early at 6:50 a.m. and was in the heart of Philly by 9:00 a.m. Another perk? The trip only cost me $14 round trip! Budget travel for the win! If you are taking a bus to Philadelphia, make sure to book the route that drops you off and picks you up at Independence Hall. That’s the heart of where all the tourist sites like the Liberty Bell, Declaration of Independence, etc. are going to be.
After getting off the bus, I walked over to the Philadelphia Museum of Art where the famous Rocky steps are. If you’re familiar with the iconic film Rocky, starring Sylvester Stallone, then you’ll recall him running up those stairs to the “Gonna Fly Now” tune. And yes, you can bet there were plenty of tourists running up those stairs. One guy even had the music to accompany it. The Rocky steps are the only major site that is not in the main area. It’s a bit of a walk – but totally doable – from Independence Hall. I’d say somewhere between 1 and 2 miles. When you get there though, be mindful of people standing around offering to take pictures of you. Sometimes this can be a way for people to try and snatch your phone or demand money for taking your picture. If you are traveling on your own, try looking for another group of tourists to take your photo. There’s also a Rocky statue next to the museum as well that you can get photos with.
After snapping a few pics at the Rocky statue, I walked back to the Independence Hall neighborhood. Like in Washington D.C., Philly offers travelers a lot of free things to see and do. I kid you not, the only thing I spent money on that day was a Philly Cheese Steak (more to come on that later…)
Once I was back near Independence Hall, I went over to the Liberty Bell first. There’s a short line and you go through security, but it’s pretty low key. If you can, try to see Philly’s historic sites on a weekday, especially if you go during the summer. Even on a Thursday, which is when I went, there are locations that can get busy.
After the Liberty Bell, I hit up Independence Hall. This building was built in the 1700s and is the location where Congress was first held. It is also where the Declaration of Independence was signed and is now on display. Insert your Nicolas Cage jokes here.
Although Independence Hall is free, the part of the building where the Declaration of Independence was signed requires ticket reservations. Note: you do not need a ticket to actually see the Declaration of Independence though. The document itself is in another area at Independence Hall. Needless to say, I did not know about the need for tickets. The good news is that even if you do not get a ticket beforehand, you can still see other parts of Independence Hall and come back around 4:45 p.m. to get in line to see where the Declaration was signed. At that point tickets are not required. As it turned out, a lot of people forget that whole ticket thing. When I came back later in the day to line up, it ended up being an hour and a half wait to finally get in the room. It was worth the wait, but if you want to avoid long lines, get a ticket.
Tour guides are also at Independence Hall to tell you about the history of what went down there, which makes the experience all the more interesting.
Other spots I saw during the day included the Betsy Ross House and Benjamin Franklin’s grave. You do need to pay to get inside the Betsy Ross House, but you can still see the outside of it if you don’t feel like the paying. The same goes for Ben Franklin’s grave. His grave is visible from the street, but in order to enter inside the cemetery, you need to pay.
Next to Independence Hall are a bunch of other historic – and gorgeous – 18th century buildings. I went inside New Hall, which was the first headquarters of the U.S. military after gaining independence. I also went inside Carpenters’ Hall, which was the meeting location for the First Continental Congress in 1774. The first and second banks of the United States are also cool to check out while in the area. The layout of this area of Philadelphia is absolutely stunning. A beautiful park space surrounds these historic 18th century buildings. If you need a quick break, go sit on a bench and enjoy the scenery. It’s especially pretty on a warm, sunny day.
Now about that Philly Cheese Steak…
This is the one food item you have to try when you’re in Philadelphia. I went over to the Old City area, which is right near Independence Hall. It’s a neat place to walk around. This is the part of Philly that features cute coffee shops, stores, restaurants, etc.
I was determined to have a Philly Cheese Steak for lunch and decided on a local spot called Fezziwig’s Sweet Shoppe on 3rd Street. Don’t let the title fool you though. While they indeed have great desserts, they also have a terrific Philly Cheese Steak. It’s costs $9.50, but with tax is just over $10. It’s a big sandwich too. I couldn’t finish the whole thing, but two people could easily share just one Philly Cheese Steak. The best part though is the service. They are really nice!
Philadelphia is the perfect day trip, because you can easily conquer the city in one day. I definitely gave myself more than enough time. By 7 p.m. I was basically just trying to kill time – in the form of recording myself doing the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air rap. I think I had waited my whole life for that moment…
About the author
Jill Zwarensteyn is a writer, comedian, and television producer who has been featured on Amazon, truTV, The New York Times, Matador Network, BUST Magazine, Tiplr, ARTRPRNR Magazine, YourTango, Thought Catalog, GoMad Nomad, Mashable, The Daily Mail UK, the Cannes Film Festival, LaughFest, Women's Lifestyle Magazine, and the Funny Women Festival LA. For more info visit: http://www.jillzwarensteyn.weebly.com