It’s no secret that Philadelphia’s Historic District is basically unmatched. We’ve got the sites where our Founding Fathers debated and signed documents essential to the fabric of our nation, like the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
Outside the core of Old City, there are several other monuments to the struggles we’ve endured as Americans — Underground Railroad stops, LGBTQ-inspired murals and monuments to Indigenous people.
Summer is the perfect time to take a spin around the city’s famed historic artifacts. But which ones should you choose? Just because Philly has great history doesn’t mean every site is worth your time.
Here are a handful of spots you can explore, in order of their relative value — as determined by weighing the price, quality and location of the experience.
Definitely worth it
The first institution built by a major United States city to celebrate African American history, heritage and culture. A little pricey, but it’s super close to Old City — and you won’t find this experience anywhere else in the nation.
Colored Girls Museum: $15
A “memoir museum” meant to honor the stories and experiences of everyday Black girls. Worth the trip out of Center City. You won’t find such a solid wealth on information on this demographic elsewhere
America’s first black church, featuring a mini-museum of local African American history in the basement. Check out the tombstone in the basement, the only one left from Philly’s legendary Bethel Burying Ground.
A statue of the Lenape chief who first greeted William Penn when he arrived in what is now Philadelphia. In a city woefully lacking tributes to Native Americans, this is an easy and accessible way to honor the people who settled this land first.
Could be worth it
Belmont Mansion: $7
A Fairmount Park mansion that boasts a house museum, dedicated to colonial history and the Underground Railroad. If you’re in town making the Old City rounds, this one is a hike — but at least after you can check out the view across the street.
Gloria Casarez mural: Free
Note 6/2023: The iconic tribute to Gloria Casarez was painted over in December 2020 by a New York developer despite agreements with Mural Arts to preserve or move the mural.
A tribute to Philadelphia’s first director of LGBT affairs, appointed in 2008, who helped the city adopt broad protections for queer people. This is a chance to celebrate Philly’s LGBTQ history and its expansive collection of murals, and super close to Old City.
Thousands of objects, artworks, manuscripts and printed works from the period when our country was born. Price-wise, this is about as steep as it gets — but perhaps worth it for a museum-sized wealth of info.
You can see where the old guys signed the Constitution — plus read the thing and interact with experts on the subject matter. If you don’t feel like parting with $14.50, you might just wanna Google the thing.
If you have the time
This 16th century site is the place to go for a history lesson about the Quakers who founded Philadelphia. Maybe you’re not obsessed with Quaker history, but come on, you can find two dollars crumpled up in your couch cushions
Independence Hall: Free
The building where both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were debated and adopted. If you’re cool with long lines and tourists packed sardine style, then you’re good.
An abolitionist house in Germantown, where the Johnson family worked with black people to help them escape slavery. An excellent way to take in Philadelphia’s rich connection to the Underground Railroad. Just bring a book to stay busy on your hour-long ride on the Route 23 bus.
The President’s House: Free
It’s just a shell now of what it used to be, but this is where American presidents lived before the mansion was demolished in 1832. After George Washington’s slaves’ quarters were discovered during construction, the display was updated with information about their experience. You might as well stroll through — the thing is almost totally open to the street.
Betsy Ross House: $5
Though her actual contribution to the American flag is uncertain, it’s still enlightening to tour Betsy Ross’ historic home. To repeat: her actual contribution to the American flag is uncertain. Take that as you will.
Peep a 1700s printing press, like the one Benjamin Franklin would have used. Not the *actual* one Ben Franklin used… but who doesn’t love replicas?
Liberty Bell: Free
An iconic symbol of American independence and Philadelphia’s spirit. Well the thing has a crack in it…but it is free