Independence Hall and Liberty Bell reopen after COVID shutdown

Capacity restrictions mean a better view, so if you haven’t been for a while, it might be worth a trip.

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Mark Henninger / Imagic Digital
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With COVID safety measures in place, the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall begin welcoming guests Monday as the city’s ban on museum visits expires.

If you’ve been looking for things to do and haven’t been for a while, it might be worth a trip. Judging from a tour before the historic destinations shut down Nov. 20, the restrictions won’t really take away from your visit — in fact, they’ll probably let you get a better view.

Overall, the coronavirus was rough on Philadelphia tourism, for obvious reasons. About a third as many fewer people traveled to the region last year versus 2019, spending half as much money, according to the Business Journal. A big part of the drop can be chalked up to canceled conventions and business meetings, which nearly vanished.

But some leisure travel still happened, which was obvious to anyone walking around the city. From mid-May onward, after the pandemic’s first scary peak subsided, a day didn’t pass without folks lined up to take a pic at the Rocky statue, and Old City streets had plenty of masked and distanced wanderers.

Summer and fall are the most popular times to visit the birthplace of the United States, according to Independence National Historical Park spokesperson Leslie Obleschuk.

That held true this year. In September there was an hour-long line at Independence Hall and a wait of several hours to get into the Liberty Bell Center.

When the bell site reopens Jan. 4, you can expect fewer lines, but there might still be a wait, because only 20 people are allowed inside at any one time. That means that when you do get in, you have a better chance at a closeup of the famous cracked ringer. Pre-pandemic, up to 400 people would crowd into the space at once, per Obleschuk.

At Independence Hall — which non-Philadelphians might not realize they recognize from the back of the $100 bill — tour groups are being kept to just nine people, compared to groups of 65 in the before times. You’ll go through a security scan as you wait in line, then be admitted every quarter-hour.

Both venues are open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., no tickets required.

Here’s some of what you’ll see and learn at the building where both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were signed.

The south-facing clock at Independence Hall

The east-facing clock at Independence Hall

Mark Henninger / Imagic Digital

If you do end up waiting in the courtyard, you’ll be treated to some of the best views of the site, which opened in 1753 as the Pennsylvania State House after more than 25 years under construction.

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Mark Henninger / Imagic Digital

National Park Rangers wearing face masks maintain distance from visitors.

The Assembly Room at Independence Hall

The Assembly Room at Independence Hall

Mark Henninger / Imagic Digital

The most storied space in the whole building has to be the Assembly Room, which is where both famous documents were signed.

Desks in the Assembly Room

Desks in the Assembly Room

Mark Henninger / Imagic Digital

Each desk is outfitted with appropriate props, including a quill and inkstand, a staff, and a smoking pipe.

Chandelier and head table in the Assembly Room at Independence Hall

Chandelier and George Washington's 'rising sun' chair in the Assembly Room at Independence Hall

Mark Henninger / Imagic Digital

National Park staff who give the tours are full of information, things you may or may not remember from history class. For example, that Thomas Jefferson included an anti-slavery paragraph in his original draft of the Declaration. It was scratched as part of a bargain to unify the colonies behind the revolution.

The interior of Independence Hall

The interior of Independence Hall

Mark Henninger / Imagic Digital

Originally designed by Edmund Woolley and Andrew Hamilton, the building was renovated several times. The current interior is a replica built by the National Park Service.

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Courtroom at Independence Hall

Mark Henninger / Imagic Digital

The other main space is the courtroom, originally home to the Pa. Supreme Court.

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Mark Henninger / Imagic Digital

On July 8, 1776, the revolutionary militia stormed the room and tore down British King George III’s coat of arms, which the ranger holds in the photo above.

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Mark Henninger / Imagic Digital

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