Independence Hall: Philly fun with kids
I’m thrilled today to not only share the story of my family’s visit to Independence Hall but to announce the launch of Kids in the City in collaboration with Expedia. For the next two weeks travel with us from Philadelphia to Seattle and back again as twelve top family travel bloggers share their tips for visiting twelve top U.S. summer vacation destinations with kids.
Whether you’re planning a summer road trip or will be staying close to home and need day-trip inspiration, we’ve got you covered with tips for the best places to play, see, stay, and eat. Be sure to come back over the next couple of weeks, as I’ll be adding links to all of the other Kids in the City posts. And if Philadelphia is a destination you have in mind, you can see my list of top Philly tips for families (in both written and video form) at the Kids in the City site.
Have your children studied the history of the American Revolution? Than you won’t want to miss a visit to Independence National Historical Park when you come to Philadelphia. Plan to spend the better part of a day in this fascinating and lovely urban park, which covers a 20-block area right in the heart of Old City Philadelphia. In addition to seeing the Liberty Bell, you and your kids can learn about the origins of the United States and its government.
A great place to begin your visit, not just to the park but to Philadelphia generally, is in the Independence Visitor Center. Here you’ll find a number of exhibits and films that offer an overview of Philadelphia’s role in American history. Free tickets for the Independence Hall tour are also available here (all of the park buildings are free to visit; although Independence Hall and a few of the other sites require a ticket for a timed tour).
Pick up a map of the park and information about many local attractions and also a schedule of events for the day – often the park hosts re-enactors and storytellers who engage kids with tales and activities from colonial times; special tours with park rangers are also available. You might also do as we did and download the Philly History this Way app (it’s available for both iPhone and Android for 99 cents). Open the app on your phone and it will give you a map of the area with details and information about various points of interest; it will also automatically play videos about some of the historic sites as you walk past them.
So what’s there to see in Independence National Historical Park? More than we could cover in a single day. The list below is not comprehensive, but in addition to the Visitor Center is what we were able to fit into a fairly full eight hours (with a bonus mention of Christ Church, which we saw on an earlier visit to Philadelphia); for a full list of sites as well as opening and closing times please see the National Park Service website. Except for Independence Hall, none of the sites below require a ticket.
Carpenters’ Hall: This small but graceful building was the home of the First Continental Congress and, for a time, both the First and Second United States Banks. It’s also where top-secret meetings between Benjamin Franklin met with a French spy to form an alliance that was key to American victory. But the coolest thing about it may be that it’s still owned by the original trade guild that constructed it, the Carpenters’ Company of the City and County of Philadelphia. There are some fun historical tidbits here (including a portrait of one of Delaware’s signers of the Constitution which my boys liked) and a scale model that shows the hall being built.
Independence Hall: This is the centerpiece of the park; if you only visit one building, make it this one. The tour lasts about 45 minutes and begins with an excellent overview of what was happening in England and the American colonies around the time that the Declaration of Independence was written, who the principal players were, as well as the history of the building – originally constructed as Pennsylvania’s State House. You are then taken inside for a tour of the first floor, which includes an 18th-century courtroom and the Assembly Room where George Washington was made commander in chief of the Continental Armies, where the Declaration of Independence was adopted, and where the United States Constitution was ratified.
If you’re any kind of history buff (as everyone in my family is) it’s pretty thrilling to think of everything that happened there and to see the famous chair that George Washington sat in (and of which Benjamin Franklin famously ruminated as to whether the sun on the back rising or setting – before deciding that yes, it was in fact rising on the new nation). Once the tour is done, you’re free to wander into the West Wing of the hall on your own to see an exhibit that includes surviving 18th-century copies of the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution as well as the inkstand that was used for the signing of the Declaration and the Constitution.
Second Bank of the United States: I recommend swinging by the portrait gallery housed in this building after you’ve had a chance to visit some of the other sites in the park, because here you’ll find paintings of many of the people mentioned as you learn the story of the young United States. The descriptions of each person and his or her role are excellent – it’s kind of like an 18th-century version of Facebook.
National Constitution Center: This relatively new museum sits at the northern edge of the park and offers all kinds of context and information about what’s happened in the two centuries since the constitution was ratified. I’ll cover it in more detail a separate post later this week.
Christ Church: This church located a few blocks north and east of the rest of the park, and is definitely worth a stop. It was the first Anglican church in the United States, and at one time its spire was the tallest building in North America. When the Declaration of Independence was first read publically in Philadelphia (you see the spot where that happened on your tour of Independence Hall) the bells here rang.
Liberty Bell: Although the rest of us were ready to leave, Teddy insisted that we pay a visit to this most American of icons. As our last stop of the day, the exhibits here didn’t get the close attention they might otherwise have. From the looks of it, the entire story of this famous bell is there for the reading. Even if we were tuckered out though, we did of course seize the opportunity for a fantastic Philadelphia photo-op.
One final note – leave yourself a little time just to roam around. The park is full of graceful, landscaped green spaces and historical markers; if your kids are like mine, they’ll enjoy not only the chance to run and tumble in the middle of the city, but also discovering the occasional walled courtyard, schoolhouse foundation, or cobblestone street. It’s a great way to turn kids into junior historians.
- During the summer or on school holidays, arrive early at the Visitor Center (it opens at 8:30 a.m.) for your choice of tickets. You might also consider starting your day with a visit to the Liberty Bell before a line forms.
- If you’re visiting Philly for the Fourth of July, events start as early as June 25 and run through the holiday. Check out the WaWa Welcome America website for a full schedule, and be sure to plan accordingly for crowds and parades.
- Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell both require visitors to go through a security check – and once you’re inside, there are no bathrooms available.
- Kids getting a little tired of checking out historical buildings? Right across the street from Independence Hall you’ll find Liberty 360, where you can watch a 15-minute 3-D film narrated by none other than Ben Franklin himself.
- And speaking of Ben, another great spot for a break is the nearby Franklin Square, where he is famously said to have flown his kite with a key on a string. It is now home not only to a well-equipped playground and a carousel but to a mini-golf course where you can not only practice your putting but can see may of the famous Philly monuments (including the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall) in miniature form. Hungry? Grab a bite to eat at the Square Burger stand in the park.
- If lunch in Franklin Square doesn’t appeal, two other great nearby options are Jones, which serves upscale comfort food and Farmicia, which features local foods and some great vegetarian options.
- Looking for a convenient place to stay? The Omni Hotel at Independence Park is just steps away. Ask for a room on the upper floors in the southwest corner of the hotel and you’ll have views of Independence Hall.
Want tips about other U.S. destinations? See these fantastic posts from some of my favorite family travel bloggers:
- Rolling Along San Francisco’s Kid-Friendly Waterfront
- Family Events and Activities in Denver this Summer
- Summer in NYC with kids in tow
- Insider’s Guide to Summer Fun in Boston with Kids
- Tips for Visiting Chicago’s Museum Campus
- Washington DC loves families
- Universal Studios Hollywood Summer Travel Tips
- 15 Best San Diego Attractions for Kids
- Family-friendly Things to Do in Minneapolis
- Expedia Kids in the City: Portland, Oregon
- Five Favorite Summer Activities in Seattle with Kids
I was compensated by Expedia for participating in the Kids in the City campaign, although all of my stories and opinions about Philadelphia are my own. And thanks also to Omni Hotels for hosting me and my family in Philly with a free hotel room and to VisitPhilly.com, which provided not only lots of great recommendations but passes to see the Liberty 360 show and the National Constitution Center.