The Ultimate List of Things to Do for Early American History Lovers in Philadelphia

The secret’s out: I love history! World history, American history, ancient Egyptian history–it all fascinates me! We are who we are because of what happened before anyone alive today was born. Our present is determined by our past, and I think it’s so important to understand history to live better in the present. So, it’s no surprise that I took a heavy focus on history on my recent trip to Philadelphia! Here are the best sites you need to see on your own trip to our country’s second Capital City.

The Betsy Ross House 

Did Betsy Ross make the first American flag? Get the evidence here! Visiting the Betsy Ross House was actually the inspiration for this trip after listening to a podcast about Betsy Ross from SmartHer News. Betsy was a fascinating woman. Her story is one of perseverence and hard work, and her home is actually one of the oldest house museums in the country! You will definitely be glad you visited.

Little house. Big history!
More here: Everything You Need to Know to Visit the Betsy Ross House

Elfreth’s Alley

Dating back to 1703, Elfreth’s Alley is the oldest, continuously-occupied residential street in the United States. It’s named for a blacksmith and property owner named Jeremiah Elfreth. The community here is dedicated to its structures’ preservation, and there’s even a museum here that you can visit for just $3.

The thing that makes this alley so unique is that these aren’t grand mansions or even historic figures’ homes; they’re working class houses that everyday people lived and worked in. It’s very rare to find “regular” homes from the Colonial American era so well-preserved!

Get here early for photos without other tourists!
Keep reading: Your Guide to the Great American Road Trip

Independence Hall 

This is where it all started! The Continental Congress met and Constitutional Convention happened here. Both the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution were debated and signed here. It’s also the number 1 site visitors to Philadelphia want to see, so you’ll want to get your tickets in advance! It’s a must-see for even the most casual of history appreciators.

You can’t miss Independence Hall–just follow the tourists!
More here: Tips for Visiting Independence National Historical Park, Philadelphia

Liberty Bell

Just steps away from Independence Hall, you’ll find the other reason you came to Philadelphia: The Liberty Bell! Originally called the State House Bell, what we now call the Liberty Bell once rang in the tower of the Pennsylvania State House, which we now call Independence Hall.

This bell rang to call lawmakers to meetings, as well as to call the citizens of Philadelphia together to hear the news of the time. No one knows exactly how or why it cracked, but it’s probably from the 90 years of hard use between the 1750s and 1840s.

I love that you get a view of the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall together!
Exercise your own liberty: The Ultimate Guide to Solo Travel in Philadelphia

Congress Hall

This building was originally intended for use as the Philadelphia County Courthouse. After just two years, however, the U.S. Congress began meeting here, while the city served as the second, temporary capital of the United States. (Washington, D.C., would not become the capital until 1800.) Both President Washington and President Adams were inaugurated here!

Congress Hall is an often-underrated site!
Read next: The Best Cities in the USA to Visit without a Car

Old City Hall and U.S. Supreme Court

What was once Philadelphia’s City Hall became the U.S. Supreme Court. The lawmakers and other government officials were all winging it back then! The cases they heard at the start of the Nation helped shape who we are as a country today.

Looks plain, but a lot of important early decisions were made here!
Keep reading: Where to Eat in Old City Philadelphia

Carpenters’ Hall

This one is perhaps the most interesting building in Philadelphia, in my opinion! I think architecture, especially early American, is endlessly interesting and impressive. This is the official headquarters for the Carpenters’ Company, and has been since it was finished in 1771. In 1774, the First Continental Congress met here, in secret! They met with the shutters closed so no one could see inside. If any of the men meeting here had been turned in, they would have been killed for treason!

This is one of the most interesting buildings in town!
Read next: The Best Weekend Trips in the USA

Send Mail from the B. Free Franklin Post Office

You may already know that Benjamin Franklin, local of Philadelphia, was the first Postmaster General of the United States way back in 1775. This particular post office is charmingly Colonial-themed, with a museum up on the second floor. Visiting is FREE, and if you want to send a letter or postcard from here, it will receive the exclusive “B. Free Franklin” postmark.

Be sure to check out their little museum while you’re there!
Related: How to Mail a Coconut from Hawai’i

Franklin Court

Between the “Ghost House,” privy pit, Franklin Museum, and the Printing Office, you could spend several hours here! Ben Franklin was such an influential figure in Philadelphia long before the American Revolution! Did you know he made his fortune in printing and retired at age 42? He practically went on to have a whole other life after that!

The printing demonstration was my favorite!
Keep reading: The Ultimate USA Bucket List

Valley Forge National Historic Site

Speaking of Revolutionary history, no history lover’s trip to Philadelphia is complete without a visit to Valley Forge National Historic Site. It was here that George Washington and his rough and tumble army stayed as their winter quarters from 1777-1778. The troops trained under Prussian Officer Baron Von Steuben and got themselves into fighting shape to turn the tide of the War and truly compete with the British Army.

The history here will make you proud of how far we’ve come!
More here: The Ultimate Guide to Visiting Valley Forge

Need more? Check out all my posts about Philadelphia, and history around the country, on my dedicated United States Page!

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2 responses to “The Ultimate List of Things to Do for Early American History Lovers in Philadelphia”

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