Only an hour away from Atlantic City, Philly beckoned us with its history and hospitality. Since we had a rental car it was an easy drive along the Atlantic City Expressway to get there, the perfect journey for a spare day. Of course, I missed our intended exit, which resulted in a half-hour detour, and the late start we got because of our jet lag meant that we only had a few hours to spend actually exploring the city. But we got enough of a taste of this Pennsylvania gem to make us want to see more someday.
Philadelphia has four visitor centers and one of these makes an excellent starting point for a visit. We parked underneath the Independence Visitor Center (525 Market St) and began by picking up our free timed tickets to see Independence Hall. The United States National Park Service operates the Independence National Historical site, which is home to many of the public buildings and houses associated with the birth of the country. We could have spent an entire day just visiting all the different sites here. Our first stop was to take a tour of Independence Hall.
The years from 1774 were transformational for the colonies in America. As a reaction to the Intolerable Acts, passed by the British Parliament as a reaction to the Boston Tea Party, Boston Harbor was closed and in May of that year the First Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia. The American Revolution began in June 1775 and in 1776 the Declaration of Independence was adopted on the 4th of July. The war escalated from there and continued until 1783. The events leading to the creation of the Constitution included the creation of the Articles of Confederation, which were reformed in 1787 with the drafting and ratification of the Constitution. The Bill of Rights was created in 1789 in New York and Philadelphia was the seat of the nation’s capital until the permanent site was finished. From 1800, Washington D.C. became the capital of the United States.
Both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were created inside Independence Hall, which was formerly known as the Pennsylvania State House. The guided tour takes visitors through some of its rooms. Of particular interest is the Assembly Room, where the Delegates met.
Our next stop was to see the Liberty Bell (598 Chestnut St), with its famous crack. While originally used to call lawmakers and citizens to events like legislative sessions and public meetings, the bell became better known as a symbol used by those who wanted slavery abolished. That movement gave the Liberty Bell its name and today it stands for all people, reminding us that every human being has inalienable rights, and is an international symbol for freedom. The Liberty Bell Center was a very informative exhibit, showcasing the history of the bell and its status as a famous icon.
By now we were hungry and headed off on a mission to find a Philly Cheesesteak sandwich. Being quite cold we didn’t want to eat outside standing up, so we bypassed the food trucks and headed up near the City Hall.
There we found Big Bang’s Bar & Grill (1433 Arch St), which serves up American soul food. I wanted to try everything on the menu here. Most of the locals at the bar seemed to be eating fried chicken, which would have been my first choice except I really wanted to try an authentic Philly Cheesesteak. We were certainly not disappointed by our sandwiches, with tasty tender shredded beef and that delicious runny cheese that they are known for. We really felt the hospitality here, with one of the cooks stopping us on our way out to ask where we were from and thank us for stopping by.
We had so many places on our list that we wanted to see in Philadelphia, but only time for one more before we needed to beat traffic to get back to AC in time to make an evening of it. We tossed up between the Edgar Allan Poe National Historical Site and the imposing Masonic Temple (One North Broad St), which was just across the road. The intrigue was just too great to pass up in the end and we found ourselves on a tour of six of the halls within this architectural wonder. Built at a cost of $1.6 million (back in the early 1870s!) this structure would cost around 100 times that much to create today, if it would even be possible to find craftsmen with the skill to replicate the intricate interior details. Featuring a number of architectural styles, this place literally has to be seen to be believed:
We definitely have to return to Philly someday. I would have loved to experience The Rodin Museum, Penn Museum, Mütter Museum and the Eastern State Penitentiary, not to mention the excellent dining and nightlife scenes there. The city has several different districts and heaps of unique tours, including many specialized food tours. Check out VisitPhilly.com for more information.