Philadelphia is packed with historical sights related to the American Revolution and the founding of the United States. It’s also Pennsylvania’s largest city, offering all the benefits of modern businesses and bustling cosmopolitan streets.
Each of the many sites here is an educational and historical treasure in its own unique way. Whether you want to learn about the backstories of the American flag or the penitentiary system, this is the place to go.
Here are the top historical places near Philadelphia, PA, in no particular order:
Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul
Philadelphia is home to the largest Catholic church in Pennsylvania, the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul. This church originally opened in 1864 and can seat around 1,500 people with the addition of temporary chairs.
Anyone who enjoys architectural or art history will thoroughly enjoy a visit to this special cathedral. It’s the only cathedral in the United States with a Roman-Corinthian architectural style and was designed by architects John Notman and Napoleon LeBrun.
The dome’s interior is decorated with paintings by the famed Constantino Brumidi. The cathedral also has numerous sculptures, shrines, and art pieces inside it.
In 1971, the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. Today, it remains a popular tourist destination. Visitors can explore the space with the help of a free audio tour, self-guided brochure tour, or guided tour.
1723 Race St, Philadelphia, PA 19103 | 215-561-1313 | cathedralphila.org
Independence National Historical Park
Independence National Historical Park includes the famous Independence Hall, one of the most popular historical sites in the state. It was built between 1732 and 1756.
Many of the Founding Fathers, including Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams, announced and signed the Declaration of Independence in Independence Hall. This is also where George Washington was named the Commander-In-Chief of the Continental Army.
In addition to the famous Independence Hall, the Independence National Historical Park also has other attractions, such as the Benjamin Franklin Museum and the National Constitution Center, on the same grounds.
Philadelphia, PA 19106 | 215-965-2305 | nps.gov/inde/index.htm
Another Independence National Historical Park highlight is the Liberty Bell. It’s perhaps the most popular historical attraction in Philadelphia – and for good reason!
The renowned Liberty Bell symbolizes the importance of liberty and independence for all Americans.
The Pennsylvania Provincial Assembly commissioned the creation of this bell in 1751. Then, the first time it rang was on July 8, 1776, to announce the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence.
The Liberty Bell is inscribed with the Bible verse, “Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land Unto All the Inhabitants thereof.” Later, in the 19th century, it became a symbol for abolitionists promoting liberty and an end to slavery.
Seeing the Liberty Bell itself is not the only thing to do here. The Liberty Bell Center is full of videos, documents, and interactive displays, which visitors can explore to learn more about the bell and its role in our nation’s history.
526 Market St, Philadelphia, PA 19106 | 215-965-2305 | nps.gov/…
Betsy Ross House
One of Philadelphia’s most visited cultural attractions is the Betsy Ross House. This brick Georgian-style home is simple yet charming, with an interesting past that makes it an influential part of one of our country’s most important symbols: the American flag.
The Widow Lithgow owned this home and rented rooms to Betsy Ross and her husband between the years of 1773 and 1786. The couple ran an upholstery business and supposedly created the first-ever U.S. flag here, though some historians debate this.
Whether or not Betsy did actually sew the first American flag while living in this home, this is still a valuable historical site. It was restored in the 1930s and shows what it was like to live in the 1700s. Additionally, visitors can see Betsy Ross’s grave, as she was buried in the property’s courtyard.
History enthusiasts can enjoy a tour of the Betsy Ross House during their visit to the property. Then, be sure to pick up your own American flag from the gift shop.
239 Arch St, Philadelphia, PA 19106 | 215-629-4026 | historicphiladelphia.org/…
Old City District
Old City refers to the downtown district of Philadelphia between Walnut Street and Vine Street, just next to Independence National Historical Park. Because of its numerous historical sites, people commonly refer to this area packed with residences, shops, and businesses as America’s most historic square mile.
Philadelphia City Hall is one of these notable historical places. It was constructed between 1871 and 1901. It’s not only an architectural treasure, but it’s also the largest municipal building in the United States.
Elfreth’s Alley is another unique site in the district. It’s often known as the oldest continuously inhabited street in the country, and residents host events throughout the year to preserve the neighborhood’s traditions.
These are just two highlights from the Old City, which any guests will enjoy exploring and learning more about during a visit to Philadelphia.
231 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106 | 215-592-7929 | oldcitydistrict.org
B. Free Franklin Post Office
The B. Free Franklin Post Office is another special attraction found in Old City Philadelphia. This is the only free colonial-themed United States post office, and it still operates today as a limited-serviced branch of the U.S. Postal Service.
The highlight of any visit here is receiving an authentic “B. Free Franklin” stamp. Any postcard or envelope mailed from this address receives this stamp once used by Postmaster Benjamin Franklin, the country’s first postmaster.
Additionally, B. Free Franklin Post Office visitors should check out the onsite postal museum. The display cases include various collectibles related to the history of the U.S. Postal Service.
316 Market St, Philadelphia, PA 19106 | 800-275-8777 | nps.gov/…
Valley Forge National Historical Park
During the winter of 1777-1778, the Continental Army made their camp in Valley Forge. Today, this encampment site is known as the Valley Forge National Historical Park, and it’s located about an hour’s drive away from Philadelphia.
This park consists of about 3,500 acres. Its many monuments honor George Washington and others who were a part of the Continental Army, recognizing the many sacrifices they made during the Revolutionary War.
In addition to its historical significance, the park is also home to many forests and meadows. It offers seasonal tours and various outdoor activities and events throughout the year.
1400 N Outer Line Dr, King of Prussia, PA 19406 | 610-783-1077 | nps.gov/vafo/index.htm
The Declaration House
As the name suggests, The Declaration of Independence originated from Philadelphia’s Declaration House. It’s conveniently located a short walk from Independence National Historic Park, making it a perfect addition to any local sightseeing trip.
The Declaration House is the place where Thomas Jefferson drafted the U.S. Declaration of Independence. Jefferson did not fully live here, but he did rent a room from the home’s owner while working on the document.
Though the Declaration House was originally built in 1775, it was demolished in 1833. The current version of the house was built in 1975 to preserve the site’s history and represent what it looked like during Jefferson’s time.
700 Market St, Philadelphia, PA 19106 | 215-965-2305 | nps.gov/…
Eastern State Penitentiary
Eastern State Penitentiary, in the Fairmount area of Philadelphia, is known as the world’s first penitentiary. It was designed as a unique prison with the goal of encouraging and inspiring penitence and growth within convicts.
This Gothic-style prison originally opened in 1829. Over the years, it has held some of the country’s most notorious criminals, including Al Capone.
Eastern State Penitentiary eventually closed in 1970 and is left as a ruin that has worn down over time.
Today’s guests can enjoy tours of the historic penitentiary, learning more about the system’s unique values and the prisoners who were held here. There are year-round audio and daytime tours of the prison, as well as special Halloween-themed nighttime tours with haunted houses during the fall months.
A visit to Eastern State Penitentiary is complete with special historical exhibits, artist installations, and hands-on activities led by onsite educators.
2027 Fairmount Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19130 | 215-236-3300 | easternstate.org
The President’s House
Between the years 1790 and 1800, Philadelphia was the capital of the United States. During this time, the U.S. presidents resided in the President’s House.
George Washington and John Adams were the only two U.S. presidents to live in Philadelphia’s President’s House. During his presidency, Adams and his wife moved into the current White House building in Washington, D.C.
In 1832, the original President’s House building was demolished. Today, on the building’s original site, there is an outdoor exhibit that juxtaposes the value of U.S. independence with the continuation of slavery for many years after.
The President’s House site is located in the current Independence National Historic Park next to the Liberty Bell Center.
524–30 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106 | nps.gov/…
Battleship New Jersey Museum and Memorial
The Battleship New Jersey Museum & Memorial is located in Camden, NJ, just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. The USS New Jersey is the United States’ largest and most decorated battleship.
Originally built in Philadelphia, the USS New Jersey was designed in 1938 and used by the U.S. Navy until 1991. It earned distinctions in conflicts including World War II, the Vietnam War, and the Korean War.
Now the USS New Jersey is the major highlight of the Battleship New Jersey Museum and Memorial.
The ship has been fully restored since being used by the U.S. military. It offers educational tours that involve lots of climbing, just like the New Jersey’s crew experienced during battles.
100 Clinton St, Camden, NJ 08103 | 856-966-1652 | battleshipnewjersey.org
Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site
Anyone interested in literary history should check out the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site. American author Poe lived in Philadelphia for six years, and this is one of the buildings he called home during this time.
Open mornings and afternoons Fridays through Sundays, this site is now used as a small museum. The home is unfurnished but provides a look into the life that Poe lived here. It also includes a reading room with Poe’s works, as well as various exhibits related to his life and literature.
The Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site is located about a mile away from Independence Hall on N 7th Street.
532 N 7th St, Philadelphia, PA 19123 | 215-597-8780 | nps.gov/edal/index.htm
Philadelphia is clearly unmatched when it comes to history related to the founding of the United States. It also has a rich heritage associated with religion, the military, and literature. A trip to this region of Pennsylvania is a must for any history buff. Take advantage of as many of these historical sites as possible during your visit.
Visiting Philly in the wintertime? Consider one of the ski resorts near Philadelphia for your riding pleasure.
The state’s largest city is also just a short drive away from Pennsylvania’s capital, Harrisburg, another city with rich historical value.