If you only have one day in historic Philadelphia, it’s totally possible to see the top historical things to do with limited time! Most of the historic things to do in Philly are located in the Philadelphia historic district. This is where you can find all of Philadelphia’s historic sites like the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall! Since we’re history buffs and love visiting museums and historic sites, we consider Independence Hall and the National Park the top thing to do in the city!
We only had about one day to visit the historical things to do in Philly, so here is an itinerary to show you how we did it! For us, we wanted to see all of the historic things in Philly so this guide is how you can see them all in one day!
If you’re from Pennsylvania, you’ll know that there is a state rivalry between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, but in all honesty, both cities have so much to offer that I don’t think you can claim one is better than the other.
One Day in Historic Philadelphia PA Itinerary
Philadelphia History Lesson
Philadelphia is the birthplace of the United States of America. Here, you can see the sites where the founding father debated and signed the document proclaiming independence and the ideals of the government. Today, thanks to the National Park Service, visitors can walk back in history by visiting the sites and buildings where these historic events occur.
Practical Information for Visiting Independence Park in One Day
If you only have one day in Philadelphia, you’ll want to get started early, as many of the top historical attractions are only open 9 to 5. Most of the attractions on Independence Park are owned and operated by the National Park Service, so the attractions are free!
The Old City and Historic District of Philadelphia are full of one way narrow streets so driving can be a little difficult. Parking, of course, is expensive. Be prepared to pay a lot of parking, but if you’re only spending one day in Philadelphia, paying for parking isn’t as bad as paying for multiple days. And most of the historical attractions in Philadelphia are all located within walking distance of one another.
If you’re looking to get some more insightful information about the National Park, consider doing a historical walking tour of the city!
Start Your Day at Independence Hall
For Independence Hall, you have two ways of getting tickets. The tickets are free and you can either try to get “walk-up” tickets the day of when the visitor’s center opens at 8:30 AM or you can prebook your tickets online for a $1/each fee. Booking ahead is great if you know what time and date you’re going to be there. We didn’t book tickets ahead of time and were able to get them the morning of!
Independence Hall is considered the birthplace of America. The Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution were both debated and signed inside this beautiful building.
The Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were both signed in the Assembly room. The became a site to proudly display the Liberty Bell and original paintings of the Founding Fathers.
Congress Hall was originally the Philadelphia County Court House and served as the home of the U.S. Congress from 1790-1800. The House of Representatives met on the first floor and the Senate assembled upstairs. And no that is not why the Senate is called the upper house! It’s actually because the system is based on the House of Lords in Parliament. Congress Hall was the scene of two presidential inaugurations: George Washington and John Adams.
Carpenter’s Hall was the site that hosted the First Continental Congress in 1774, was home to Franklin’s Library Company, The American Philosophical Society, and the First and Second Banks of the United States.
Great Essentials in the West Wing
In the West Wing of Independence Hall, you can see the “Great Essentials:” The original printed copy of the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution along with the silver inkstand that was used during the signing of the Declaration and Constitution.
Get in Line at the Liberty Bell Center
The Liberty Bell was once in the steeple of the Pennsylvania State House (now renamed Independence Hall). The bell was commissioned in 1752 and was cast with the lettering “Proclaim LIBERTY Throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants Thereof”, a Biblical reference from the Book of Leviticus. The bell cracked when rung after its arrival in Philadelphia, and was twice recast by local workmen John Pass and John Stow, whose last names appear on the bell. The bells in the city, including the Liberty Bell, were rung on July 8 to mark the reading of the United States Declaration of Independence.
You can see the Liberty Bell at the Liberty Bell Center in Independence Park. In addition to seeing the Liberty Bell, there is an exhibition that gives you some more information on the history and preservation on the bell.
The President’s House Site is where Presidents George Washington and John Adams lived and conducted their presidential business. But the President’s house in the 1790s reflected both the new ideas and contradictions of the nation. The house physically stood in the shadow of Independence Hall, where the words “All men are created equal” were adopted, but they did not apply to all who lived in the new United States of America, including the African American slaves who were enslaved at the President’s House. The exhibit at the site touches on this dark side of American History and you can see the original foundations of the building underneath the modern reconstruction.
Have a Philly Cheesesteak Sandwich for Lunch
If you’re traveling to Philly, you have to try a Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich! This local classic is served up all over town. Philadelphians Pat and Harry Olivieri are often credited with inventing the sandwich by serving chopped steak on an Italian roll in the early 1930s.
Carmen’s Italian Hoagies and Cheesesteaks
When we visited Philadephia, we stopped by Carmen’s Italian Hoagies and Cheesesteaks located in the Reading Terminal Market. This indoor market is full of local vendors with cuisine from all over the world.
Betsy Ross House
The Besty Ross House is purported to be the site where the seamstress and flag-maker Betsy Ross lived when she sewed the American Flag.
Franklin Court Printing Press
The Franklin Court Printing Press is where Ben Franklin operated his printing business for printing the local newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gazette. Franklin was a leader in publishing business as he was the first to publish political cartoons and maps to illustrate his articles.
Museum of the American Revolution
The Museum of the American Revolution is a recently opened museum in Philadelphia. The museum is located a short walk from Independence Park. This museum tells you the story of the American Revolution.
Have Dinner in City Center
The food scene in Philadelphia is awesome! In the city center, there is a very wide variety of cuisine to choose from including Asian dishes, vegetarian and vegan, American, Mediterranean and Latin American!
Esita is an upscale Greek and Mediterranean restaurant with beautiful decor. We did the three-course option where you receive an appetizer, main course, and dessert. Our meal was delicious!
Bud and Marylin’s
Bud and Marylin’s local American restaurant is one that will likely pop up on a search when you search “top restaurants in Philadelphia.” Bud and Marylin’s lived up to its expectations! Our meal and service was exceptional!
Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodles
Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodles is a delicious spot in Chinatown for either lunch or dinner. The noodles are served in the traditional style
Xun Yu Si Kao
Xun Yu Si Kao traditional Sichuan restaurant in Chinatown which serves delicious cuisine with incredibly large portions!
Other Top Things to Do in Philadelphia
Plan your trip to Philadelphia!
If you’re planning on extended your one day in Philadelphia by spending in the night, consider booking an Airbnb! Since Philadelphia is such a historic city, you can find some really interesting Airbnbs in the city!