Philadelphia is an absolute playground for history buffs. The cobblestone streets and brick rowhomes make for an exquisitely colonial feeling that is fairly unique, even within the Northeast. Visitors will be amazed as they find a piece of history around every corner of this historic city.
Top Historical Sites in Philadelphia
While being surprised is always fun, we thought it best to provide a guide on how to see all the Philadelphia landmarks. And there’s a lot! So make sure to pack the bags and cameras. These 12 famous landmarks and attractions are where to go if you want to catch a glimpse of the Revolutionary War era and beyond. If you’re looking for historical sites in Philadelphia, you’ve most definitely come to the right place.
1. The Betsy Ross House
This tiny unsuspecting home played a major role in the American Revolution. The Betsy Ross House on Arch Street is the birthplace of the American flag. Betsy Ross was an American upholsterer who is widely credited for helping to design and sew the first United States flag. You can learn more about Betsy and the world she lived in through self-guided or audio tours that transport you to 18th-century Philadelphia.
Pro Traveler Tip: One of the Philadelphia landmarks, this historic home is just a few steps away from bustling South Street and the restaurant-filled Head House Square. Grab a bite to eat at one of the amazing restaurants here after taking the tour.
2. Elfreth’s Alley
Want to see what the oldest continuously inhabited street in America looks like? Then you’ve come to the right place! Just a five-minute walk from the Betsy Ross House, this cobblestone alleyway is on the list of historical places in Philadelphia. Named after blacksmith and property owner Jeremiah Elfreth, Elfreth’s Alley dates back to the earliest days of the 18th century. Walking this well-preserved lane, now included in the National Historic Landmark list, is like stepping back in time. You’ll be amazed at the size of the homes, and who occupied them. Many of the residents, like Elfreth, were tradesmen, including shipwrights, smiths, glassblowers, and furniture builders.
The Elfreth’s Alley Museum is open Friday to Sunday, 12 to 4 p.m. Admission is $3 for adults, $2 for children (ages 7-12), and free for those under 7.
Pro Traveler Tip: Visitors can explore the historic alleyway on their own or join a 45-minute guided tour. Two adjacent houses, built in 1755, now function as the museum and gift shop.
3. Christ Church & Burial Ground
When we think of the historical figures that shaped this country hundreds of years ago, their impact is still felt, but their living presence, understandably, might feel ephemeral or remote. At the Christ Church Burial Ground, you’ll feel closer to them than ever. Two beautiful acres in the heart of Philadelphia encompass the final resting place of some of the country’s most prominent leaders. Five signers of the Declaration of Independence can be found here among the 1,400 markers, including Philadelphia’s own Benjamin Franklin. There is also at least one Civil War general, a physician responsible for founding the first zoo in America, and the Commander of Old Ironsides buried here too.
Located at the intersection of 5th and Arch Streets, the Burial Ground is open every day from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m, weather permitting. Maps of the grounds highlight many of the notable people buried here, including Sarah Knowles, who at 1721, is the oldest known marker in the burial ground. The church itself is also full of history. Built in 1744, the building is the birthplace of the American Episcopal Church and home to one of the first schools in the country that educated freed slaves. The revolutionary spirit that effuses from this place can still be felt centuries later.
Pro Traveler Tip: This stunning landmark is within steps of Philadelphia’s Old City neighborhood. Filled with historical houses, boutique shops, and restaurants, there’s plenty to do.
4. City Tavern
Established in 1773, the City Tavern Restaurant was once called “the most genteel tavern in America” by John Adams. City Tavern’s menu features 18th-century food and drinks delivered by waiters in period-correct garb, including beer made from recipes originally developed by Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Alexander Hamilton. Although the original building was destroyed by a fire over 150 years ago, it was rebuilt and refurbished back to its exact 18th-century specifications. If only the City Tavern could talk! This establishment played host to General Washington’s Continental Army headquarters, as a banquet for George Washington before his inauguration, and as America’s first Fourth of July celebration.
Though it shuttered in 2020 due to Covid-19, there are plans in the works to reopen this longtime-running establishment and bring it back to its former glory. So make sure to call ahead if you plan to visit on the sooner side.
5. Eastern State Penitentiary
When Eastern State Penitentiary opened its doors in 1829, it introduced to the world a hotly debated punishment in criminal justice: solitary confinement. Though it closed its doors in 1971, today, it’s a stunning example of Gothic Revival architecture.
Located at 2027 Fairmount Avenue between Corinthian Avenue and North 22nd Street in the Fairmount section of Philadelphia, it’s a sprawling complex. This prison housed some of the most well-known criminals in United States history, including Al Capone, Victor “Babe” Andreoli, and Morris “The Rabbi” Bolber. You can go on a guided or self-guided tour of the facility, or join an after-hours ghost tour to learn more about the spookier sides of the facility and its most infamous inmates. Walking through these decrepit hallways will certainly give you thrills and goosebumps aplenty.
Pro Traveler Tip: Looking for the thrill of a lifetime? Stop by this creepy prison during Halloween for a world-class haunted house experience.
6. Independence Hall
Believe it or not, Philly is the only city in America that is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. And it didn’t receive that designation because of the amount of Philadelphia historical sites. In November 2015, UNESCO provided the city with this honor for being the home of just one: Independence Hall. That’s because this building is the birthplace where not one, but two timeless charters of freedom — the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution — were debated and signed.
On these hallowed grounds is where the delegates met in 1776 to officially declare independence from England and where they returned to draft the U.S. Constitution. You’ll have to go on a tour to see the facility and artifacts like the inkstand used to sign the Declaration of Independence and an original draft of the Constitution.
Pro Traveler Tip: This must-see attraction is close to many other famous Philadelphia landmarks, including the First Bank of the U.S., the Merchant Exchange Building, the Liberty Bell, and the Museum of the American Revolution, among others. Take a look at a map and create an itinerary to make the most efficient use of your time.
7. The Liberty Bell Center
Easily recognizable because of its crack, the Liberty Bell, previously known as the State House Bell, remains an iconic symbol of American independence. At the Liberty Bell Center, visitors will marvel at the bell’s inscription: “Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land Unto All the Inhabitants Thereof.” Seeing this timeless message in person makes for a truly memorable experience.
The Liberty Bell Center is wheelchair accessible, however, there are no restrooms. (The nearest restrooms available are in nearby Independence Hall.) If it’s sunny and the temperature is permitting, be sure to grab a blanket and sit on the lawn that sits adjacent to the center. In addition to the Liberty Bell, there are two other bells in the park today. One of which is the Centennial Bell, made for the nation’s 100th birthday, in 1876, which still rings every hour from its perch in the tower of Independence Hall across the lawn.
Pro Traveler Tip: This is one of the most famous Philadelphia historical sites — and admission is FREE! Be sure to add this to the itinerary as it is an easy and fun attraction that is far from time-consuming.
8. Mother Bethel AME Church
The land that this Romanesque-style church was built on is noteworthy for a few reasons. It was purchased in 1787, making it the oldest parcel of property continuously owned by African Americans in the U.S. Founded seven years later, the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) congregation became the first of its kind in the nation. Back then, this National Historic Landmark was simply known as Bethel Church. “Mother” was added to the name to represent the fact that Bethel is the birthplace of the AME denomination.
Today, the Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church hosts about 4,500 to 5,000 visitors per year. Though the African American heritage and history are pinnacles on which the church was built, the congregation accepts people of all ethnicities and creeds to visit and worship, including those who identify as LGBTQ+.
Pro Traveler Tip: This picturesque church holds incredible works of stained glass and masonic images. If you happen to be an art or architecture buff, be sure to add this church to your list of places to visit.
9. National Constitution Center
Located on Arch Street, the National Constitution Center has an assortment of interactive exhibits designed to give people insight into the U.S. Constitution. The amazing installations and exhibits here offer a fun experience to visitors of all ages. You can check out original artifacts, watch movies and theatrical performances, and snap a picture of yourself signing the Constitution along with bronze statues of the original signers. If interactive learning experiences in the heart of the city sound like fun, be sure to visit this historical landmark in Philadelphia.
Pro Traveler Tip: The National Constitution Center is located across the street from Franklin Square, which features a 180-year-old fountain in the center surrounded by the Parx Liberty Carousel, the one-of-a-kind Philly Mini Golf course, and the renowned SquareBurger. It’s there where you can chow down on a Big Ben Burger or Betsy Ross Veggie Burger.
10. The President’s House
The President’s House on Market Street is the site of the first executive mansion. Its name is actually something of a misnomer since it was home to not one, but two presidents: George Washington (1790–1797) and John Adams (1797–1800). Washington himself called this elegant three-story brick mansion “the best single house in the city.”
Built around the foundation, today this open-air exhibit features a tribute to Washington’s slaves who lived in and contributed to the development of Philadelphia. (Adams is widely believed to never have owned slaves.) This cultural institution offers a viewpoint that paints this nation in a different light, while paying respect to the African American slaves that built this house as well as the nation. Be sure to visit this Philadelphia historical site for a rich and diverse experience that will be sure to instill a bit of knowledge in all who visit.
Pro Traveler Tip: Centrally located on Market Street, after a tour of this historic site in Philadelphia, take a walk up and down this marvelous street. You’ll be rewarded with views of the city’s equally famous and striking City Hall.
11. Valley Forge National Historical Park
Valley Forge never saw a battle, but it played an important role in the American Revolution. The Continental Army spent a winter at the site, which today features cannons, soldier’s huts, and other structures — like the National Memorial Arch pictured above — commemorating the Revolutionary War. Located just a short drive away from the city, this bucolic landmark will make for a fantastic afternoon. Being here will seem as if you are hundreds of miles away from the city thanks to its peaceful scenery. Be sure to visit one of the most famous landmarks in Pennsylvania for an informative and restful day trip.
Pro Traveler Tip: Make sure to bring a blanket and pack a meal. There are multiple designated picnic areas in and around the encampment that provide a pleasant way to spend a late morning or afternoon.
12. Museum of the American Revolution
In 2017, the Museum of the American Revolution officially opened to the public. Since then, it has welcomed over a million visitors from around the world to see American history brought to life in ways it has never been done before. Called “a vibrant and vital cultural institution” and “refreshingly inclusive” by the Philadelphia Inquirer, the museum has an array of award-winning special exhibitions to discover. One of which includes Occupied Philadelphia, the museum’s “annual flagship living history event” hosted in the outdoor plaza. Visitors of all ages are able to meet costumed historical interpreters portraying soldiers, civilians, and spies, and learn what it was like to live under British rule in the dark days of 1777.
Pro Traveler Tip: If you can’t make Occupied Philadelphia, the museum also hosts a series of first-person theatrical performances that bring to life the diverse perspectives and experiences of people from the Revolutionary era.
Where to Stay in Philly
Old City offers the perfect place to stay for those that want to be in the heart of the city and close to all the major historical landmarks and sights — as well as numerous shops and restaurants. This neighborhood is in the heart of the city and is filled with absolutely stunning architecture and plenty of things to do.
Queen Village offers a quieter getaway that is still within walking distance of all the major historical attractions in Philadelphia. You can take a stroll through quiet tree-lined streets and browse the boutique shops. It’s also filled with plenty of history of its own being one of Philadelphia’s oldest neighborhoods.
Historic Philadelphia Awaits!
Ready to enjoy all of Philadelphia’s historical sites and monuments? Whether you’re an avid fan of American history or want to provide your children with some history and culture, Philly is an equally informative and unforgettable place to visit no matter the season.