3 Days in Philadelphia: The Penultimate Guide & Map

This isn’t quite the ultimate guide to Philly. The ultimate guide is the one you write, with your own successes and fails (especially the fails, please). You can find a few ultimate guides to touring Philadelphia below. To get your ultimate guide to Philly featured, just post it to facebook along with a link to this one. I’ll read it and find a way to incorporate it below. This is more of an essential guide to touring Philadelphia. As always, adjust the plan depending on when you’re planning to visit. Hit the calendar link above to see what’s coming up, or check out the winter, spring, summer or fall calendars to plan ahead.

Day 1: Map the historic heart of Philly

A tourist's map of the top attractions in Philadelphia, PA

Breakfast at Reading Terminal Market

Reading Terminal Market is a historic public market located in Center City Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It opened in 1893 under the elevated train shed of the Reading Railroad Company after the city of Philadelphia advocated to move public markets from the streets into indoor facilities for both safety and sanitary reasons.

Today the market serves as a popular location for local Philadelphians to buy their goods and produce as well as singular culinary treats and unique merchandise. The market is home to over 80 vendors, offering a wide variety of food, produce, and other goods.

1. Declaration House

Time to get your history straight

Begin your pursuit of happiness where the phrase was coined, at the Jacob Graff House on 7th & Market (now known as Declaration House). On June 11, 1776, Thomas Jefferson sat down to write America’s dear john letter to old England, and our country was born. Run by the Park Service, the Graff house keeps odd hours, so you’re unlikely to do more than darken the door. Whatever. Move on. History awaits!

2. Independence Hall & the Liberty Bell

Turn your back on the entrance and look to your right until your gaze falls upon the iconic crack of the Liberty Bell. To the mortification of its founders, it cracked on its first ringing, was recast twice and cracked again. The most recent crack dates from 1853. That’s alot of cracks. It has to mean something.

Early abolitionists seized on the crack as a symbol of our imperfect democracy. Its association with the constant struggle for liberty continued into the Civil Rights era with Martin Luther King’s “Let Freedom Ring” speech. Now the bell is gently rung every Martin Luther King day to remind us that hey, I’m still cracked, people!

Independence Hall, across the street, opens at 9 am. It was here that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were signed.

3. Museum of the American Revolution

After your tour, head two blocks down Chestnut to the Museum of the American Revolution. The centerpiece of the museum is George Washington’s war campaign tent. You’ll watch a lovely film about how Washington led a troop of guerrillas (mostly immigrants) through the American wilderness to fight for the right to tax themselves. When the film is over, the screen retracts into the ceiling, the lights rise and tada! a tent appears. Grab lunch at Fork or Grubhouse on your way to Constitution Center.

4. Ben Franklin Museum

Located in Franklin Court, the site of Benjamin Franklin’s home and print shop, the museum features interactive exhibits that explore his many interests: science, invention, politics, and diplomacy. There are also exhibits on Franklin’s personal life, his family and his work as a printer.

5. Betsy Ross House

Betsy Ross is a well-known figure in American history, credited with sewing the first American flag (though the historical evidence for her role in creating the flag is scant). The Betsy Ross House is nonetheless worth visiting as it is one of the few remaining buildings in Philadelphia that dates from the American Revolution. There are also a number of demonstrations of colonial life on display.

6. National Constitution Center

The National Constitution Center doesn’t have the original constitution (you’ll have to go to the National Archives in Washington, DC to see that), but it is a better place to immerse yourself in the meaning and evolution of our foundational legal document. With a 17 minute live theater performance on the importance of the constitution and exhibits devoted to major amendments, the museum presents a delightful lesson in civics.

Dinner in the Old City

East of the Liberty Bell is Old City. There are many restaurants to choose from, but if you’re lucky, you’ll score a reservation at Zahav, one of the signature restaurants of Philadelphia. Zahav features Israeli food, cooked to perfection, in an elegant setting.

Day 2: Art and Cultural Map of Philadelphia

Morning jog through the movies

Philadelphia is the backdrop of many great American films. For a small taste, begin in Rittenhouse Square and run down locust, then left on Broad. On the way, you’ll pass two landmarks from the 1983 film Trading Places: the Curtis Institute of Music, which was the Heritage Club in the film (where the wealthy Winthorpe meets the beggar Valentine), and the Wells Fargo Building, which was the headquarters of the fictitious commodities firm, Duke and Duke.

If you get up early enough, you can be the first tourist today to drop this dance on the city.

Head past City Hall (12 Monkeys, National Treasure), which is also the largest municipal building in the US. Next, cut through Love Park (a fight scene in Shazam! was filmed here) on up Ben Franklin Parkway to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, with those famous Rocky Steps.

7. Barnes Foundation

Time to get cultural!

On your way, you’ll pass the Barnes Foundation, which houses important paintings and sculptures. The Barnes is free the first Sunday of every month, but requires advanced registration. The first sunday event opens at 10 am. Other days, the museum doesn’t open until 11am on weekends (and is closed most weekdays), but it’s worth visiting if you have a passion for art.

8. Philadelphia Museum of Art

Even if you don’t, though, you shouldn’t miss the Philadelphia Museum of Art. This really is one of the great art museums in the world and a centerpiece of the city. The sprawling complex houses important paintings, sculptures and objects from the medieval to the modern. But my personal favorites are the architectural sets: whole rooms buildings and courtyards were collected and moved here to create an effect of walking through time and across continents.

9. Eastern State Penitentiary

For a creepy trip through some interesting architecture, visit the Eastern State Penitentiary. It’s most famous for its Halloween Nights of fright, but it’s also open during the day. Make sure you take a peek inside Al Capone’s cell, which makes prison seem almost elegant.

Day 3: Kid Attractions Map of Philadelphia

Philadelphia Zoo

Across the Schuylkill (pronounce SKOO-gull) from Boathouse Row is the Philadelphia Zoo. Home to nearly 2000 animals, America’s first zoo is an excellent place to spend the day (or at least the morning, before it gets too crowded).

Lunch at Nii-Adu

It’s time to eat.

Continue your safari at Nii-Adu African Bukateria, where you’ll find traditional West African staples like Fufu, Jollof Rice and Goat.

Please Touch Museum

A celebration of play, the Please Touch Museum features rides and interactive exhibits that will spark your kid’s imagination. It’s a great place to spend the afternoon, but be sure to secure online reservations in advance and don’t come on Tuesday, when they’re closed.

Dinner in Camden

Take a ferry to the Camden Waterfront, and enjoy the views of the city skyline. Have dinner at one of the many great restaurants in the Camden Waterfront.

Complete Interactive Map of Philadelphia’s Major Tourist Attractions

…more Ultimate Guides to Philadelphia

Kevin and Amanda’s Guide to Philadelphia reviews the tourist basics: Independence Hall, the Love sculpture, the Betsy Ross house, first post office and the Philadelphia Art Gallery.

Adventurous Kate is my kind of girl. Basically, she drinks her way through the city, with a few cups of coffee and food thrown in for ballast.

Sasha’s Goats on the Road tour of Philly is a good place to begin if you’re learning about SEO and marketing. He also drinks a bit.

tldr; 1. purchase a CityPASS to save money on admission to popular attractions, and 2. be sure to try some of the local food, such as cheesesteaks, soft pretzels, and water ice.