It’s difficult for a traveling family to put a foot wrong in Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love, writes Lori Knowles in an article for Canoe Travel. This cradle of American history—once the U.S. national capital—and current home of iconic symbols of freedom and independence is ideal for a short, educational family visit.
What makes Philadelphia so family-friendly? Like Washington, DC, it’s a city full of monuments and museums, yet many of them are in a five block radius—perfect for short walks and brief visits, interspersed with visits to parks, shops, and loads of ice cream opportunities.
Founded in 1677 by William Penn, a Quaker, Philadelphia served as a colony for British settlers, then later the site of the first and second continental congresses. Penn drafted a charter of liberties for the settlement, guaranteeing free and fair trial by jury, freedom of religion, freedom from unjust imprisonment and free elections. Philadelphia was even briefly the U.S. capital after the American Revolution. Americans consider Philadelphia the birthplace of our democracy, largely due to the fact that it’s where the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence.
Considering a visit to this fascinating, historic city? Here are Lori Knowles’ top 10 things to see for families with kids of all ages:
1. Philadelphia’s Old City is a community of cobbled streets, pubs, narrow lanes, and “Father, Son and Holy Ghost” row housing—something kids find entrancing. These 200-year-old brick houses were built narrow yet high, with their three single-room floors just large enough, it is said, to house the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Kids love wandering the cobbled lanes and gazing up at the historic houses, particularly on Elfreth’s Alley, where the city’s history has been particularly well-preserved.
2. Start your visit with a stop at the Independence Visitor Center in the Old City. Staffed with experts, plenty of kid-friendly trinkets, and only steps away from many renowned, must-see sites: Independence Hall, the National Constitution Center, and of course, the famous cracked Liberty Bell (hasn’t been rung in more than a century).
3. Built in 1776, Independence Hall is the site where the Founding Fathers came together to sign the Declaration of Independence. A guide in 1770s-character will lead you through gas-lit streets. After dining on traditional fare at the historic City Tavern, you’re entertained in a dimly lit hall as actors reenact the debates of the Founding Fathers. It’s a lively, fun adventure, and you will be amazed at how much history your kids will absorb.
4. The vast National Constitution Center introduces you to the forming of the U.S. Constitution and explains the significant points of American history. Displays do an excellent job demonstrating the real-world impact of the Constitution on the daily lives of Americans. The best part for kids: The experience ends in a gallery of life-like statues of Constitution signatories, including Ben Franklin and George Washington, who seem ready to engage you in conversation!
5. Dating to 1753, the Liberty Bell has become an international symbol of freedom. But what do kids notice most? Its imperfections. The 44-pound clapper cracked the bell on its first use, and it has never been properly fixed. The bell is housed in a glass building near Independence Hall, and the long lines to view it move quickly. Kid-friendly tip: Skip the lines and the inside visit and instead, visit at night when you can view the warmly-lit bell from outside the building.
6. What will your family remember most about the Philadelphia Museum of Art? The steps that “Rocky” ran up in the 1976 film, of course. Get your cell phone cameras ready: the kids will want to do the same!
7. You absolutely should not miss the Please Touch Museum, where children learn through play. And play they will: in a space station, a mechanic’s garage, a giant city bus, Alice’s Wonderland, and a train station where they can shovel coal, play with controls, and lots more.
8. Philadelphia Zoo—America’s first—is still going strong with rare breeds of goats, sheep, peacocks, ducks and chickens. But the rarest experience is the zoo’s new aerial trail system, an overhead mesh runway criss-crossing the zoo along which animals are encouraged to roam.
9. Want to get creeped out? Known for its grand architecture and strict discipline, Eastern State Penitentiary was the world’s first true “penitentiary,” a prison designed to inspire penitence, or true regret, in the hearts of convicts. Its vaulted, sky-lit cells once held many of America’s most notorious criminals, including bank robber “Slick Willie” Sutton and Al Capone. The now-empty, decrepit cells are especially frightening—and endlessly interesting.
10. For a nice confection after all the history lessons, Sesame Place in Langhorne, PA is a must. The Bert, Ernie and Big Bird rides are perfectly sized for toddlers and pre-schoolers. Older kids will love the water park, especially Sky Splash where up to six family members can river raft together, and The Count’s Splash Castle with hydro blasters, multiple water slides and a massive tipping bucket.
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