I was born and raised less than half an hour outside of Philadelphia. I grew up going to Phillies games, watching “Rocky” movies and eating cheese steaks and soft pretzels. It’s easy to see why I loved Philly as a kid. Now, as an adult, I love taking my kids.
As a parent, if you want to take your kids on a city vacation, it’s easy to forget about Philadelphia. Think about the competition. There’s New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, just to name a few. Philadelphia is the 5th largest city in the country. And there’s a lot more to it than just historical landmarks. Plan it right and your family can get a vacation and history class all rolled into one.
Once you figure out when you’re going to Philadelphia, buy your tickets for Independence Hall. You need a timed and dated ticket to take the tour. It costs $1.50 per ticket to reserve them online, but once you pay, you’re guaranteed a spot. You can grab same-day tickets for free at the Independence Visitor Center, but they go fast.
Whether you make a reservation, or take the risk, you’ll have to pick up your tickets at the Visitor Center. It’s the perfect place to start your day. There are plenty of folks from the National Park Service on duty to answer questions, help you book tours or even find a great cheese steak for lunch. Take advantage of the free wi-fi, grab a map, get a list of special events, meet Ben Franklin. Okay, not the original, but while you’re checking out the center’s various exhibits, don’t be surprised if you bump into Ben, Betsy or George. The cast of characters definitely gets around.
It’s not far, but give yourself plenty of time to walk to Independence Hall. Even though you’ve got your tickets, there’s still a line or two in your future. In order to get to the start of the tour, you’ll have to go through security. Once the tour begins, your work is done, just listen and enjoy.
Philadelphia’s best known landmark is probably the Liberty Bell. It’s also one of the easiest to visit. No tickets needed. You’ll need to stand in line to go through security, but the line moves pretty fast.Once inside the glass pavilion there’s a video and numerous exhibits – more than the kids will want to stand and read – so pick and choose as you go. The bell will be the last stop before you leave the building. There’s a good chance someone from the Park Service will be on duty, talking about the bell and its history. Hang around and listen. Some of the spiels can be entertaining and educational.
Grab a soft pretzel to munch on while you make your way a few blocks to the Betsy Ross House. Though often referred to as a seamstress, Betsy Ross was actually a trained upholsterer. The house is believed to be the place where she made the first American flag.It’s staged with antiques and some objects that actually belonged to Betsy Ross. Have your kids help you hunt for things like her glasses, her quilted petticoat and bible. Ross is buried in the courtyard garden. On a sunny day, it’s a inviting place to take a break.
If the legs in your family are still going strong, take a couple minutes to walk by Benjamin Franklin’s grave. Franklin and 4 other signers of the Declaration of Independence are buried at Christ Church in Philadelphia. You don’t have to go into the cemetery. Franklin’s grave can be seen through the iron gate at the corner of 5th and Arch Streets. Bring some pennies for the kids to throw. Locals say tossing a penny on his tombstone brings good luck.
To get a true taste of Philadelphia you have to eat! With all the walking you’ve done, you should have worked up an appetite for the city’s most famous food, cheese steaks. Paper thin beef grilled with cheese in a fresh, soft roll. They’re made at just about every corner restaurant. If the place is crowded, take that as a good sign and go for it.
So you’re prepared, you should know you’ll have a couple choices to make. Popular additions to the Philly delicacy include grilled onions, mushrooms, peppers, lettuce and tomatoes. You can also pick the type of cheese. Typical choices include american, provolone, mozzeralla or what’s called “whiz.” What’s “whiz?” Think highly processed cheese in liquid form. It’s not my favorite, but I have friends who swear by the stuff.
Skip the french fries so you have room for dessert. Chocolate, peanut butter, butterscotch, there’s a Tastykake for every sweet tooth. Since 1914 the Philadelphia based baking company has been making tasty goodies. It’s like a twinkie, but it’s fresh and really good.
If you’ve got an extra time in the itinerary, leave the city and head toward the water. One of the best things about Philadelphia is that it’s close to the Jersey Shore. The beaches.The boardwalks. In the summer they can’t be beat for a great family getaway. But that’s another post. Stay tuned.
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