March 14, 2018
This city loves its eighteenth and nineteenth century architecture much the way Paris loves its museums, and for good reason. Not only was this city the birthplace of the first true republic since ancient Rome and in 1776 the second largest city of the British Empire but also the cultural center and keystone of thirteen divergent colonies. Boston historians may disagree but for the first quarter century of the US, the business and cultural hub of new federation was Philadelphia. Few cities in the world were the birthplace of a great nation while preserving most of the monumental architecture of that period.
Carpenter Hall, as it was in 1776.
The classic beauty and the human scale of colonial architecture enchants visitors and natives alike while Philadelphia's famous art museum and city hall, along with a host of other structures, personify nineteenth century opulence.
Many visit the downtown and Independence National Historic Park because of their proximity but don't miss The Philadelphia Art Museum, The Rodin Museum and The Franklin Institute. If you appreciate Thomas Eakins, the great nineteenth-century American painter, stroll along the Schuylkill River past Boat House Row, then take in as much of Fairmont Park as you can (you may consider a bicycle).
Don't forget peaceful Rittenshouse Square; it epitomizes Center City Philadelphia.
Over the course of a summer holiday weekend, I went on two tours: self-directed on a bicycle, and on foot with the help of the United States Park Police. The bike tour was great for getting to Fairmont Park, Pennsylvania University, and the Ninth Street Italian Markets but on foot you can best focus on the buildings of downtown Philadelphia and learn more of the city's present day personality and it's eighteenth and nineteenth-century architecture.
The tours offered by United States Park Police are first rate and no matter which building or monument you visit, they are worth the wait.
Directions to the Independence Visitor Center (from I-95 and I-676):
From I-676. follow signs for Phila/Independence Hall/Callowhill Streets. Keep right at the fork in the ramp and stay straight until you reach Callowhill St. Turn left onto N. 6th Street. The parking facility is directly beneath the building on the left side of 6th Street 1/8 of mile passed Arch Street. For more complete info, click here.
Listen up: For the most popular sites, Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, arrive early and if you can - not during a school holiday. Remember all the attractions in and around Independence National Historic Park are free. Also do not forget to visit Philadelphia's newly restored city hall. It is probably the grandest Late Victorian structure in the US.