It’s hard to believe my favorite holiday is right around the corner. The Fourth of July marks the adoption of the Declaration of Independence and is usually celebrated with fireworks and BBQs. It is pretty remarkable to think about what things would be like if we hadn’t declared our independence from Britain. In addition to enjoying the long weekend, it’s a great time to look back on history and appreciate our independence and liberties. There are several historic sites in Philadelphia where you can do just that. Remember, Philly was the first capital of our country and is the home to Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell.
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Top Historical Places in Philadelphia
I have been to Philadelphia a few times before for work, but never really had time to explore. So we decided to visit Philly back in February for President’s Day weekend, which turned out to be bitterly cold. That was fine though because we planned on spending most of our time inside appreciating the history (more about the art we saw in a later post). We would need to come back another time when the weather was better to see more of the outdoor sites.
Independence Hall in Philadelphia
Our first stop was Independence Hall, centrally located in downtown Philadelphia. It’s been a while since I studied American History, so I was a little foggy on some details, but I do remember having to memorize and recite the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. I knew the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were signed here and that is reason enough to visit. It is also one of the few UNESCO World Heritage sites in the United States.
Usually, you can only see Independence Hall on a guided tour and you need to get the ticket in advance. Same day tickets are free and can be picked up at the Independence Day Visitor Center. You can also make a reservation online for a $1.50 handling fee. However, in January or February, you do not need any tickets.
We took a few pictures of the building before we went inside. They have done a great job preserving the building, it looks exactly like I would imagine it looked like back in the day. You do have to go through airport-style security once you enter. Since it was so quiet, we did not have a guided tour. Instead, we explored on our own. There were Park Rangers in each room that were happy to tell you the history and answer any questions you might have.
Each room was set like it was during the Revolutionary time. It was moving being in the place where the Declaration of Independence was signed if you think about how different things would be without it. I also really enjoyed seeing the Senate and Committee rooms upstairs. There were several pieces of impressive artwork.
The Liberty Bell
I expected to see the Liberty Bell at Independence Hall, but it is actually located in a separate building across the street, which opened in 2003. No ticket is required (i.e. it is free) but you may have to wait in line to go in (there is security and they don’t want it too crowded). Also, you will pass through the ruins of the first President’s House to get to the entrance.
The Liberty Bell exhibit was not very big, so an hour is plenty of time to see it. I really liked the way it was set up, the Liberty Bell is nicely featured. You can see it from outside through a window. From inside the exhibit, when you look at the bell, you see Independence Hall in the background.
Symbolism of the Liberty Bell
I didn’t really know much about the Liberty Bell beside its iconic crack. It is rumored that the bell rang to summon everyone to hear the first reading of the Declaration of Independence, but no one really knows how it was cracked. I knew the Liberty Bell was symbolic but I don’t think I really got it until this exhibit. The crack in the Liberty Bell shows that even something that appears strong and durable can be fragile and easily damaged. The same goes for Liberty.
I also had no idea that the Liberty Bell was a symbol used in the fight against slavery and also for Women’s rights. It was so popular the Liberty Bell actually went out on a national tour. Also, the Justice Bell was created as a replica of the Liberty Bell to symbolize the fight for women’s right to vote. The clapper of the Justice Bell was chained to the side so that it could not be rung before women had the right to vote. The Justice Bell also went on tour but now resides not too far away at Valley Forge National Historical Park.
I really enjoyed my trip to Philadelphia to brush up on my history. Visiting Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell made me think and taught me a lot. The city does have a lot more to offer than just history though. They really have a nice art scene (especially street art) and lots of good food (Cheesesteaks anyone?!). I hope you get the chance to visit too. (Check Philadelphia hotel availability and prices here.)
So while you are enjoying your Fourth of July weekend, remember how precious liberty is and be thankful. What other historical sites from the early days of the United States have you visited? I would love to hear more about it in the comments.
Expert Tips for Visiting Historical Sites in Philadelphia
- Both Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell are free to visit. For Independence Hall from March – December, you need to pick up a ticket at the Visitor Center the same day.
- You can easily see both in an afternoon.
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