On the whole, there are a lot of people who would rather be in Philadelphia.
Even if the city weren’t hosting this year’s Republican National Convention, political junkies would still find much of interest; politics is an integral part of the city’s history. To delegates, congressmen, politicos, lobbyists and other convention goers, a trip to Philadelphia to rally ‘round the party would not be complete without a little patriotic tourism, exploring what was the birthplace of the American Experiment.
But many of Philly’s sights are independent of Independence Day, quill pens and tri-cornered hats. The city has a vibrant nightlife, intriguing museums, and a certain cheese steak sandwich that deserves to be patented (and it probably has, so beware of pirated copies).
In keeping with the political theme that the city will be heralding July 31–August 4, here are some suggested destinations and happenings that would win anyone’s vote — and which do not require someone to blow up 500,000 red, white and blue balloons.
Magical History Tour
To take a tour of Independence National Historical Park, start by grabbing a map at the Visitors Center at 3rd and Chestnut Streets. From there you can make a leap into Colonial Era America.
Spanning about 45 acres, the park has almost two dozen buildings open to the public, including Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell Pavilion, Congress Hall (where the U.S. Congress met from 1790 to 1800), the New Hall Military Museum, Carpenters’ Hall, Christ Church, City Tavern, the Second Bank of the United States (note its Portrait Gallery), Franklin Court (the site of Benjamin Franklin’s home, now a museum and post office), and a reconstruction of Graff House, where Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence.
Other National Park buildings include Christ Church, the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site (his home from 1843–44), the Free Quaker Meeting House, the Mikveh Israel Cemetery, and the New Hall Military Museum. Nearby are the U.S. Mint (Ha! Proof that money doesn’t grow on trees), Betsy Ross House, and Elfreth’s Alley, the oldest continually-occupied residential street in the nation.
Admission to most Park buildings is free. The Visitor Center is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., although hours may be extended during summer. (215) 597-8974.
The man who gave us lightning rods, swim fins and Poor Richard’s Almanac is memorialized at the Franklin Institute Science Museum, a celebration of invention and scientific curiosity. Permanent exhibits trace Benjamin Franklin’s work and studies, while interactive showcases provide electrifying thrills for young and old alike. The Museum features the Tuttleman IMAX Theater, the Fels Planetarium, and a new 3D Theater which is showing The Illuminated Brain, in which audiences learn how the brain functions — like its uncanny ability to make us dodge those lifelike 3D images jumping off the screen. The SkyBike is a two-wheel contraption that will allow those who are willing to ride 28 feet above the Atrium floor while balanced on a one-inch cable. At 20th Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Open daily 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. (215) 448-1200.