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Often overlooked and underrated, Philadelphia is actually one of the most interesting East Coast cities to visit. History, diversity, and culture all come together to create this dynamic Pennsylvania metropolis. There’s a lot for visitors to explore in the City of Brotherly Love, but here are 5 must-see sites in the downtown area that are definitely worth your time.
Anyone visiting Philly has to check out the building where freedom was born. Here, the founding fathers penned both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. See the room where George Washington, Ben Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson spent days, weeks, and months shaping the foundation upon which the American spirit was built.
Although it is open every day of the year, the hours vary. It’s free to get inside, but visitors need a ticket to enter and take the guided tour. You’ll want to get there early enough to secure tickets, as they usually go fast.
The Liberty Bell
The world’s most famous cracked bell is housed in Liberty Bell Center, part of Independence National Historical Park. Considered to be the preeminent icon of independence and freedom, it is proudly displayed along with informative accompanying exhibits.
You don’t need to pay an entrance fee to see the bell, making it a great free activity. You will, however, need to go through a security check before entering, so be prepared to wait in line.
Philadelphia Museum of Arts
The art museum in Philadelphia is home to an incredible collection of pieces from famed artists like Renoir, Monet, van Gogh, and Picasso, just to name a few. The works on display here span centuries. With numerous traveling exhibitions throughout the year, you stand a good chance of catching one when you’re in the city. You could easily spend hours gazing in the galleries.
If admiring priceless works of art isn’t really your thing, you’ll still want to check out the iconic steps of the museum. At any given time, you’re bound to see someone doing their best reenactment of Rocky, jogging triumphantly up the steps, arms raised to the sky. It’s so iconic, in fact, that a bronze statue of the man himself has been installed at the bottom of the steps.
Eastern State Penitentiary
Eastern State Penitentiary is such an imposing structure, with its towering Gothic architecture, that you could easily mistake it for a medieval castle. It’s hard not to get a little chill down your spine just looking at it. Built in 1829, this prison was one of the first to inflict a harsh punishment style by keeping inmates solitarily confined to their cells for much of the day. Infamous criminals like Al Capone once called this place home.
Daytime tours take visitors through the cell blocks, offering a glimpse of what life must have been like for some of the country’s most hardened criminals. As if this place isn’t intimidating enough in the daytime, if you’re visiting in the fall, steel your nerves and get tickets for Terror Behind the Walls. It’s a seasonal event that turns part of the penitentiary into a terrifying haunted house.
Reading Terminal Market
The City of Brotherly Love is known for its good eats, and in the Reading Terminal Market, you have the chance to taste some of the best that Philly has to offer. Located in Center City on Market Street, this indoor farmer’s market is home to dozens of merchants selling a variety of foods, flowers, crafts, and housewares.
From the moment you step inside, you’ll be tempted by everything from locally grown produce to baked goods to fresh meats, cheeses, and so much more. Satisfy your sweet tooth with Pennsylvania Dutch treats, like homemade fudge and sticky buns. Indulge in a Philadelphia staple, the cheesesteak. Bring a big appetite, and prepare to be completely and thoroughly stuffed by the time you leave!
Downtown Philly is easy to navigate. You can stay in one of the many centrally located hotels and access all of the best points of interest. Whether you come for a weekend or a week, make time to squeeze in a stop at each of these awesome must-see sites.