Travel: Philadelphia story: city has chapters on history, art, family fun

Freedom. Liberty. Independence. People cheer. Flags fly. Bells ring. The cries of pride and patriotism will fill the air at Philadelphia’s annual celebration of America’s birthday. Starting June 30, a five-day blast of block parties, concerts and other festivities will culminate in Independence Day ceremonies July 4.

A parade with colorful floats and marching bands will include diverse groups from across the land in a tribute to America. It all adds up to a civic spectacle in America’s birthplace. It’s called Welcome America, and it is all free.

Philadelphia is a walking history book. It leaps off the pages and grabs your attention. Come along as we explore one of America’s unique and treasured cities.

Walk among history

Begin the journey with a narrated tour on the Big Bus Company and Philadelphia Trolley Works. This gives an overview of all the main attractions. Riders can see the sights on a trolley or on a London-style double-decker bus. Both offer departures from 27 locations and include free shuttles from area hotels. Tours last 90 minutes, allowing riders to hop on, hop off.

Next go to the Visitors Center in Independence National Historical Park for tickets to Independence Hall a block away. This is where the U.S. Declaration of Independence was adopted and the U.S. Constitution debated, drafted and signed. Here, our founding fathers declared liberty and built a free nation.

Next cross the street for a stop at the Liberty Bell Center and a look at the massive 2,080-pound cracked bell that served as a symbol of freedom for the abolitionists. Two national movements — women’s and civil rights — invoked the Liberty Bell in their struggles for equality. In 1776 when America was born, all the city’s bells rang day and night.

Also in the historic park is the Benjamin Franklin Museum, where the city’s favorite founding father takes the spotlight. Interactive exhibits and computer animations explore the life, times and legacy of the great statesman and inventor. Nearby is the tiny Betsy Ross House, the home of America’s most famous seamstress. She is credited with sewing the first American flag at the request of Gen. George Washington. Betsy, a costumed guide, welcomes visitors.

Philadelphia’s compelling story about the birth of our nation is evident in the new Museum of the American Revolution. The museum delves into the lives of the founding fathers and the populist generation they represented, bringing to life the events, people and ideals of our nation’s founding. And importantly, it tells the story of why the American Revolution is still relevant today.

Some visitors like to devote an entire day to discovering the city’s world renowned museums. The crown jewel is the Museum of Art on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, boasting 240,000 works. It is also the gateway to Fairmount Park. The bi-level Sculpture Garden has terraces, lawns and water features plus a sculpture collection, a four-acre Azalea garden and Fairmount Water Works.

The Rodin Museum and its famed sculptures is steps away and truly worth discovering.

Meander through the city’s vibrant streets to capture the color and originality of Mural Mile. More than 3,000 works of public art and design are on display on building walls. Touted as “the world’s largest art gallery,” this amazing exhibit tells the story of everyday life in the city. Guided tours are available or find a map at

Philly for families

The Please Touch Museum is housed in Memorial Hall, built for the l876 Centennial Exhibition. It provides children and families playful learning experiences through interactive exhibits, a restored carousel, creative art-making spaces and theater productions.

Another draw for families is Once Upon a Nation, where children can get a story flag at any storytelling bench at 13 different locations. The benches are staffed by costumed interpreters who capture the kids’ attention in a fun way with facts and stories about the founding of our nation.

Families love the summer Rock ‘n’ Roar concerts at the Philadelphia Zoo. Kids of all ages dance and prance to local musicians while listening to the sounds of the zoo’s amazing animal kingdom.

Philadelphia has a dynamic food scene, and the city’s signature cheesesteak sandwiches are ideal for on-the-go families. The Reading Terminal Market has an array of regional specialties offered by more than 80 vendors. And, in South Philly, the 9th Street Italian Market is America’s oldest outdoor market and an epicure’s delight.

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