What Travel Writers Say

Tour Historic Philadelphia all day & into the night

© By Mary Martin
National Constution Centre

In Philadelphia, there are so many tours from which to choose that visitors can literally go from dawn to dusk. The Lights of Liberty experience kicks off a summer of top-notch touring throughout historic Philadelphia's most historic square mile. Early risers and night owls can get their 3-D fill with the evening ambulatory walk; images are projected onto some of the nation's most significant sites, and the year-round indoor show stars Benjamin Franklin and some cutting-edge 360°, 3-D imaging. Lights of Liberty joins dozens of other day and night tours that let visitors tour their way-by land, by sea, by bus or by foot.
     They certainly are prepared for visitors here in Philadelphia as you will attest thanks to an intensive three-week training course for storytellers and Colonial interpreters. Visitors are assured that the history that they are hearing is accurate. Each guide and re-enactor employed by Historic Philadelphia, Inc., the group responsible for staffing the 13 storytelling benches, tours and other daily programs in and around Independence Mall, complete a 100-hour training program at The Benstitute to assure the most accurate, interactive, memorable and engaging experience possible for visitors. Here's a look at the many different ways to tour historic Philadelphia.
Sightseeing by day: If one is looking for history, there are a lot of options. Sample any of the following:
     Once Upon A Nation Storytelling Benches - From Memorial Day through Labor Day, visitors can grab a map at the Independence Visitor Center and head off to hear funny, sad and inspirational stories about the people of Colonial Philadelphia told at 13 storytelling benches located throughout Historic Philadelphia. Those who collect a star at each bench receive a special storytelling certificate and coupon book. 6th & Market Streets, (215) 629-4026 www.historicphiladelphia.org
     AudioWalk & Tour - At the Independence Visitor Center, visitors can pick up a portable CD player, a CD-ROM and map before embarking on a tour of 20 historic sites. 6th & Market Streets, (215) 965-7676, www.independencevisitorscenter.com
     Colonial Kids' Quest - When the Declaration of Independence goes missing, kids play detective as they follow this stroller-friendly walking tour to various landmarks. Historic Philadelphia Center, 6th & Chestnut Streets, (215) 629-4026, www.historicphiladelphia.org
     The Constitutional Walking Tour of Philadelphia - Visitors get an up-close look at history during this 75-minute walking tour to more than 20 historic sites. Tours run daily from April to November. Free, self-guided tours available online. Independence Visitor Center, 6th & Market Streets, (215) 525-1776, www.theconstitutional.com
     GPS Ranger Tour - Using a handheld GPS, visitors make their way through historic Philadelphia with Ben Franklin offering fun facts, videos and trivia about points of interest. Tours are translated in five languages and interpreted in American Sign Language. Independence Visitor Center, 6th & Market Streets, (800) 537-7676,
     National Park Service Tours - Walking tours led by Independence National Historical Park rangers include "Dr. Franklin's Philadelphia," "Underground Railroad in Philadelphia" and "The Founders Philadelphia." Independence Visitor Center, 6th & Market Streets, (800) 537-7676.
     Quest for Freedom - Visitors who download the self-guided tour can explore the sites and discover the drama of the Underground Railroad in Philadelphia, which played an important role in anti-slavery activities.
     Turmoil and Treason: The Path to Independence - Visitors side with Colonial rebels or the King's loyalists during this walking tour that features 18th-century townspeople debating both sides of the issues. Historic Philadelphia Center, 6th & Chestnut Streets, (215) 629-4026, www.historicphiladelphia.org
If you are more interested in a general city tour, sample any of these offerings:
     Big Bus Company - Riders see the sights in historic Philadelphia, Center City and the museum district from an outdoor seat atop these double-decker buses or from the open-air bottom. Passes are good for 24 hours, and passengers can hop on and off at the 21 stops throughout the city. Tickets are available on the bus or at the Independence Visitor Center. 6th & Market Streets, (215) 389-TOUR (8687), www.phillytour.com
     Horse-Drawn Carriages - Guides recount Historic Philadelphia's past as visitors sit back in a quaint horse-drawn carriage. Tickets are available at the Independence Visitor Center. 6th & Market Streets, (215) 923-8516.
     Philadelphia Trolley Works - This Victorian-style trolley allows riders to hop on and off while visiting popular attractions throughout the nation's most historic area and beyond. Passes are good for 24 hours, and passengers can hop on and off at the 21 stops throughout the city. Tickets are available on the trolley or at the Independence Visitor Center. 6th & Market Streets, (215) 389-TOUR (8687).
     Ride The Ducks - Passengers get a duck's eye view of Historic Philadelphia on this amphibious vehicle that splashes into the Delaware River. 6th & Market Streets, (877) 88-QUACK, www.phillyducks.com
     The Phlash: From May 1 to October 31, visitors can look for the big purple trolley to transport them to popular sites throughout the city, including Historic Philadelphia. At just $2 per ride-or $5 for an all-day pass, $10 for an all-day pass for a family of four or free with select SEPTA passes-it's a fast and affordable way to explore. The Phlash runs every 12 minutes from 10:00 a.m.-6:00 pm. to 27 stops. www.phillyphlask.com
     Waterfront Connection Shuttle - For $2 round-trip, visitors can ride the Waterfront Connection from the Independence Visitor Center to Adventure Aquarium and/or the Battleship New Jersey. The first ride departs Philadelphia at 10:00 a.m., and the last ride departs the battleship at 6:00 p.m. daily; running every 30 minutes. 6th & Market Street, (800) 537-7676, www.independencevisitorscenter.com
Lat/Lon: 40.1° N 75.0° W
Click for Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Forecast

Betsy Ross House              Independence Hall

Liberty Bell Center              Lights Of Liberty Show

Waterworks Restaurant & Lounge              Skyline

Longwood Gardens  Morris Arboretum

Pen Academy Of Fine Arts  Museum Of Art

Yards Brewing Company  The Bourse Shopping Mall

Philadelphia On YouTube

Twilight Sightseeing Tours:
     Tippler's Tour - From April through October, the over-21 set can sing along to 18th-century drinking songs, enjoy stories of the drinking traditions of Colonial times and sample a few beverages as they ramble through Historic Philadelphia. Tipplers stop at Society Hill Restaurant and Bar, National Mechanics, Triumph Brewing Company and City Tavern. Historic Philadelphia Center, 6th & Chestnut Streets, (215) 629-4026, www.historicphiladelphia.org
     Independence After Hours - After a feast at City Tavern, guests follow their guide to Independence Hall, where they meet the Founding Fathers in person and eavesdrop on their late-night debates. Tours run April through October. Historic Philadelphia Center, 6th & Chestnut Streets, (215) 629-4026, www.historicphiladelphia.org.
     Ghost Tours of Philadelphia - Do spectral spirits really inhabit Independence Hall, St. Peter's Cemetery and other historic landmarks? Visitors find out when they hear the true ghost stories and visit real haunted houses during the "Candlelight Walking Tour" or the "Haunted Trolley Tour of Philadelphia." Signers' Garden, 5th & Chestnut Streets, (215) 413-7000, www.ghosttour.com
     Spirits of '76 Ghost Tour - From April through November, daring souls hear chilling stories that are one part history and two parts haunt during this 75-minute outdoor walking journey through the cobblestone streets of Historic Philadelphia. Tours meet at Cosí. 325 Chestnut Street, (215) 525-1776, www.spiritof1776.com.
     Twilight Tours - From July 5 through Labor Day, free guided tours show off Independence National Historical Park every evening after dark. 5th & Chestnut Streets, (215) 861-4971, www.friendsofindependence.org.

Mary Martin is a graduate of the State University of New York at Buffalo. She is interested in and writes about world travel.

Photo Credits
Courtesy of Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau

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