The Ultimate National Park Patriotic Vacation
When it comes to patriotic vacations, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better place to visit than Philadelphia. Sure, other places across the country are home to nationally-significant moments, but if you’re looking to spend some time learning about the birth of our nation, Philly is the place to be. It was here that the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, here where the Liberty Bell rang out from the tower of Independence Hall (then known as the Pennsylvania State House), here that the U.S. Constitution was signed.
Every stone, brick, and corner of this city is steeped in history. If you’re looking to travel back in time through some remarkable chapters of our nation’s history, plan a long weekend to visit these sites.
Start your patriotic Philadelphia peregrination at Independence National Historical Park’s visitor center, located on the corner of 6th and Market Streets. You’ll want to make the ranger’s desk your first stop if you intend to tour Independence Hall, which you’ll definitely want to do.
Tour tickets are required from March through December (if you plan to visit during January or February, you won’t have to worry about nabbing a pass). To get your timed tickets, you can either reserve them online in advance or pick them up in person. If you plan to do the latter, get there as early as you can (the visitor center opens at 8:30 a.m. daily), as there are a limited number of tickets available each day.
Among the impressive rooms and chambers of Independence Hall, you will gain a deeper understanding of how this place became the birthplace of America and its renowned principles of freedom and democracy. In the Assembly Room, you’ll stand within the walls that witnessed the signing of both the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution. As you continue to make your way through the hall, the Georgian architecture, the artifacts, and the stories of this place will astound you.
Beyond the hall, the park offers other fascinating stops. Just across Chestnut Street, as you exit Independence Hall, you’ll find the Liberty Bell Center. Here you will explore exhibits that share the history of the bell and the meaning behind its timeless responsibility to “Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land Unto All the Inhabitants thereof." The building leads you to the south side of the center where you will be able to gaze upon one of these most well-known icons of the United States, the Liberty Bell itself.
Upon leaving the center, you can walk through the foundations of the old Robert Morris house, now known as President’s House Site (located across from the visitor center). Inhabited by both George Washington (from 1790 to 1797) and John Adams (from 1797 to 1800), this site interprets the striking contrast between the emerging ideals of our new nation and the contradiction of a presidential household that had slaves.
If you still have some energy to delve further into our history after these first three stops within the park, finish off the day by visiting Congress Hall, where Presidents Washington and Adams were inaugurated. Then proceed to the other end of the block where you’ll find the Old City Hall, where the U.S. Supreme Court met from 1791-1800 and made its first decisions. Finish off the day by walking to Franklin Court, where you can walk through the foundations of Benjamin Franklin’s home, learn more about his printing office and its role in the American Revolution, and explore the museum.
For your second day of delving into the past, you’d be remiss in overlooking a Philadelphia-adjacent national park. Located 20 miles northwest of the city, Valley Forge National Historical Park epitomizes the place where the American spirit was forged – one that inspires our sense of patriotism, tenacity, and our ability to unite in order to overcome adversity. This site served as the 1777-1778 winter encampment for the Continental Army under the leadership of General George Washington.
To embark on a tour of the encampment, you have several options available to you. One option is to follow the 10-mile route in your car. This option, which may take you between 20 minutes and 2 hours (it all depends on how much time you’d like to dedicate at each of the nine major stops along the tour), will allow you to visit the historic monuments and sites that interpret the stories entrenched at Valley Forge. If you’re going to go this route, be sure to check out the CD audio or cell phone tours that will help bring the stops to life.
Another option is to join a guided-trolley-tour (discounted rates are also available for students, seniors, and active military personnel), which begins at the visitor center.
If you’d like to enjoy your history with a side of nature, you can also plan to explore the trails that venture through the park’s 3,500 acres. Whether you’d like to add hiking, horseback riding, or biking to your weekend’s adventures, Valley Forge offers some excellent options for its visitors.
The final three parks in your itinerary are all within a mile of each other. Welcome the day by getting a glimpse into the mind of one of America’s best-known literary figures at his Philadelphia home, now known as Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site. Here you can imagine where Poe drew inspiration for his classics such as “The Gold-Bug” and “The Spectacles.” You can also give yourself the spine-chilling experience of walking down into the basement that inspired “The Black Cat.” Open from Friday through Sunday, the park is a must-see for literary lovers.
Making your way south on 3rd Street, just off the intersection with Pine Street, you will find Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial. This site, which happens to be the smallest national park in the system (at .02 acres), was home to General Thaddeus Kosciuszko, a Polish military engineer, freedom fighter, and lesser-known hero of the American Revolution. Here, Kosciuszko welcomed and entertained notable visitors including then Vice President Thomas Jefferson and Chief Little Turtle of the Miami Nation.
After concluding the tour of Thaddeus Kosciuszko’s home, continue down 3rd Street and take a left onto Christian Street. At the intersection of Christian and S. Swanson Street, you will come upon Gloria Dei Church National Historic Site. Also known as the Old Swedes’ Church, this site is the oldest church building in Philadelphia. The church and surrounding buildings, which still serve an active congregation, are cared for jointly by the National Park Service and the staff at Old Swedes. During the week you can take in the simplistic beauty of the architecture, or you can join a worship service on Sundays to hear their 1300 pipe organ.
Philadelphia offers incredible history lessons to all who visit. The next time you’re investigating vacation options, consider a trip to the City of Brotherly Love for the ultimate patriotic getaway.