Consider Philadelphia's sightseeing possibilities -- the most historic square mile in America; more than 90 museums; innumerable Colonial churches, row houses, and mansions; an Ivy League campus; more Impressionist art than you'll find in any place outside of Paris; and leafy, distinguished parks, including the largest one within city limits in the United States.
Most of what you'll want to see within the city falls inside a rectangle on a map between the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers in width, and between South and Vine streets in height (although you'll want to get out of the grid to visit the art museum and Fairmount Park). It's easy to organize your days into walking tours of various parts of the city. Nothing is that far away. A stroll from City Hall to the Philadelphia Museum of Art takes about 25 minutes. A walk along Walnut Street to Independence National Historical Park and Society Hill should take a little less time. If you'd rather ride, the spiffy PHLASH buses loop past most major attractions every 12 minutes, and the fare is $2 each time you board, or $5 for an all-day individual pass ($10 for an all-day family pass for two adults and two children 6-17). It runs from May to October from 10am to 6pm. SEPTA also has an all-day $11 fare for unlimited city rides on buses, trolleys, subways, and the El. The two systems do not accept each other's passes.
The city wraps up six attractions in one via the Philadelphia Citypass, which offers admission to the Franklin Institute, Philadelphia Zoo, Adventure Aquarium, the Academy of Natural Sciences (or the National Constitution Center) and the Please Touch Museum (or Eastern State Penitentiary) -- and a Philadelphia Trolley Works tour. Prices are $59 for adults and $39 for children 3 to 12, and they may be purchased in advance at www.citypass.com (click on "Philadelphia") or at any one of the attractions. Tickets are good up to 9 days from first use, and they represent about a 50% discount from full admissions to all of the attractions.
Old City's Crazy Colonials
Every summer, they come back to town. You're enjoying an oversize bowl of miso soup in Buddakan, and you see a man in white knickers walking by. You're taking a shortcut behind the Second Bank of the U.S., and you get caught up in a bayonet charge. On Elfreth's Alley, in Carpenters' Hall, in the blocks that make up Old City, actors clad in Colonial garb roam. These performers' jobs are to wander about, answer questions about the historic personages they're portraying, and to stop at scheduled times to tell a story, proclaim, lead a military muster, play the glass Armonica, and take visitors on special tours around town. The organization they work for is Once Upon a Nation. Find out more about them and their performances at www.onceuponanation.org. And don't be surprised if they appear befuddled when you ask directions to the closest Wi-Fi hot spot: They're just staying in character.
Ben Franklin Lives! An Interview with Ralph Archbold -- You didn't just hallucinate Ben Franklin eating a cheesesteak in Independence Square Park. Philadelphia's official Ben Franklin, Ralph Archbold, performs frequently at museums and attractions throughout the city -- and even Ben needs to eat between gigs. Archbold has been featured in various television specials, including a 2004 History Channel bio that touted Franklin as an "ambassador, scientist, and ladies' man" and several appearances on The Colbert Report. We caught up with Archbold to ask about his career and the man he portrays.
Frommer's: How did you start performing as Ben Franklin?
Ralph Archbold: I started performing at historic Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan in 1973. (That is the village that Henry Ford started.) I came to Philadelphia in 1981 and have been performing here ever since.
F: What's the best part of playing Franklin?
RA: I love the variety of audiences I perform for and the affection people seem to have for Mr. Franklin. The presentations I do are in storytelling form and I love telling stories.
F: What's the most challenging?
RA: Trying to fit in all the requests for my services as Ben is my biggest challenge. I love performing and the demand is great. I especially love interacting with the visitors in Independence National Historical Park during the summer.
F: What's your favorite of Franklin's proverbs?
RA: "A true friend is the best possession" is one of my favorites. I really love them all.
F: Why do you think Ben Franklin appeals to children so much?
RA: I think he appeals to the childlike enthusiasm and excitement in people of all ages and with his variety of inventions and adventures he is an inspiration to us all.
F: What's the most common misconception about Franklin?
RA: That he fathered a lot of children. He was the father of three: William, Sarah, and Francis.
F: Can you explain in your own words the "ladies' man" connection? How much of a romancer was Franklin, and did his affairs end once he got married?
RA: Most of the ladies' man reputation came when Ben was in France and his wife had died 2 years earlier. As far as we know there is no proof he cheated on his wife. His son William, born around the time he and Deborah Read became man and wife September 1, 1730, was illegitimate.
F: What were some of Ben Franklin's flaws? Did he have any?
RA: He always said he was accused of lacking humility but if he were able to conquer it he would be so proud.
F: Of all the museums and bridges and other Franklin tributes throughout the city, which one does the best job of conveying his character and spirit?
RA: It would be impossible to pick any one historic site in Philadelphia that does the "best" job of conveying the Franklin spirit and character. That is why if visitors want the complete picture they need to stay several days and visit the Independence Visitor Center, Franklin Court, the Franklin Institute, the Lights of Liberty Show, the National Constitution Center, Independence Hall, Fireman's Hall, Pennsylvania Hospital, and all the streets and buildings among the many places Franklin worked and walked.
F: What would Franklin think of these tributes?
RA: The variety and number of statues and locations talking about him would amaze him.
F: What would Franklin think of the current political landscape? Would he identify with any particular politicians today? Do you see any "heirs to Ben Franklin"?
RA: Ben would be fascinated how our nation and our government have grown. He would perhaps be pleased that we have lasted this long. Remember, as he remarked when asked what sort of government we had been given, he replied, "a republic, if you can keep it."
I don't think he would identify with any one particular politician but perhaps a composite of a number of those to whom we have entrusted our government.
As to "heirs," we all are heirs to the values, the courage, and the integrity our founders left to a nation with the hope that each of us would treasure freedom and work to maintain America as a symbol of freedom and a beacon of hope to the world.
F: Where's the single best spot to get a glimpse of "Old Philadelphia"?
RA: If you want the true flavor of a neighborhood, visit Elfreth's Alley. If you want the feel of the beginning of our nation, walk the area around Independence Hall, Congress Hall, and Old City Hall.
F: What's your favorite bar or pub in the city?
RA: While I have many places I love I don't think anyone should miss the City Tavern, at 2nd and Walnut, which no less a figure than John Adams proclaimed "the most genteel tavern in America."
F: Where can visitors expect to see you perform?
RA: I perform at the Franklin Institute for special occasions. You can find me more easily in the area of Franklin Court where his former home was located. There is a wonderful courtyard, print shop, and museum there, and no one should miss it.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.