In the annals of Philadelphia tourism, the best-known and most-visited sites are, hands down, the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. These historic attractions stand across from one another on the very spot where the United States was conceived in 1776, and, in 1787, the future of the young nation was assured by the Constitutional Convention. A few steps from that, the Founders of the nation lived and dined. Philadelphia was the nation's capital during Washington's second term, so the U.S. Congress and Supreme Court met here for 10 years while awaiting the construction of the new capital in Washington, D.C. From the first penny to the First Amendment, Philadelphia led the nation.
Independence National Historical Park comprises 40 buildings (half are open to the public) on 45 acres of Center City real estate. The entire park spans 2nd to 6th streets, from Walnut Street to Market Street. Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell lie between 5th and 6th streets at Chestnut Street, and the park has been overhauled, with some $300 million poured into new attractions, renovations, and landscaping. The Independence Visitor Center 1 block north is well equipped to illustrate the early history of this country, and the National Constitution Center explores the U.S.'s core document.
This neighborhood is a superb example of successful revitalization. Fifty years ago, this area had become glutted with warehouses, office buildings, and rooming houses. The National Park Service stepped in, soon followed by the Washington Square East urban renewal project now known as Society Hill, after the historic neighborhood it's in. To the east, gardens replaced buildings as far as the Dock Street food market, which was replaced by Society Hill Towers in 1959. Graff House, City Tavern, Pemberton House, and Library Hall were reconstructed on their original sites. Franklin Court is a contemporary structure erected for the Bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence celebrations. The Liberty Bell Center is even more modern.
The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, had an inevitable impact on the spontaneous excitement of stepping into the birthplace of American independence: You must pass through a security-screening center on Market Street before visiting the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, but most days the process moves fairly quickly.
From March through December, everyone in your group -- including infants! -- will need a ticket to visit Independence Hall. Tickets themselves are free. But for guaranteed reservations, you can call tel. 877/444-6777 or visit www.recreation.gov up to a year in advance. Reserving ahead incurs a $1.50 per ticket handling charge, but many visitors find the convenience worth the fee. Families may request up to 10 tickets at a time, and everyone absolutely must pick up the tickets at will call at least 45 minutes before your scheduled tour, as unclaimed tickets are resold, and there are no refunds. If you don't book in advance, go early to the visitor center (open from 8:30am; closing times vary) to avoid lines. While you're there, you may also pick up tickets for the frequent, 10-visitors-at-a-time interior tours of the Bishop White House and the Todd House. There is no tour required for the Second Bank of the United States: It's open to the public Wednesday through Sunday from 11am to 5pm.
The place to get tickets -- and most everything else you need to get started -- is the Independence Visitor Center, 1 N. Independence Mall W. (at 6th and Market sts.), Philadelphia, PA 19106 (tel. 800/537-7676 or 215/965-7676; www.independencevisitorcenter.com). The visitor center should be your first stop in the park, since it's the official visitors' service for the park, and also provides general tourism services and trip-planning information. There's a cafe and a gift shop selling mementos and park publications, and theaters offering free, informational movies such as a 30-minute John Huston feature, Independence, about the Philadelphia birth of the Revolution.
To get to Independence Park, you can take the SEPTA Market-Frankford Line to 5th and Market streets. By bus, take the PHLASH or any Chestnut Street bus from Center City.
If you're driving, from I-76, take I-676 east to 6th Street (last exit before the Ben Franklin Bridge), then turn south (right) along Independence Mall. From the Ben Franklin Bridge, make a left onto 6th Street and it's right there after the National Constitution Center. From I-95 southbound, take the Center City exit to 2nd Street. From I-95 northbound, use the exit marked HISTORIC AREA. Turn left on Columbus Boulevard (formerly Delaware Ave.) and follow it to the exit for Market Street (on the right). There's metered parking along most streets, as well as parking facilities under the visitor center (which charges $4.25 for a half-hour; $18 for all day), as well as at 2nd and Sansom streets, at 125 S. 2nd St. (btw. Chestnut and Walnut sts.). and just south of Market Street at 36 and 21 S. 2nd St.
"Self-Evident" Not So Self-Evident -- In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson boldly declares, "We hold these truths to be self-evident" -- but not in the rough draft. Jefferson originally found those truths to be "sacred and undeniable" before changing his mind. You can read his first handwritten copy along with documents like Ben Franklin's will and William Penn's 1701 Charter of Privileges, at Library Hall, 105 S. 5th St. between Chestnut and Walnut streets.
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.