There is so much to see and do in Philadelphia and the surrounding area, we felt like we barely scratched the surface. We had three days to really explore, so we had to pick and choose which places to visit. We packed in as much as we could and had a fantastic time learning all about American history and visiting the first “big city” of our trip.
Valley Forge National Historical Park
We began our Philadelphia weekend just outside the city in Valley Forge at Valley Forge National Historical Park. The visitor center was under renovations so there was not a lot to see or do there at the time, but we still went in and picked up the kids’ junior ranger books and talked to the park rangers a bit. Because their theater was closed, the typical introductory movie was posted on YouTube, so we went out and watched it in the car while it was drizzling rain outside. As always, the NPS films are excellent.
After the movie, we did a self-guided audio tour in the car, stopping at various locations. This encampment site of the Continental Army during the harsh winter of 1777-1778 came to life. We were able to walk through cabins that many of the soldiers would have stayed in.
We saw George Washington’s headquarters. We walked in the meadows where the soldiers were trained by General von Steuben. We took in the memorials and statues dedicated to those who were there. I was struck by the lush beauty of the landscape that early fall day, trying to imagine everything covered in snow or muddy, young, tired, and sick soldiers all around. It was quite the dichotomy.
Parking in the City
Next, we drove into the city for our first taste of the downtown area and Old City. We knew we did not have time for a lot of exploring, but we wanted to get our bearings and figure out the parking situation. We drive our lifted Dodge Durango for all of our exploring, but usually we carry a cargo box on top. Knowing we would be parking in a parking garage, we had removed it and left it at our campground. Even still, we were tight getting in with just a couple inches of clearance into the parking garage, Autopark at Olde City. It was extremely convenient, however, and for us it was less expensive than riding the train into the city with six people.
Museum of the American Revolution
Our first stop in the city was just around the corner from the parking garage. The Museum of the American Revolution is fantastic! We highly recommend this stop in the city.
When we were there, there was a special exhibit showcasing historic variations of the flag through the years. It was amazing to see all the different flags as states were added and the designs changed. There are many displays of battle and interactive exhibits. We also spoke with a young docent dressed in period costume. She really made an impression with our girls, discussing corsets and long skirts and what clothing was like for women in the 1700s. I don’t think they want to go back to that era.
The most memorable part of the museum is Washington’s War Tent. We did not know anything about this before we went to the museum, as I had not done a ton of research into the museum ahead of time. There is a film presentation that leads to the unveiling of the tent behind the screen. It was dramatic and emotional and just awesome! I would go again just to see that.
After the museum, we just walked around a bit and made our way down to the river to look around. Then, we walked back to the car and drove back across the bridge to our campground for a good night’s rest.
Battleship New Jersey Museum & Memorial
The next morning, we drove down the road to Camden, NJ to visit the USS New Jersey. We were able to use our North American Reciprocal Museum (NARM) membership to save quite a bit on admission.
This battleship was in service from WWII through Korea and Vietnam and into the 1980’s. We toured the sailors’ bunks, the officers’ rooms, the gun turrets, and everything in between. At one point, when we were walking through one of the tight corridors, there was a man looking for his name on the wall where hundreds of sailors had signed their names over the years. He had been an electrician onboard the USS New Jersey during Vietnam.
There are a few extra opportunities that you can pay for on the ship, one of which is firing the 40mm cannon. We decided to do this for our oldest son, and it was just awesome! As they waited for other boats to pass along the Delaware River, they loaded the blank into the cannon, and the countdown began. He fired the cannon and Boom! An experience he will not forget.
Reading Terminal Market
We drove back across the bridge and into the city again, hoping to have lunch at Reading Terminal Market. Walking down the streets and admiring the mix of old and new buildings was really fun. We made our way down to the market, which has been around since the 1800’s, and went inside. This was not for the faint of heart. It was so crowded. Granted it was a Saturday. But, it was shoulder to shoulder. With a family of six with young kids trying to navigate through the tight walkways between vendors, it was a little too much for us. We basically walked in, made a loop around the building, and went right back out. It would certainly be awesome on a less crowded day, but that was not the day. We ended up across the street at a taco shop for lunch.
Independence National Historical Park Visitor Center
We knew day three would be spent at places like Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, among other places, we thought we would get a jump on the National Park information and stop by the visitor center. As we walked in, we saw a man in period costume painting. Since we have a couple of budding artist kids, they were very interested in his tools and techniques. He was very kind to share with them all about his painting tools that he crafted himself. We also listened to a musician and then picked up the kids’ junior ranger booklets. We asked a few questions of the park rangers and looked around a bit, and then we headed out to explore a little more.
Benjamin Franklin’s Grave
Walking back through Old City, we made our way to Benjamin Franklin’s grave at Christ Church Burial Ground. While you can pay admission to enter the cemetery to explore the resting places of Franklin and other early Americans, we chose to just look in from the outside. Franklin’s grave is right on the fence line so you can see it well. In fact, many visitors throw pennies on top of his marble grave in reference to his saying, “A penny saved is a penny earned.” However, several years ago the church had to spend thousands of dollars restoring his grave after all the pennies over the years pitted and damaged the marble. So, maybe just save that penny like
Just down the road is Elfreth’s Alley (really everything in Old City is “just down the road”), the residential street that has been continuously inhabited for the longest amount of time in the United States. Developed in the early 1700s as a cart path between two residences by tradesmen, artists, and merchants who wanted an easier way to get to the waterfront, this little street has been preserved. The architecture is typical of a colonial street and the best part is that people still live in these little homes today. In fact, the residents open their homes each year during Fete Day. Although the big city grew up around it, this little block of colonial homes makes you feel like you’re stepping back in time. It is also just adorable.
That was all we had time for on day two. Day three is coming soon where we explore the rest of Old City including Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell.
Watch the video:
Click here If you cannot see the video.
Where We Stayed
it's actually across the river in New Jersey