When it comes to exploring Philadelphia’s rich history, nothing beats a walking tour that takes you through its storied streets and iconic landmarks. From the cobblestone lanes of Old City to the vibrant neighborhoods of Society Hill, there are countless options that offer a captivating glimpse into the city’s past. Whether you’re a history buff or simply looking for a unique way to experience Philadelphia, these historical walking tours are sure to leave you in awe of the city’s fascinating heritage. Lace up your walking shoes and get ready to immerse yourself in the stories that shape the City of Brotherly Love.
1. Independence National Historical Park
Philadelphia’s Independence National Historical Park is a must-visit for history buffs and anyone interested in learning about America’s founding. The park offers a range of fascinating sites and exhibits, including the Liberty Bell Center, Independence Hall, and the Benjamin Franklin Museum.
1.1 Liberty Bell Center
One of the most iconic symbols of American freedom, the Liberty Bell is housed in its very own center within Independence National Historical Park. Here, you can get up close to this historic bell and learn about its significance in American history. You’ll discover the story behind the Liberty Bell’s famous crack and understand its role as a symbol of liberty and justice.
1.2 Independence Hall
Step back in time and visit the place where the U.S. Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were debated and signed. Independence Hall is a beautifully preserved building that serves as a reminder of the birth of a nation. Take a guided tour to explore the Assembly Room, where the Founding Fathers deliberated, and see the original inkstand used to sign the Declaration of Independence.
1.3 Benjamin Franklin Museum
Immerse yourself in the life and achievements of one of America’s most beloved founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, at the Benjamin Franklin Museum. This interactive museum showcases Franklin’s inventions, scientific discoveries, and contributions to society. Through exhibits, artifacts, and multimedia presentations, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of the remarkable impact Franklin had on Philadelphia and the nation.
2. Old City Walking Tour
A stroll through Philadelphia’s historic Old City is like stepping into the past. This neighborhood is home to some of the city’s oldest and most significant sites, making it a perfect destination for a walking tour.
2.1 Christ Church
Christ Church is a historic landmark that dates back to the early days of Philadelphia. It is known for its elegant Georgian architecture and its role as a gathering place for some of the country’s most notable figures, including George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. Take a guided tour to explore the beautiful interior and learn about the church’s rich history.
2.2 Elfreth’s Alley
Elfreth’s Alley is the oldest continuously inhabited residential street in the United States. Walking down this cobblestone street feels like stepping back in time, with its charming 18th-century homes and quaint atmosphere. Visit the Elfreth’s Alley Museum to catch a glimpse of what life was like for the people who once lived in these historic houses.
2.3 Betsy Ross House
Discover the story of the woman credited with sewing the first American flag at the Betsy Ross House. This historic home is a fascinating glimpse into the life and times of Betsy Ross, a seamstress who played a small but significant role in American history. Explore the exhibits, watch a reenactment of the flag-making process, and learn about the legend that surrounds Betsy Ross and her famous creation.
3. Society Hill and Historic Waterfront Tour
Society Hill and the Historic Waterfront offer a unique blend of architecture, history, and scenic beauty. This walking tour takes you through some of Philadelphia’s most charming neighborhoods and along the picturesque Delaware River waterfront.
3.1 Physick House
Step inside the Physick House, an exquisite example of 18th-century Georgian architecture. This elegant mansion was once the home of Philip Syng Physick, known as the “Father of American Surgery.” Take a guided tour to see the beautifully restored rooms and learn about the life and accomplishments of this influential figure in Philadelphia’s medical history.
3.2 Powel House
The Powel House is a stunning example of Georgian architecture and was the home of Samuel Powel, Philadelphia’s last colonial mayor. This historic house offers an insight into the refined lifestyle of the city’s elite during the Revolutionary War era. Explore the opulent rooms and marvel at the exquisite furnishings and decorative arts on display.
3.3 First Bank of the United States
Visit the First Bank of the United States, an architectural gem designed by Samuel Blodgett Jr. This building played a crucial role in the nation’s financial history, serving as the country’s first central bank. Take a guided tour to explore the impressive bank vault, learn about Alexander Hamilton’s influence on the nation’s banking system, and see exhibits that shed light on the early days of American finance.
4. Valley Forge National Historical Park Tour
Experience the hardships and triumphs of the American Revolutionary War at Valley Forge National Historical Park. This expansive park offers a glimpse into the winter encampment of George Washington’s Continental Army and provides a deeper understanding of the sacrifices made by the soldiers during the war.
4.1 Visitor Center
Start your tour at the Visitor Center, where you can pick up maps and information about the park. The Visitor Center also houses exhibits that provide an overview of the events that took place at Valley Forge and the significance of the encampment.
4.2 Encampment Site
Explore the vast grounds of Valley Forge and imagine what life was like for the Continental Army soldiers during the winter of 1777-1778. Walk along the recreated soldier’s huts and gain a deeper appreciation for the challenging conditions they endured. Take a guided tour to learn about the strategies employed by General Washington and the military significance of Valley Forge.
4.3 Washington’s Headquarters
Visit Washington’s Headquarters, a restored building that served as the command center for George Washington during the Valley Forge encampment. Step inside and see the room where Washington made crucial decisions that would shape the outcome of the Revolutionary War. Explore the exhibits that highlight the hardships faced by the soldiers and the contributions they made to secure American independence.
5. Philadelphia Museum of Art and Rocky Steps Tour
For art enthusiasts and movie buffs alike, a tour of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the famous Rocky Steps is a must-do. Gain a deeper appreciation for art and culture as you explore one of the country’s largest and most renowned art museums.
5.1 Philadelphia Museum of Art
Discover a world-class collection of art spanning various periods, styles, and cultures at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. From Renaissance masterpieces to Asian art and contemporary works, there is something to captivate every visitor. Explore the galleries at your own pace or join a guided tour to learn more about the museum’s vast collection.
5.2 Rocky Steps
Channel your inner Rocky Balboa as you run up the steps leading to the entrance of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. These iconic steps were made famous by the “Rocky” film series and have become a symbol of perseverance and determination. Once at the top, take in the breathtaking view of the city skyline and celebrate your victory, just like Rocky himself.
5.3 Fairmount Water Works
Just a short walk from the Philadelphia Museum of Art lies the Fairmount Water Works, a historic landmark and engineering marvel. Built in the early 19th century, this facility was responsible for pumping clean drinking water to the city. Take a leisurely stroll along the riverbank and enjoy the picturesque views or visit the Water Works Interpretive Center to learn about the history of water supply and environmental conservation.
6. Eastern State Penitentiary Tour
Step into the world of crime and punishment at the Eastern State Penitentiary, a former prison turned museum. Explore the crumbling cell blocks, learn about the prison’s notorious inmates, and discover the innovative penitentiary system that was implemented here in the early 19th century.
6.1 Cell Block 7
Enter the eerie Cell Block 7, where notorious criminals such as Al Capone were once incarcerated. Experience the haunting atmosphere as you walk through the dimly lit corridors and witness the dilapidated cells that were once home to some of the country’s most dangerous criminals. Take a guided tour to hear stories of escape attempts, prison life, and the psychological effects of solitary confinement.
6.2 Al Capone’s Cell
Visit the cell that housed the infamous gangster Al Capone during his incarceration at Eastern State Penitentiary. Explore the small space where Capone spent his time and learn about his impact on the prison and the city of Philadelphia. The cell is furnished to resemble how it would have looked during Capone’s stay, offering a glimpse into the life of a notorious crime figure.
6.3 Death Row
Step inside Death Row, where inmates awaited their fate on the electric chair. This area of the prison is a chilling reminder of the ultimate punishment that awaited those convicted of the most heinous crimes. Learn about the history of capital punishment and the debates surrounding it as you explore the somber hallways and cells of Death Row.
7. Mural Arts Philadelphia Walking Tour
Philadelphia is known as the “City of Murals” due to its impressive collection of outdoor artworks. Embark on a walking tour of the city’s vibrant street art scene and discover the stories behind these larger-than-life murals.
7.1 Mural Mile North
Start your Mural Arts Philadelphia Walking Tour in the northern part of the city and immerse yourself in the vibrant world of street art. This section of the tour will take you through neighborhoods such as Spring Garden and Callowhill, where you’ll encounter murals that celebrate the city’s diverse communities and cultures.
7.2 Love Letter Train Tour
Hop aboard the “EL” (elevated railway) and take the Love Letter Train Tour, a unique experience that showcases a series of love-themed murals. Created by artist Steve Powers, these murals adorn the sides of buildings along the rail lines and can be seen from the train. The Love Letter Train Tour is a romantic and artistic journey through West Philadelphia, allowing you to appreciate the beauty of street art in a truly immersive way.
7.3 South Street
End your Mural Arts Philadelphia Walking Tour in the vibrant neighborhood of South Street, known for its eclectic mix of shops, restaurants, and nightlife. Here, you’ll find colorful murals that reflect the spirit of the community and its vibrant character. Take some time to explore the neighborhood, grab a bite to eat, and immerse yourself in South Street’s lively atmosphere.
8. African American History Walking Tour
Gain a deeper understanding of Philadelphia’s rich African American history by embarking on an African American History Walking Tour. This tour highlights significant sites and landmarks that played a pivotal role in the struggle for civil rights and the advancement of African Americans.
8.1 The President’s House
Visit the President’s House, a site that commemorates the residence of Presidents George Washington and John Adams while Philadelphia served as the nation’s capital. This historical site also acknowledges the presence of enslaved Africans and highlights their contributions to the early development of the United States.
8.2 Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church
Explore Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church, the oldest African Methodist Episcopal congregation in the country. This church has been a focal point of African American community life for over 200 years and played a crucial role in the fight against slavery and the struggle for civil rights. Take a guided tour to learn about the church’s history, its important role in Philadelphia’s African American community, and its ongoing contributions to social justice.
8.3 African American Museum
End your African American History Walking Tour at the African American Museum, where you can delve deeper into the stories, achievements, and contributions of African Americans in Philadelphia and beyond. Through exhibits, artifacts, and interactive displays, the museum offers a comprehensive look at African American culture, history, and the ongoing quest for equality.
9. Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site Tour
Step into the mysterious world of Edgar Allan Poe, one of America’s most celebrated and enigmatic writers, with a tour of his former residence. The Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site offers a glimpse into the life and works of this literary icon.
9.1 Poe’s Bedroom
Visit the bedroom where Edgar Allan Poe lived during his time in Philadelphia. The room has been restored to resemble how it would have looked when Poe resided there, providing a fascinating insight into his personal life, creative process, and the circumstances that shaped his haunting tales.
9.2 Reading Room
Explore the Reading Room, where Poe would spend hours immersed in literature and writing. This space is filled with exhibits and artifacts that offer a glimpse into Poe’s literary influences and the works that inspired him. See original manuscripts and first editions of his famous poems and stories, and gain a deeper appreciation for his contributions to the world of literature.
9.3 The Tell-Tale Heart Exhibit
Discover the dark and macabre world of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” through a special exhibit at the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site. This exhibit brings to life the chilling tale of murder and madness, allowing visitors to experience the story in a unique and immersive way. Step into the mind of the unreliable narrator and unravel the secrets hidden within the pages of this iconic short story.
10. University City and West Philly Tour
Explore the vibrant neighborhoods of University City and West Philadelphia, home to prestigious educational institutions, beautiful green spaces, and cultural gems.
10.1 University of Pennsylvania
Begin your tour at the University of Pennsylvania, one of the country’s oldest and most prestigious universities. Take a stroll through its picturesque campus and marvel at its stunning architecture. Visit the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology to explore its vast collection of artifacts from around the world, including the famous Sphinx of Ramesses II.
10.2 Clark Park
Escape the hustle and bustle of the city and unwind at Clark Park, a charming green oasis in the heart of West Philadelphia. This park offers a place to relax, take a leisurely walk, or enjoy a picnic amidst beautiful trees and open spaces. During warmer months, Clark Park comes alive with various community events and festivals, making it a hub of neighborhood activity.
10.3 Bartram’s Garden
Discover Bartram’s Garden, a historic site and botanical garden that has been cultivating plants since the 18th century. Explore the enchanting gardens, take a walk along the riverfront, and learn about the influential Bartram family, who played a significant role in the field of botany and the exploration of the natural world. Bartram’s Garden offers a tranquil escape from the city and a chance to connect with nature.
In conclusion, Philadelphia offers a wide array of historical walking tours that provide a comprehensive and immersive experience of the city’s rich history and culture. From exploring iconic sites such as Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell Center to delving into the world of art and murals or stepping into the mysterious world of Edgar Allan Poe, these tours offer something for everyone. So put on your walking shoes, grab a map, and embark on a journey through the past in one of America’s most historically significant cities.