Does your family have travel plans this holiday season? If you will be flying, chances are good that you'll have a layover. If it's a long layover, have you considered adding a fun side trip into the city?
When my family flew from Salt Lake City to New York City last summer, we had a six-hour layover in Philadelphia. We had never been there, so we planned a quick trip to Independence National Historic Park – home of Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell – in downtown Philadelphia.
The Liberty Bell once hung over Independence Hall where the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution were debated and signed. The bell was used to summon lawmakers and announce news. In following years, the famous cracked bell toured the nation and became a symbol of liberty.
We took a train from the airport and walked a few blocks to the Liberty Bell. We waited in line for about 15 minutes to reach the security screening and then wandered past exhibits to the bell itself. We didn't have time to tour Independence Hall, which requires a timed ticket, but my inner history geek was giddy just to see the outside of the building where our nation was born.
Next, we ate a late lunch at Reading Terminal Market (pronounced RED-ding), one of the oldest markets in the United States. This is a great place to get a Philly cheesesteak, pizza, stir-fry or farm-fresh groceries. Lunch is the peak time to visit. By late afternoon, many of the stalls were closed, but we found one that served gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches made with local artisan cheese.
If you're considering leaving the airport during a long layover, here are some factors you should consider.
Plan for extra luggage, transportation, dining and entertainment costs that you might not have had if you just decided to stay at the airport. We spent $55 to check one bag and take the train into the city for two hours. Considering the alternative – wandering the airport for six hours with kids – it was worth every penny.
Normally, I would recommend that the whole family use carry-on luggage to avoid bag check fees, but dragging carry-on luggage through the city felt like a bad idea in lots of ways. Philadelphia International Airport does not have lockers and our backpacks were thoroughly searched by personnel at Independence NHP.
To minimize what we had to carry with us, I packed everything for our trip into one large suitcase and two standard backpacks and checked the suitcase.
Philadelphia's public transit is called SEPTA. I used Google Maps to find a route from Philadelphia International Airport to Reading Terminal Market. The Airport Line train arrives every 30 minutes and the trip takes about 30 minutes.
SEPTA offers a One-Day Individual and Family Independence Pass, which was perfect for us. The pass costs $12 per person or $29 for a family of up to five people. Bring cash to purchase it from the train conductor, or visit www.septa.org/fares/pass/independence to purchase in advance.
Count backward from your departure time to see if it's worthwhile to leave the airport. We gave ourselves two hours for security and one hour each way for transportation. That left us two hours to see the Liberty Bell and eat at Reading Terminal Market. We didn't dawdle and ran into no problems, so we made our flight with time to spare.
Ask an expert
I couldn't find everything I wanted to know online, so I called a ranger at Independence NHP before our trip. I learned that in late afternoon on a Monday, it was reasonable to visit the Liberty Bell, but not to tour Independence Hall. The ranger told us about Reading Terminal Market.
A long layover doesn't have to be a drag. I loved our layover in Philadelphia. It gave us the chance to see one of our nation's great symbols and it's a fun family memory.
Do you have a layover adventure to share?
Tell us about it in the comments!