Can I be honest?
As much as my family loves to travel, my kids prefer beaches and amusement parks to historical sights. However, I love history and want to share it with my kids. I feel strongly that my kids need to see important historical sites to better understand our history.
With that goal in mind, I took my five kids to Philadelphia for spring break to see where our Founding Fathers declared their independence and assembled to write and sign the Constitution.
Here are my tips for helping families of all ages enjoy visiting Philadelphia's historic sites.
The month before our trip, we checked out library books about the signing of the Declaration of Independence and read up on the history of the Founding Fathers and Philadelphia in 1776. The bedtime stories helped my younger kids understand the history of what we were going to see.
Independence Hall Tickets
You must have a free, timed ticket to enter Independence Hall. Every person in your party must have a ticket, including babies. You may reserve tickets online for a small fee, or pick them up at 8:30 a.m. for same-day tickets. If you pick up same-day tickets, one person may pick up 10 tickets so not everyone has to stand in line.
We stayed at the Wyndham Philadelphia Historic District just around the corner from Independence Hall, and I left my husband at the hotel managing breakfast while I ran and picked up tickets for all of us. You will want to arrive right at 8:30 so you have options on what time of day works best for you.
Start at the Liberty Bell
The line to see the Liberty Bell gets longer as the day goes on, and in the summer the wait can be as long as an hour in the hot sun. You must take the kids to see the Liberty Bell, so start your day here when the lines are short and then head over to Independence Hall.
If you don't have time to wait in line, you can walk by the outside of the building and see the Liberty Bell through the glass. You will miss the museum displays inside but will still get a good view of the bell.
Narrow Your Options
I had grand dreams of visiting the Constitution Center, a hands-on history museum, and spending plenty of time in the Independence Visitor's Center. I quickly realized that my younger kids (and maybe my teens too!) didn't have the patience for a full day of museums.
We opted to see the Liberty 360 3-D show, which was the perfect balance of entertainment and education. The 15-minute show, hosted by Ben Franklin himself, was a great introduction to Philadelphia and the many symbols of America. The air conditioning, clean bathrooms, and great gift shop at the PECO theater were an added bonus.
Ben Franklin's Grave
Take a few minutes to walk by Ben Franklin's grave. He is buried in the Christ Church Burial Ground just across the street from the Independence Visitor's Center. People traditionally throw pennies on his grave as a symbol of good luck and to recognize his saying “A penny saved is a penny earned.” There is a small fee to enter Christ Church Burial Ground, so most people just pass by outside the fence.
It's worth a stroll through the city to walk by Franklin Court, which is where Ben Franklin's home was before it was unfortunately torn down. We loved stopping at the working post office where you can send hand-stamped letter's with Franklin's postmark, and finding Franklin's privy pit. There is also a museum there, but it was closed by the time we arrived.
Franklin's Court is a great place to stroll when you are hungry. We found a delicious cheesesteak sandwich at Sonny's nearby.
Finally, end your visit to Philadelphia's historic sites with a stop at the Franklin Fountain for ice cream sodas. This delightful ice cream shop was a highlight for all of us. Important: Franklin Fountain accepted CASH ONLY at the time of our visit.
That's how we balanced fun and education when we visited Philadelphia. We tried a Big Bus Tour for the first time on this trip, which enhanced our visits to these sites and made transportation easy. Want to read more about it? Click the arrow below.