On my way home from Amazonia, American Airlines had me stop over in Philadelphia (Philly in short) for 8 hours. I was not really up for it, especially with another long-haul to Amsterdam afterwards.
But in the end, it was a great experience because the city is easy to get around for a few hours.
Take a least 3 to 4 hours to walk in the city which used to be the capitale of the US between 1790 and 1799 and is considered to be the place in the country where democracy was born.
I share with you my feedback and tips for an express visit.
HOW TO GET TO THE CITY CENTER OF PHILADELPHIA
First of all at the airport, follow the signs showing the access to public transportation. Near the entrance you’ll find an information desk where you can get the city magazine with a map inside (as the one displayed above).
The SEPTA train to the city center leaves every 30 minutes. There is a special roundtrip ticket which costs 12 dollars and that you can only buy in cash inside the train.
When you get inside, just sit anywhere and the guy will come to you to know your destination. He will provide you with a long ticket where he ticks off the appropriate boxes and put the time and date. I found this vintage process quite charming!
You need to keep this ticket because you’ll give it back when you access the platform for your return to the airport.
It takes approximately 30 mins to reach Jefferson station from the airport. Don’t count on watching the landscape from the train windows as they are covered with an opaque film.
The Chinese district starts outside Jefferson Station. Quite convenient if you want to eat a nice meal, way cheaper than at the airport.
Walking east on Arch Street, you’ll find the “whispering bells of freedom“, a fore-taste before the Liberty Bell.
These bells are in honor of Crispus Attucks killed by the British troops in March 1770 in Boston. The rebell was fighting off the conditions of the british empire, a start towards independence….
You cannot get lost in Philadelphia! No really, you can’t. The city follows the usual grid pattern of the american cities. In addition to that, many signs pop along the streets to remind you of your location. And there are also many historical short anecdotes and stories shown. Clearly all is done to ease the tourist’s wanderings.
PHILADELPHIA BOURSE AND NUMEROUS MUSEUMS
Once you entered the Old City district, you have the choice to visit several museums including:
- African American Museum: open Thursday-Sunday – the visit can last up to 3 hours.
- Philadelphy History Museum: closed on Sundays and Mondays – up to 2 hours.
- National Museum of American Jewish History: closed on Mondays – up to 3 hours.
I decided to skip their visits. Because my interest goes to walking around and noticing the architecture of the buildings. And Philadelphia doesn’t disappoint.
Take Philadelphia bourse for instance. Founded in 1891 following the example of Hamburg bourse, this commodity exchange is a beaux-arts building. Its pinkish front is made of redstone, Pompeii puff bricks and terra cota. The building now hosts a food and shop court.
Look at the impressive details of a metal door on 7th North Street.
INDEPENDENCE HALL AND LIBERTY BELL
The two musts of your visit to Philly!
Starting in the hall you’ll find historical explanations about the city. You’ll also be invited to take a selfie “with Ben” (aka Benjamin Franklin) or with Phillies baseball team mascot or Rocky.
If you miss the chance to get a city map in paper, here’s the time and place. You can also ask the staff for any pointer to make your visit the best.
At the end of the hall, go out and straight into the Liberty Bell Center. Entrance is free-of-charge but as secured as the access to the gates at the airport.
A bell? What is this all about?
This bell has an eventful past! It was commissioned in 1752 to help gathering the citizens to public assemblies and votes.
But the bell got a crack right from the first use. It was repaired several times, without success. Even though it is said it was not used on July 4, 1776 during the declaration of independence, it was renamed ‘Liberty Bell’ and became a symbol.
In 1852, as it was too risky to use it, the bell remained in a static position, exposed in the independence hall among other historical objects.
However in 1915, the crack was still getting bigger…Eventually in 1976, the decision was made to put the bell in a dedicated building which was enhanced in 2003 to meet the number of visits.
WASHINGTON SQUARE AND THE TOMB OF THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER
Exiting Liberty Bell, I walked to the nearby Washington Square where the tomb of the unknown soldier is located. This small park with benches is one of the five places originally designed by William Penn in his city plan.
Elfreth’s alley dates back to 1736 which makes it the oldest street of the city. Well preserved by its residents, the houses are colorful and part of the city heritage.
After the alley, you’ll find yourself in a district full of cute little cafés, book and designers shops to explore. Perfect to slow down before hoping back on the train to the airport.
Unfortunately the famous steps featured in Rocky movies were not accessible because of a football event. To go there from the city center, take public transportation instead of walking for one hour.
There are many more places to visit in the city. But due to my short timing, I decided to wander only in the Old City and Society Hill districts. I thought I had no time to film either but I could have.
If you feel like it, go to my YouTube channel to check my videos made during other trips!
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