Historic Philadelphia

A trip to Philadelphia can transform quickly into a tour of our nation's Colonial history.
By: Maryalice Yakutchik

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All cities have a history. However, relatively few have History in the capital "H" sense of the word, meaning their histories have national as well as local significance. In Philadelphia visitors literally can eat, breathe and sleep history.

A trip to Philadelphia can transform quickly into a tour of our nation's Colonial heritage. The Liberty Bell is all a luster in its new light-filled digs at Liberty Bell Center, Independence Mall, 6th and Chestnut Streets. A short block away is Independence Hall where patriots gathered in 1776 to defy the king of England and where 11 years later, representatives from 12 states shaped the Constitution. Highlights of the guided tour led by National Park Service rangers include George Washington's "rising sun" chair in the Assembly Room, still arranged as it was during the Constitutional Convention; the original inkstand used to sign the Declaration of Independence; and an original draft of the Constitution.

Treat yourself to story time with a walking tour by Ed Mauger of Philadelphia on Foot. A captivating blend of historian and gossip, he'll take you to behind-the-scenes places and tell true tales that involve everything from 18th-century sex to surgery. (The oldest operating room in the world is here, in the first public hospital in America, where the public paid to watch "lunatics and the deserving poor" undergo surgery in the days before anesthesia.)

An author of several books about Philadelphia, Mauger customizes tours. He'll escort you to a ballroom where Washington danced the night away with Revolutionary War friends as well as point out the church steeple that Franklin commissioned so he could experiment with electricity. With Mauger, antsy kids not only tolerate tours of houses with cordoned-off rooms, but also enjoy them.

Revolutionary War buffs will enjoy The Lights of Liberty Show, an hour-long outdoor sound-and-light show on the cobblestone streets of Society Hill, which dramatizes the role of Philadelphia during the Revolutionary War.

For an authentic -- and delicious -- 18th-century dining experience, nothing compares with the City Tavern. Ben Franklin discussed the hot topics of his day with other Founding Fathers in this "Most Genteel Tavern." Chef Walter Staib's West Indies Pepper Pot Soup, Roasted Duckling and Tavern Lobster Pie (to name a few menu selections) are prepared according to historic recipes and served on Colonial-style dishware by a wait staff in period dress.

For dessert, belly on up to the counter for an egg cream or ice cream soda at The Franklin Fountain, an authentic early-20th-century soda shop.

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