Historic Philadelphia Tours

Looking to explore historic Philadelphia? Check out these tour guide tips for a memorable Philadelphia walking tour.

A trip to Philadelphia keeps history lovers on their toes -- literally. A simple stroll through the City of Brotherly Love's streets offers a rich array of historic sites: Independence Hall, Betsy Ross House and the iconic Liberty Bell, to name just a few. Here's how to enjoy a walking tour through Philadelphia’s rich history, with tips from a Philadelphia tour guide.

Visit on the Fourth
One of the best times to visit historic Philadelphia, especially for families, is over the Fourth of July weekend, says Ken Sandberg, a Philadelphia tour guide of more than 3 years. "After late June, there's a changeover to mostly families," says Sandberg. "It's my favorite time for visitors. When you have families at the sites, you get interactions and questions. People are learning more."

For memorable interactive moments, check out Sandberg in the role of John Dunlap, the printer of the Declaration of Independence, in the city’s Independence After Hours program. The evening tour includes additional reenactors, in the roles of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin.

Meet History Makers
Check out a unique foot patrol known as History Makers. Decked out in 18th-century costume, they stay in perpetual character, speaking with the lilting accent of their “home” countries, typically Britain or Ireland. Their convincing presentation comes through training at the Benstitute, Philadelphia’s month-long training school for guides.

These reenactors can serve as extraordinary resources -- if travelers take the time to engage with them, says Sandberg. While staying in character, these reenactors also impart city tips, such as where to see a reading of the Declaration of Independence. (It’s every afternoon behind Independence Hall). And they offer deep historical perspective. An encounter with “Thomas Jefferson” might demonstrate that even though he owned slaves, he sought to include a passage in the final drafting of the US Constitution denouncing slavery.

Dive into Storytellers Program
The next time you’re in historic Philadelphia (the Old City section), and see people gathered around a park bench with a "Once Upon a Nation" sign, take a moment, says Sandberg. The city’s Once Upon a Nation Storytellers is a series of 13 benches staffed by knowledgeable guides who tell dramatic tales from Philadelphia's past. They also give directions to visitors whose personal compass has gone awry, and offer suggestions for fun activities nearby.

Enjoy a Period Meal
Visitors can also savor an 18th-century-inspired meal at a historic restaurant, City Tavern. Established in 1773, the tavern was a favored tippling spot for American leaders such as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. The Tavern features beers based on genuine recipes, techniques and ingredients favored by several Founding Fathers, including Poor Richard's Tavern Spruce Ale, based on a recipe by Benjamin Franklin. Feel at home as you sip a good ale or tuck into molasses-flavored biscuits favored by Thomas Jefferson. Along the way, reenactors lead history-inspired toasts fueled by resounding “Huzzahs!” They even get the crowd singing “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”

As you stroll Philadelphia’s brick and cobbled streets, and see women garbed in bonnets and men in tri-cornered hats, it’s quite easy to imagine you’ve stumbled right back in time. 

Valerie Conners is a freelance writer and editor and has worked for media outlets such as the Travel Channel, Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer and Frommer's Travel Guides.

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