When we booked our flights to Europe last year, we decided to extend our trip and spend the 3rd and 4th of July in Philadelphia since we would be flying to London from Philly on the 5th. Talk about a great decision! Here’s how we made the most of 48 hours in the City of Brotherly Love over the 4th of July.
Hitting the Ground Running- Reading Terminal Market
We arrived on July 3rd and quickly made our way to Reading Terminal Market after checking in at the hotel. This historic public market is home to Amish specialties and a variety of restaurants, and we had to get our hands on some of their delicious foods. What a cool place! And, if you’re a fan of the movie National Treasure, you will recognize some of the stalls.
Our number one food recommendation at Reading Terminal Market is Miller’s Twist. They make some of the most delicious pretzel creations we had ever tried.
We especially liked the Smokey Cheesers, which we affectionately refer to as “cheesy squeezers” after I had the misfortune to squeeze one a little too hard and shot the little smokey part right out. Oops.
The Liberty Bell and Independence National Historical Park
Our next stop was the Liberty Bell. While the line was long (probably due in part to the time of year), it moved quickly and there was some interesting history to read about while we waited. The Liberty Bell would be amazing to see at any time of year, but something about Philly’s festive Independence Day atmosphere made it even more meaningful.
After visiting the Liberty Bell, we headed to The Franklin Fountain for a cool treat. There they serve up some old fashioned ice cream goodies in an old time soda shop.
The antique telephone and cash registers just completed the look of the place. Our little ice cream fanatics approved.
Finally, we headed back to the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall for a Philadelphia Pops concert on the lawn. After only half a day in Philly, our whole family was hooked on this cool town.
Independence Day In Philadelphia with Kids
The next day, July 4th, began with breakfast at Federal Donuts. We had read that these were the most amazing donuts in town, and being the sweets aficionados that we all are, we had to see for ourselves. We were not disappointed. We then made our way back to Independence Hall for our official tour, but little did we know we were in for an even better treat than donuts. At the Visitors’ Center, we learned that many of the museums were free on July 4th, so what would have been a slow day for us turned into an amazing and educational day for the whole family.
First up was Independence Hall.
Philadelphia has the most awesome festive spirit on July 4th, and everywhere we looked people were either decked out in red, white, and blue, or they were dressed up as our founding fathers. The grounds and building of our nation’s first capital are so beautiful, and standing in the room where the Declaration of Independence was signed was awe inspiring. The whole family was impressed with the tour.
Afterwards, we went back to the Independence Visitor Center for some souvenir shopping and to take a peek at the cupcakes that the Termini Bros. were working on for the birthday celebration with Betsy Ross. One look at these delicious treats confirmed that we would not be missing this party later in the day.
4th of July Parade – Philadelphia, PA
The next thing we had planned to do that day was the big parade. We picked a great roadside spot with Independence Hall in the background. The Fourth of July parade showed us once again that this is one town that knows how to celebrate.
There were all the things you’d expect from a good parade and then some – Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson look-a-likes, former Olympian Carl Lewis, Miss America, a drum and fife band in Colonial costumes, and Uncle Sam, just to name a few.
America’s Birthday Party
After the parade, we got in line for our free cupcake at America’s Birthday Party with Betsy Ross. Naturally, “Betsy” came around to greet the people in line and to give us all a little history lesson. Despite a little rain, everyone was really excited.
We missed the brief celebration indoors, but the people who saw that weren’t in line for the cupcakes, so….let’s just say for our family, a good place in a cupcake line trumps a few celebratory words.
Exploring the Rest of Philadelphia on the 4th with Kids
The rest of our day was unplanned until the fireworks display that night, so we took advantage of all the free passes to see some things we wouldn’t have done otherwise. First, we visited the National Museum of American Jewish History. Packed full of interesting exhibits, this museum was great to see for free, but it would definitely be worth a paid visit as well. The kids loved the “Only in America” section that featured items from Barbara Streisand, Leonard Bernstein, and Albert Einstein. Their favorite things were Irving Berlin’s piano with his handwritten lyrics to “God Bless America” and Steven Spielberg’s first camera.
Next, it was on to the U.S. Mint. While there is free admission to the Mint on the 4th, the trade off is that it is not in operation that day. That didn’t bother us though. We still learned a lot about how our money is made and got to see some pretty cool machinery.
Finally, we made our way to the National Constitution Center. There we were able to see one of the original copies of the Bill of Rights, as well as copies of the Declaration of Independence. We were really excited to get to add this museum on to our itinerary for free.
4th of July Fireworks Show in Philly
After a busy day, we still had plenty of time to grab a bite of pizza and then grab a find spot for the fireworks display. We had to wait for quite a while before the display began, so we were thankful that we remembered to bring a blanket to sit on. We ended our day of celebration on a high note when the fireworks show started. Philadelphia puts on a great show with the famous art museum as the backdrop. All-in-all, not a bad way to celebrate our nation’s birthday!!
Betsy Ross House
For our final half day in Philly, we visited Betsy Ross’s house, which was even more special since we had just seen her character the day before. The Betsy Ross house is a great stop for kids because it is full of history, but it is also interactive with an actress portraying Betsy Ross who answers the kids’ questions in character.
She also shows them how she cut out all those stars. The house gives kids a sense of how people lived back then, and why Betsy Ross’s actions were actually so dangerous. Did you know if things had gone differently, she would have been considered a traitor?
48 hours in Philly is definitely a whirlwind, but you can see and learn a lot in that amount of time. And, what better way to spend Independence Day than with our founding fathers?!
Putting it all together
We flew Southwest Airlines to get here. PHL is served by all the major airlines, so take your pick based on price and schedule. We happened to have Companion Passes with Southwest, so that’s who we chose.
Any time we travel, we like to use the public transit as much as possible, and Philly is no different. I purchased SEPTA passes ahead of time, which allowed us to ride the train into the city, and then get around on the subway for the two days that we were there. The Family One-Day Independence Pass was the most economical for us as it provides unlimited travel on Bus, Trolley, Subway and Regional Rail (which is the train to and from PHL). There are a few restrictions, so be sure to read up and make sure it is a good fit for your family. Also note that these are mailed and cannot be printed or downloaded.
If you have an extra day or two, you might consider getting a CityPass. It includes several activities at a discount that we just didn’t have time to do like the zoo and the Franklin Institute.
Where to Stay
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For proximity to the fireworks, we stayed at the Sheraton Philadelphia Downtown. From here, we were able to walk or ride a subway to all of the things we wanted to see and do. This hotel is very close to Ben Franklin Parkway where you line up to see the fireworks show. This hotel was very busy, but the staff was friendly, and we enjoyed our stay.
Embassy Suites Philadelphia – Center City
If being close to the fireworks is important to you, Embassy Suites is another good option. If you have younger kids, this may be important because the fireworks got started pretty late, and we didn’t have to ride a subway to get back to bed.
This is an all-suite hotel that offers a way for families to spread out and be comfortable. They also have some of the best views of the fireworks right from the hotel – no need to fight the sweaty masses! Make sure you negotiate this with the hotel ahead of time as not all rooms will have this view.
Philadelphia is obviously a great city to celebrate Independence Day, but what are your favorites? Let us know in the comments!
Philadelphia was the first stop on our summer trip to Europe in 2015. You can read the other posts in that series here: