My oldest son was recently assigned a “Patriot Report” to write for school. Each child in his class has a historical character to write about, and my son was assigned John Adams. Since we live in NJ, we thought it might be cool to drive the hour and a half to Philadelphia, and give him some hands on knowledge of the life that John Adams lived, where some important documents were debated and created, and essentially give him a greater understanding of the process of creating the system of government we know in the United States today. In fact, we decided to spend the weekend.
Now while I’ve been to Philadelphia before, I’ve never planned a weekend visiting the historic sites, so I of course first turned to my Facebook community for suggestions. And they had lots of great ones! The only challenge was that it was February, and so some of the suggestions were seasonal, for warmer months. One person, however, suggested the visityphilly.com website, which I HIGHLY recommend if you’re planning a trip to visit historic Philadelphia. It’s a great place to get a lot of information, find travel deals, and more. We essentially planned our entire itinerary using this site (it even recommended the same place for cheesesteaks that the locals did when I asked!)
In fact, it’s where I found our hotel. We wound up staying at the Omni Hotel which is on Chestnut Street. I can’t begin to say enough good things about this hotel. We chose it for its location…it’s practically across the street from the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, etc, and within walking distance of many attractions. But what really blew me away was the service. I could not get over how incredibly happy and helpful the staff was. I spend a LOT of time in hotels, and this was really exceptional. From the Front Desk to the Bell Staff who checked our bags when we arrived early to the Concierge who on her own initiative had typed up a list of kid friendly restaurants in the area, they just went above and beyond. They remembered my family after meeting us for the first time, and would ask us how we were enjoying the sites. They offered wonderful little backpacks of kids’ activities that kept my kids busy. The little indoor pool was just big enough for my kids to enjoy without being huge or hard to supervise. In short, it was just a lovely place to stay that I will always choose when we return to Philadelphia.
We arrived on Saturday morning, checked our bags at the hotel, and immediately set out to check out the historic attractions. I basically planned 3 destinations for the weekend, and then figured we could see whatever else we wanted to as our days progressed. We started by heading over to Independence Hall. This is where both the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution were debated and adopted. (BTW, if you don’t do all the pre-planning I did, the Independence Visitor’s Center is really the best place to start. You can get tickets for anything in the area, watch a great free movie, get a taste of history, pick up some snacks, and check out the gift shop. There’s also free wireless internet in the visitor’s center.)
Now all the historic sites in Philadelphia are maintained by the National Park System. And the rangers are absolutely wonderful. Everyone was so friendly, and made a point of sharing the history of each of the places we visited. They also made sure we knew how to get where we needed to be on time, so we could take advantage of all the free tours. We got to see the ink well used to sign the Declaration of Independence, got to see the halls where the first and second Continental Congresses debated (and where John Adams was inaugurated as our 2nd president…the first peaceful transfer of power in our country under our system of government), and really enjoyed seeing the halls where Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, George Washington, and many other men of great vision walked and shaped our country.
Did you know that George Washington sat in a chair that had a rising sun on the back? Benjamin Franklin said at one point that he didn’t know for a while whether that sun was rising or setting on our new country. But eventually he could tell that it was rising, and he was happy. And Benjamin Franklin had a special chair because by this time he was sick, and inmates would carry him daily to the hall for the congress, and then carry him home. Interesting facts.
We also found out that the Park Service has a set of trading cards that kids can collect of famous characters and landmarks. After visiting, and sometimes answering questions, the kids could get additional cards. They LOVED this part!
After our visit to these historic sites, we headed over to the Liberty Bell. Yep, it’s got a big crack in it alright! This is the bell that was used to call people to the square in front of Independence Hall for a public reading of the Declaration of Independence, and other important documents.
Then we headed over to the Bourse building where you can fuel up on snacks from a variety of vendors in the food court, and check out the various gift shops on the same level. Quick note though…we let the kids look at the gift shops on Saturday, planning to come back and make purchases on Sunday. That’s when we learned that the Bourse is closed on Sundays in the winter. Bummer.
Now if it had been summertime, we could have headed over to Franklin Square, which has all kinds of fun things like a carousel, mini-golf, etc. But none of that was open in the winter. So instead we took a 30 minute horse and carriage ride through historic Philadelphia. We were lucky…they don’t run all winter, but because it’s almost Valentine’s Day and President’s Weekend, they were starting to run again. It was a fun way to see a few sites that were beyond walking distance for little legs.
Since we were in Philly, my husband and I felt it was our patriotic duty to have an authentic Philly Cheesesteak. We asked a few shopkeepers where they would recommend, and it was unanimous: Sonny’s. We got the classic with Cheese Whiz and fried onions. The kids had chicken nuggets. They were REALLY good and we totally enjoyed them. Plus, it was only a few blocks down on Market Street, so we could walk there.
Then we headed back to the hotel and spent some time in the pool. The kids were pretty tired at that point, so it was good to relax a bit.
Then in the evening, I headed down to the wonderful concierge in the Omni Hotel and asked her what we could do with the kids that evening. Unfortunately in the winter, there’s not much. But she did suggest the City Tavern for dinner, and I’m SO glad we went there. Called the “most genteel tavern in America” by John Adams, this famed establishment served as the unofficial White House during the Revolution, and it’s where the Continental Congress gathered after long days of debate. The staff dresses in colonial costumes, the food is based on colonial times (there’s a kids’ menu!), and it’s so darn adorable. Lots of little rooms with tables in each, colonial decor, and music (there was a harpist that played in the hallway outside our room the whole time we were eating, and there was a violinist who entertained the upper floors of the restaurant.) You can sample Thomas Jefferson’s and General Washington’s original ales, although I opted for the Wassail, that was delicious. If you’re in historic Philadelphia, make a point of checking out the City Tavern. Kid friendly, and you’ll enjoy it!
The next day, we spent the morning at the hotel pool, and packed up. Then we headed out again. First we went back to the Independence Visitor’s Center for lunch. (We had planned to go to the Bourse building for lunch, which is when we discovered it was closed on Sunday.) If I did it again I’d probably go east on Market Street and eat at one of the restaurants there, but the kids were hungry and it was pretty cold, so we just stayed where we were. After eating, we caught the free movie in the visitor’s center, which was excellent, and then we let the kids make some purchases in the gift shop.
Then we headed over to our last stop of the day…the Constitution Center. We had 1:30 tickets for their award-winning performance “Freedom Rising.” Be sure to check your coats when you arrive. It’s free, and saves you from having to carry them all over. We had a few minutes before the show started, so we started in Signer’s Hall, which contains bronze statues of all the signers of the Constitution. Unfortunately, John Adams was away at the time in England, so he wasn’t among them. But the kids took pictures with some of them, and got to sign the constitution themselves as part of the display. It was fun.
Then we headed down to the performance, which was really excellent, and put the Constitution in a historical context that was as moving as it was fascinating. Finally, we exited the performance into the exhibit hall upstairs, which is highly interactive and super fun for the kids. So many ways the Constitution has shaped our country, and it’s fascinating to learn how important this document is.
When we were done, we headed back to the hotel to collect our bags and make the drive home. It was a great weekend to be together, learn some history, and take a step back in time. And because it was winter, I’m betting it wasn’t as crowded as it would be in warmer weather. If you get the chance to go, you should! We thoroughly enjoyed it.
Find lots of great itineraries at VisitPhilly.com. We planned our itinerary using their “A Weekend in Historic Philadelphia…with Kids” itinerary.
- Check in
- Independence Hall
- Liberty Bell
- Bourse Building
- City Tavern
- Independence Visitor’s Center
- Constitution Hall