Review American History on Any Budget in Philadelphia


There’s plenty to do in Philadelphia, from rooftop cocktails at the Monaco Hotel to high tea at the Rittenhouse Hotel. And while visiting an expensive art museum and then indulging in Vetri Cucina’s quattro piatti for dinner is a great time, Philly doesn’t have to be expensive – especially if you’re a history buff.

Fortunately, most of Philly’s major attractions are easily accessible via public transportation, which is very affordable. One-way subway rides cost just $ 2.50. For just $ 13, you can get a one-day SEPTA Independence Pass, which lets you switch between modes of transportation. Then there’s the Philly PLASH sightseeing bus that stops at major tourist attractions in the city for just $ 2 each way or $ 5 for a day pass.

Here’s our guide to discovering the history and culture of Philadelphia without breaking the bank.

The Liberty Bell is visible from outside the Liberty Bell Center, although it is free to enter inside. © Roman Babakin / Shutterstock

The best historic sites in Philly

Entrance to the Liberty Bell Center is free, and it’s open on a first-come, first-served basis with capacity restrictions in place. Although the bell is visible from outside the center, there are advantages to standing in line to enter. One side of the hall is lined with exhibits, and there is also space for rotating temporary exhibitions. And once inside, you get an unobstructed photoshoot of this American icon.

Tickets for Independence Hall must be booked online in advance. They carry a reservation fee of $ 1, which is less than the cost of a small “wooder” ice cream anywhere in Philly. Guided tours last 30 minutes and take place every 15 minutes, with the last starting at 4:45 p.m. each day.

Between the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall is the President’s House, an open-air exhibit that explores the contradiction between freedom and slavery during the founding of the United States. The 24-hour outdoor exhibit is located on the former grounds of America’s first executive mansion. George Washington and John Adams lived here while James Hoban was building the first White House. Under the large glass showcase at the south end of the exhibit, you can see the foundations of the predecessor of the White House.

The best history museums in Philly under $ 10

The Liberty Bell and Independence Hall receive well-deserved attention when it comes to Philly’s historic sites. But both are surrounded by affordable, family-friendly history museums. A few blocks east of the Independence Visitor Center, you can tour the Betsy Ross House with an audio guide for under $ 10. Each tour includes a Q&A with a Besty Ross reenactor dressed in period clothing. At no additional cost, you can find out why she kept the name “Ross” after remarrying twice and learn what George Washington was like to do business.

Betsy Ross House Philadelphia PA
The Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia is a few blocks from Independence Hall and delves into the history of the first American flag. © Tetra Images / Getty Images

Before reaching the Betsy Ross House, you’ll pass Benjamin Franklin’s Tomb, which you can visit between noon and 4 a.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Admission is $ 5, but many choose to experience Ben’s final resting place by throwing pennies at his gravestone through the cemetery gates.

You’d better save your $ 5 and use it to gain entry to the Benjamin Franklin Museum, located just a block south of his final resting place. You’ll get a lot more for your money, including five exhibit halls, videos, interactive touchscreens, and hundreds of artifacts.

Explore America’s Oldest Residential Street

A few blocks east of Betsy Ross’s house is Elfreth’s Alley. This well-preserved, car-free cobblestone street is widely recognized as the oldest permanently inhabited street in the United States. There is a small museum halfway down this short, narrow alley, sandwiched between houses dating back to 1755. The museum is open from noon to 4 pm Friday through Sunday. Admission is just $ 3, with an optional audio guide for an additional $ 3. While you can’t stop by during their opening hours, you can’t leave the City of Brotherly Love without visiting Elfreth’s Alley.

Elfreth’s Alley is considered the oldest permanently inhabited residential street in America. © jamegaw / Shutterstock

The Fireman’s Hall Museum is located one block north of Elfreth’s Alley. This restored 1902 fire station displays a variety of tools of the trade, some dating back to the early days of the Philadelphia Fire Department. Reservations are free but must be made in advance, and donations to the fire department are appreciated.

Live out your Rocky fantasy for less than the price of a movie ticket

Regardless of the time of day or year, the rock statue is a major attraction. You may have to line up to take your photo with the world’s most famous fictional sports hero, but it’s an essential Philly experience!

From there you have to climb the 72 steps to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Some run like young Rocky, while others ride at a more leisurely pace reminiscent of an aging Rocky in the first Creed movie. Once at the top, you can take in views of Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Logan Square, and the Philly skyline.

Getting lost in a public market

Reading Terminal Market dates back to 1893. Before Philly had the metro system we know today, the Reading Railroad Company operated the city’s main market. At the time, there were 250 specialist vendors and up to 100 farmers every day.

The Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia has been a popular destination for tourists and locals since 1893. © Sean Pavone / Shutterstock

Today, the National Historic Landmark market operates 8 to 6 daily with over 70 vendors. Inside, you’ll see (and smell) Philly Cheese steaks, along with a mix of fresh fish, meat, and cheese. You can also buy goodies sold by Amish vendors in nearby Lancaster County.

If you are driving and planning to explore the area for a few hours, it is worth making a $ 10 buy at the market. This will allow you to park for two hours for $ 5 in two of the nearby garages. But it’s even more affordable to take the SEPTA regional train to Jefferson Station or the MFL subway to 11th Street.


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