Immersing yourself in U.S. history has never been easier or more entertaining.
Kicking off Memorial Day Weekend, on May 25, Philadelphia’s Historic District brings history to life all summer long, putting present-day visitors in touch with the city’s storied Colonial and Revolutionary past. Whether you’re planning a 4th of July getaway steeped in U.S. history, or just a great long weekend in one of America’s most vibrant urban centers, Philadelphia has some fabulously free programs to please every member of your brood.
Once Upon a Nation Storytelling Benches
Speaking of Philly’s “storied” history, Historic Philadelphia’s entertaining and educational Once Upon a National Storytelling Benches program features professional storytellers located at 13 benches around the city’s Historic District, delivering (free!) stories (about three to five minutes long) about the people and events that helped shape U.S. history. Topics include “Balancing Power: The Constitution Creates a Government,” which chronicles how the Constitutional Convention, held in Philadelphia in 1787, debated the then-hypothetical question of how to deal with a U.S. president who commits a crime or starts to behave like a king. Other topics include “Dinner Table Diplomacy: Martha Washington Throws a Party,” and stories about female abolitionists (both white and of color) who worked to abolish slavery, and how Dr. Benjamin Rush taught the Continental Army to stay healthy by changing their socks (!).
13 Points of Interest and Free Activities
The 13 Once Upon a Nation Storytelling Benches are located near some of Philadelphia’s most significant historical landmarks, and children can pick up a (free!) Story Flag at any of the benches, then receive a star for each storyteller they encounter; kids who add all 13 stars to their flag can redeem it for a History Hero Certificate and a (free!) ride on the Parx Liberty Carousel in Franklin Square.
The 13 Once Upon a Nation Storytelling Benches are located at each of the following points of interest, all within the city’s compact Historic District (for a detailed schedule of events, visit historicphiladelphia.org):
- Independence Visitor Center
- Independence Square, behind Independence Hall (hear dramatic readings from the Declaration of Independence at 3:45 on select afternoons)
- Signer's Garden (where kids can learn military drills and musket etiquette)
- Carpenters' Hall
- The Powel House
- Museum of the American Revolution
- Franklin Court
- Christ Church
- Elfreth's Alley
- Betsy Ross House (catch the ceremonial flag-raising each morning at 10am, May 25 to September 2)
- Arch Street Meeting House (meet historians and actors portraying historic figures such as Common Sense author Thomas Paine daily from 11am to 4pm)
- National Constitution Center
- Franklin Square
Guided History Tours
Not free, but worth every penny, two exceptional guided tours will get visitors an in-depth look at two Colonial experiences. Independence After Hours is a 2.5-hour evening walking tour of the Historic District including Colonial characters, a three-course meal at City Tavern, and an evening visit inside Independence Hall, where several Founding Fathers discuss the creation of Declaration of Independence ($85 adults, $55 children 12 and under, $80 senior/military/student). Tippler’s Tour is a Colonial-era pub crawl complete with a tour guide and tales of 18th-century drinking traditions, including a visit to City Tavern ($50 adults, $45 senior/military/students 21 and older).
For travel inspiration, know-how, deals, and more, sign up for Budget Travel's free e-newsletter.