As the birthplace of American democracy — where the Founding Fathers debated and signed the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution — Philadelphia is best known for its rich American history. Well that, and cheesesteaks and that movie about that boxer.
You can and should spend weeks soaking up the City of Brotherly Love and its countless treasures, including museums, murals, restaurants and gardens. But you should also make time to get out of town. Philly is a prime jumping-off point to explore beaches, bucolic farms, wineries and one delicious ice cream trail.
New Hope, Pennsylvania
Why go: To enjoy small-town life
About 40 miles north of Philadelphia, situated on the Delaware River, the charming town of New Hope is home to a notable antique shopping scene, a robust LGBTQ+ community, riverfront dining (including Stella and Odette’s at the River House) and the legendary Bucks County Playhouse. (Robert Redford and Grace Kelly performed here, among other Hollywood royalty).
A few miles down river, history buffs shouldn’t miss Washington Crossing Historic Park, where America’s first president sailed with his Continental Army in 1776. And in sunny weather, spend time outdoors at the 134-acre Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve and botanical garden or hiking around Ringing Rocks Park. Don’t forget to bring a hammer, when you strike the boulders, they ring like a bell.
How to get to New Hope
From Center City, Philadelphia, take I-95 north to I-295 east. The drive usually takes about 50 minutes.
Cape May, New Jersey
Why go?: Enjoy a day on or by the water
Known as America’s original seaside resort, you could spend the day in Cape May soaking up the sun from your patch of sand or exploring more of the quaint beach town. (Or, stay a little longer and do both).
Tour the 20,000 sq-ft facility at Cape May Brewing Co. and sample a flight of freshly-brewed beers on their newly-expanded outdoor beer garden. Climb the 199 steps to the top of the Cape May Lighthouse, built in 1859 and perched on the southern tip of New Jersey, for sweeping views of the area.
After working up an appetite, head to the charming Beach Plum Farm. Home to a handful of luxe private cottages for overnight guests, even those not staying on the property can tour the 62-acre working farm, feed the chickens and dine at Beach Plum Farm Kitchen.
At the casual outpost tucked inside an Amish barn, the menu changes to highlight what’s fresh that day on the farm. Don’t leave the shore without strolling through town, stopping at the Original Fudge Kitchen for made-from-scratch confections and boxes of saltwater taffy.
How to get to Cape May
The 95-mile drive from Philadelphia takes about an hour and 35 minutes without traffic but can take much longer on summer weekends.
Why go?: Learn about American history
Just a short drive south of Center City, Delaware’s biggest city and its surrounding areas are filled with history, culture and an up-and-coming dining scene. Explore the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway at your own pace—the self-guided tour highlights central sites on the historic network.
Wilmington is also home to exquisite mansions and historic sites built by the Du Pont family, who founded their eponymous gunpowder manufacturing company on the nearby banks of the Brandywine River at the turn of the 19th century.
Tour Hagley, the site of the company’s original mills and stroll the wooded walking trails. In the summer, check the events schedule for pop-up beer gardens, concerts and other family-friendly programming. Just a few miles down the road, find Winterthur (pronounced winter-tour), the once-Du Pont family home now open to the public.
Examine some of the 90,000-piece collection of American decorative arts inside the sprawling 175-room mansion. But make time to walk the gardens. Kids especially love the Enchanted Woods, with a stone fairy cottage and tulip treehouse.
This Du Pont home is set on a 3,000-acre estate, and gardens and fountains inspired by Versailles. Book a dinner reservation at Le Cavalier, the brasserie in the historic Hotel Du Pont in downtown Wilmington.
How to get to Wilmington
The 32-mile drive usually takes about 35 minutes from Philadelphia on I-95 south.
Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania
Why go?: Revolutionary War history
Just 45 minutes from bustling Philadelphia, find the rolling green hills of the Brandywine Valley, home to Revolutionary War history, small wineries and one world-class museum.
Join the locals at Hank’s Place for breakfast before spending the morning at the Brandywine Valley River Museum, a gem of a collection featuring hundreds of works by local artists Andrew and NC Wyeth.
Treasure hunters should stop into the Brandywine River Antiques Market to peruse prints, coins and objects of art from dozens of dealers. On a warm evening, book a table on the verdant patio at Gables at Chadds Ford, where the menu’s ingredients are sourced from nearby farms.
How to get to Chadds Ford
The 30-mile from downtown Philadelphia drive usually takes less than 45 minutes. Take I-95S to US-322 W.
Princeton, New Jersey
Why go? For the ice cream
Best known as the home of the Ivy League university, the lovely town of Princeton is well worth the hour-long drive from Philly.
Visit the Princeton University Art Museum to see its collection of works that includes centuries-old African art and works by Picasso. While you’re on campus, check out the Gothic-style buildings and don’t miss the Bent Spoon for scoops of small-batch ice cream in seasonal flavors.
Right outside of town is Terhune Orchards, a 200-acre farm where you can walk the gardens, pick-your-own in-season fruit, and meet the resident animals, including sheep, horses, and chickens. Stop into the farm store to pick up provisions like fresh fruit, jams and apple cider donuts for the drive home.
Also on the way back to Philly, Hamilton, New Jersey is home to Grounds for Sculpture is a sprawling collection of outdoor art. Purchase timed tickets to stroll through the gardens, surrounded by some 400 works of larger-than-life contemporary art.
How to get to Princeton
The 48-mile drive usually takes about an hour from Philadelphia via I-95 N and I-295 E. Allow for an extra 20 minutes if you stop at Grounds for Sculpture, too.
Why go?: For Pennsylvania Dutch goodies
If you loved sampling Pennsylvania Dutch delights like whoopie pies and scrapple inside Philly’s historic Reading Terminal Market, great news: you can also go straight to the source.
On the hour-long drive to Lancaster, past rolling farmland and Amish-driven horse and buggies. Stroll around Lancaster Central Market — dating back to 1730, it’s the oldest, continuously-operating public farmer’s market in the country — and stop at the stalls selling soft pretzels, scratch-made baked goods, farm-fresh meat and produce.
For a true Pennsylvania Dutch experience, dine at Shady Maple Smorgasbord, offering 200 ft of local specialties like country ham and fruit pies. Stop by one of the working farms, preferably one that also makes ice cream.
How to get to Lancaster
Located west of Philadelphia, the drive (via I-76 W) takes about an hour and 30 minutes.
Kennett Square, Pennsylvania
Why go?: For mushrooms (not that kind!)
Known as the mushroom capital of the world for its vast farms that produce hundreds of millions of pounds of the fungi each year, Kennett Square also boasts one of the most famous gardens in the country and restaurants that are alone worth the drive.
Come for the Mushroom Festival, the weekend after Labor Day each year, featuring a carnival, cooking competitions, and lots of creminis, buttons, and shiitakes.
Anytime of year, Longwood Gardens, with 1,077-acres of greenhouses and impeccably-manicured gardens dazzles, though the yearly holiday light show may be its most popular attraction. (Make sure to buy tickets in advance, it sells out quickly).
Also make a reservation for Talula’s Table — Aimee Olexy’s 8-seat restaurant featuring true farm-to-table cooking—books up to a year in advance. For a more casual meal, stop into Victory Brewing Company’s tap room, and try a flight of brewed-on-site stouts, sours, and session IPAs.
How to get to Kennett Square
The 35-mile drive usually takes about 45 minutes from Philadelphia on I-95 S.