The 'birthplace of American government', this modest, early 18th-century Georgian building is where delegates from the 13 colonies met to approve the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. Expect a line out the door and around the block for this one – as the centerpiece of Philadelphia's Independence National Historical Park, it's the prime attraction in a city packed with history, and one of Philly's top free things to do.
Diving into American history at Independence Hall
To prime yourself for a trip to Independence Hall, watch Nicolas Cage's absurdist treasure hunt movie National Treasure, for insights into what the founding fathers didn't do in Philadelphia in 1776, then join the queue for this national monument, to find out what actually did happen. Inside, you'll be led around the chambers where both the United States Constitution and the Declaration of Independence were debated and written into law, and where the body of Abraham Lincoln was displayed in state after his assassination in 1865.
While you're here, it would be remiss to not drop in on the string of other American landmarks in the Independence National Historical Park. The legendary Liberty Bell, cast in Whitechapel in London, originally dangled inside the bell-tower of Independence Hall. It now hangs inside a protective pavilion, with its famous crack proudly on display – perhaps a warning about the fragility of democracy?
Adjacent to Independence Hall, the American Philosophical Society was founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1743 to promote 'useful knowledge', and next door is the Old City Hall, where the US Supreme Court sat until 1800. Across the road, the Second Bank of the US was the home of the national bank until 1836 (the First Bank of the US lies just east across the park).
After immersing yourself in the official version of American history, spare a moment to consider the African American experience of events. The nearby Presidents House Site monument tells the story of the nine enslaved African Americans who were part of Washington's household. It's a powerful reminder of the paradox at the heart of the birth of the USA.
Tickets & Practicalities
Entry to Independence Hall is by guided tour only, so get free advance tickets and times for the next available tour at the nearby Independence Visitor Center or reserve online (with a $1 booking fee). Only 50 people are allowed on each tour, so factor in at least an hour-long wait in peak summer months. The entrance is via the security screening area in the east wing on the corner of Chestnut and 5th Sts. The easiest place to park is the Autopark at Independence Mall, by the Independence Visitor Center.
Where to eat near Independence Hall
Exploring history can be hungry work – swap patriotism for physical sustenance at these nearby places to eat.