Visiting Philadelphia for a Long Weekend: 10 Things to See from Independence Hall to Valley Forge
Located beneath Benjamin Franklin Bridge, we stayed at the Holiday Inn Express Philadelphia E - Penn’s Landing, an affordable but noisy hotel in downtown Philadelphia. Being from New York City, the noise of the cars crossing the major road outside the window of our hotel was foreshadowed by the convenient location to all of the sights in Philadelphia: from The Liberty Bell to Pat’s Philly Cheese Steaks to bars down South Street.
The Cheese Steak Challenge
Since it was our first trip to Philadelphia I knew I wanted to try Philadelphia's famous Philly cheese steaks. After extensive research, we found the two most famous cheese steak locations in the heart of the city and, to our surprise, were located directly across the street form each other: Pat's King of Steaks - Original Philly Cheese Steak and Geno's Steaks. These dueling sandwich locations have such a heated competition, that they go so far as to not serve anyone seen coming from across the street from the opposing shop. And don’t’ dare ask for a “Philly” cheese steak; remember, to them, it’s just a cheese steak.
The Saturday we arrived we went straight to the corner of East Passyunk Avenue and South 9th street, where these two shops are located and decided to try Pat’s first for lunch. It was my first Cheese steak, I have to admit, and it was quite scrumptious.
Independence National Historic Park – Independence Hall & The Liberty Bell
We decided to spend the day visiting the historic sites of Philadelphia all conveniently located in the same area in Independence National Historic Park. Independence Hall is a scheduled tour while the Liberty Bell Plaza has an entrance fee to walk through the museum, which leads to the Liberty Bell at the end. The park is located in Old City, and has a few art galleries, museums and other attractions within walking distance. However, because we went in the middle of a brutally cold winter, we only visited those sites in the park.
Being a huge fan of the FX show It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, we knew we wanted to have dinner at the restaurant owned by one of the creators, executive producers and co-stars, Rob McElhenney. He named it Mac’s Tavern, paying homage to his character on the show, located on Market Street, within walking distance of the main downtown area. The ambiance is an old Philadelphia Tavern feel though the food there was beyond 'bar-food' and the American cuisine was quite delectable.
We took a short 10-minute walk to South Street to see the local nightlife and do some bar hopping. That night we took the quick taxi drive back to our hotel for a good nights sleep to be well rested for day two of our weekend trip.
The next day we tried the second Philly cheese steak location, Geno’s Steaks. There is no seating at Geno’s. You just walk up to the window and place your order outside. We enjoyed the sandwich in our car and gave our final judgment of which place has the better cheese steak. My vote was for Pats and my boyfriends’ was for Gino’s…. the debate lives on.
We then bid our goodbyes to downtown Philly and made our way to Valley Forge National Historic Park, home to Washington’s Headquarters, soldiers’ log huts and authentic cannons and muskets you can walk right up to and touch. Valley Forge was the site of the 1777-1778-winter encampment of the Continental Army. No wars were fought here but because of the brutal living conditions, many of Washington’s soldiers did die here.
We started at the Visitor Center to learn some history of the Park and receive a map of the grounds. Due to the cold weather, we were unable to enjoy the majority of outdoor activities available at the park and instead followed the guided driving tour around the facility. We passed the artillery park, original lodgings used by Washington and his soldiers and many monuments dedicated to the army there. The sacrifices made by these solders that lived in log huts are brought to life on these grounds.
Washington Memorial Chapel & The Justice Bell
The only stop we made on the guided trail tour was the Washington Memorial Chapel. This is an active church open to the public for visitors. The church was built as a tribute to George Washington, which can clearly be seen in the stained glass windows display above the large entrance doors that depicts scenes from his life. The cornerstone for this church was placed in 1903 and has been a community church ever since. There is some great history here, and even though I am not particularly religious, I could appreciate the beautiful architecture and historical significance of the church.
A replica of the Liberty Bell, the Justice Bell, is also housed here as a representation of the women’s battle to win the right to vote. It was used to draw attention to the suffrage movement until 1920, when the 19th amendment was passed. In these church halls are galleries and displays that show artifacts of the continental army and even personal possessions of George Washington including his surveying equipment, field cups, and the Commander-in-Chief's six-pointed stars flag.
In a long weekend we were able to see historical sites and enjoy the downtown nightlife and restaurants located in the heart of Philadelphia and the countryside that surrounds it. This is a walking city and would suggest visiting in the warmer months so it’s easier to get around. You should also make it a point to stay in the middle of the city since most things, besides Valley Forge, are within walking distance.
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