Drowning in history and rich in American cultural sites, a day trip to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, will be somewhat limiting, as there is so much to explore! However, if you have a good plan in hand, you can hit the important historical sites, scarf a cheesesteak, and squeeze in a few extra Philly must-sees in one day. In this travel guide, we’ll line out all the must-visit spots in Philly and keep it doable in a day. Let’s roam!
Falling in Love With Philadelphia on a Let’s Roam Adventure
From fact-filled sightseeing scavenger hunts to spine-tingling ghost hunts and thirst-quenching bar crawls, our series of Philly tours are more than enough to keep you entertained all day long! We have 17 of them and counting! Download our scavenger hunt app, and as you carry out your day trip to Philadelphia, take a few minutes to squeeze in some fun. Our hunts are loaded with trivia tidbits and fun photo and video challenges that provide you with a deeper understanding of the city and an efficient and adventurous way to explore!
Philadelphia Day Trip Itinerary
As one of the most important cities in the USA, a proper visit to Philadelphia is an absolute must! With this travel guide in hand, you’ll explore the best that Philly has to offer on a whirlwind, one-day walking tour. The City of Brotherly Love is less than two hours by Amtrak from NYC, Washington, DC, and Baltimore. We’ll assume you’re coming in on the early morning train and leaving on the late one or that you have a long layover in the city. Our self-guided tour begins in the historic Old City and follows an easily walkable path to the nightlife of South Street. While we’ve considered opening times in our itinerary, make sure to check opening dates and hours before planning your day.
Stop 1: Breakfast at The Bourse
Opening at 8 a.m., The Bourse is a food hall located within a stately former stock exchange building from 1891. There are several fabulous vendors within the hall, but The Grub House serves up American favorites like their famous baconcakes, hot chicken and waffles, The Elvis peanut butter and banana sandwich, and hearty breakfast bowls. Fill up your belly because you’ve got a busy day ahead! If the smell of pancakes in the morning makes you nauseous, just grab a latte and a pastry from Menagerie Coffee instead. The Bourse is a funky and chic space and a great way to start your day in Philadelphia.
Location: The Bourse—111 S. Independence Mall
Alternative: If you want to try Philly’s two favorite traditional breakfast foods, look for an old–school diner on your way to Old Town. It serves Scrapple, a kind of meatloaf made of pork scraps, corn meal, spices, and flour or buckwheat, a Philly traditional favorite, or Pork Roll, a 19th-century breakfast sausage. The Dutch Eating Place in Reading Market and Sabrina’s Cafe (which has three locations west of Old Town) are great options.
Stop 2: The Liberty Bell
Hop across the street to Independence National Historic Park and the Liberty Bell Center to see one of America’s great heritage icons. The famous bell once hung in Independence Hall and was known as the State House Bell. The 2,080-pound bell rang out over the land for the reading of the Declaration of Independence. It later becomes a symbol of the abolitionists during the Civil Rights movement and now draws visitors from around the world to ponder its valiant message: ”Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.”
The bell cracked in the 1840s and underwent unsuccessful repairs in an effort to ring at George Washington’s birthday in 1846, before becoming decommissioned. The infamous crack only adds to its allure these days. The Liberty Center contains a small museum as well, which details the crafting, cracking, and decommissioning of the bell. The Liberty Bell opens daily at 9 a.m. and has free admission year-round! If the line isn’t long, you shouldn’t spend more than 30 minutes or so here.
Location: Liberty Bell Center—526 Market Street
Stop 3: Independence Hall
Leave the south exit, and cross Chestnut Street to the red-brick Georgian beauty known as Independence Hall. As the USA became a nation of its own, wild debates and radical world-changing conversations were a daily occurrence. Within these walls, the founding fathers debated the wording of the Declaration of Independence and the tenants of the American Constitution. In the Assembly Room, the first president received the job that would ultimately lead him to the White House when he was elected commander of the Continental Army. Some of the artifacts from these early days are still on display. During peak season, advanced timed tickets are required. Once you pass security, you’ll join the guided tour, which takes approximately 20 mins.
Location: Independence Hall—520 Chestnut Street
Stop 4: Carpenter’s Hall
Next up is another fantastic freebie, Carpenters’ Hall, home of the First Continental Congress, Franklin’s Library Company, and the First and Second Bank of the United States. You’ll still see the delegates’ chairs and artifacts from the early days of the American Republic. The interior has recently been closed, and exhibits have been moved to the Independence Visitor Center. The closure is temporary, and Carpenter’s Hall is set to reopen on July 3, 2023.
Location: Carpenter’s Hall—320 Chestnut Street
Stop 5: Museum Choice
The last stop before lunch is a visit to the museum of your choice. The two in the immediate area are the Museum of the American Revolution and the Benjamin Franklin Museum, not to be confused with The Franklin Institute. Both are pretty self-explanatory. The Museum of the American Revolution is loaded with artifacts and documents detailing the most important historical movement of our nation. Benjamin Franklin Museum details the life and diplomatic endeavors as well as the inventions of the polymath and famous founding father. You will likely only have time for one of these two on a single-day trip.
Two Afternoon Options
From here, you have two options for the afternoon. If you’re still rolling on the historical train and you want to continue learning about the heroes of the American Revolution and reveling in the beauty of Old Town, there’s still plenty more to see. We’ll call that Route 1. Route 2 will have us moving west across the city for a famous movie destination, a grand temple, and an iconic city hall. Read through both options carefully, and make the choice that works best for your crew.
Afternoon Route Option 1
Just in case you’ve already forgotten, this is the continuation of the historic route and will keep you in the same area you’ve already been exploring.
Stop 1: Lunch at Waterfront Gourmet
This cute little restaurant on the waterfront of the Delaware River is an awesome place to snag a Philly cheesesteak hoagie, a fresh salad, and a homemade muffin! The owners are seriously nice people, and the customer service is great. They also make a mean cup of coffee. Take a few minutes to refuel. You’ve earned it!
Stop 2: Christ Church
Head back West a couple of blocks to “The Nation’s Church,” aka Christ Church. Dating to 1695, the church was the spiritual home of George Washington, John Adams, and Betsy Ross, to name a few. The church is lovely, has a good guided tour, and houses some interesting period artifacts, like a seating chart for its famous congregation. There’s a fee for the guided tour.
Christ Church Burial Ground is another must-see. It’s the final resting place of several of the founding fathers, including Benjamin Franklin. It’s also available for a small fee by guided tour.
Hint: You may want to see stop 3 and 4 before touring the burial ground, as it is not directly attached to the church, and you’ll have to backtrack a few blocks if you don’t.
Location: Christ Church—20 N. American Street
Stop 3: Elfreth’s Alley Museum
Elfreth’s Alley is the most Instagrammable spot in town, with 300-year-old red brick homes and charming cobblestone. It’s thought to be the oldest continually inhabited residential street in the United States. At the heart of Old City, the alley dates back to 1703. Most of the homes are private residences, but #124 and #126 are part of the small museum run by the Elfreth’s Alley Association and tell the story of the neighborhood.
Stop 4: Betsy Ross House
Betsy Ross might be the most famous seamstress of all time! A visit to Philadelphia wouldn’t be complete without stopping by her home. She’s the creator of the original American flag, circa 1776. To be fair, there is some dispute about whether the Betsy Ross House was her actual home or not. However, it’s still an interesting visit. Historic interpreters tell the story of this brave woman who did much more than just sew a flag!
While in this area, hop on our “Stitched in Time: The People Who Made America” scavenger hunt to learn all the background info of the people who once walked these revolutionary streets.
Location: Betsy Ross House—239 Arch Street
Stop 5: National Constitution Center
Moving west down Arch Street, let’s head to the National Constitution Center. It’s just a two-minute walk from the Christ Church Burial Ground. The center is the primary educational organization devoted to the American Constitution. Through interactive exhibits, live theater productions, and rare artifacts, you can explore how our nation’s framework came to be, how women got the right to vote, and just what is protected under your First Amendment rights. It’s an educational and fun museum for visitors of all ages.
Note: If you’re interested in how the U.S. monetary system works, the U.S. Mint is just across the street, and it offers free self-guided tours with no reservation necessary. They usually take about 45 minutes and are very interesting if you have time.
Stop 6: Washington Square
Stroll south on North 6th Street to one of Philadelphia’s premiere green spaces, Washington Square. Here, you can visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier of the Revolution and the George Washington Memorial. There are plenty of coffee shops and ice cream stops around the park, and it’s a nice place to take a breather.
If you have children with you, you may choose to go to Franklin Square instead to check out the famous fountain and let them take a ride on the vintage carousel. It’s just adjacent to the National Constitution Center.
Stop 7: Talula’s Daily
If you love farm-to-table, fresh food, Talula’s is one of the best places in the city to eat. It also happens to be on the border of Washington Square Park. The food is seasonal, fresh, and beautiful, presented in this intimate little dinner joint. You might consider reserving a table ahead of time. It’s not a large place, and it can get busy.
Location: Talula’s Daily—208 W. Washington Square
If you don’t mind backtracking towards the river a little bit, Zahav is another fantastic restaurant, often voted one of the best in Philadelphia. It serves up Israeli specialties with a beautiful Mezze selection and a lip-smacking pomegranate lamb shoulder entree!
Stop 8: South Street Bars
After a long day of history and walking, you’re just ten minutes from one of South Philly’s best nightlife destinations. South Street is a cosmopolitan spot with a selection of nightclubs and watering holes of every flavor. Take in the quirky vibes and bumper car tables at Tattooed Mom, enjoy great prices and live music at Bob & Barbara’s Lounge, or sip on a famous cider from Hale & True Cider Co. If you prefer a wine bar, Le Caveau is wonderful. There are so many wonderful bars and restaurants on this strip. Wander around a bit, and find your favorite!
Need some help choosing the best bars in Old City? We’ve got you covered with our South Street adventure, “Olde City Tavern Takeover.” We’ll escort you and your crew to four of the best bars in the neighborhood, challenge you to some trivia and photo challenges, and ensure you end your day trip to Philadelphia in style!
Alright guys—that’s the end of Option 1, the historic route. Now, let’s take a look at the second option for your afternoon in Philly.
Afternoon Route Option 2
After your visit to The Franklin Museum or the Museum of the American Revolution, your second option has you traveling west down Arch Street into Center City for an afternoon full of art, love, and mystic rituals. Here we go!
Stop 1: Lunch at Reading Terminal Market
Reading Terminal Market is arguably one of the best places to eat in Philly due to the sheer number of amazing vendors. The market lies below an old train terminal and has been in business since 1893. The building is pretty awesome on its own, but the food is top-notch! The only problem is choosing one of the 80+ vendors to eat at. We recommend picking small dishes from several. By George and Carmen’s Famous offer up some of the best Philly cheesesteaks in the city. Get a taste of Pennsylvania Amish Country with a warm meal from the Dutch Eating Place, and finish it all off with the outstanding banana pudding at Sweet Nina’s!
Aside from eating, the market also offers open public seating, Pennsylvania Dutch handicraft vendors, several jewelry stores, and some small home goods vendors. It’s a great place to spend an hour or two in Philly.
Location: Reading Terminal Market—1136 Arch Street
Stop 2: Masonic Temple
The massive and impressive Masonic Temple of Philadelphia is an architecture lover’s dream! The National Historic Landmark features a Norman exterior, paying homage to the Middle Ages. A tour inside treats the visitor to Renaissance Neoclassical corridors, a library, and a museum. Then, you hit the Oriental Hall and the Norman, Ionic, and Egyptian Halls. You’ll visit the Grand Banquet Hall, the Grand Master’s Suite, and much more. The building is truly exquisite. Excellent one-hour guided tours are conducted Tuesday through Saturday at several time slots.
Stop 3: Philadelphia City Hall
When you visit Philadelphia, a pass by City Hall is kind of a must. It’s one of the most beautiful historic buildings in the city. The grand facade once ranked as the tallest building in the world when it was completed in 1901. It’s still the largest municipal building in the country, and the 548-foot clock tower is still the tallest masonry structure without a steel frame in the world. That glorious bell tower is topped by a large statue of the city’s founder, William Penn. It’s another National Historic Landmark on the list and is home to Philly’s government offices today. City Hall offers a couple of different tours, one for the observation deck and one for the opulent interior rooms.
Stop 4: Love Park
Next up, Love Park! This adorable community space is where the City of Brotherly Love’s famous LOVE statue is located. The Robert Indiana statue technically resides in John F. Kennedy Plaza, but the statue has taken over the spot for most visitors and locals. It’s a beautiful green space with a high-tech water feature and a nice place to snap some photos.
Stop 5: A Walk Down Benjamin Franklin Parkway
While it’s a bit of a stroll, a walk down Benjamin Franklin Parkway is a delight for visitors to Philadelphia. You’ll pass the Cathedral Basilica of St. Peter and Paul, The Franklin Institute, lovely Logan Square, the Barnes Foundation, and finally the Rodin Museum before making your way through the Oval, up the Rocky Stairs, and into the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
If you have some time, pop into one of two of these iconic locations. If you don’t, just taking the walk is worth it. The street was designed to mimic Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris, and it’s certainly one of Philadelphia’s most artistic and beautiful strolling streets.
Stop 6: Philadelphia Museum of Art
While the Philadelphia Museum of Art has become iconic for its Rocky steps, it also happens to be one of the nation’s finest art museums. If you have the energy, snap a photo with the bronze Rocky statue at the base of the stairs, and then join the rest of the international tourists showing off your best boxer run to the top of the 72 steps. Pump your fists in the year, let out a yell, and then tone it down. You’ll want to head into the museum for some seriously excellent art. Before you go in, catch your breath, and turn around for an epic view of Benjamin Franklin Parkway!
Stop 7: Eastern State Penitentiary
Only the swiftest of adventurers will have time to make this one happen, as it closes at 5 p.m. It’s a 15-minute walk from the Museum of Art. The Eastern State Penitentiary was once home to legends like Al Capone. It’s now a museum—and a haunted one, some say. The once weirdly gorgeous Gothic vaults now house crumbling cellblocks and ruinous towers. The site offers guided historic tours during the day and hauntingly terrifying night tours during extended summer hours. It might seem a bit weird to include a haunted prison as a must on a one-day Philadelphia getaway, but this place is pretty amazing, especially for those who fancy their tourism dark.
Stop 8: Milkshakes and Park Walks
Head south for Rittenhouse Square, and snag a milkshake at Goldie. Goldie only does two things: falafel and milkshakes. But they do those two things so incredibly well that the line often wraps around the block. Grab a milkshake, and wander the lovely green space and fountains of Rittenhouse Square.
Location: Goldie—1911 Sansom Street
Stop 9: Dinner at Vernick Food & Drink
Vernick is often called the best restaurant in Philly. While that’s debatable, it’s certainly way up there on the list. With a small menu of elegantly crafted and paired plates, Vernick is an experience. Their six-course tasting menu is second to none (except maybe the luxurious experience at Vetri Cucina). Reservations can be up to four weeks in advance, but if you don’t have that luxury, the bar area is reservation-free, and bar guests have access to the full menu. Vernick also boasts a beautiful wine shop and a unique cocktail list. It’s not a cheap meal, but it’s worth every dime if you’re only in Philadelphia for a day.
Location: Vernick Food & Drink—2031 Walnut Street
Stop 10: McGillin’s Olde Ale House
Finish off your Philly day trip with a visit to the oldest continually operating pub in the city. McGillin’s is an Irish pub that opened in 1860, the same year that “Honest Abe” was elected president. It has a vast selection of beers on tap, a lively atmosphere with karaoke, and some fun bar snacks, like cheesesteak eggrolls. It’s a fun Philly spot where nostalgia is always on the menu!
Location: McGillin’s—1310 Drury Street
Travel Tips for Philadelphia
Let’s take a look at a few travel tips for Philadelphia. Since you only have one day, you’ll need to be organized to get a good overview of Philly. These tips will help you stay organized, save a bit of money, and fill your belly with the best that Philadephia has to offer.
What to Eat in Philly
Philadelphia has some seriously fantastic restaurants, so many that it’s hard to even know what to suggest for a one-day itinerary. We chose the ones that best fit the walking tour and were easy to reach on our Philadelphia itinerary. But there are so many more in the city! While you wander, if you find yourself a bit famished, pop into a local joint, and grab one of these Philly traditional foods.
- Roast Pork Sandwiches
- Philly Cheesecake Sandwiches—Dalessandro’s Steaks & Hoagies is a prime spot!
- Tasty Kakes—Order fresh butterscotch ones from a bakery, or grab a pack from a Wawa convenience store.
- Philly Soft Pretzels
- Water Ice—It’s basically Italian ice.
- Goldenberg’s Peanut Chew—It’s available in every Philly convenience store.
- Tomato Pie-Served up at Italian bakeries, tomato pie is a thick focaccia bread slathered with fresh tomato sauce and a bit of oregano or cheese. It’s a quick snack that hits the spot every time.
The Go City Philadelphia Explorer Pass
The Explorer Pass gives you access to more than 30 Philly attractions, including hop-on-hop-off bus tours, The Franklin Institute, Barnes Foundation, the Museum of the American Revolution, Betsy Ross House, Eastern State Penitentiary, and many more. If you plan on seeing more than three of these top spots, the pass will save you a bit of money. It currently costs $64 for adults.
Free Walking Tours
Free Tours by Foot does excellent guided walking tours of Philadelphia completely for free. It’s assumed that you will tip the guide well, though. Their tours are efficient, fun, and informative! They offer tours of Independence Mall, Italian Market, and Chinatown. They also offer bus tours for those who need a rest!
For a day trip to Philadelphia, it’s best to book your tickets ahead of time. Most of the major sites have online booking systems. Choose your route above. Estimate the amount of time you’ll need, and book as many tickets as you can in advance. Standing in line all day at the ticket office is not how you want to spend the precious little time you have.
While Philly sometimes gets a bad rap, it’s predominately a safe city. As always, mind your valuables. Don’t flash cash around. Keep your phone and wallet in a fanny pack or your front pocket. Watch out for distractions (like someone bumping you or doing something insane while their partner snatches your bag— the standard stuff). Nicetown (ironically) and Hunting Park are areas you might want to avoid.
Where to Stay in Philly
For a one-day trip, we would recommend staying in Old Town or Center City, where you’re within walking distance of your main attractions. It won’t be the most budget-friendly, but you can find some mid-priced options. Backpackers can snag a bed at Apple Hostel in Old Town for around $30. Penn’s View Hotel in Center City will run you approximately $120. There are also some nice options on Airbnb if you can avoid the ever-increasing fees that some owners are now charging.
Getting to Philly
If your day trip is a long layover from Philadelphia International, there’s a commuter train into the city. You can purchase a ticket on the train platform or via the Mozio app. If you’re arriving by land, Amtrak offers train journeys from New York City, Baltimore, and Washington D.C.
Warning: Trains are a rare service in the United States, and they’re the most expensive form of travel. There are bus options from all these major cities, as well. You’ll have to weigh the time versus cost and choose what works best for your travel crew.
Moving Around Philly
While we recommend walking to truly take in the majesty of the city, we know that’s not an option for everyone. Philly is a major American city and has a vast array of public transit, from buses to trams, trains, taxis, and all forms of rideshares. Tickets can be purchased on-site for single rides, or you can get a One Day Neighborhood FleX Pass. This chipped pass offers ten rides on subways, buses, trams, and up to Zone 2 trains. The cost is currently $10, so approximately the price of five rides.
If you know you’ll be using public transit throughout your day, it saves time and money to get the pass. SEPTA is the main public transit in Philly, covering the whole city with multiple forms of transit. In Old Town, you also have the PATCO, or “the speed line,” which operates on separate fees.
In addition to public transit and hoofing it on foot, Philly has an awesome network of bike shares. The network in Philly is known as Indego, and there are kiosks all over the city. You pay by credit card, and your bike will be released from the dock. Return it to any station in the city when you’re done. The kiosks are open 24/7 and are very user-friendly.
Finally, a great option for touring the major attractions of downtown is the Phlash Downtown Loop Bus. It hits all the major spots, like Franklin Institute, Penn’s Landing, and Independence Mall. It’s $2 per ride and free for those with a SEPTA Pass. It’s made precisely for tourists and is a wonderful way to hop from attraction to attraction.
Wrapping It Up!
Philadelphia is one of the premiere East Coast cities in the United States. It’s a wonderland for the history buff, a gallery for the artiste, and a mouthwatering mecca for the foodie. A day trip to Philadelphia is quite possibly one of the best day trips in the United States. You get a lot of bang for your buck and your time. If you find yourself in Philly soon, have a cheesesteak for us!
For more tips and tricks on visiting the City of Brotherly Love, check out our travel guide, “The Best Things to Do in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.”
Want to add a little more culture to your trip? Here’s our list of “The Best Museums in Philadelphia.”
Not all art belongs in a museum, and Philly is living proof! Take a look at “The Most Instagram-Worthy Philadelphia Street Art” for some urban art inspiration.
Frequently Asked Questions
While 2-3 days are needed to truly explore Philly, a good one-day itinerary offers the visitor a quick look at the major historic sites and a few excellent restaurants!