We try to visit my family in Maine at least once or twice a year if we can. Fourth of July is one of my favorite times to be there because all the family gathers to celebrate… or did pre-pandemic.
But flying to Maine can be an expensive roundtrip so I always try to tack an adventure on to the start or end if I can. Pre-pandemic we flew through NYC at Christmas time and rented a car to drive up to Maine from there. This summer we decided to fly into Philadelphia on our way.
It has been a few years since our last visit to Pennsylvania, and now that the kids are a few years older, there were some different things that I wanted to make sure we were able to do!
Post Office, Magic Gardens, Elfreth’s Alley and More
We flew in on a Saturday morning and rented a car big enough for all 6 of us and our luggage for the next week. We chose a hotel downtown so that we would be able to walk to see as many sites as possible during our stay.
After picking up the rental car we made our way towards our hotel, the Wyndham Philadelphia in the Historic District. We had a couple of places we knew we wanted to see that wouldn’t be open the next day. For starters, we wanted the kids to see the oldest post office in the United States. They still hand-stamp mail there and we wanted the kids to send themselves a postcard!
We found a place to parallel park a few blocks away and stopped at a small drug store in search of postcards. The post office was under construction, but the kids enjoyed seeing some of the items that were on display. We taught them how to address letters and postcards before watching them get stamped (y’all, I had no idea that my children had never been taught how to do this before!).
Our next stop was the Philadelphia Magic Gardens. The Magic Gardens is a mosaicked indoor/outdoor art exhibit. Artist Isaiah Zagar created the gardens which cover about a half a city block. Walking around the outside of the Garden gates, you can see how the art exhibit spills over into the buildings both beside and behind the Magic Gardens. The kids enjoyed seeing all the mosaicked art and trying to figure out what was being pictured!
After those stops we made our way to check into our hotel. I researched a highly recommended Ramen place about 10 blocks from the hotel, so after checking and dropping our luggage, we made our way to Terakawa Ramen.
The kids were excited to find out that the Christ Church Burial Ground was right next to our hotel and they could see Benjamin Franklin’s grave on the way to dinner.
Dinner was about a 45 min wait, so we walked the streets of downtown seeing the Chinatown Friendship Gate and finding Boba Tea while we waited. The kids could not have been more excited when we finally got to have dinner. The restaurant was worth the wait and the service was great.
The walk back to the hotel was leisurely because it was still early for us. I wanted them to see a few other things while the streets were less crowded.
We made our way to Elfreth’s Alley and were pretty much the only people there exploring and checking out some of the oldest homes/shops in the country. The homes were built between the 1720s and 1830s. Despite their age, they have been well preserved and they continue to be lived in to date!
On the way back to the hotel we passed the Betsy Ross house and the Fireman’s museum.
We called it a night and headed to bed early!
CityPass, Liberty Bell & Independence Hall
Our second morning dawned bright and early. Since we were on east coast time, we decided to grab breakfast on our way to see the Liberty Bell. The line wrapped around the building by the time we arrived. But it moved fairly fast once they opened the doors! The kids took in Independence Historical Park and the view of Independence Hall while we took turns waiting in line.
Attendance was limited due to covid. This actually was nice. It meant we were not waiting to get pictures or to view the exhibits on the way to the bell! We could take our time, look at everything and get pictures with just us in the room!
A few days before our trip I was able to get tickets to the new Legoland opening in NY for Monday. So we decided to cut our trip in Philly down to two days instead of three! Due to our limited time in Philadelphia AND the fact that we wanted the best deal for all the things we wanted to accomplish we decided to do the CityPass for the day. The City Pass allows for on/off privileges on the city buses AND entrance to most of the museums and historical attractions in the city.
So from the Liberty Bell we made our way to the bus stop on the corner to set off on our tour of the city!
This was a unique and fun way for the kids to hear about the city and its history. Due to covid all the buses were operating together. This meant any tour company with a bus in the city we could hop on off of all day! We climbed on the first bus we saw and found seats in the front row!
We decided to hop off at the Reading Terminal. The terminal is set up like a market and we purchased some pastries and Challah bread to snack on throughout the day!
Franklin Institute and Eastern State Penitentiary
Our next stop was the Franklin Institute. The kids and I had visited when they were younger, but I figured they didn’t remember. But I did, and I knew they would enjoy the exhibits. We spent a couple of hours here enjoying the interactive exhibits (trying to see how fast we could run, how high we could jump, and how hard we could hit a ball). There is also a replica of the heart that you can walk through. And there is a glow in the dark brain you can climb through. We even took the time to sit and watch some science experiments in the main atrium downstairs.
When the kids had their fill, we climbed back aboard the open-air bus and set off for the Eastern State Penitentiary. The kids really enjoyed their stop here. Each person received their own listening device to do the walking tour. This allowed the kids to learn about the different exhibits at their own pace. It was interesting to see how elaborate the prison was. It was once the largest, most expensive prison of it’s kind. The walls have the stories of prisoners who were housed there. And the kids saw where Al Capone was supposedly housed.
After this stop we hopped back on the bus to find some lunch. I had heard wonderful things about Max Brenner’s. We all needed ice cream after all the walking in the heat, so we made our way there to have a late lunch. The food and service did not disappoint, and I highly recommend the restaurant.
After lunch we rode past the Magic Gardens. We saw a few other historic buildings and made a stop at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. We made it to Museum of the American Revolution shortly before closing. They offered to give us a full speed tour of the entire museum in under 30 min.
After watching a short video, we had our own personal tour guide lead us through the museum. They stopped just long enough to explain everything we were seeing. This is probably the speed the kids would have gone anyways. And this way we were able to learn about everything we were seeing while chasing them through 😉
We took our time walking back to our hotel from the museum and had dinner in the hotel lobby before calling it a night.
It was a whirlwind weekend start to lead into our trip to Maine. But we packed a lot into our two days in the city!
For younger kids, I definitely recommend the Please Touch Museum. We visited there on our last trip to the city and the kids still remember some of the exhibits they got to play with when we were there!