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Philadelphia is known as the “Birthplace of America,” and it’s home to many historical monuments that help it live up to that name. Most recently, it’s also been voted one of the top 10 best cities to visit by Lonely Planet. And from our recent trip here, we can confirm that it is, indeed, worth visiting!
We’ve been fortunate enough to travel around Philadelphia extensively during our time in the US. We’ve done everything from eating the best Philly cheesesteaks to going on incredible tours of the city. There’s a unique mix of modern culture and historical pride here, which is made all the more clear by the friendly energy from locals (aka Philadelphians).
Each time we visit, we discover something new. However, we get that it can be daunting going to a place for the first time – especially if you only have one day. This is exactly why we’ve created this blog! We wanted to narrow down our recommendations so you can have an incredible day in Philadelphia.
We’ve kept everything on this list relatively close to each other, with most places being less than a 10-minute car ride away. We want you to make full use of your time, after all! So, if you’re excited to explore this famous city, then buckle up and enjoy our 1-day itinerary for Philly.
Don’t have time to read the full article? Spending one day in Philly should include touring historic sites like the Liberty Bell, checking out some local art, and eating the iconic Philly cheesesteak. The food and culture are so prominent here, so you’ll want to dive into this famous city as soon as you arrive!
- How to Spend One Day in Philadelphia
- Cafe La Maude (breakfast)
- See the Liberty Bell and tour Independence Hall (morning)
- Elfreth’s Alley and Museum (morning)
- See Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens (morning)
- Rittenhouse Square and eat at Parc (lunch)
- Explore the Museum of the American Revolution (afternoon)
- See the Rocky Steps and Statue (afternoon)
- Head to Gino's or Pat's for a Philly cheesesteak (dinner)
- Night ghost/adult tour (night)
- Where to Stay in Philadelphia, USA
- Thanks for reading!
- Why We Book Tours with Viator
- Don't get Caught without Travel Insurance!
How to Spend One Day in Philadelphia
Cafe La Maude (breakfast)
To kick off your one day in Philadelphia, you need to fuel up with a hearty breakfast. Call me basic, but I love a good brunch!
We absolutely devoured our meal at Cafe La Maude and appreciated the variety in their menu. There are plenty of sweet and savory dishes, so do yourself a favor and check them out. We’ve been to hundreds of restaurants during our travels, and have been fortunate enough to eat at world-renowned places like the Chelsea Market. However, there’s just something special about finding a local gem in a big city, and Cafe La Maude is one of them!
This cafe serves French-Lebanese food and has creative options like Red Velvet Tiramisu Pancakes and Shakshuka. If you’re visiting in the winter, they even have a heated patio so you can enjoy your meal without chattering your teeth the whole time.
They also let you bring your own alcohol, which is a common occurrence in the Philly restaurant scene. Normally we’d be all for BYOB, but we’ve prepared a full day of activities so you might want to stick to just one drink this go-around.
Cafe La Maude is located in the Northern Liberties and is open from 8 am to 4 pm every day of the week. We suggest arriving early since they don’t take reservations and expect to spend 1-2 hours here. But believe us, you’ll be dreaming about this food – we certainly are.
See the Liberty Bell and tour Independence Hall (morning)
The Liberty Bell
After brunch, it’s a quick 5-minute drive to see the Liberty Bell. The Liberty Bell is a national symbol that has been used in many movements over time to represent equality. It’s a staple in Philadelphia so we think it should be your first stop (after brunch of course).
Even though America didn’t gain Independence until 1776, the bell was created in 1751, before the Revolution. For almost 100 years, the bell would ring for occasions like the signing of the Constitution, and to commemorate the deaths of leaders like George Washington and Alexander Hamilton (you know, that guy Lin-Manuel Miranda sang about).
The Liberty Bell got its name during the anti-slavery movement in the 1830s, but before this, it was known as the State House Bell. What we found most interesting is that no one knows when the bell first cracked. There is a theory that it happened when it first arrived in Philadelphia upon being tested, but nobody has been able to confirm this.
Aside from the mystery behind the initial crack, we do know the bell’s final ringing was on Presidents’ Day in 1846, when the crack had deepened so much that it stopped ringing entirely. While the Liberty Bell was retired from ringing, it still made the rounds across America until 1915, when it was placed in its current position at the Liberty Bell Center. Now, staff may be seen tapping the bell for special occasions, but even its presence creates a notable atmosphere.
Visiting this famous emblem is one of the best free things you can do in Philadelphia, so take advantage while you’re in the city. The center is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm, and we recommend getting there as early as possible since there can be a long wait. Only a limited number of people are allowed in at a time, and there is also a security checkpoint. We arrived at 8:45 am and luckily were part of the first groups to get in.
Once you’re inside the Liberty Bell Center there are plenty of information boards with historical details and exhibits, so it’s kind of like visiting a museum. And while you can’t touch the bell (seriously, don’t even try), you can get pretty close for a nice photo (like mine above!). The facilities are wheelchair accessible and the center provides written materials in over a dozen languages for those visiting from abroad.
For a more interactive experience, we suggest visiting the Liberty Bell on a guided history tour of Philadelphia. If you only have one day in Philly, we recommend this history tour, which is two hours long and visits famous sites like Congress Hall and the First Bank of the United States. At one time, Philadelphia was the US capital, so there are tons of historic buildings and patriotic memorabilia here.
Personally, I prefer taking a tour when I’m visiting a new city because the guides have the low down on interesting information that I probably wouldn’t learn on my own. Also, the guides on this tour are all history majors, so they are super passionate about teaching and answering questions. If you’re a history buff or just enjoying Philly for the first time, we think you’ll love this walking tour. It costs $29 USD per person (talk about a steal!), and you can reserve your spot here.
Across the street from the Liberty Bell is Independence Hall. It’s most recognized for being the signing place of the Declaration of Independence, but this building also housed the three branches of the colonial government, so I’d say it’s a pretty important American landmark.
The only way to enter Independence Hall is on a guided tour, and they’re quick, lasting less than 30 minutes, so it’s easy to fit into your schedule. Even as a Canadian and Australian, it was really interesting to hear about how the American government was created. We’ve been on plenty of tours in New York and other historically significant places like Georgetown in Washington, DC. If one thing is clear, it’s that these guides take pride in teaching about the history of these famous places.
Another fun fact is that these tours are basically free. There is a $1 USD processing fee, but for the amount of information they provide, we think it’s definitely worth a buck. Independence Hall is open every day from 9 am to 5 pm.
We recommend booking this tour online as it makes the process much smoother. You can book the night before after 5 pm, and you’ll be given a time for the tour. You’ll need to go through security so show up at least 30 minutes before your time slot to avoid any issues. If you don’t book online, you can go to the Visitor Center located across the road from Independence Hall to sign up.
Also, if you visit Philadelphia in January or February, you won’t need to book tour tickets (except for holidays). Philly gets very cold in the winter though, so be sure to dress accordingly as there will probably be a wait.
Elfreth’s Alley and Museum (morning)
After checking the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall off your list, it’s another short 5-minute drive to visit Elfreth’s Alley. It’s one of the oldest residential streets in the entire country!
Since 1703, Elfreth’s Alley has been a functioning street lined with private residences that were built between 1720 to 1836. Walking amongst these houses is literally like walking through history, and the best part is that people still live here!
We loved strolling down this colorful alley and it’s a great spot for photos too. There’s also a museum in #124 and #126, which is open between April to November. It operates from 12 pm to 4 pm Friday through Sunday, and it’s worth a peek. The museum was created by the Elfreth’s Alley Association in 1934 to help preserve the alley and highlight the residents who were typically working-class folks and artisans.
Tickets to enter the museum are cheap at just $3 USD, and that money goes right back into preserving the alley. You can purchase tickets directly at the museum or online here.
This is such a charming neighborhood, and we love that there is such a strong community vibe here. Even though this is still a residential area, the alley receives over 250,000 annual visitors, so it’s a pretty popular spot.
If you’re visiting Philly outside of the museum hours, it’s still worth walking down Elfreth’s Alley. It’s a public street, so you can visit any time of day. We really enjoyed visiting the museum though, so hopefully it coincides with your travel plans!
Related Read: If you’re a fan of unique attractions, you’ll enjoy the observation deck at the Empire State Building. The views are out of this world!
See Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens (morning)
We think the best way to top off your morning is with a visit to Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens! It’s less than 10 minutes from Elfreth’s Alley and another must-see in Philly, especially for art enthusiasts!
This unique multi-level gallery is located on South Street and was created by local artists who worked together to improve the previously run-down area. Isaiah Zagar is the master behind this concept, and he originally used mixed-media materials and mosaics to cover walls and dilapidated buildings in the area. The community came to Zagar’s aid multiple times and even started the “South Street Renaissance” which helped preserve this artistic space from being demolished.
Zagar began working on more vacant lots to beautify them with discarded objects like bottles, tiles, and mirrors, all in the hope of creating art that represented his life. These lots were threatened to be dismantled, and the community came together again to support the artwork and artist. In 2008, Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens (PMG) was officially opened to the public.
Now, PMG operates as a nonprofit and provides a space for art activities, concerts, hands-on interpretive experiences, and more.
This is a quick stop, but absolutely worth exploring. If you’re on social media, this is the place you want to go to capture some epic photos. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with “doing it for the gram,” especially when it involves contributing to local artists!
South Street is another inspiring neighborhood that’s full of culture and it’s a true testament to how a community can come together to promote the importance of art. It’s no wonder that it’s a top destination on many Philadelphia sightseeing tours!
PMG is open from 11 am to 6 pm every day except Tuesday. They get pretty busy, so we recommend booking tickets in advance on their website otherwise you’ll have to wait outside. Tickets cost $15 USD for adults, and they usually go on sale a month in advance. We bought our ticket the day before, but keep in mind it’ll be busier on weekends and holidays.
For a more in-depth perspective of the city’s art scene, we think this South Philly art tour is the way to go. This 2-hour walking tour will take you to see some epic street art in alleys and neighborhoods and includes entry into PMG as well. There are a ton of murals and other public artworks, so it’s one you won’t want to miss. It’s a pretty intimate tour with only 12 travelers per group, so it’s a great way to get out and see new parts of Philly without the crowds.
Tickets are $49 USD per person which includes a contribution to local artist organizations. Mind you, these tours start at 2 pm, so you might need to rearrange today’s schedule a bit! You can show your support and see epic art by purchasing your tickets right here.
Rittenhouse Square and eat at Parc (lunch)
After all that walking around and sightseeing, it’s time for a break – a lunch break that is!
Another 5-minute drive will take you to one of our favorite parks in Philadelphia – Rittenhouse Square. It’s a beautiful park and a perfect place to relax. Fun fact: Rittenhouse Square is the 4th oldest park in the US.
While it’s not as expansive as places like Central Park, there are statues, garden beds, a fountain, and benches so you can relax after your long morning. The park also hosts events like craft shows and ballets, and you can check their website to see if anything piques your interest during your visit.
On the edge of the park is one of our favorite restaurants, aptly named Parc. This French bistro has a full menu and outdoor seating, so you can enjoy a yummy meal while people-watching to your heart’s content.
For being a French restaurant, we found the menu to be very reasonably priced – a hard thing to come by in America these days. The food was delicious and the ambiance made it all the more enjoyable.
If you’re the type of person who’d rather stay on their feet to see as much as possible, we fully support that too! Instead of having lunch in the park, we recommend going on a Philadelphia food tour instead. There are plenty of options, but our personal favorite was this Flavors of Philly Food Tour.
This food tour is perfect if you want to dive into the local Philadelphia food scene. Our guide took us to some of the best hole-in-the-wall spots to try Philly cheesesteaks, Cheese Wiz fries, soft pretzels, tomato pie, and dessert, all while walking around the city and taking in the history. While none of this food is very healthy, I can assure you it is very delicious! This food tour is 2.5 hours so it can easily fit into your one-day in Philly itinerary, and you can book it in advance here.
Explore the Museum of the American Revolution (afternoon)
One thing we learned during our stay in New York City is that there are a LOT of museums on the East Coast, especially in historically relevant places. While it can be overwhelming to decide which museum to visit, we think the best choice for your day in Philadelphia is the Museum of the American Revolution.
So, after your meal and park stroll, it’s time to head to this fascinating museum. Luckily, it should take less than 10 minutes if you have a rental car.
Let me start by saying the Museum of the American Revolution is massive. You could easily spend half your day here, and I’m sure people have. But since we’re only working with a one-day agenda, we recommend spending around 2 hours here. It’s also a newer museum having opened in 2017, so even though it’s displaying historical events, it’s a very comfortable and modern place to visit.
The Museum of the American Revolution is dedicated to the story of how America gained independence from the British. The museum has multiple levels, so we suggest starting on the second floor and then exploring the other areas if you have time. I enjoyed this level because there were loads of artifacts that helped piece together the events surrounding the American Revolution. There are weapons, letters, diaries, art pieces, and even George Washington’s tent that he used during the Revolutionary War.
The museum also does a good job of guiding you through the timelines in each room, so the exhibits show events in the order they occurred.
A little insider warning – this museum gets packed! While you can show up and hope for the best, you’ll almost definitely have to wait in line, and since you’ve only got one day here, we highly recommend purchasing tickets ahead of time.
Tickets are $24 USD per person, and you can tack on an audio tour for just $5 USD when you purchase on Viator. You will need to choose a time slot for entry, but you can explore for as long as you want when you get inside (until they close of course). The ticket is also valid for two consecutive days, so if you decide to spend two days in Philadelphia instead of one, you’ve already got a plan! The museum is open daily from 10 am to 5 pm, and it’s a great place for history lovers, first-time visitors, and families.
If you’re short on time or prefer to have a more hands-on experience, you have to check out this guided tour of the museum. You’ll avoid the crowds with early entry at 9 am, and receive a 1-hour experience with an incredibly knowledgeable guide. I love how these guides walk you through the history of the American Revolution, so you can fully understand what happened. Plus, you can ask your guide questions while you’re walking around, which is a pretty cool bonus if you ask me.
The tour is offered Friday to Sunday, is capped at 14 people, and costs $50 USD (including admission). Just remember you’ll have to switch around your schedule to accommodate the earlier time. If this VIP tour sounds up your alley, you can book your early entry museum tickets here.
Related Read: For another must-see museum, head over to New York to visit the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. It’s a touching tribute to the lives lost on that fateful day.
Why We Book Tours with Viator
Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! We almost always book our tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:
- Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
- Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
- Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
- Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.
See the Rocky Steps and Statue (afternoon)
About a 15-minute drive from the Museum of the American Revolution are the infamous Rocky Steps and Statue. This is a quick stop, but we think it’s a necessary part of visiting Philly for the first time – almost like a right of passage.
Okay, technically these are the Philadelphia Museum of Art Steps, but everyone knows them from the Rocky movies.
Even if you haven’t seen the films, chances are you’ve seen clips of Rocky Balboa running up these steps, eagerly punching the air when he reaches the top. You’ll see plenty of people mimicking this iconic moment in cinematic history (us included), and we encourage you to continue the tradition.
It’s a great photo op and there’s even a statue of the character, played by Sylvester Stallone, at the bottom of the steps portraying this iconic moment.
The steps are free to visit, and if you want to sing or dance to “Eye of the Tiger” while you’re there, we support you.
For even more film and television sites in Philly, take advantage of this 2-hour private walking tour. Your guide will show you filming locations from movies like The Sixth Sense and Trading Places, as well as famous TV shows like It’s Always Sunny In Philadephia and Cold Case. It’s great for movie buffs, but also anyone wanting a private tour of the city since you’ll see iconic places like Love Park and of course, the Rocky Steps. Tickets are $70 USD per person and can be booked in advance here.
Head to Gino’s or Pat’s for a Philly cheesesteak (dinner)
After doing your best Rocky impression and maybe even taking a jog up the steps, it’s time for dinner!
Since this is a one-day itinerary, of course, we’re going to tell you to try a Philly cheesesteak. Fortunately, we’ve eaten our fair share of this famous food and can confidently tell you where to find the best Philly cheesesteaks in Philadelphia.
Philly cheesesteaks are huge hoagie rolls filled with sliced beefsteak and melted cheese, with additional toppings depending on where you go. You can find them almost anywhere in the city, and everyone claims their favorite spot to be the best. It’s a bit like finding the “best” slice of pizza in New York. To avoid a fight over who sells the best cheesesteak, we’re just going to highlight two of our favorites.
The original Philly cheesesteak is a title that Pat’s King of Steaks holds. They’ve been operating since 1930, and are open 24/7. It’s about a 15-minute drive from the Rocky Steps and is located in South Philly.
Pat’s prides itself on inventing this iconic dish, and they’ve got their method down to a science. There’s usually a line, but we will say it moves pretty quickly and the cheesesteak is really good.
Across the street is Geno’s Steaks, aka Pat’s biggest rival. They’re famous for their feud and the owners have even gone on Dr. Phil to see if he could help make amends. Ultimately, the rivalry is more for show nowadays, but the stint did help both locations increase their sales – I guess this proves the old adage that even bad publicity is good publicity.
Geno’s boasts about being the best cheesesteak in Philly, and like Pat’s, they are also open 24 hours a day. Eating at either place will give you a classic Philly cheesesteak experience.
Both shops typically have long, fast-paced lines and billboards, and they advertise exactly how to order your cheesesteak. Make sure to specify if you want onions and which type of cheese, and have your money ready. If you take too much time, there’s a good chance you’ll get sent to the back of the line, and yes, we’re 100% serious.
Philly cheesesteaks usually cost between $12-$16 USD and they are super filling. As we said, you’ll find them all over the city at food carts, pubs, and restaurants. Feel free to try a few and decide which one you think is the best.
There are also tons of food tours in Philadelphia, so don’t worry if you have trouble deciding where to begin! One of our favorites is this night tour, which takes you to the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, and the Rocky Statue among other sites. And, of course, you’ll stop at Pat’s to try a tasty Philly cheesesteak, which is included in the price. If you missed some of these sites during the day, here’s another chance to see them!
The experience starts at 6:30 pm and lasts 3 hours (it is a night tour after all!). So if you decide to book this tour for $114 USD a person, you’ll miss the next activity on our agenda. I guess it’s all about priorities!
It’s good to have options, so keep reading to see what’s in store! Who knows, with so many fun activities, you might decide to spend a few days in Philadelphia instead of just one!
Related Read: If you’re always on the hunt for the best food when traveling, here’s our advice on things to know before booking a food tour in NYC.
Night ghost/adult tour (night)
After getting your fill of Philly cheesesteaks, we loved seeing a whole different side of this city by going on a ghost tour.
While most people associate Philadelphia with its symbolic and patriotic history, we were surprised to learn just how dark that history really is. One of the best ways to learn about Philly’s dark past is by going on a ghost tour. Ghost tours are pretty common here, but we went on this adult night tour and it was a blast!
Walking around the city at night listening to stories about vampires, ghosts, and pirates was not something we expected to do in Philly, but we’re so glad we went! Our guide was a riot and had no problem throwing in the occasional cheeky innuendo, which made the tour truly hilarious. Trust me, this is one of the best night tours in Philadelphia!
We visited the city’s original red light district and haunted areas that were used as execution sites, and it was an entertaining way to end our night, to say the least.
If you’re visiting during the summer, this tour is a great option because it starts after the sun goes down at 8 pm. Just to be clear, this is an adult-only event, so keep that in mind before booking. Tickets are $38-$48 USD depending on which day you select, and the haunted experience lasts around 2 hours. To learn even more, you can read our review of this Dark Philly Adult Night Tour here.
We absolutely loved this tour, and think it is the perfect end to your one-day in Philly. If you’re interested in learning about the city’s dark and dirty secrets, check out this night tour of Philadelphia for yourself!
Where to Stay in Philadelphia, USA
Philadelphia is a big city, and deciding where to stay can be overwhelming. Luckily, we’ve narrowed it down to our top choices for each budget range. So keep reading to find the best accommodations for you!
The Rittenhouse Hotel – $$$
The Rittenhouse Hotel is a centrally located, award-winning accommodation. It has that old-school Philadelphia feel with modern amenities. They offer a gym, an indoor heated pool, a sun terrace, and a fabulous restaurant. You can also enjoy British tea and cocktails in their tea room, which is connected to a gorgeous garden.
Prices range from $350 – $1,000 USD depending on the type of room and your dates. You can check prices and availability online here.
Element Philadelphia Downtown – $$
The Element Philadelphia Downtown is just a block from City Hall. It has a fitness center, an on-site restaurant, a shared lounge, and free bikes. The place has modern, well-equipped rooms, friendly staff, and a decent continental breakfast. Request a room higher up for an awesome city view.
This place is a great value for money, with prices starting as low as $160 USD when you book in advance.
Apple Hostels of Philadelphia – $
Apple Hostels of Philadelphia is my favorite budget accommodation in Philadelphia. It’s located in the Old City, within walking distance of the Liberty Bell and Center City. This hostel has it all, including a shared kitchen, laundry, pool table, foosball, Xbox, computers/iPads, guitars, and a TV area. You won’t have any trouble socializing, and they even offer free drinks and dinner sometimes. It’s clean, comfortable, and has a great vibe.
Don’t get Caught without Travel Insurance!
We never travel without travel insurance! We’ve had a few instances during our travels when one of us has ended up in the hospital, and travel insurance has saved us thousands of dollars over the years!
SafetyWing is our go-to insurance, we both have policies with them whenever we travel.
They offer travel medical insurance that’s super affordable (only $45 USD per 4 weeks!)The only thing to note is that the insurance must be purchased once you’ve left your home country – we typically buy it as soon as we land at the airport.
We’ve personally used SafetyWing for many different trips, and we’ve been reimbursed for countless expenses when we’ve fallen ill. SafetyWing even covered our flights back to Canada in full when the pandemic first happened (when last-minute flights before the borders closed were super expensive!) While most travel insurance companies left people stranded, SafetyWing fully reimbursed us for our last-minute, pricey flights!
Also, because it is so affordable, there really is no excuse not to take out a policy. Check prices and get a quote online here with SafetyWing (you can even take out a policy if you’re already traveling!)
Thanks for reading!
Philadelphia is full of things to do, even if you can only stay for one day. We love visiting this historical city, and we can’t wait to go back to find new activities to add to our list. Hopefully, you’ve found some fun ideas from this blog that you can experience when you visit the “City of Brotherly Love!”
We hope you’ve enjoyed this article! If so, check out our other blogs about the USA. We’ve also been fortunate enough to travel all over Canada (Bailey’s home country) and other beautiful destinations. We love sharing our travel stories with you, so we’ve included some articles that might interest you below: