Thinking of exploring the Eastern Seaboard and the Mid-Atlantic States? Make your first stop in the Heritage City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Renowned for being the birthplace of the United States, spending one day in Philadelphia, PA, is a must to learn all about American history.
Even if you can only squeeze in 24 hours in Philadelphia, you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy all that the city has to offer. From bowing down to the history made at Independence Hall to running like Rocky up the famous steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, there are just some things that can’t be missed. Other must-dos in Philly include wandering through one of the many museums along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and refueling with a Philly cheesesteak.
Can’t decide where to start exploring Philadelphia in one day? Make the most of your visit with this easy-to-follow 24-hour Philadelphia travel plan!
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Where to go in Philadelphia in one day: A complete itinerary
Fuel up with breakfast in Old City
First on the list is to fuel up for a day of sightseeing, and there are plenty of fantastic places in Philly’s Old City to do just this.
Café Ole on N 3rd Street is a cozy little joint with brightly colored walls that serves freshly brewed coffee and Mediterranean bites. Tuck into eggs and bacon or something different like Moroccan Shakshuka. The servings are huge and promise to keep you energized for the morning.
If you’re a specialty coffee and pastry person, take a stroll south down N 3rd Street to Church Street, where you‘ll find Old City Coffee, Inc. On your way, walk past the Betsy Ross House on Arch Street, the home of the seamstress who sewed the first American flag in 1776.
Grab a latte and a mouthwatering cheese Danish to eat in or take away. You can also stock up on fresh coffee beans at Old City Coffee with their fantastic selection of fair-trade coffee.
After refueling, wander down Church Street to admire the Christ Church, a beautifully preserved church built in 1695 that’s home to the grave of Benjamin Franklin and other early leaders.
Further down N 3rd Street is Cafe Square One, a snug café that serves simple breakfasts, sandwiches, and salads, along with delicious coffee. Cafe Square One is a great spot to grab a window seat and watch the hustle and bustle of the world going by in Philly’s Old City.
Roam through history at Independence National Historical Park
Now that you’re fueled and ready to go, your first Philly sightseeing port of call should be Independence National Historical Park. Known as the birthplace of American democracy, the park spans 20 city blocks, so you won’t have any trouble finding it.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Independence National Historical Park is home to several historic sites, including Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell Center, Congress Hall, and the National Constitution Center.
Your best bet is to start at the Independence Visitor Center, where you’ll find a wealth of information about the park and a map for exploring the area. Learn about the nation’s founding history and the place where many of the influential events that formed the fledgling nation took place.
Wander through Independence Hall, where the Founding Fathers came together to sign the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Head over to the Liberty Bell Center to see the famous Liberty Bell, cast in 1753 to adorn the State House.
Admire the Washington Statue, a large portrait of George Washington standing sentry outside Congress Hall, where the US Senate sat from 1790 to 1800. Washington was elected Major General and Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army in 1775 by the first Continental Congress in open rebellion against England.
Wander down towards Washington Square, a lovely green urban space on Walnut Street. Leafy and green, the park is home to the Tomb of the Unknown Solider and is a good spot for a quick break before setting off again.
Get a history lesson at Benjamin Franklin Museum
Meander along Walnut Street and left to S 4th Street to find the Benjamin Franklin Museum, one of the best places to visit in Philadelphia. This fantastic museum explores the life and times of one of the Founding Fathers of America through fascinating exhibits and interactive displays.
The Benjamin Franklin Museum has five exhibition rooms, each of which focuses on a particular character trait of Franklin’s. Ardent, ambitious, curious, persuasive, rebellious, and strategic: Benjamin Franklin’s multi-faceted personality is peeled back through amazing presentations. Exhibits include touchscreen presentations, videos and audio files, artifacts and objects, and computer animations.
When you’re done exploring, browse the Benjamin Franklin Museum Store on the courtyard level of the museum. You’ll find a wide variety of books, gifts, and souvenirs related to Franklin and colonial Philadelphia.
Chow down on delicious food at Reading Terminal Market in Center City
After all that history, it’s time to refuel, and there’s no better destination for foodies than the Reading Terminal Market in Center City. For the quickest route, head west along Arch Street into the heart of Center City Philadelphia – be sure to check out Benjamin Franklin’s Grave in the Christ Church Burial Ground along the way.
If you prefer to take a long way around, wander up S 6th Street to visit Franklin Square. Designed by William Penn, the urban architect of Philadelphia, the park boasts a pretty fountain and pond and several family-friendly attractions.
Head back down to Arch Street and admire the ornate Friendship Gate in Chinatown just before reaching the market. Also known as Friendship Arch, it was the first authentic Chinese gate built in America by Chinese artisans.
Time to eat! The Reading Terminal Market is a vast indoor farmer’s market that has been selling delicious handmade food and goods for over 130 years. Founded in 1892, the historic public market is home to over 70 family-owned businesses selling all kinds of mouthwatering cuisine.
From sublime Asian and Middle Eastern dishes to traditional Pennsylvania Dutch fare and world-renowned Philly cheesesteaks, feast until you can eat no more!
Marvel at the architecture of Philadelphia City Hall
The next stop is Philadelphia City Hall. Amble west along Arch Street and turn down N Broad Street to find the beautiful white marble, limestone, and brick building. Boasting over 14.5 acres of floor space, this architectural gem is the largest municipal building in the country.
Designed by John McArthur, Jr and built in 1871, the vast edifice took over 30 years to complete. Topped with a 548-foot tower and an iconic statue of Philadelphia founder William Penn, Philadelphia City Hall is nothing less than spectacular.
The interiors are just as impressive, with 700 ornately designed and decorated rooms and more than 250 sculptures and architectural reliefs. Take a tour of the building to admire the most ornate and exquisitely decorated rooms like the City Council Chamber, the Conversation Hall, and the Supreme Court Room.
Get your science fix at The Franklin Institute
Take a stroll up Benjamin Franklin Way to your next stop: the Franklin Institute. You’ll pass the lovely urban green space of Love Park, home to a replica of Robert Indiana’s world-famous LOVE sculpture, along the way toward the large traffic circle center of Logan Square. The traffic circle is surrounded by meticulously maintained gardens with benches and whimsical statues with a large fountain at the center.
Just to the left of Logan Square is the Franklin Institute. One of America’s most celebrated museums, the hands-on center of science and research offers a fascinating and unique experience. The entire museum is all about interacting with science and boasts an outstanding array of immersive and interactive displays and exhibits.
Glimpse into the workings of the human brain in the high-tech Your Brain exhibit. Explore deep space and the galaxies in the Fels Planetarium. Feel the forces of flight at the Franklin Air Show and fool around with physics and Newton’s Laws of Motion at the Sir Isaac’s Loft exhibit.
Train like Rocky at the Philadelphia Museum of Art
Continue your meanderings up the Benjamin Franklin Parkway towards the Washington Monument Fountain and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Overlooking the Schuylkill River, the museum is surrounded by beautifully manicured gardens and grounds, a tranquil oasis in the heart of the city.
Home to a spectacular collection of Renaissance classics, the Philadelphia Museum of Art is not only famous for its artwork. It’s also home to the Rocky Steps, the east entrance of the museum where Stallone’s famous scene in the classic Rocky film has been immortalized. Be sure to visit the Rocky Statue to pay tribute to one of Philly’s greats!
Founded in 1876, the Philadelphia Museum of Art is one of the largest art museums in the country and one of Philadelphia’s absolute must-see museums if you’re an art lover. Browse the impressive collection of over 240,000 works spanning 2,000 years and gaze at masterpieces like Sunflowers by Vincent van Gogh and The Large Bathers by Cezanne.
Spend some time in the outdoor sculpture garden and take a moment to reflect on the 14th-century Buddhist temple.
Admire Schuylkill River views at Boathouse Row
Take a relaxing walk westwards through the gorgeous grounds behind the museum, passing the Azalea Garden and to the picturesque Boathouse Row. This breathtakingly beautiful site in Fairmont Park on the east bank of the Schuylkill River is lined with brightly colored 19th-century boathouses. You’ll feel like you’ve been transported to a tiny town in Europe!
Home to 15 boathouses housing social and rowing clubs and their racing shells, Boathouse Row offers one of the city’s loveliest views. A night, the houses light up, creating a magical scene reflected in the waters. Rowers flock to the tranquil waters of the Schuylkill River to enjoy their sport on quiet mornings in the week or exhilarating regattas on the weekends.
Head to the clubhouse and enjoy a drink while you relax and watch the rowers splice their way through the rippling river water.
Eat & drink on South Street
When the sun starts dipping and it’s time to wine and dines, hop in a taxi or Uber and head to South Street in the heart of the city. You’ll find a wealth of fantastic restaurants, chic cocktail bars, casual eateries, and plenty of action. Whether you have a hankering for pizza or feel like fine dining on French cuisine, South Street has it all.
Get dropped off at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, a quirky folk-art gallery/outdoor sculpture garden with funky mosaicked galleries and a pretty cool sculpture garden maze. Wander through a mélange of whimsical sculptures, mosaics, and artworks by Philadelphia’s beloved mosaic artist, Isaiah Zagar. It’s a fun way to start an evening in South Philly!
For fabulous French food, try Bistrot La Minette on S 6th Street, where you can watch French films on the terrace while dining. Another French fave is The Good King Tavern on S 7th Street, offering delicious gastropub-style grub in a cozy bistro setting.
If you feel like kebabs and baba ghanoush, Isot Turkish Cuisine is a great little place on S 6th Street, or head west on South Street to find mouthwatering Vietnamese street eats at Bánh Mì and Bottles or traditional schnitzels, brats, and brews at Brauhaus Schmitz.
More Philadelphia itinerary ideas
Can’t get enough of Philly? If you have enough time, here are some other ideas for interesting attractions to see in the city:
If you’re an art lover, add the Barnes Foundation to your list. This elegant museum houses an incredible Impressionist and post-Impressionist collection that includes some marvelous Matisse and Cézanne paintings.
At the Barnes Foundation, you’ll also find an impressive array of American paintings, Native American ceramics, African sculpture, and decorative arts. Treat yourself to high tea or a glass of bubbles at the famous Rittenhouse hotel afterward.
Eastern State Penitentiary
For something slightly off the beaten path, head to the Eastern State Penitentiary, or ESP. Located just north of the city center in the Fairmont neighborhood, the prison was the one-time home to some of America’s most notorious mobsters, such as world-renowned gangster Al Capone. If you’re limited on time, it’s one of the most popular Philadelphia day trips.
Operational from 1829 until 1971, the now U.S. National Historic Landmark is open for tours, giving a fantastic insight into life behind bars. When constructed, the Eastern State Penitentiary was the largest public building ever to be erected. It was a forerunner in the system of separate incarceration and became a model for over 300 prisons around the globe.
For the best bird’s eye views in town, float up to the top of the Comcast Technology Center to one of the most beautiful (and eye-wateringly expensive) restaurants and bars in Philadelphia: JG SkyHigh.
Forty-foot glass walls encapsulate breathtaking panoramic views of the city, and you descend into the restaurant via a staircase bordered by waterfall walls. Mirrored ceilings reflect the cityscape 60 stories below, creating a stunning effect. Order a lemongrass Collins and revel in the ambiance.
Recommended hotels for 24 hours in Philadelphia
Most of the best hotels in Philadelphia fall within the Center City, close to all of the city’s top attractions. Some of the most popular areas to stay in Center City include Old City, Rittenhouse Square, and Logan Square.
Sitting in the heart of Old City, this boutique hotel will let you open your morning with a blast of historical sightseeing. After spending the day roaming the streets of Philly, sip a glass of wine in the hotel’s wine cellar and indulge in a delicious meal at the on-site restaurant.
Located steps from Independence Hall, this modern and elegant boutique-style hotel offers all the charm you need for your trip plan. Besides the cheery yet sophisticated accommodations, the hotel also shines with a rooftop bar, offering a great spot to end the evening under the glowing lights of the city.
Sink into a blend of historical charms and modern elegance at this lovely boutique-style luxury hotel. Located in Center City, The Notary Hotel occupies a stunning historical building that’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The rooms here blend a distinctive 1920s style with a menu of modern amenities including an on-site tapas restaurant and a fitness center.