There are few better cities in America for a history-themed visit than Philadelphia. We recently returned from a week and a half visit to Philly and Princeton, where I was a faculty leader for a wonderful Witherspoon Institute seminar. (I highly recommend their excellent seminars, which range across topics in law, history, and religion.) Whenever possible, I try to bring my family along for such trips, and we got a full dose of history – and historical graveyards! – in the Philadelphia/Princeton areas. My wife and boys also took in a couple days at Manasquan Beach while I was in the seminar – the Jersey beaches are only about an hour drive from Princeton. Many of them are family friendly!
Here are some of the highlights of our trip, including both famous and obscure sights, and a few tips in case you might visit Philadelphia or Princeton soon.
Washington Crossing – with parks on both the Pennsylvania and New Jersey sides of the Delaware River, this is the location of General Washington’s Christmas night crossing, 1776. We especially loved the historic home on the New Jersey side, where Washington and his officers likely met before marching on the Hessians at Trenton. This was one of many places where we had a picnic lunch during our travels, since going to restaurants with children three times a day gets tiresome, and the park was beautiful and serene.
Abington (Pa.) Presbyterian Church cemetery – superb for Great Awakening fans, here is the final resting place of revivalists Gilbert Tennent and Samuel Finley (who was also a Princeton president), whose remains were apparently removed here after the Arch Street Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia was demolished in the 19th century.
Princeton Cemetery – an absolute must-see, with an astonishing array of historical figures, ranging from Jonathan Edwards to George Kennan, and Charles Hodge to Grover Cleveland.
Valley Forge National Park – outside Philadelphia, this commemorates Washington and the Continental Army’s stoic bravery during winter quarters in 1777-78. The highlight is the stone house where Washington lodged during the winter.
In Philadelphia proper, we stayed at a hotel a block away from Independence National Park (got a good deal on hotels.com). The advantage was that, once having arrived, most everything we really wanted to see was within walking distance, and we didn’t have to worry about parking, which is a hassle. There was, of course, a fair amount of noise and bustle in and out of the hotel, but it was a wonderful (and safe) location. We visited Tenth Presbyterian Church on the Sunday of our weekend, where we heard a rousing sermon on predestination!
The National Park, and Independence Hall in particular, is indispensable. Lots of people stand in line to see the Liberty Bell, which is now in its own display hall, but we figured it wasn’t worth it, especially since you could walk up and see it immediately through glass. (When you have kids with you, standing in line for an hour is even less appealing.)
The National Constitution Center is well worth your time (and the considerable cost), with lots of interactive exhibits appropriate for kids.
Christ Church – a memorable site, with major religious and historical significance. See George Washington and Benjamin Franklin’s rented pews!
Philadelphia is also a city of great food. Skip the tourist scene at Geno’s and Pat’s cheesesteaks and take a quick walk south from the historic area to Jim’s Steaks if you need a true Philly fix. (Note that this area is a touch dicey – go during daylight.)
No culinary family visit to Philly would be complete without going to the incomparable Reading Terminal Market, with its countless food counters and specialty shops. You can get any kind of food imaginable here, but we went with hamburgers and sausages from one of the Amish vendors. Delicious!
We capped off our visit with a walk to beautiful Franklin Square, ideal for families hanging out with the kids. Playground, carousel, lovely fountains, the Benjamin Franklin bridge looming in the background, and scrumptious, inexpensive fare from Squareburger. This was the most relaxing moment of the trip for me.
I’d love to see any other suggestions you have for a Philadelphia-area visit in the comments. What have I missed?
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