It was a typical, warm “fall” day in Texas when we boarded our plane for a long weekend vacation. As a seriously committed fan of autumn and everything that comes with it, the temperatures at home were far too high for me to feel like I was experiencing real seasonal bliss. There was, in my opinion, no better time to get out of town, relax and go explore the city of Philadelphia. I have heard rumors about and seen photos of the stunning, bright colors that adorn the tree branches on giant leaves, and I had a vision in my mind of what I thought the scene would be like. I was right on the money! Fall in Philadelphia is exceptional.
I was traveling with my two best friends. We are pretty much up for seeing everything tourism-related in the cities that we visit, and the plan for sightseeing in Philadelphia was no different. I consider myself a history nerd, so the options were limitless. Even the bed and breakfast we stayed at, The Thomas Bond House, was full of interesting history. Some visitors claim it is haunted by the unique history of city leaders and figureheads who have stayed there. Our accommodations were located across the street from the famous City Tavern, where founding fathers dined, and our room overlooked Welcome Square. The colonial-style windows, complete with glowing candlelight, let the sights and sounds of the city into our quaint room. Every morning, we were served a homemade, warm breakfast … which was not difficult to become accustomed to!
On our first day, we went into full-blown tourist mode. The first stop was at the home of the one and only Liberty Bell. It was amazing to stand so close to such a piece of our nation’s history. In the background of the magnificent bell, through the modern, glass building it is enclosed in, you can see Independence Hall. We crossed the street to the beautiful building and waited in line for a guided tour. It felt like we were transported back in time when we entered the historical structure. Seeing, firsthand, where the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were debated and adopted immediately instilled a sense of patriotism in all of us. I could not stop thinking about what it must have been like for those men to pick up that pen and sign their names to a document that would create the course of our nation.
After several hours of history, our stomachs were ready for a Philly Cheesesteak, or another local favorite dish. We had heard great things about Reading Terminal Market, so we took a walk through the city to the large venue. Once inside, a giant whiff of delicious aromas and a large crowd of hungry visitors met us at the door. Reading Terminal Market is an indoor market that provides locals and visitors with farm fresh produce, Amish specialties, meats, seafood and amazing baked goods. Some vendors offer restaurant-like spaces to take a load off and enjoy a great meal. We grabbed a seat, in the center of all the action, at Molly Malloy’s. This is where I had the most incredible Philly Cheesesteak of my entire life. The thin-cut meat was buried beneath grilled onions, peppers and cheese. I felt no shame in being one of those people who photographs and shares their food on Instagram.
After wandering the long aisles of the market, taste-testing ice cream, Greek food and baked delicacies, we were ready to get back out there and see more of the sights. We strolled over crosswalks and cobblestone alleyways to the Betsy Ross House. The old house is nestled between modern buildings and stands out among the present-day design of the businesses and homes that surround it. At the attraction, after walking through a charming courtyard, visitors can see where Betsy Ross, the maker of the first American flag, lived and is currently buried. Her home was small and the steps were steep! Actors portray what it would have been like to live in the house and guests are given the freedom to roam and explore the facility.
From there, even though our feet felt like they might fall off after all of the walking we had done, we walked over to Elfreth’s Alley. Located in the shadow of Benjamin Franklin Bridge, residents still occupy 32 charming houses on the oldest street in the U.S. (dating to 1702). We walked across the cobblestone lane to the end of the small street. With the mixture of chilly air and giant yellow leaves blowing across the road, it was truly a sight.
Christ Church Cemetery was next on our sightseeing list. This Colonial and Revolution-era graveyard has more than 1,400 markers, and it is where Benjamin Franklin is buried. People throw pennies on his grave for good luck, so, of course, we did, too, as an ode to when he famously said, “A penny saved is a penny earned!”
Our dinner on this particular night was at The Little Lion. The restaurant, located just off Chestnut Street, in a repurposed bank building, serves a variety of dishes. We decided on fried green tomatoes and chicken and waffles. Yum!
After getting a good night sleep, we woke up early to catch an Uber to the Amtrack 30th Street Station. Here, we rented a car, drove to Valley Forge and explored the grounds of George Washington’s headquarters during the Revolutionary War. The grounds were like a scene from a movie. Train tracks, lined by a thick forest adorning fall colors that sent leaves dancing across the tracks, were next to a field with Washington’s home and small, cabin-like structures.
After taking countless photos of the fall foliage and huge trees, we got back in the rental car and started the drive to Amish country. We were headed for Lancaster County. The highway turned into a two-lane road through some of the prettiest countryside I have ever seen. Big barns, farms and horses set right next to the small roadway. We knew were headed in the right direction as we began to see buggies pulled by horses carrying Amish families home from church. It felt like we were, once again, transported back into another place and time. There were even parking spots in town labeled specifically for buggy parking! We had heard about the notorious family-style dining restaurant, Good and Plenty, and decided to try it out. Upon entering, we were seated at a large dining table with people we did not know. It was interesting to talk to other vacationers and hear about their experiences in the area.
We pointed the car in the direction of our next destination and drove out of Amish country, once again under the cover of the looming trees.Eastern State Penitentiary served as our next adventure. Eastern State Penitentiary was once the most famous and expensive prison in the world. On the way, we researched some of the ominous tales about the facility on our phones and we were frightened before we even arrived. As we walked up to the entrance of the former prison, twilight was upon us and a cold chill settled all around. The old gray brick of the facility was in ruin and portions of the building were completely missing ceilings and walls. We wandered the corridors containing cells that once held “Sick Willie” Sutton and Al Capone. We even had a spooky encounter of our own!
Our dinner reservation time was drawing nearer, so we had to tear ourselves away from exploring the halls and dark corners of Eastern State Penitentiary. After such an eventful day, we had a fine dining experience at the M Restaurant in the Morris Hotel. The beautiful, modern décor offered a different feel than is present in a lot of the other parts of the city. I could have stayed for hours enjoying the delicious cheese pairings and grilled salmon.
Before we knew it, our long weekend had come to an end. We slept a little later on our final morning and had a lovely brunch at the famous Parc Restaurant in Rittenhouse Square. This ritzy, busy area of the city is popular for great food and shopping destinations.
If your family is looking for a place to get away or you want to explore everything a different city has to offer, I strongly recommend historical Philadelphia. There are activities and sights for all ages and the learning opportunities are endless! If you can, plan your trip for fall so you have a beautiful background of colorful trees during your excursion.