Things to Do in Pennsylvania
More than 50,000 soldiers died in the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, the bloodiest battle ever fought on American soil. Today, the Gettysburg National Military Park is a National Park Service–run memorial to the lives lost during those three fateful days of the American Civil War. The Gettysburg battlefield draws Civil War buffs and those who come to pay their respects and learn about this landmark event in American history.
Anyone curious about the history, heritage, and daily life of America’s Amish will be fascinated by the community at the Amish Farm and House in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. This 200-year-old house—one of the nation’s oldest Amish attractions—hosts house and farm tours, cultural demonstrations, and interactive classes.
Home of the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers, Heinz Field can pack in more than 65,000 fans on game day. Seats in this stadium on the banks of the Allegheny River offer views of the city skyline and riverfront. The venue also hosts large concerts and University of Pittsburgh football games.
The Liberty Bell, a 2,000-pound (907-kilogram) piece of American history, was forged in London's Whitechapel Foundry and represents freedom in the city where the Declaration of Independence was crafted. Now set in the Liberty Bell Center, the bell was commissioned in 1752 and has been in Philadelphia since British Colonial rule.
Explore more than a century of American automotive history, from the 1890s to the 2000s, at the AACA Museum. Located in Hershey, Penn., the AACA Museum features a collection of more than 150 vintage vehicles, including cars, trucks, buses, and motorcycles, around 85 to 100 of which are on display at any given time.
The Duquesne Incline is a classic (and entertaining) way to get up to Mount Washington from Pittsburgh. In service since 1877, this pair of historic cable cars shuttles passengers from Pittsburgh’s South Shore neighborhood to an overlook with panoramic views of the city and its rivers.
The Philadelphia Zoo is perfect for families with kids looking for a break from the historical sites, though it has some historical significance as well—it was the nation’s first zoo. It’s home to over 1,300 different animals, many of them rare and endangered, and renowned for successfully breeding animals that are difficult to breed in captivity.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art is one of the largest public art galleries in the United States. Along with its main Greco-Roman style building—home to works by Rubens, Monet, and van Gogh—this cultural treasure boasts four smaller museums and is fronted by the “Rocky Steps,” immortalized in the hit 1976 film Rocky.
Located 30 miles outside of Philadelphia in the heart of Chester County, the epic estate of Longwood Gardens spans more than 1000 acres of well-groomed gardens and picturesque landscapes. Purchased by the du Pont family in 1906 in an effort to preserve local land and wildlife, Longwood Gardens eventually became one of the nation’s top horticultural attractions.
Travelers can explore the grounds of this idyllic Brandywine Valley institution and wander through highlights (inside and out) like the Italian Water Garden, the Birdhouse, Fern Passage, Cascade Garden and more. Mother Nature is on stunning display all year round, with seasonal highlights like the Spring Blooms, Fall Colors, Orchid Extravaganza, and the most popular Longwood Christmas. During the holiday season greenhouses and grounds are decked out in twinkling lights, making the gardens an even more incredible sight.
Visitors can take a guided tour of the grounds and make a day of exploring Longwood Gardens, or hire a private driver and check out some of the nearby attractions like the Brandywine Museum and the home of Andrew Wyeth.
Families visiting Philadelphia with kids won’t want to skip the Please Touch Museum, which has been the children’s museum of Philadelphia since 1976. The guiding principle of the museum is teaching through play, and it offers a multitude of engaging hands-on activities for young people. The 157,000-square-foot site has six unique zones over two floors, like Wonderland, where kids can have a tea party with the Mad Hatter, and Flight Fantasy, where kids learn about historic and futuristic flying machines. They can even play George Washington, sailing a boat on a mini Delaware River. There are also four areas designated specially for children under 3 years old, making the Please Touch Museum a spot for kids of any age.
More Things to Do in Pennsylvania
George Washington supposedly asked Betsy Ross to stitch the first-ever American flag. The seamstress is said to have created the Stars and Stripes in 1776. Today, visitors can explore the 18th-century house where Betsy Ross purportedly lived, examine artifacts from her life, and even meet a costumed Betsy Ross impersonator.
Philadelphia City Hall, in the middle of Center City at the intersection of Broad and Market streets, is visible from all over town. For nearly 100 years, it remained the tallest structure in the city. Though it no longer bears the accolade, City Hall remains one of the city’s most recognizable historic buildings.
Sandwiched between Columbus Boulevard and the Delaware River on the east side of Philadelphia, Penn's Landing is skinny in shape but important in stature. The waterfront area served as the 1682 landing spot for William Penn, founder of the Pennsylvania colony, making it a must-see spot for any American history buff.
Aside from being one of the most visited neighborhoods in Pittsburgh, Mt. Washington offers some of the best views of the city skyline, having been named one of the most beautiful vistas in America. Rows of charming homes and Shiloh Street, the main district of shops, bars, restaurants, and boutiques also draw many to the area. Several of the restaurants offer an upscale ambiance with incredible views of the city and the three surrounding countryside and rivers. It is one of the premier neighborhoods in Pittsburgh.
The mountain was once the home of many various coal mines, earning it the nickname of “Coal Mountain.” Grandview Avenue runs the length of the hill with four outlook decks in between homes and restaurants. At the edge of the mountain you’ll find the bronze statue of George Washington and Seneca leader Guyasuta staring at one another, marking the area’s history. Also be sure to check out the library and the city’s newest park, Emerald View, which feels worlds away from the city.
With four floors of interactive exhibits, the Carnegie Science Center is both a museum and research facility with a planetarium as well as educational live shows. Here you’ll find a zero-gravity simulator and the world’s largest permanent collection dedicated to robotics. The center also holds the city’s largest movie theater screen called the Omnimax, a dome screen more than four stories tall showing classic films that change every month.
Learn about Pittsburgh’s three rivers at the H20h! exhibit, or explore the USS Requin, a real submarine from the Cold War. Children can especially appreciate the Miniature Railroad and Village and Exploration Station built for preschoolers. The Exploration Station features classic science exhibits on sound, light, and magnetism.
Want to see what it’s like to be a doctor? Check out the hands-on exhibit that allows visitors to learn about the skills and tools surgeons utilize. How about an astronaut? There is also a unique, real-sized replica of the International Space Station that recreates the experience for those of us on Earth.
Originally settled in the mid-19th century by Cantonese immigrants, Philadelphia's Chinatown is a vibrant and eclectic neighborhood known for its fresh-food markets, authentic restaurants, and diverse crowds. Its streets and alleyways are jam-packed with shops, including those selling gifts and souvenirs, novelty items, and artisan crafts.
Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens is one of America's most historic public gardens, full of exotic plant species since 1893. Its elaborate 15-acre (six-hectare) layout features mostly floral exhibits, as well as steel and glasswork Victorian greenhouse architecture. The conservatory was founded in the late 19th century by local steel magnate Henry Phipps and later given to the city of Pittsburgh. Today, it is a National Historic Landmark, as well as one of the greenest buildings in the country with a LEED-certified visitor center and production greenhouse.
At the center of Pittsburgh just across from its downtown, Station Square is one of the city’s most popular shopping, dining, and entertainment centers. Station Square is also the location from which visitors can take the historic Monongahela Incline, one of two funiculars headed up the hill to Mount Washington.
Over 25 different restaurants call the square home, with a variety of cuisines served. The area also maintains an active nightlife with options for dancing and happy hours and a seasonal fireworks show. The amphitheater holds many festivals, concerts, and events year-round, with other smaller venues such as comedy clubs and sports bars adding to the fun. Station Square is a center of transportation for the city, including the Gateway Clipper Fleet of riverboats. A mile-long walking path along the river tells the history of Pittsburgh’s industrial heritage. The Station Square itself was built into the former Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Rail Station.
Known as “America’s Church,” this 1744 city landmark was the first Protestant Episcopal congregation, the post-Revolution version of a Royalist, Anglican church founded in 1695. Early parishioners included George Washington and Betsy Ross, and its cemetery hosts the remains of several signers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, including Benjamin Franklin.
One of the most-visited sites in Philadelphia, the church is chock full of historic objects, including communion silver commissioned by England’s Queen Anne and mahogany cabinetry by some of the city’s most renowned woodworkers. Topped by a 200-foot-tall steeple, it was once the tallest building in America.
Located on Philadelphia’s historic Independence Mall, the National Constitution Center is dedicated to honoring and exploring the United States Constitution, which (ratified in 1788) is the supreme law of the nation. The sprawling, tech-savvy museum brings the Constitution to life via interactive exhibits and dramatic presentations.
Billed as the oldest residential street in the United States, Elfreth’s Alley dates back to 1702. A National Historic Landmark and a living museum, the narrow, cobbled alley features 32 buildings in Georgian and Federal styles. It’s also home to Elfreth's Alley Museum House.
Old City is a neighborhood in Central City Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, known for its antiquated charm and many historic sites important to the birth of the United States. Wander down its narrow cobblestone streets and you'll feel like you're stepping through a time warp into 18th-century colonial America.
Philadelphia is home to plenty of old-school American history, and the roots of its local music scene run deep, too. Travelers in search of an elegant establishment showcasing some of the best international talent will find it all at the Academy of Music.
This unassuming building in the heart of Philadelphia is actually the nation’s oldest continually operational opera house. Its stunning interior houses a 5,000-pound chandelier and is modeled after Milan’s La Scala Opera House. In addition to being a destination for travelers seeking live, classical entertainment, the Academy of Music is a worthy stop for history buffs as well. The National Historic Landmark is the site where President Ulysses S. Grant was nominated for his second term and it’s the site where Martha Graham first performed “The Rite of Spring”. Visitors who arrive during the month of January can watch the Philadelphia Orchestra perform their anniversary concert, which has occurred each year for more than a century.
Travel back in time to the Battle of Gettysburg during a visit to the Gettysburg Heritage Center. Interactive exhibits, historic artifacts and technologically advanced displays bring history to life as much for adults as they do for children.
Families will find engaging exhibits and 3-D productions that showcase stories and information about one of the nation’s most famous battles. Travelers will learn what Gettysburg was like before the battle, and how things changed once combat had ended. Tours include an informative movie that examines the three-day battle in-depth.
It’s easy to explore the center solo and visitors who want to commemorate the trip can pick up an informative book, sweatshirt, mug or other Gettysburg-themed item at the lobby gift shop.
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