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Rich in history and packed with sights, spending one day in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is just enough time to see the city highlights – but only with a good trip plan. The best things to do in Philadelphia revolve around the city’s past, modern culture and fantastic food scene. We created a perfect Philadelphia Itinerary that features must-see Philly sights and the top things to eat.
One Day In Philadelphia
While having just one day in Philadelphia will be somewhat limiting (seriously, there is so much to see and do in the city), we think that if you are going to visit Philadelphia in one day, you should absolutely make the most of it!
Whether you are visiting on a layover, for a business trip or are just planning a short day trip to Philadelphia from a nearby city, you can use our guide of things to do in Philly.
Visit Philadelphia on a Long Layover, Business Trip or Day Trip
Philadelphia, PA is a major transportation hub in the United States. In fact, the city is a gateway to Europe – and on our trips overseas, we often had layovers of up to 24 hours in Philadelphia.
Rather than sitting in an airport hotel, we would come up with different plans for what to see in Philadelphia in 1 day and set off to explore the city on foot. We marveled at the history, sampled the local fare and experienced a bit of the nightlife.
Likewise, visitors on a business trip or making a day trip to Philadelphia from New York or DC have numerous options for sightseeing as well. Just like travelers on layovers, visitors making day trips to Philadelphia can use our outline of what to do in Philly to plan their time in the city.
To most efficiently plan a DIY day trip to Philly, you may need to make some adjustments to our Philly Itinerary. On the other hand, you could forget about the hassle of planning a trip to Philadelphia and join an organized tour. We feature the best options for a day trip in Philadelphia at the end of the post!
Planning a Weekend Trip to Philadelphia
Spending an entire weekend in Philadelphia is an excellent way to experience the city. There are so many Philadelphia things to do that you can easily fill 2 or 3 days of sightseeing.
To better help travelers planning 2 days in Philadelphia (or longer!), we provide tips at the end of the post for alternate Philly itineraries.
Want more inspiration for the best weekend trips in the US? Use our guide to 20 Quick Weekend Getaways in USA!
1 Day In Philadelphia Itinerary
In our Philadelphia 1-Day Itinerary, we highlight what to see in Philadelphia in one day – including top attractions, the best places to eat and a touch of Philly nightlife. Our trip plan is crammed full with the best things to do in Philadelphia.
Designed as a self-guided Philadelphia city tour on foot, we feature what to see on a Philly trip in a convenient loop around the city. The route passes by the absolute best places to visit in Philadelphia.
In addition to what to see and do on a Philadelphia one day trip, we offer tips for how to get there, where to stay and what to pack.
Our One-Day Philadelphia Itinerary includes everything you need to plan your trip! Save, Pin or Bookmark this blog post so that you can easily access it as you plan – and during! – your trip to Philly.
Morning Itinerary for Philadelphia in a Day
Begin your One Day Itinerary Philadelphia with breakfast in a historic building, then step back in time at some of the most important sites in America’s history at the Independence National Historical Park.
Steeped in history and lined with cobblestone streets, the park is home to museums, artifacts, statues and monuments. See where the United States’ Declaration of Independence was signed and walk in the footsteps of America’s Founding Fathers.
Breakfast at The Bourse
Start your day of Philadelphia sightseeing with breakfast in a historic location, The Bourse. The building dates to the late 1800s and was used as a commodities exchange. Recently, however, it has been renovated into a Food Hall featuring some of the best eats in the city – and it’s a great place to kick off your Philadelphia One-Day Itinerary! We recommend getting an All-American breakfast at the Grubhouse.
Pro Tip: Before sitting down to breakfast, consider stopping by the Independence Visitor Center to pick up your Independence Hall Tickets.
Museum of the American Revolution
Brush up on your history of how the United States was formed at the Museum of the American Revolution. Follow the timeline of America’s independence – from Boston to war to the beginning of the nation – via engaging exhibits and interactive displays.
Because you only have a day in Philadelphia, you don’t want to spend your time standing in line! Buy a Skip-The-Line Ticket to the museum here!
Pro Tip: The Museum of the American Revolution is one of the best places to visit in Philadelphia to learn about the history of the city. It can be breezed through in about an hour, but many visitors spend up to 4 hours in the museum. If you opt to skip visiting the museum on your 1 day in Philadelphia trip, still start your city exploration at the museum building. Other places of interest on the square are the Merchant Exchange Building, the Independence Historical Library, and City Tavern.
Continue your exploration of Independence National Historical Park, walking west to Carpenters’ Hall.
Witness to numerous historical events, Carpenters’ Hall housed the First Continental Congress in 1774. The brick building is one of a few in the complex – and can be toured for free. Inside, visitors will find limited information about its historical significance and a small gift shop. Because of its location, it is easy to fit in a visit to Carpenters’ Hall while touring Philadelphia in one day.
If you have time before visiting Independence Hall, make a quick detour to Washington Square.
Once a grazing field and cemetery, Washington Square – one of the city’s originally planned squares – is a leafy urban escape and host to several memorials. Don’t miss the center fountain, the Eternal Flame and Memorial to the Unknown Soldiers of the American Revolution.
Visiting Independence Hall is one of the top things to do in Philadelphia in one day! This is a must on your Philly Itinerary!
One of the most significant places in US history, Independence Hall is where both the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution were debated and signed by the country’s Founding Fathers. Essentially, it is the birthplace of America. Built in 1732 as the Pennsylvania State House, the red brick building features an ornate white clock and bell tower and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Visiting Independence Hall on Your One Day in Philly
Visitors who want to see the interior of the building can join a free 30-minute guided tour, but obtaining a timed ticket is required. Tickets are available on the day of your visit at the Independence Visitor Center on a first-come first-serve basis (which is why we recommend stopping at the Visitor Center first thing!). However, if you are planning a day in Philadelphia itinerary, it is best to make advance reservations online, at the cost of $1 USD.
The Liberty Bell ranks as another one of the top places to see in Philadelphia – and you won’t want to miss it on your one day in Philadelphia.
A timeless symbol of the United States of America – and of freedom itself, the iconic Liberty Bell has a fascinating history – and is a must-see on your Philly Itinerary. Commissioned in London in 1752, the bell was cast to hang in the tower of the Pennsylvania State House. The bell was inscribed with the quote: Proclaim LIBERTY Throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants Thereof.” However, at first ring, the bell cracked.
The bell was melted, recast and re-inscribed by locals Pass and Stow, but the bell produced a horrid sound…and had to be re-cast, yet again. Years later, on July 8, 1776, the Liberty Bell was rung to celebrate the first reading of the Declaration of Independence.
The Liberty Bell is now housed in the Liberty Bell Center, which is free to visit (no ticket required), which makes it one of the fun things to do in Philly even if you are on a budget. Exhibits inside the center tell the story of the bell and visitors are able to see the bell on display.
National Constitution Center
If your interest in the formation of the US has been piqued, consider including a visit to the National Constitution Center in your plan of what to do in Philadelphia in 1 day. Through interactive displays, the museum details the creation of the United States Constitution in a fun and informative way.
Pro Tip: Guests could easily spend the better part of the day inside the museum. If history is the main focus of your one-day trip in Philadelphia, then the museum will likely be a highlight. However, if you want an overall tour of Philadelphia in one day, we recommend skipping the museum in favor of other sights.
Where to Eat Lunch on Your One Day in Philly
By now, it is probably mid-day of your 1-day in Philly, which means it is time for lunch – and one of the best places to go to eat is the Reading Terminal Market.
The market was established in 1893 under the train tracks of the newly built Reading Terminal – and today it stands as both a historic landmark and the heart of the city’s gastronomy. Not only is it a place to eat, the building itself is one of the top things to see in Philadelphia.
With more than 80 food vendors, deciding what to eat can be a conundrum. That said, on a 1-day trip to Philadelphia, we recommend getting a Philly Cheesesteak! Several vendors sell them at the market…and they are all delicious! Grab a soft pretzel from Miller’s Twist as well; pretzels are Philly’s favorite snack!
Pro Tip: To get to the Reading Terminal Market from Independence National Historical Park, walk west on Arch Street. At 10th Street, you will see the Chinatown Friendship Arch; we explore more of Chinatown after lunch!
Afternoon of Your One Day in Philadelphia Itinerary
After your filling lunch, continue your Philadelphia 1-Day Tour by visiting more landmark sights in the city center. The afternoon of your Philadelphia Itinerary in 1 Day includes a mix of modern and historic Philly attractions.
Philadelphia City Hall
While sightseeing Philadelphia, visiting City Hall is a must! It is one of the most beautiful and iconic buildings in the city.
Opened in 1901, the Philadelphia City Hall building once reigned as the tallest building in the world. The grandiose building features a bell tower topped by a statue of William Penn (the city’s founder) – and reaches a height of 548 feet. It houses the city government offices and is a National Historic Landmark.
Pro Tip: Taking a tour of City Hall is one of the top things to do in Philadelphia. City Hall offers two tours – one of the grand interior rooms and the other to the open-air tower observation deck.
LOVE Park, Philly
The famous LOVE sculpture is one of our favorite places to visit in Philly – and it’s located in LOVE Park, just steps from City Hall.
Designed in the 1960s, the park is officially dedicated to President John F. Kennedy. However, the park is now better known as LOVE Park for the Robert Indiana LOVE sculpture that was first displayed at the park in 1976.
Pro Tip: If you are a fan of Art Deco architecture, don’t miss the Pennsylvania Railroad Suburban Station across the street from the southwest corner of the park.
Visiting Chinatown is another one of the fun things to do in Philadelphia for a day. The Philadelphia Chinatown has a history that dates back to 1871. The district is filled with Asian eateries and shops – and is marked by the ornamental Chinese Gate at 10th and Arch. Explore the vibrant district on foot as you make you way back toward the city’s historic enclave.
Franklin Square, Philly
Take a walk through Franklin Square – another one of the city’s originally planned squares. At the center is the Franklin Square Fountain (which dates to 1838) – and other sights at the park are the Parx Liberty Carousel and Living Flame Memorial.
Pro Tip: From the east side of the square, you can see the 101-foot-tall Bolt of Lightning Sculpture dedicated to Benjamin Franklin. The artwork commemorates Franklin’s famous experiment of flying a kite in a storm to prove lightning bolts have an electrical charge. If you want to get a closer look at the sculpture, there is a crosswalk at the north end of Franklin Square.
More Philadelphia Historical Sights
Ease your way back into the most historical part of the city and discover a more fascinating things to do in Philadelphia, Pa.
When visiting Philadelphia – even for just a day – you can truly step back in time on Elfreth’s Alley. Walk down the historical landmark cobblestone lane, which has existed as a residential street for more than 300 years. Learn more about the history at the Elfreth’s Alley Museum at #124.
Betsy Ross House
Nearby find the Betsy Ross House, the home where Betsy Ross sewed the first American flag in the country’s founding year, 1776. Although there is some dispute that this is, in fact, the exact house Betsy Ross lived in, it is still one of the interesting places to go in Philadelphia. (Tickets are required to enter.)
The Nation’s Church
Just around the corner from the Betsy Ross House is Christ Church, which dates to 1695 and is often referred to as “The Nation’s Church.” Many of the Founding Fathers – including George Washington – were members of the American Episcopal Church and it is open to visitors for a small fee.
Benjamin Franklin Gravesite
The Christ Church Burial Ground is located a couple of streets away from the church at 5th and Arch. Visiting the graveyard is one of the top Philadelphia activities because it is where Benjamin Franklin is buried (along with four other signers of the Declaration of Independence).
Benjamin Franklin Museum and Sites
The Benjamin Franklin Museum, which includes artifacts and exhibits from his life, is also an interesting place to visit in Philly’s historical center. In the area, visitors can also see portions of Franklin’s house, the Franklin Court Printing Office and one of the oldest post offices in the USA (which is a cool place to send postcards from!).
Things To Do in Philly at Night
We have highlighted some of the best places to visit in Philadelphia in one day, but our sightseeing adventure is not over yet! To complete your 1 Day in Philadelphia Itinerary, relax on the riverside, dine at one of the city’s most famous taverns and then join the revelers on South Street for a few drinks.
Spruce Street Harbor Park
Before going to dinner, give your feet a rest at the riverside park, Spruce Street Harbor. In the relaxing urban oasis, you can swing in a hammock, play a game of chess or stroll along the boardwalk. After a long day of sightseeing in Philadelphia, it is the perfect way to wind down the day.
Dinner at City Tavern
Established in 1773, City Tavern was frequented by the city’s elite and most famous residents. In fact, it served as an unofficial meeting place for the Founding Fathers before they officially moved their meetings to Carpenters’ Hall. Although the original building was destroyed in a fire, the tavern was rebuilt to original specifications in the 1970s. Today, waiters clad in 18th century garb serve upscale colonial cuisine using a farm-to-table concept.
UPDATE: Sadly, City Tavern closed its doors in late 2020 and the fate of the building is currently unknown – but there are other classic dining establishments where you can get a taste of history! Ralph’s Italian Restaurant has been serving up red gravy Italian-American dishes since 1900. Meanwhile, McGilian’s Olde Ale House stands as the longest running tavern in the city offering a menu of pub grub in a historic atmosphere.
End your 1-Day Itinerary in Philadelphia on South Street, the city’s lively entertainment district. Appealing to a wide range of interests, the street is lined with boutique shops, art galleries, international eateries, fun bars and live music venues. Tattooed Mom is a funky spot with a hip vibe – but with so many choices on South Street, we recommend finding a bar that best fits your style.
Pro Tip: If after a few beers you have a late-night craving, be sure to stop at Jim’s on South Street for a Philly Cheesesteak. The restaurant opened in 1939 – and has seen a slew of celebrities over the years – and is the perfect way to cap off your trip to Philadelphia in a day!
How Many Days to Spend in Philadelphia?
We packed loads of sights into our recommended one day trip to Philadelphia – but, let me tell you, there is still so much more to see! While all of our trips to the city have been limited on time, we could easily spend a weekend in Philadelphia – or longer – and not get bored!
To determine how many days in Philadelphia is right for your trip, consider your budget, interests and time allotted for your overall trip. To help, we are highlighting more Philadelphia sights in our recommended Philly itineraries for longer stays.
More Philadelphia Itineraries
We have outlined what to do in Philadelphia for a day, but what if you are planning to spend two days in Philadelphia…or even 3 days in Philly? No worries! We are offering our top suggestions on how to build a Philadelphia 2-Day Itinerary and how to plan 3 perfect days in Philadelphia.
Half Day in Philadelphia
Visitors planning to visit Philadelphia in a half day – perhaps on a long layover or with limited free time on a business trip – will need to create a succinct Half Day Philadelphia Trip Itinerary. Using our above tips for spending One Day in Philadelphia, we recommend selecting just a few attractions to see that are of most interest.
What To Visit in Philadelphia in a Half Day
For us, a perfect Half Day Philadelphia Travel Itinerary would include the city’s most iconic spots within the Independence National Historical Park. In fact, an easy way to plan your trip would be to simply follow our outline for the morning activities (Museum of the American Revolution, Carpenters’ Hall, Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell).
With extra time on a half-day trip to Philly, visit the National Constitution Center or other historical city sights that we recommend visiting in the afternoon.
Alternate 1-Day Philadelphia Itinerary
In our one-day visit to Philadelphia, we trek to the best sights and most historical spots in the city center on a self-guided tour. We think we have outlined the absolute best way to spend a day in Philadelphia, but it’s not the only way to do it.
Touring Philadelphia with a Guide
Rather than devise a completely self-guided tour of what to see in Philadelphia, visitors can start their one-day tour in Philadelphia with a local guide for a better introduction to the city and history. The two-hour Founding Fathers tour is a small-group walking tour that visits many of the sights we recommend seeing…but is led by a knowledgeable guide. Get the details!
What To Do in Philadelphia for a Day…Beyond History
On the other hand, visitors who are looking for things to do in Philadelphia in 1 day outside the historic core have many options, too. While we are fascinated by the history of Philadelphia, there is more to the city than the past.
A great way to sightsee beyond the Old City is to travel by Hop On Hop Off Bus to the city’s top sights (many of which we recommend in our 2- and 3-Day Philadelphia Itineraries!). Visitors can purchase tickets for 1, 2 or 3 days of sightseeing. Get Tickets now!
2-Day Itinerary Philadelphia
Planning a 2-Day Philadelphia Itinerary allows for a lot more sightseeing! Visitors on a Philly weekend trip can experience some of South Philly, soar to the top of One Liberty for stunning city views and go to a museum.
What To See with 2 Days in Philadelphia
On the first day of your trip, follow our guide things to do in Philadelphia for one day.
Then, start your second day in the city right where you left off on Day 1, South Street. Get donuts and fried chicken for breakfast at Federal Donuts and spend the rest of the morning discovering South Philly.
South Philadelphia Things To do
Go to Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, one of the city’s most unique art museums. Afterwards, head for the Italian Market 9th Street, an open-air market that dates to the late 1800s (or join a guided tour for a more local experience!)
For lunch, see if you can settle the greatest debate in South Philly and decide who you think makes the best cheesesteak: Geno’s or Pat’s. The two restaurants face off on opposing street corners on what is considered the most famous Philly Cheesesteak corner in the city.
Pro Tip: Get a better introduction of South Philly on a guide-led tour! Learn more here!
Things To Do Downtown Philadelphia
In the afternoon explore more of the best things to do in downtown Philly.
Start at Rittenhouse Square, which is situated in the poshest part of the city center. Next, soar up to the One Liberty Observation Deck. It is the best place to visit in Philadelphia for a birds’ eye view of the city. (Buy your ticket in advance!).
End your day visiting one of the city’s museums – like the The Academy of Natural Sciences (Advance tickets here!). Alternatively, go to the National Constitution Center if you skipped it on Day 1.
3-Day Philadelphia Itinerary
With 3 days in Philadelphia, you will have ample time to enjoy the top city sights! To create a Philadelphia 3-Day Itinerary, we recommend following the tips in our above 2 Days in Philadelphia Itinerary, then spending the third day at the city’s best museums and attractions on the north side of the city.
Philadelphia Museums for your Philadelphia Itinerary for 3 Days
Start your day at one of the many Philadelphia museums – like the Philadelphia Museum of Art, whose steps are almost more of an attraction than the art itself, thanks to Rocky (Buy Advance Tickets!). Other top museums in the area are the Rodin Museum and Barnes Foundation.
Alternatively, spend the last morning of your 3 days in Philly at the Eastern State Penitentiary, one of the odd (but highly recommended) sights to see in Philadelphia. The crumbling (and some say haunted) cellblocks in the famous prison once housed notorious criminals, like Al Capone and Slick Willie Sutton. Visitors can now tour the abandoned jail (ticket required).
Note: All of these museums can be reached with the Hop On Hop Off Bus!
Pro Tip: Another way to experience the art and culture in the city is on a Street Art Murals Tour. Philly is filled with incredible and poignant street art – and guides will lead the way to the best artwork. Book it now!
Brew and Bridges in the Afternoon of Your Philadelphia Itinerary 3 Days
With 3 days in Philadelphia, you can spend your last afternoon touring a brewery, then head down to the river.
Philly has a long history as a beer town; there is even a district called Brewerytown (which is where the majority of the city’s beer was produced in the early 1900s). Today, there are ample craft breweries in the city. Stop by the highly-regarded Yards Brewing Company to get a taste of locally-produced craft beer. Or, if you visited the penitentiary in the morning, stay nearby and on-point with a visit to Crime and Punishment Brewing in Brewerytown.
End the day at the Race Street Pier and Benjamin Franklin Bridge (you can even use the bridge walkway to cross the river into New Jersey!) or stop by Morgan’s Pier with a fun beer garden and bridge views.
Pro Tip: Visitors who are really interested in the craft beer scene could join a Philadelphia Brewery Tour with Lunch that visits multiple breweries. Get the details!
New York, Philadelphia, Washington Itinerary
Philadelphia, New York City and Washington DC are in close proximity – making it easy for visitors to plan a multi-city trip. We recommend spending at least one week visiting the three cities. You can use our tips in our New York Itinerary and Washington DC Itinerary to plan your ultimate trip!
Philadelphia Day Trip Ideas
We have highlighted some of the best Philadelphia itineraries – but we have a few more tips for day trips in Philadelphia.
How To Plan a Day Trip from NYC to Philadelphia
One of the most popular ways to visit Philly is on a day trip from New York City – and there are several ways to plan a day trip to Philadelphia from NYC. You could book an organized New York to Philadelphia Day Tour (Book it here!), but you could just as easily use our outline of what to visit in Philadelphia in 1 Day to plan your own Philadelphia day trip itinerary.
The cities are just 85 miles apart – and the Amtrak train is the best way to get between the two destinations. The ride takes about 1.5 hours each way and tickets start at about $60 USD. There are multiple departures throughout the day. Trains depart from NYC at Penn Station and terminate at 30th Street Station, west of the city center.
Day Trips from Philadelphia
Philly visitors staying in the city longer than 3 days may want to add day trips near Philadelphia to their itinerary. Some popular DIY destinations for the best day trips from Philadelphia, Pa are Washington DC and NYC. Other popular Philadelphia day trips are to Amish Country and Brandywine Valley.
Top Tips for 24 Hours in Philadelphia
Now that you know what to do in Philadelphia in one day – or longer! – we have a few more tips for your trip!
How To Get to Philly
Philadelphia can be reached by plane, train, bus or car. Our preferred method is to travel by plane – and when we need to buy airline tickets, we start our search for the best times and fares on SkyScanner.
The Philadelphia International Airport (code PHL) is located 11 miles southwest of the city and is serviced by all major US airlines.
Philly Airport to City Center
Where To Stay In Philadelphia
If your one-day trip to Philadelphia includes an overnight stay, you are going to need to find somewhere to spend the night. We think the best place to stay in Philadelphia on a short trip is in the heart of the city, within walking distance of the best tourist attractions.
On our trips to Philly, we stay at the Hilton at Penn’s Landing. The high-rise hotel overlooks the Delaware River and is just a short walk to the city’s most historic attractions. The 4-star hotel features incredible amenities, like an indoor pool, outdoor sundeck, spacious rooms and waterfront dining. Check rates and availability!
The Best Time To Go To Philadelphia
We think autumn is the best time to visit Philadelphia. The weather is usually cool but comfortable and the autumn leaves add a stunning splash of color to the city.
Summers are also pleasant. However, the days can be hot and humid, making visiting the must sees in Philadelphia a task when doing it on foot. Thankfully, there is good public transport and Uber rides are fairly inexpensive.
Winters can be brutally cold and are best avoided – unless you want to bundle up to explore. The benefit of wintertime visits are fewer crowds…plus the city is beautiful in Christmas lights.
Springtime brings rain (but, it can rain in Philly year-round) and a bit of sunshine – so it’s not a bad time to visit the city.
What You Will Need For A Philly Day Trip
Walking Shoes for Your Trip to Philadelphia
Our Philly Itinerary is essentially a One Day Walking Tour of Philadelphia…so you are going to need a good pair of city walking shoes! I am most comfortable in lightweight Columbia shoes – and Kris wears Merrell trail shoes for city walks.
Clothing for Your Philadelphia Trip
Travel Camera for Trips to Philadelphia
The historical sights in Philly are truly spectacular! We recommend using a real camera to capture the city sights. On our travels, we carry a DSLR Canon Rebel with an everyday 18-135mm lens. The camera is easy to use and is well-priced. Best of all, it comes as part of a bundle with a ton of accessories – which is perfect budget camera for beginner photographers.
Day Pack for Your Trip to Philly
We Want To Know: Have you ever spent just one day in Philadelphia? Is there anything you would add to our Philadelphia Itinerary? Give us your best tips and advice in the comments below!
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