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Frommer's on foot in Philly

Frommer's on Foot:  A walking tour of Philadelphia
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Old City

Start: Welcome Park, 2nd and Walnut streets.

Finish: Market Place East, 7th and Market streets.

Time: From 3 to 5 hours.

Best Time: Start no later than 3pm to avoid museum closings. If contemporary art and socializing is your interest, the first Friday of every month brings special late hours for all galleries, cafes, and many historic attractions.

Worst Time: Afternoons.

Old City is an intriguing blend of 17th- and 18th-century artisan row houses, robust 19th-century warehouses and commercial structures, and 20th-century rehabs of all of the above featuring artist lofts and galleries. Many of the cast-iron and brick buildings are being carefully restored and preserved; even if they are modern condos outside, their facades retain a sense of history.

Across from the narrow lane adjoining City Tavern, on 2nd Street, near Walnut Street, is:

1. Welcome Park

This is the site of the Slate Roof House, where William Penn granted the "Charter of Privileges" (now at the Library Hall off Independence Square) in 1701. The pavement bears a massive and whimsical map of Penn's City, with a timeline of his life on the walls.

Next door is the Thomas Bond House, a restored 1769 Georgian row house that's now a bed-and-breakfast.

Walk along the block-long Ritz East cinema to:

2. Front Street

Front Street actually butted up to the river's edge in Colonial times. A walk north brings you past Warmdaddy's and La Famiglia restaurants, and the possibility of exploring Penn's Landing via a beautifully terraced park.

Take a Break--The block of "Two Street" between Chestnut and Market contains lots of good, casual restaurants such as Cuba Libre, Serrano, Sassafras, and Café Spice.

Perhaps deterred by the large, blocky Hyatt Regency between you and the water, head back to the florid Corn Exchange Bank at 2nd and Chestnut streets, then turn right onto one of the liveliest blocks in the historic area. Once you hit the newly widened sidewalks of Market Street (High St. in Colonial times), you'll find a different world, where a burst of boutiques, bars, and upgraded bistros like Fork, Farmicia, and Continental have replaced discount clothing stores. The many alleyways between Front and 5th streets, with names like Trotter Street, Bank Street, and Strawberry Street, testify to the activities and preoccupations of Colonial residents. A particular favorite facade of mine is at 22 S. 3rd St. This is the:

3. Norwegian Seaman's Church

This William Strickland gem from 1837, with Corinthian columns and granite steps, is now a restaurant and club.

If you took the first walking tour, continue right through the Franklin Court stop (stop number 4) to Market Street and Christ Church. Otherwise continue on Market Street until you are between 3rd and 4th streets, where you will find:

4. Franklin Court

This was Ben Franklin's final home, and is now a post office.

Standing on Market Street, you can't miss the graceful spire of:

5. Christ Church

Urban renewal removed the unsightly buildings that hid the church walls from Market Street. Christ Church, with its restful benches and adjoining cemetery, is Philadelphia's leading place of worship.

Take a Break--It may be a bit early for another refueling stop, but the block of Church Street directly to the west of the church contains Old City Coffee at no. 221, a favorite place for marvelous coffee and light lunches. Petit 4 Pastry Studio at 160 N. 3rd St has handmade truffles, tarts, and pastries, plus coffee drinks in a charmingly funky setting. If the end of the day is approaching by the time you get here, duck underneath the Market Street ramp to I-95 at Front Street to reach Panorama's wine bar and bistro.

Walk east down Church Street and take a left at Front Street. Walk north along Front Street for 4 short blocks to get the flavor of the 1830s warehouses, such as Girard at 18-30 N. Front St. and Smythe Stores at 101 Arch St. If you continued north and east, you would come to the clubs and restaurants on the water, such as Hibachi and Rock Lobster. Instead, take a left onto:

6. Elfreth's Alley

Since 1702, this has been the oldest continuously occupied group of homes in America. See for a full description of these tiny houses. Several courts are perfect for wandering into, and you can enter the house at no. 126 and shop at the gift boutique at no. 124.

Walk to the end of Elfreth's Alley and make a right back onto 2nd Street, with its china and restaurant-supply stores. Detour north for a minute to look at 2nd Street Art Building, which houses the Clay Studio and NEXUS galleries, and stop when you reach Quarry Street to visit the:

7. Fireman's Hall Museum

This restored century-old firehouse contains a hand pump used by Ben Franklin, who helped advance firefighting beyond tossing water from rudimentary wooden buckets. On display are 19th- and 20th-century fire wagons, along with assorted firefighting tools and memorabilia.

Head south now and turn right on Arch Street, where you'll come to no. 239, the:

8. Betsy Ross House

The tour of the house is short, but there's a large garden to explore. Directly opposite the house, you'll find the Mulberry Market, an upscale deli with seating in the rear.

Continue west on Arch Street until you find 3rd Street. At the corner of 3rd Street, turn north (toward the Ben Franklin Bridge) to reach the:

9. Old City galleries and shops

This block of N. 3rd Street has some of the coolest Old City furniture, crafts, and art you can find. I love Foster's Urban Homeware at no. 124, and the OLC lighting store at no. 152.

Cross 3rd Street to the Hoop Skirt Factory at 309-313 Arch St., dating from 1875, and the charming Loxley Court just beyond, designed by carpenter Benjamin Loxley in 1741. (It stayed within the family until 1901.) On the south side of Arch Street is the:

10. Arch Street Meeting House

This is the largest Quaker meetinghouse in America, a simple 1805 structure with a substantial history.

Walk west on Arch Street and make a right when you reach 4th Street. Walk north on 4th Street to no. 151, the:

11. Old First Reformed Church

Built in 1837 for a sect of German Protestants, the building survived a stint as a paint warehouse in the late 19th century. The church functions as a small and always full youth hostel during July and August.

Continuing on 4th Street and crossing under the gloomy piers of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, you'll see 235 N. 4th St., the:

12. Old St. George's Methodist Church

This was the cradle of American Methodism and the scene of fanatic religious revival meetings in the early 1770s.

Cross to the other side of 4th Street, below Vine, to find:

13. St. Augustine's Roman Catholic Church

This is another 18th-century building. This one was built for German and Irish Catholics who couldn't get to St. Joseph's, south of Market Street, because of muddy streets. Villanova University, and the Augustinian presence in the United States, started here. The building actually only dates from 1844; the original burned down during anti-Catholic riots.

Now, keep walking west along the bridge to 5th Street, then head south along:

14. Independence Mall

Independence Mall is a swath of urban renewal that has recently been graced with the new Independence Visitor Center, beautiful landscaping, and a new home for the Liberty Bell.

Walk over to the area between Market Street and Arch Street to visit the:

15. Independence Visitor Center

For a general rest stop, tickets to chief Independence National Historical Park sights, and information about the city and region, this facility is superb.

Walk 1 block north to:

16. National Constitution Center

At the upper end of the Mall (Florist St.) is the bicycle and pedestrian entrance to the Benjamin Franklin Bridge; cycling or walking across the bridge makes for a thrilling but time-consuming expedition.

Continuing on, head down 5th Street, stopping at the:

17. U.S. Mint

Of the three mints in the country (the others are in Denver and San Francisco), Philadelphia's is the oldest and the largest. (Note that with security concerns the Mint is generally closed to walk-up traffic; see our review for operational hours.)

Just south of the Mint, on Arch Street, is:

18. Christ Church Burial Ground

This is the resting place of Benjamin and Deborah Franklin and other notables (toss a coin through the opening in the brick wall for luck).

Walk south down 5th Street to 55 N. 5th St. to find the:

19. National Museum of American Jewish History

The city of Philadelphia has a history of distinguished Jewish involvement in town affairs that's almost as long as the life of the city itself. This museum, connected to the city's oldest congregation, commemorates the history of Jews in America. You'll notice how much lower the street level used to be by looking at the statuary outside.

Turn up 5th Street, and look for a small building across from the Franklin graves, in Independence Mall. This is the:

20. Free Quaker Meetinghouse

"Fighting Quakers," such as Betsy Ross, were willing to support the Revolutionary War. But since this violated the tenets of pure Quakerism, they were forced to leave Arch Street Friends and establish their own meetinghouse, which they did -- right here. The building is now run by the Park Service.

Cross Market Street on Independence Mall to see the:

21. Liberty Bell

Walk east from the Liberty Bell Center on 5th Street where you'll find:

22. The Bourse

This was a 19th-century exchange that now contains a food court and pleasant urban mall.

Walk south on 5th Street and reenter Independence Mall via Chestnut Street, and you'll be in front of:

23. Independence Hall

Continue west along Chestnut Street to 7th Street, and turn right onto a historic block containing the Atwater Kent Museum of city memorabilia and the:

24. Declaration (Graff) House

This is a reconstruction of the lodgings where Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence. It is run by the National Park Service, with free daily admission.

Directly opposite Graff House on Market Street is:

25. Market Place East

This is the converted and rehabilitated former home of Lit Brothers Department Store, a wrought-iron palace that's a block long.

For more on what to see and do in Philadelphia, visit our complete guide online at

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