University City Connects Education, Culture and Transportation

University City is a section of Philadelphia named for its institutes of higher education. The University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University,and the University of the Sciences all call this area home as do several renowned hospitals and the Ronald McDonald House (which hosts out-of-town families who have a child receiving care in town). University City also has a number of arts and music venues and an abundance of restaurants and food trucks with an unending variety of cuisines.

The Penn Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology is especially known for its Egyptian collection and is worth visiting. The more than 1 million items in the collection are from explorations in Italy, Greece, Africa, Asia and Central America. The building itself is of architectural interest. The exterior includes glass mosaics by Tiffany as well as beautiful courtyards and gardens.  The  University of Pennsylvania is also home to the Institute of Contemporary Art, which hosted Andy Warhol’s first solo show in 1965 and is known internationally (admission is free).

U of Penn’s Franklin Field is home to Penn’s football team and also hosts the annual 3-day Penn Relay Carnival, America’s oldest track meet (dating back to 1895) that attracts crowds of up to 100,000 each year.

Public transportation is available in the form of buses, subways and rail lines. Philadelphia’s 30th Street station, one of the busiest in the nation, is where the Amtrak and SEPTA rail lines meet.  The building itself is in the grand Art Deco style of the early 1900s and is fitting a hub that connects rail lines from the north, south, east and west. Inside The Spirit of Transportation, a bas-relief sculpture by Karl Bitter and the Pennsylvania Railroad War Memorial, a sculpture by Walter Hancock commemorate local history. Just outside the main concourse, there are shops and both restaurant and fast food options for travelers. The station also has newly installed “The Porch,” an outdoor public space with seating and scheduled activities.

Investigating Independence National Historic Park

Independence HallIndependence National Historic Park is a must-see for visitors new to Philadelphia. The area is rich in history and architecture and during the summer months, costumer interpreters bring history to life. One could easily spend a days exploring all that the area has to offer in depth, but a good starting point is the Independence Mall Visitor’s Center, a newer addition to the park which is free to the public (and the only place to get your free timed tickets to Independence Hall). While here, you can also watch or two short films and get more information about the historic district of the city.

Independence Hall was the location of the Second Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, and the place both the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution were signed, so it is a popular stop for visitors to the city. Park rangers provide information about the rooms and the artifacts contained within. Know your basic history, as some will test your knowledge while on the tour. During peak times, tickets “sell out,” so you will want to go early in the day to reserve your spot. The grounds behind Independence Hall are quite pretty and a good place to stroll or sit and people watch.

Between these two buildings is the Liberty Bell Center. Be aware that this is a popular location and the lines may be long. While waiting to see the actual bell, there is a short video and numerous displays about the bell and its history, as well as the history of our nation. I think it is worth going to see this, at least once, and have discovered with repeat visits (as the exhibits, as well as the bell’s location have changed over the years) that there always seems to be something new to learn.

There are several other buildings in the Independence Mall area that are open to the public, including two that I missed seeing over the course of many visits. The Free Quaker Meeting House is a quiet place to stop and sit for a bit and if you time it right, learn more history. The site has varying hours, depending on the season. The “Free Quakers” who supported the Revolution separated from their pacifist Quaker brethren and founded this church in 1783. This is one of the sites around the park where you might find a costumed interpreter who will share information about the late 1700s with you. Carpenter’s Hall, which hosted the First Continental Congress and later Franklin’s Library, the American Philosophical Society and the First and Second Banks of America, is a little gem with many stories to tell. The history is detailed in a charming story written for young readers here.

Franklin Court is where the home of Benjamin Franklin once stood. The surrounding buildings include the Franklin Court Printing Office, where you can learn about printing methods of the time, and hear about Franklin’s history as a printer. Recent years have revealed more about Franklin and a steel structure now outlines where his house once stood. The Franklin Museum explores Franklin’s life through hands-on exhibits and recovered artifacts.

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The mini golf course at Franklin Square features icons of Philadelphia in miniature. Here is Boathouse Row.

There is much more to explore in the surrounding area. Other nearby buildings, such as the Betsy Ross House, the Declaration House (where Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence) and Edgar Allen Poe house are also park of the National Park System. Franklin Square with its carousel and mini golf is just a few blocks away. Also nearby are the National Constitution Center and Christ Church Burial Ground (both charge fees, but are worth visiting). The Historic Philadelphia Gazette is a free paper that details each day’s happenings and there are multiple tour options of the city, by foot, trolley, horse drawn carriage, duckboat or Segway; many cater to specific interests.