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Philadelphia Tours

As one of America’s largest and most historic cities, Philadelphia has no shortage of tour operators. Choosing one is a matter of preference—and budget. Would you rather walk or cover more ground by bike, bus, or other vehicle? Are you hungry for history, scenery, or a good cheesesteak? Here are some Philadelphia tours worth considering.

front view of the entrance to Eastern State Penitentiary
Eastern State Penitentiary once housed Al Capone. Photo © R. Kennedy, courtesy of Visit Philadelphia.

Sightseeing Tours

As cities go, Philadelphia is supremely walkable. But the quickest way to get a feel for its main attractions is to hop on a tourist bus. Philadelphia Trolley Works (215/389-8687, daily year-round, 24-hour pass adults $30, seniors $28, children 4-12 $10) offers sightseeing tours 363 days a year, weather permitting. The company operates road trolleys and double-decker buses (marked The Big Bus Company), and tickets are good for both vehicle types. They depart from the northeast corner of 5th and Market Streets in Old City, but you can hop on or off at any of their 21 stops, including Chinatown, City Hall, Eastern State Penitentiary, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Zoo, and Penn’s Landing. Tickets can be purchased on board, online, at the Independence Visitor Center, and at many hotel concierge desks. Philadelphia Trolley Works offers a variety of other tours, including a Philly by Night bus tour. Check the website for details.

In the warmer months, Segway and bike tours are a fun way to get to know Philly. Philly By Segway (215/280-3746, daily year-round) offers several Segway tours, including a two-hour cheesesteak tour ($85) complete with tastings. You must be at least 12 years old and weight 100-300 pounds to ride a Segway. Philadelphia Bike Tours (215/514-3124, year-round) offers three-hour river-to-river tours ($68) as well as customized tours for groups of four or more. If you prefer to explore on your own, you can have a bike, helmet, and lock delivered to your hotel ($57/day).

view of the tower of Independence Hall from below
The Founding Fathers debated and drafted the Declaration of Independence and later the Constitution at Independence Hall. Photo © Rachel Vigoda.

Guided Walking Tours

A walking tour in the Historic District is a great way to learn about Philadelphia’s role in American history. The 75-minute Constitutional Walking Tour (215/525-1776, daily Apr.-Nov., adults $19, children 3-12 $12.50) stops at more than 20 sites in and around Independence National Historical Park, including the Betsy Ross House, Franklin Court, and Christ Church Burial Ground. Tours meet outside the main entrance to the National Constitution Center (525 Arch St.). If you prefer to go at your own pace, you can download the Constitutional Audio Tour ($14.99).

In the summer months, volunteers for the nonprofit Friends of Independence National Historical Park (215/861-4971) lead free Twilight Tours (6pm daily mid-June-Labor Day) of the park. The tours begin at the Independence Visitor Center and last about an hour.

Historic Philadelphia Inc. (Historic Philadelphia Center, 6th and Chestnut Sts., 215/629-4026), which operates the Betsy Ross House and other attractions in the Historic District, offers two unusual evening tours. On the Tippler’s Tour (Thurs. Apr.-Jan., adults $50, seniors and students $45), participants visit four watering holes, where they enjoy drinks and snacks while learning about 18th-century taverns and drinking traditions. Prepare to be carded when purchasing tickets for the two-hour tour. Independence After Hours (select days May-Oct., adults $85, seniors and students $80, children 12 and under $55) features a three-course dinner at the famed City Tavern and an exclusive opportunity to visit Independence Hall after it’s closed to the public. Actors playing a variety of 18th-century Philadelphians enhance the experience. The tour lasts about 2.5 hours and reservations are recommended.

Ghost Tours

Philadelphia may be as haunted as it is historic, with ghosts said to inhabit Independence Hall and other Historic District sites. Created by the company behind the Constitutional Walking Tour, the Spirits of ’76 Ghost Tour (215/525-1776, nightly July-Aug. and Oct., select nights Apr.-June, Sept., and Nov., adults $19, children 3-12 $12.50) visits more than 20 sites, from paranormal hot spots to filming locations used in The Sixth Sense and other thrillers. The 75-minute walking tour departs from 4th and Chestnut Streets. Those who prefer to go it alone can download the Spirits of ’76 Ghost Tour Audio Adventure ($17.50).

Ghost Tour of Philadelphia (215/413-1997), the city’s original and much-heralded ghost tour operator, offers a few options, including a year-round Candlelight Walking Tour (nightly Mar.-Oct., select nights Nov.-Feb., adults $20, children 4-12 $12). The Ghosts of the Mansion Tour (select days, $22) includes a look inside the historic Physick House or Powel House, both said to be haunted. Electromagnetic field meters are provided for ghost-detection, and it’s spooky enough that children under 13 aren’t allowed. Both tours last 75-90 minutes and begin at Signers Garden at 5th and Chestnut Streets.

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