13 things to do in historic Philly not shut down by the U.S. government

     Elfreth's Alley is the oldest, continuously-inhabited residential street in America (Nathaniel Hamilton/for NewsWorks)

    Elfreth's Alley is the oldest, continuously-inhabited residential street in America (Nathaniel Hamilton/for NewsWorks)

    Fresh off the plane for a visit to the Cradle of Liberty, and you’re turned away from the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall thanks to a partial federal government shutdown. What to do?

    Fresh off the plane for a visit to the Cradle of Liberty, and you’re turned away from the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall thanks to a partial federal government shutdown. Nice work, Congress.

    You can’t even get the t-shirt, because the visitors’ center gift shop is closed! What to do? Hit up the bars up and down 2nd Street?

    Don’t let the U.S. government shut down your dreams of a historical vacation. Historic Philadelphia sites remain open, such as Franklin Square and the Betsy Ross House. The National Constitution Center and the National Museum of American Jewish History are both open on Independence Mall.

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    And the African American Museum (701 Arch St.) — now featuring the work of the Tiberino family (the “West Philly Wyeths”) — is just a couple of blocks away. As is the Philadelphia History Museum (15 S. 7th St.).

    But there’s even more to find outside of Old City. Here are some of our favorites.

    Where would you send a wayward tourist? Tell us in the comments below.

    1. Bartram’s Garden

    Near 54th Street and Lindbergh Boulevard

    This is the oldest surviving botanical garden in North America (est. 1728) and one of the premiere collections of North American plant species in the world. The original stone house and gardens are still intact. Notably, the Bartram family is credited with saving the Franklinia alatamaha, a species of tree named for you-know-who, from extinction.

    2. City Hall

    Broad and Market streets

    “An absolutely amazing building,” says WHYY’s Dave Davies. “Much more interesting than Independence Hall.” Take it from an insider, folks. WHYY reporters spend a lot of time here. Tours are available weekdays at 12:30 p.m.

    3. Masonic Temple

    1 N. Broad St.

    Do you like pretty buildings? This one, directly north of City Hall, is worth a visit. “Amazing rooms inside, beautiful building outside. A true hidden treasure,” raves Davies. Guided tours are available Tuesday through Saturday.

    4. Philadelphia Vietnam Veterans Memorial

    Penn’s Landing, Spruce Street and Columbus Boulevard

    This polished-granite amphitheater memorializes the 646 Philadelphians who were killed in the Vietnam War.

    5. Mural Arts tours

    Departing from the The Gallery, 9th and Market streets

    You’re in luck: October is “Mural Arts Month.” Take a public tour of the City of Murals starting at the Mural Arts Gift Shop located on the second floor of The Gallery at 9th and Market streets. Or walk the Mural Mile for free — a podcast-guided route of 17 of Center City’s most iconic murals.

    6. Museum without Walls

    Take your self-guided art tour from two dimensions to three, exploring 65 sculptures throughout Fairmount Park and Center City. The audio podcast features a story for each piece told by people who are connected to the sculptures in some way.

    7. Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens

    1020 South Street

    Not enough public art for you? The Magic Gardens is the showcase of Isaiah Zagar’s iconic mosaic art, comprising a gallery, community arts center and outdoor mosaic sculpture garden.

    8. Philly foodie tours

    Various locations

    It would be unthinkable to leave town before sampling the flavors of Philly or discovering where to get the best craft beers. There are tours of various themes daily.

    Not enough time for a tour? At least get yourself to Reading Terminal Market. If you can’t find something delicious there, you must not be hungry.

    9. Eastern State Penitentiary

    2027 Fairmount Avenue

    Tours are offered every day for this ruined historic prison, designed to beat down America’s most notorious convicts with its massive and oppressive walls and to truly inspire penitence and regret in their hearts. And this is the best time of year to visit. At night, through Nov. 9, the prison hosts “Terror Behind the Walls,” a huge haunted house — as if a massive prison wasn’t creepy enough.

    10. Mütter Museum

    19 S. 22nd St.

    Did someone say “creepy”? The Mütter collection represents one of America’s finest museums of medical history. But everyone really goes to get grossed out by the skulls, preserved deformities and other medical oddities on display.

    11. The Temple University School of Podiatric Medicine Shoe Museum

    148 N. 8th Street

    Yes. Shoes. This collection of footwear, first made available during Philadelphia’s 1976 bicentennial celebration, comprises roughly 900 pairs, from 30 different countries, collected by a notable and long-dead Philadelphia orthopedist. About 250 are on display on the sixth floor of the Temple University School of Podiatric Medicine main building.

    12. Elfreth’s Alley

    Take a stroll down the oldest continuously residential street in the country. You can’t go in the houses, but there is a little museum and gift shop (126 Elfreths Alley). 

    13. Literary Philadelphia

    Rosenbach Museum and Library (2008 and 2010 Delancey Place)

    These two 19th century houses contain the historic treasures of the Rosenbach brothers, preeminent dealers in rare books and artifacts. There’s a lot of European and American history within these walls, with a concentration on Irish, British and American literature and a pretty impressive collection of the work of Maurice Sendak.

    The Library Company of Philadelphia (1314 Locust Street)

    Not bookish enough for you? This cultural institution founded by Benjamin Franklin functioned as the Library of Congress for the nascent United States until 1800. It is now a research library open to the public with extensive collections of printed matter from the 17th through 19th centuries.

    And if that doesn’t satisfy a penchant for rare books and ephemera, you could always hit up the rare books collection at the Free Library of Philadelphia (1901 Vine Street) to see Charles Dickens’ very own writing desk — and his pet raven, which was immortalized not only through taxidermy but also in Poe’s poem “The Raven.”

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