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Historic Day Trips Near Philly

Looking for great day trip ideas? Visit these historical sites an hour or less away from the city.

Photo courtesy of Pennypacker Mills
Photo courtesy of Pennypacker Mills
Written by Sarah Cocchimiglio

If you’re a history buff, you probably already know that the Philadelphia area, the birthplace of the U.S. Constitution, has plenty of opportunities to connect with the past. Here are some great historic day trip destinations. The best part? You can get to all these places on one tank of gas (or less).

Mercer Museum and Fonthill Castle 

84 South Pine St.

Doylestown

(215) 345-0210

Why Go? These concrete castles were built a century ago byHenry Mercer, a historian, archaeologist and collector. He created the Mercer Museum to house his collection of everyday objects from pre-Industrial Revolution America.

Insider Tip: Wear comfortable shoes and bring a coat during winter months, said spokesperson Gayle Shupack. “Both the Mercer and Fonthill contain stairs—lots of them. Also, it is quite difficult to heat such large spaces, so count on it being chilly in the winter,” she said.

Must Do: Don’t miss the Vampire Killing Kit located outside of Central Court, featured on Travel Channel’s Mysteries at the Museum. It has everything you would need to kill a vampire: pistol, silver bullets, cross, etc. While there, check out the spectacular view of the museum’s many hanging objects. “Hanging objects was not only a way for Mercer to save space when displaying his collection, but it also gives visitors a chance to view the objects from different perspectives,” Shupack said.

The Fine Print: Click here for museum hours and admission rates.

 

National Constitution Center 

525 Arch St.

Philadelphia

(215) 409-6600

Why Go: Located on Independence Mall in Philadelphia, the National Constitution Center is a nonprofit, nonpartisan center. It features hundreds of interactive exhibits, and visitors can even sign the Constitution along with 42 life-sized bronze Founding Fathers.   

Insider Tip: Special programming and admission discounts are available on civic holidays. The feature exhibition, Capture the Moment: The Pulitzer Prize Photographs is on view through Dec. 31, showcasing a powerful collection of images from 1942 to present day.

Must Do: Don’t miss Freedom Rising, said NCC spokesperson Sarah Fergus: “This stirring 17-minute multimedia performance sets the stage for the museum experience and takes visitors on an awe-inspiring journey through the story of ‘We the People.’”

The Fine Print: Park in the museum garage on Race Street between Fifth and Sixth streets. For information about planning a visit, including hours, admission rates and exhibit schedules, click here.

 

Pennypacker Mills

5 Haldeman Rd.

Schwenksville

(610) 287-9349

Why Go? Step back in time at Pennypacker Mills, representing the turn of the 20th century. Most of the artifacts displayed in the house are original to the family who lived there. The winter is an excellent time to visit, when the house is decked in Victorian styles that vary from year to year.

Insider Tip: The servant area is in the final stages of being restored, said Pennypacker Mills Historic Site Supervisor Ella Aderman. “It will certainly be a ‘do not miss’ feature, not only showing the upstairs/downstairs elements of the time period, but the beginnings of ‘modern’ technology, which changed lives.”  

Must Do: Check out the museum shop for one-of-a-kind decorations, toys, candy, books and gifts.

The Fine Print: Free guided tours are available year round. Click here for hours.

 

Eastern State Penitentiary

2027 Fairmount Ave.

Philadelphia

(215) 236-3300

Why Go: America’s oldest prison, Eastern State opened in 1829 and housed notorious criminals like Al Capone and bank robber Willie Sutton before closing in 1971. Explore the prison on your own with an audio tour narrated by actor Steve Buscemi.

Insider Tip: “The staff stationed in the cellblocks are an incredible source of information,” said Associate Director for Tour Programs and Site Operations Francis Dolan. 

Must Do: “The Hands-On History tours are short, guide-led experiences that allow visitors to access parts of the prison that are normally closed,” Dolan said.

The Fine Print: Click here for hours, ticket prices, directions and parking info.

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