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  • A view of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
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    Philadelphia: From Long-Ago to Today

  • Valley Forge National Historical Park in Pennsylvania at night
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    The Countryside of Philadelphia: Battlefields, Landmarks and Museums

  • Horseback riding the nature trails at Gettysburg National Military Park
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    Gettysburg: Immersive American History and Farming Culture

  • Vintage cars lining the quaint Main Street of historic Saxonburg
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    Butler County: Small Towns with Modern Appeal

  • Historic buildings in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
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    Lehigh Valley: Where Industrial History Comes Alive

Touring Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania via open-air bus
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Pennsylvania’s History: A Cultural Tour, from Big Cities to Small Towns

By Heather Lalley

  • Route distance:
    1,163.00
  • Suggested Time:
    1-2 weeks

It’s as if a history book has come to life in Pennsylvania, a state rich in American Revolutionary and Civil War landmarks.

Embark on this action-packed loop around Pennsylvania to experience colonial and industrial-era architecture, thought-provoking museums and heritage-filled small towns. Along the way, you’ll enjoy plenty of modern thrills as well, from award-winning restaurants to world-class shopping.

01
A view of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
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Paul Loftland

Philadelphia: From Long-Ago to Today

Philadelphia, the USA’s first World Heritage City, is a walkable metropolis – a city rich in history, arts and culture, with prestigious universities, tax-free shopping and vibrant neighborhoods ripe for exploration. After flying in to Philadelphia International Airport (PHL), history buffs will want to begin at Independence National Historical Park, home to landmarks including Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell and the Betsy Ross House, where the famed seamstress lived when she stitched the first American flag. It was here that the American colonies declared independence from England and the U.S. Constitution, the oldest in the world still in use today, was written and adopted. Food lovers can fill their shopping bags (and stomachs) wandering the stands at Reading Terminal Market, one of the largest and oldest public markets in the USA. Still hungry? Notable chefs including Michael Solomonov, Jeff Michaud, Masaharu Morimoto and Jose Garces operate restaurants in the city too. Before setting off on your road trip, stretch your legs at the massive Fairmount Park. The urban oasis has more than 430 kilometers of trails for biking, walking and running, as well as gardens, landmarks, museums and impressive skyline views.

40 km
0.75 hours by car
02
Valley Forge National Historical Park in Pennsylvania at night
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The Countryside of Philadelphia: Battlefields, Landmarks and Museums

The rich history of Pennsylvania continues to reveal itself just a short drive from downtown Philadelphia in the countryside towns and suburbs nearby. Explorers here will find a wealth of experiences, from American Revolutionary War history to memorable art, gardens, museums and even shopping. Start at Valley Forge National Historical Park, site of the epic 1777-78 winter encampment of George Washington’s Continental Army. Continue learning about Revolutionary War battles with a visit to Brandywine Battlefield, site of the war’s largest engagement, where visitors can embark on a driving tour that traces the troop movements of 1777. There’s also local culture in this region to round out your stay: In the Bryn Athyn Historic District is the Glencairn Museum, a religious art and history museum located in a historic home. Stroll the quaint shops of Kennett Square, in the valley known as the Mushroom Capital of the World for its prodigious production of the popular ingredient. Shoppers will be drawn to nearby King of Prussia Mall, with more dedicated retail space than any other shopping center in the USA. A change of pace awaits in your next stop, where history pairs with quaint country appeal.

193 km
2 hours by car
03
Horseback riding the nature trails at Gettysburg National Military Park
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Gettysburg: Immersive American History and Farming Culture

See first-hand some of the most important sites in U.S. history while learning about one of the country’s most-notable leaders among the fertile agricultural communities and quaint small towns of Adams County. Gettysburg National Military Park, site of the Battle of Gettysburg (a turning point in the American Civil War), inspired President Abraham Lincoln’s pivotal “Gettysburg Address.” Visitors here can go on ranger-led tours, follow horseback-riding trails and take part in living-history demonstrations. Fast forward 100 years and head to the Eisenhower National Historic Site to tour the preserved home and still-working farm of General and President Dwight D. Eisenhower and his wife, Mamie. Adding to the significance, the historic site served as a weekend retreat and meeting place for world leaders. Even before Gettysburg, Adams County was a thriving farming center and still is today. The area, known especially for its apples, welcomes visitors to tour its many working farms and dine at a variety of farm-to-table restaurants. Spend some time exploring and fill up on treats for the four-hour drive to your next destination.

341 km
4 hours by car
04
Vintage cars lining the quaint Main Street of historic Saxonburg
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Teri Getsay

Butler County: Small Towns with Modern Appeal

The idyllic small towns of Butler County in Western Pennsylvania represent the perfect mix of old-world history, natural beauty and modern amenities. Start your exploration in Harmony, with its brick and log architecture reminiscent of a German village. The town, founded in 1804 by a group seeking religious freedom, is the site of the area’s first National Historic Landmark District and is packed with coffee shops, bakeries, antique stores and a hotel-turned-tavern known as the Harmony Inn. Wind 30 minutes east to another picturesque German-inspired town – Saxonburg, where 32 of the buildings on Main Street are more than a century old. Take a scenic walk through the village’s Roebling Park, which honors John Roebling who co-founded the town and also invented wire rope, which was used in his design of the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City. The city of Butler – birthplace of the Jeep automobile – lies just north of Saxonburg. Tour the Maridon Museum and check out its surprising collection of Chinese and Japanese art before sampling the many cafes, brewpubs, art galleries and restaurants. You’ll want to spend a few days getting to know this area and taking in the small-town vibes before heading back east.

486 km
4.75 hours by car
05
Historic buildings in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
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Lehigh Valley: Where Industrial History Comes Alive

Drive back along Interstate 80 across the state to the Lehigh Valley to immerse yourself in Pennsylvania’s colonial and industrial history. Both eras are well represented in the thriving cities and charm-packed small towns here. Ring a replica Liberty Bell at the Liberty Bell Museum in Zion’s Reformed United Church of Christ in Allentown, the site where the actual bell was hidden during the Revolutionary War. Put on your walking shoes and tour historic Bethlehem, also known as Christmas City, U.S.A. The town's Historic Moravian Bethlehem district includes a home dating to 1741, as well as numerous stone structures from the 18th century. Tour the industrial quarter, watch a blacksmithing demonstration or learn even more at the National Museum of Industrial History, located in what was once a Bethlehem Steel facility. End your historic loop tour with an Instagram-worthy visit to the Hoover Mason Trestle overlooking the SteelStacks events venue. The elevated walkway, built along the railway that once hauled iron ore to the city’s blast furnaces, is ideal for either solo adventuring or guided tours. Catch your flight home from Lehigh Valley International Airport (ABE) or head just over an hour south to fly back out of Philadelphia.