Independence Visitor Center – Information, Tourist Attractions
Side view of Independence Visitor Center, 6th and Market Streets
Independence Visitor Center is located at the northeast corner of 6th and Market Streets, in the heart of the most historic square mile in America, Old City Philadelphia.
This modern, state-of-the-art Independence Visitor Center, should absolutely be your first stop, upon arriving in Philadelphia. This is particularly true, if you are from out of town, or if you are visiting downtown Philadelphia for the first time in many years.
The resources that it provides are remarkable, and the courteous staff will do everything they can to make your visit to Philadelphia as enjoyable as possible.
Independence Visitor Center -The Only Place Where You Can Obtain Independence Hall Tickets
Certainly, you don't want to miss out on visiting Independence Hall, one of Philadelphia's two most famous attractions, along with the Liberty Bell, located directly across the street.
You don't need tickets for the Liberty Bell, but you do need them for Independence Hall, and the Visitor Center is the only source for the free tickets.
One reason you need to get there early - particularly during the summer, and the weekends all year - is the fact that due to the huge demand for tickets, Independence Hall can "sell out" for the day. So you want to get there to pick up your tickets as early as possible...
Tickets are required for visits to Independence Hall, from March through December. Currently, they are not required during January and February, the two slowest tourist months.
Each person in your party will receive a cream colored ticket with a silhouette of Independence Hall on it, with "Independence National Historical Park" at the top, which you should keep as a souvenir. Do not detach the stub until you are asked for it, as it will void your ticket. (And don't let anyone sell you a ticket, they're free.)
Each ticket will have its day and date, and a time printed underneath it. However, it's strongly recommended, that you go over to Independence Hall, at least 15 minutes prior to the time stamped on your ticket, so that you can go through security, and not be late for your tour of Independence Hall. You have to go across the street, and if you're not familiar with the area, you might get lost amidst all the Georgian brick buildings. So make sure that you know where you're going, before you leave Independence Visitor Center.
Independence Visitor Center, Per Se, Is A Worthwhile Philadelphia Tourist Attraction, In Its Own Right
If you haven't been to Philadelphia in several years, then you haven't seen the new one. It's incredible. In fact, it's a significant Philadelphia tourist attraction, itself. You could easily spend a couple of hours in it. It's 50,000 square feet in size and is two city blocks - literally the equivalent of the 42 houses that comprise Elfreth's Alley.
Try Not To Get Overwhelmed With the Choices At Independence Visitor Center
There are so many things to do in Philadelphia and the surrounding region, that we can understand that after an initial walk through Independence Visitor Center, you can feel overwhelmed by the choices, and that you can't possibly see everything. This is understandable. Here's what we'd recommend for the Visitor Center.
There are two movies, which loop over and over in the two movie theaters. The longer of the two, Independence, is a dramatization of the events of the American Revolution. The shorter of the two, Choosing Sides, focuses on the lives of four young adults in Revolutionary War Philadelphia - one is played by the well-known actress Kristen Bell, long before she became a star.
The movies may or may not be worth your time. Independence is the longer of the two, and if you're going to watch one, Choosing Sides is probably the better choice, because it won't take up as much of your time.
Pick Up A Free Copy of the Philadelphia Historic Gazette
This small newspaper will provide you with all of the up-to-date information, in terms of which buildings and attractions in the Philadelphia historic district will be open during your visit. This is particularly important during the off-season, when hours are shortened and days reduced, especially for the less-popular buildings.
Spend Some Time, Learning Your Way Around the City and Region
Across from the main help desk, is a room with a gigantic map of Old City Philadelphia, with capsule descriptions of the main historic buildings. This is a great way to get your bearings of Old City Philadelphia and Society Hill, especially if you've never been to Philadelphia before. As noted, try not to feel overwhelmed by the choices. Just read everything carefully, figure out what you'd really like to see, and go from there.
The Interpretive Center, Within Independence Visitor Center
Included in the same room, are fascinating kiosks about the history of the Great Seal of the United States, which are well worth your time. There are also some kiosks on life in 18th-century Philadelphia, and another room on the Underground Railround in Philadelphia.
Independence Visitor Center Amenities and Services
There is a cafeteria, with decent selection and decent prices, if you want to grab a snack or a drink. However, the real resource is the staff, which have an incredible knowledge of the city and region, and can answer any questions that you may have.
There also are tons of brochures for Philadelphia tourist attractions, historic sites, tours of all kinds and for all tastes, excursions, theatrical performances, etc. As noted before, don't think that you're going to see and do everything in Philadelphia during your visit. (We've spent a lifetime here, and still find brochures in Independence Visitor Center for attractions and tours of which we've never heard, let alone visited.)
Glance through the brochures, and if you see something that sparks your interest, pick it up so you'll remember it (if you don't, odds are that you may even forget what it was called!)
Independence Visitor Center - Hours of Operation
Independence Visitor Center is open seven days a week, year-round. But the exact hours vary, depending on the season.
During the winter season (i.e., the off-peak season for travel to Philadelphia), it is open every day, from 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM. This is for the six months of October, November, December, January, February, and March.
From Memorial Day to Labor Day (the peak season for travel to Philadelphia), it is open every day, from 8:30 AM to 7:00 PM.
During the months of April, May, and September (outside of the aforementioned Memorial Day and Labor Day windows) - it is open every day, from 8:30 AM to 6:00 PM.
How to Get To Independence Visitor Center, via SEPTA
There are three ways to reach the Visitor Center, via SEPTA.
1) By Bus
Many SEPTA buses operate on Market Street, during the hours which the Visitor Center is open. So many, in fact, that it's not worth the hassle to find out the bus schedule in advance.
Instead, just get yourself to somewhere on Market Street, between 30th Street, and 6th Street, on the south side of the street. That's the side you want, for eastbound traffic.
Wait for any SEPTA bus, and when it stops, ask the driver if he/she is headed eastbound, toward 6th and Market and/or the historic area. If so, just board that bus, and ride to 6th Street (or the nearest stop to it).
However, conversely, if you are at Penn's Landing or anywhere east of the Visitor Center, just get yourself to Market Street, on the north side of Market, at any point between Front Street (there's no "First Street", as Front Street is its equivalent) and 6th Street. Ask any bus driver if he/she is heading toward Independence Visitor Center, and if so, jump on.
2) The Blue Line / Market-Frankford Line / "the el"
The SEPTA Blue Line - the Blue Line and the Market-Frankford Line are the official names, but this mode of travel is generally referred to by Philadelphians, as "the el", short for "elevated train". Ironically, if you're taking it to Independence Visitor Center, it not only won't be elevated, it will be subterranean. But don't let that fact confuse you. Just think of it as the Blue Line, or the Market-Frankford Line.
To reach the Visitor Center, at 6th and Market Streets, you can descend into eastbound Blue Line stops, in Center City, at the following intersections with Market Street:
30th Street, 15th Street, 13th Street, 11th Street, and 8th Street
When you descend into any of those Blue Line stops, make sure that you follow the signs which direct you to "Frankford". Those are eastbound trains.
(Don't concern yourself with the fact that you are not actually going to Frankford, which is a very distant neighborhood from Center City.)
From these stops, do not follow the signs to "69th Street" - those trains are westbound. And if you aren't sure, ask the SEPTA employee at the turnstile which direction you're heading.
It will be a very short ride. Disembark the train at the 5th Street stop, and make sure you stand up and have your belongings when the train reaches 8th Street, the station immediately preceding 5th Street, because the el makes quick stops - be ready to walk off the train, the instant it pulls into 5th Street. Then walk one block west toward the Visitor Center at 6th Street.
(If, for some reason, you fail to get off at 5th Street, just get off at the next stop - 2nd Street - and walk the four blocks back to the Visitor Center.)
3) By taking "the train" - SEPTA Regional Rail
From any point in the Philadelphia region, you can take SEPTA Regional Rail - what Philadelphians commonly call "the train".
The closest train stop to Independence Visitor Center is Market East Station.
It is located at 11th and Market Streets, and thus, the train will drop you off just five blocks west of the Visitor Center, which is at 6th and Market Streets.
However, particularly if you are from out of town, or unfamiliar with the train system, we strongly recommend that you read our SEPTA Regional Rail Guide, if you plan to travel there by train.
How to Get to Independence Visitor Center, via the Phlash Trolley
Between May 1 and October 31, you can take the Phlash Trolley to its 4th stop, right at the door of the Visitor Center. You can get on at any of its 27 stops, throughout Philadelphia, and will eventually reach the Visitor Center. That having been said, the Phlash runs in a long loop, counterclockwise, throughout Center City and beyond.
To illustrate with an example:
If you board a westbound Phlash on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway , it will take you a very long time, to get back to the Visitor Center. It's not that far, eastbound. And some of the Ben Franklin Parkway stops are on its eastbound route, and so if you get on the Phlash going toward the Delaware River, it won't take very long to arrive at the Visitor Center.
But, if you are boarding a westbound Phlash, at any point on the Ben Franklin Parkway, will need to go all the way to the Philadelphia Zoo. It will then need to retrace its path along the Ben Franklin Parkway, eastbound, and finally make it back to the Visitors Center.
So, what's the most important thing to remember?
Make sure that your Phlash is heading in the direction you want to go. Just ask the Phlash driver, if he's heading toward the Zoo, first, or toward the Visitor Center, first.
Of course, if you have the time, and don't mind the ride, you can board westbound, and wait for the trolley to make it all the way back - it's a good way to see Philadelphia. But if you're pressed for time, you should walk, take SEPTA, or a cab.
And remember that the Phlash only operates from May 1 to October 31, from 10 AM to approximately 6 PM (depending on the stop - check to see when the last Phlash leaves your stop(s).
A Map of Independence Visitor Center and the Surrounding Area
View Independence Visitor Center in a larger map
Added Tuesday, August 3, 2010...
Getting to Independence Visitor Center From Amtrak 30th Street Station
If you are visiting Philadelphia via Amtrak, you will most likely be disembarking at the architecturally magnificent 30th Street Station. It is located at 30th and Market Streets - nowhere near Independence Visitor Center, unfortunately. It is a 24 block walk, and an expensive cab ride.
However, your Amtrak ticket is valid (on the same day) for free travel on SEPTA Regional Rail, both to and from Market East Station, as well as Suburban Station
- which lets you off at 16th Street and John F. Kennedy Boulevard. However, for Independence Visitor Center, you want to get off at Market East. It will be about a 10 minute ride from 30th Street Station.
Here's what you do - after you get off the Amtrak train, follow signs for SEPTA Regional Rail. Once there, ask a SEPTA employee to direct you to a platform, where you can get an eastbound train headed for Market East. (It won't be a long wait, as there are many trains.)
Once you're on the platform, double-check with the conductor, before you get on the SEPTA train - "Is this train going to Market East?"
If so, you're fine.
You have to pass through Suburban Station first, and Market East will be the stop after that. You'll know you're at Market East, when you see the multi-colored mosaic tile in the tunnel.
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