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The 4 Best Cities in Pennsylvania for American History Buffs

Visit the cities in Pennsylvania where American history was made, from the Declaration of Independence to the most important battles of the Civil War.

By Rebecca Treon on February 15, 2023

cannons at Gettysburg National Military Park
Gettysburg, PA / iStock.com

Pennsylvania is a treasure trove of American history. Once home to Indigenous groups like the Lenape and Susquehannock, Pennsylvania was granted to English Quaker William Penn, who encouraged Europeans to settle the land, offering a hundred acres for the price of 40 shillings. The rest, as they say, is history — and Pennsylvania historical sites capture the nation’s history like nowhere else.

The state has seen the signing of the Declaration of Independence, George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River, the Whiskey Rebellion, the Battle of Gettysburg and countless other historic events. There are numerous ways to learn about the state’s history firsthand, whether visiting a museum, monument or site or enjoying a hands-on experience.

Four cities across the state stand out as having unique ways to discover the fascinating facts of the past. Read on for some of the historic highlights each city has to offer.

The Liberty Bell in historic Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (PA).


An exploration of Pennsylvania historical sites should start in Philadelphia, the birthplace of the United States. The city where the Founding Fathers met to create a new country is also the first World Heritage City in the U.S. The city’s top attractions are Independence Hall, where the Constitution was drafted and signed, and the Liberty Bell, a symbol of American freedom. In what is nicknamed the “most historic square mile in America,” Independence National Historic Park welcomes millions of visitors each year and includes historic houses, government buildings, museums, churches and cemeteries.

Don’t miss the Penn Museum, where the exhibition “Native American Voices” delves into the history of local Indigenous peoples. Visit Governor Printz Park, where you can see the structural remains of the first European settlement in 1643. Penn Treaty Park, where William Penn signed a peace treaty with local Lenape leaders in 1683, is a local gathering place on Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

The 1740s Betsy Ross House is a great way to experience the life of America’s most famous seamstress, which comes to life thanks to historic reenactors. The President’s House is another interesting stop, where George Washington lived during most of his term — along with nine enslaved people. For a deeper dive into the history of enslaved people, make sure to visit the Johnson House Historic Site, a stop on the Underground Railroad. Museums line the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, among them the African American Museum, which offers a fresh interpretation of the lives of Black Americans.

Huts at Washington Headquarter in Valley Forge National Historic Park
aimintang / iStock.com

Valley Forge

Valley Forge is the site of important events during the American Revolutionary War. It’s where George Washington and the Continental Army spent the brutal winter of 1777-1778 and were transformed from a disorganized group of colonial militias into a strong, unified force that successfully took on and defeated the British. Today, Valley Forge National Historical Park spans 3,500 acres of landmarks, meadows and woods crisscrossed with miles of hiking and biking trails.

At the Valley Forge Visitor Center, you’ll get a glimpse at what life was like for the thousands of people who lived there. See redoubts, earthen fortifications soldiers constructed to defend themselves against invaders, and Muhlenberg’s Brigade, nine reconstructed log soldiers’ huts along with the Commander in Chief’s guard huts, a true step back in time. Valley Forge also features three homes from the period: Varnum’s Headquarters, Knox’s Quarters and Washington’s Headquarters, where you truly can say “George Washington slept here.” The park is home to numerous historic monuments and designated places to picnic, making it the ideal place to explore the history of the Revolutionary War.

Roughly an hour away, Washington Crossing Historic Park marks another pivotal moment in the Revolutionary War, when Washington and his troops crossed the river in the dead of winter to ambush British troops.


The opening lines of Abraham Lincoln’s famed Gettysburg Address, “Fourscore and seven years ago..” may take you back to high school history class, but Gettysburg is a small town with a lot going on. The highly walkable downtown area is where you’ll find shops and restaurants selling everything from Civil-War era antiques to handmade fudge near its famous battlefield.

The site of one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War, Gettysburg’s battlefield is a must for any history buff (and quite a few paranormal investigators — area ghost tours are a popular activity). The battlefield can be toured by car, bicycle, Segway, horseback or even on foot, giving visitors a range of ways to experience the site.

For a look at how locals lived when the Civil War erupted in 1860, visit the Shriver House Museum or Jennie Wade House, which remain virtually intact from the era. The Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and the Seminary Ridge Museum both offer insight into the military history of the region.

Touring Pennsylvania historical sites can work up an appetite, and Gettysburg offers numerous dining options with a connection to place. The Dobbins House, dating to 1776, was a stop on the Underground Railroad and a field hospital; today it serves meals inspired by the colonial days. Gettysburg is home to 10 breweries, two distilleries, a handful of wineries and even a cidery where guests can enjoy tastings. Visitors can take a cooking class at Hollabaugh Bros. and learn to make the apple dumplings so popular throughout the orchard-rich region, or visit several places to eat and drink on a Savor Gettysburg Food Tour.

historical sites in Pennsylvania
Barna Tanko / iStock.com


Most people associate Pittsburgh with blue-collar workers and that was true even in the 18th century (though the steel mills came along later), when whiskey-loving locals clashed with officials over taxation of the spirit.

Whiskey was one of the first domestically produced items taxed by the new American government, with funds meant to repay debt from the Revolutionary War. Area farmers were so angry about the tax they took up arms, clashing with militiamen in Pittsburgh’s Braddock’s Field in the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794. Today, you’ll find a marker and a small museum in Braddock’s Field, where visitors can learn about the event.

The Fort Pitt Block House is the city’s oldest architectural landmark, the last remnants of the British fort that played a pivotal role in the French and Indian War. Now a museum, the building’s history and Western Pennsylvania’s role in the war can be explored through its exhibits. Fort Fayette, built in 1792, was the staging ground for the Lewis and Clark Expedition. A marker commemorating the fort stands on Ninth Street.

At Meadowcroft Rockshelter & Historic Village, you can visit the archeological site that was inhabited by Indigenous people more than 19,000 years ago. In the village, you can delve into the history of the past 500 years, discovering an Indigenous village, a log cabin and trading post, and a one-room schoolhouse. At the Heinz History Center, three exhibits look at early American history: “Clash of Empires” explores the British, French and Indian War; “From Slavery to Freedom” examines the struggles of Black Americans, and “Rediscovering Lewis and Clark takes a fresh look at Western America’s first cartographers.

This article was sponsored by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.

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