Celebrate the Birth of Our Nation
Iconic places to swell the patriot’s heart in America's most historical cities
Sure, families come together for Turkey Day and entire cities seem to light abuzz with the holiday spirit come Christmas time—but on no other day do our communities and public lands come alive with celebrating patriots like the Fourth of July.
Close to home, you might celebrate the Fourth of July at a nearby Army Corps lake (many offer fireworks displays), search for bald eagles at a national wildlife refuge (adopted as our nation’s symbol by the Continental Congress in 1782), or learn the unique story about the birth of your own state and city.
But nowhere is the Fourth bigger than in Washington, DC, Philadelphia and Boston. Whether you visit these historical cities on Independence Day or after the fireworks, there is plenty to learn about the birth of our nation.
On the Fourth of July, the Independence Day Parade in our nation’s capital draws a large crowd, as do the annual concerts by the National Symphony Orchestra on the Capitol grounds and the US Navy Band on the Washington Monument grounds. The monument remains closed due to the 2011 earthquake, but Fourth of July fireworks will still light up the sky above it. At the National Archives, view an original copy of the Declaration of Independence and meet special guests Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John and Abigail Adams. Special family activities, presentation of colors, a fife and drum corps and a dramatic reading of the Declaration of Independence complete the celebration at the Archives. Salute our first commander-in-chief at George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens or hear a reenactment of Douglass’ famous 1852 Fourth of July anti-slavery speech at Frederick Douglass National Historic Site. The annual Smithsonian Folk Life Festival is in full gear June 27 to July 1 and July 4 to July 8.
For a quieter visit, try visiting in November for crisp fall weather and few crowds. At the National Archives you can view the Founding Documents year-round or take in other exhibits like the 50th Anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis (October 12 through February 3, 2013). Frederick Douglass National Historic Site also offers house tours throughout the year, and Mount Vernon continues its popular garden and landscape tours in the slower months of August and September.
There are so many special Independence Day events around Philadelphia that you may want to make your first stop the Independence National Historical Park Visitor Center. Park staff there will let you know what’s going on. Note that advance tickets for Independence Hall are NOT available on July 4. Instead, the Hall and the Liberty Bell are open until 8:00 PM for first-come first-serve visits. Valley Forge National Historical Park hosts a July 4 All-American cook-out, complete with music and activities, and kids can join the Continental Army and sign the Declaration of Independence with one of our Founding Fathers, experience camp life at the Muhlenberg Brigade cabins and watch artillery demonstrations throughout the day.
Find fewer crowds at Independence Hall in August and September or on almost any Sunday morning. Consider a January visit to celebrate Ben Franklin’s birthday on the 17th (or visit nearby Edgar Allen Poe National Historic Site on Poe’s birthday, the 19th, for a spooky candlelight tour). Valley Forge in winter may give you a better appreciation of the conditions General Washington and his troops faced during the winter of 1777-78. See Bald Eagles (adopted as our nation’s symbol by the Continental Congress in 1782) at John Heinz at Tinicum National Wildlife Refuge outside of Philly, or why not opt for the historical, artsy town of New Hope, Pennsylvania and visit all nearby pastoral towns along 300 miles of the New Jersey Coastal Heritage Trail Route, or visit Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.
BostonOn July 4, Boston, and Adams National Historical Parks are the places to be. The Boston Harborfest (June 28 through July 4) showcases the colonial and maritime heritage of the city. At Adams, see Jefferson & Adams: A Stage Play, the story of a turbulent 50-year friendship told through their historic correspondence, or participate in the annual reenactment of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
In May and September you’ll find fewer crowds, great weather and flowers in full bloom. Or instead of Boston, try a quaint coastal town like Rockport, Massachusetts and visit Thacher Island National Wildlife Refuge. During an April visit, you might catch the celebration of The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, especially at Longfellow National Historical Site (home of the poem’s author) and at Minute Man National Historical Park, where the fighting at North Bridge, on April 19, 1775 set the 13 British Colonies on a path towards independence.
Did you know?
On July 4, 1826 and within five hours of each other, Founding Fathers and Presidents Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both died of natural causes.