Celebrate the Birth of Our Nation
Potato salad, barbecue and fireworks—these are some of the traditions we Americans share around Independence Day. Unfortunately, some polls show that as many as 26 percent of Americans are confused about why the Fourth of July is cause for celebration.
Challenge yourself this Independence Day to find and explore one these hot beds of the American Revolution in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. or Virginia. Nowhere is the Fourth bigger than in these cities or in Washington, D.C., where there is plenty to learn about the birth of our nation.
Enjoy this glimpse at some of the most iconic places in the U.S. and their Independence Day celebrations. If you can’t make it to one of these cities, then try closer to home—where 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.
Boston and Adams National Historical Parks are great places to celebrate. Walk Boston’s Freedom Trail to see major sites including the African Meeting House, Paul Revere House, Old North Church, Bunker Hill and the USS Constitution (download the mobile app for a self-guided tour) while all around the city the annual Boston Harborfest celebrates the colonial and maritime heritage. Just 11 miles (17.7km) south, Adams National Historical Park preserves the homes of two American presidents. The park hosts an annual July 4 Celebration which includes “Jefferson & Adams: a Stage Play,” the story of these founding fathers’ turbulent 50-year friendship told through historic correspondence. The park also re-enacts the signing of the Declaration of Independence and allows visitors to participate.
In May and September in Boston you’ll find fewer crowds, great weather and flowers in full bloom. During an April visit, you might catch the celebration of The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, especially at Longfellow House Washington's Headquarters Historic 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.
Before it was “the Big Apple,” New York City was the first capitol of the new United States of America under the Constitution. A statue of George Washington stands in front of Federal Hall National Memorial at 26 Wall Street. Washington took his oath of office as the first President on the balcony, with his hand on a bible that is regularly displayed in the Inaugural Gallery. Rangers offer daily guided tours. A few blocks away is Battery Park, where visitors board the Statue Cruises ferry to see the Statue of Liberty. Statue Cruises also offers harbor cruises to see New York City’s famous fireworks display. In Gateway National Recreation Area’s Staten Island Unit, tour Fort Wadsworth (fortified and held by the British for much of the war) or at the Sandy Hook Unit (NJ), see the Sandy Hook Light (New Jersey), the oldest working lighthouse in the U.S., built in 1764 and occupied by British soldiers during the war. Reserve a campsite at all three of Gateway's units.
(Anna Dodson/Share the Experience)
There are many special Independence Day events around Philadelphia and you may want to make your first stop the Independence National Historical Park Visitor Center. Park staff will let you know about special events around the area. 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. Celebrate Freedom Week by attending one of many special events.
Celebrate our nation's independence at Valley Forge National Historical Park on July 4 with artillery demonstrations, historical games, an All-American cook-out, music, and more! Meet one of the founding fathers and sign the Declaration of Independence. Learn about the meaning of the American Flag and the pivotal role the Valley Forge encampment played in securing our freedom from Great Britain.
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. 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 Philadelphia.
Colonial National Historical Park tells the story of Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in North America, as well as Yorktown, where American and French troops, led by George Washington, defeated the British in the last major battle of the American Revolution. Start at the visitor center and watch the film "Siege of Yorktown," enjoy displays that include portions of General Washington's campaign tents, then follow the self-guided auto tour of the battlefield. In October, special events commemorate the anniversary of the battle. While you are in the area, be sure and visit nearby Colonial Williamsburg, “the Revolutionary City.”
On the Fourth of July, the Independence Day Parade in our nation’s capital draws a large crowd, as do the annual concerts on the Capitol grounds and on the Washington Monument grounds, where Fourth of July fireworks light up the sky. 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, an old guard fife and drum corps and a dramatic reading of the Declaration of Independence complete the celebration at the Archives. At Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, tour Douglass' home or hear a reenactment of his famous 1852 Fourth of July anti-slavery speech or join the annual Smithsonian Folk Life Festival on the National Mall. Just outside the District of Columbia in Mount Vernon, Virginia, salute our first commander-in-chief at George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens.
For a more subdued experience, try visiting the Washington, D.C. area in November for crisp fall weather and fewer crowds. At the National Archives, you can view the Founding Documents year-round, visit the Record of Rights and other exhibits. Frederick Douglass National Historic Site also offers house tours throughout the year, and Mount Vernon continues its popular garden and landscape tours into the slower months of August and September.
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. Visit the National Park Service American Revolution website to find places to visit and to learn more.