Celebrate the Birth of Our Nation
Friends and families unite in communities and on public lands to celebrate the nation’s independence on Fourth of July. Enjoy this glimpse at some of the most iconic places in the U.S. and the celebrations planned for those who gather to participate.
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.
Nowhere is the Fourth bigger than in Washington, DC or in the hot beds of the American Revolution at Philadelphia Boston, New York and elsewhere in the former British colonies. Whether you visit these historical cities on Independence Day or after the fireworks, there is plenty to learn about the birth of our nation.
Boston and Adams National Historical Parks are great places to celebrate the holiday. The Boston Harborfest showcases the colonial and maritime heritage of the city. At Adams’ July 4 Celebration! see Jefferson & Adams: A Stage Play, the story of a turbulent 50-year friendship told through these founding fathers’ 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. 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.
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 at 26 Wall Street. Washington took his oath of office as the first President on the balcony, with his hand on a bible 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, which also offers harbor cruises to see New York City’s famous fireworks display. Lady Liberty was closed after hurricane Sandy and re-opens to the public on July 4, 2013. 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, the oldest working lighthouse in the U.S., built in 1764 and occupied by British soldiers during the war. You can 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 there 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.
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. 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 Phillidelphia.
Yorktown, Jamestown and Williamsburg, Virginia
Colonial National Historical Park tells the story of Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in North America, as well as of Yorktown, where American and French troops, led by George Washington, defeated the British in the last major battle of the American Revolution. At the Visitor Center, watch The Siege of Yorktown, see portions of General Washington's campaign tents on display, then drive the self-guided auto tour. 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. The monument remains closed due to the 2011 earthquake, yet Fourth of July fireworks will light up the sky above. 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. Salute our first commander-in-chief at George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens (in Virginia, outside of DC) and hear a reenactment of Douglas’ famous 1852 Fourth of July anti-slavery speech at Frederick Douglass National Historic Site. The annual Smithsonian Folk Life Festival is also in full gear.
For a more subdued experience, try visiting in November for crisp fall weather and fewer crowds. At the National Archives you can view the Founding Documents year-round or take in 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 American Revolution to find places to visit and to learn more.