If you can stand ascending about 31 floors in a 4-person elevator that feels like it is from 1871, then you will be rewarded with a 500-foot observation deck with the best views of Philadelphia. I’m talking about the tower in Philadelphia’s City Hall where a 27-ton statue of William Penn looks over the city. On a clear day like the one when we visited, you can see miles of amazing views including the city skyscrapers, Art Museum, Benjamin Franklin Bridge, and North and South Broad Street. Our tour guide mentioned that the day prior he had a birds-eye view of the Presidential visit and protests, and after some negativity toward Philadelphia during that visit, it felt great to be looking down on our gritty city bustling with hard-working, diverse people in the birthplace of democracy.
Saying that this is the best view of Philadelphia is a bold claim, given the nearby shinier, 57th-floor One Liberty Observation Deck. In contrast, this tower is an old, no-frills historic outing complete with a a chain-smoking government employee and ledges coated in a half-inch of dust. With only five of us up there though and no commercial advertisements in the way, it felt like it was just us and the city. After we left, my son drew a photo of us in the tower with birds flying beside us, which although I do not remember seeing, is certainly how it felt.
We visited the tower on a day that my son was off from school and the City Hall Visitor’s Center employees were more than happy to give him some fast facts to bring back to his teacher. We learned that the 37-foot statue of William Penn is the tallest statue atop any building in the world. Also that it took 30 years for the construction of City Hall and during that time both the Eiffel Tower and Washington Monument surpassed it in height. It remained the tallest occupied structure in the U.S. until 1909 though and the tallest building in Philadelphia until 1987. Overall, this was a fun and educational trip that I would recommend for any city kid (or adult) looking to explore a piece of Philadelphia history without crowds or much tourism fanfare.
Details: Tours available: every 15 minutes Mon-Fri 9:30AM-4:15PM select Saturdays 11AM-4:00PM weather and capacity permitting Cost: $8 adult, $6 senior/military, $4 student/youth, child < 3 is free. PHLvisitorcenter.com/CityHall