An Independence Day holiday in Philadelphia, the very cradle of liberty, will give you a lot of bangs for your buck. You might soak up some history to boot.
Friday: Fireworks.Saturday: Lots of fireworks.
Sunday: More fireworks.
The pyrotechnics are part of the city's Welcome America celebration, 10 days of festivities throughout the Philadelphia area. The focus will be on two city centers - Independence Historic National Park and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
A good place to start is at one of the two visitors centers. At the east end of the Franklin Parkway is the Philadelphia Visitors Center, full of maps, brochures, gifts and guides.
In the historic area, there's the Visitors Center of Independence National Historic Park. It offers a short educational film, displays and abundant information. Be sure to ask the ranger for a map of the area. Most of this touring is on foot.
At Independence Hall in the heart of the historic district, Park Rangers lead free guided tours. Opened in 1732 as the State House for the Pennsylvania colony, the structure became the home of the Second Continental Congress in 1775. With the signing of the Declaration of Independence there on July 4, 1776, and the drafting and approval of the Constitution in 1787, Independence Hall became one of America's most significant buildings.
Standing inside Assembly Hall, it feels as though the Continental Congress is just out taking a break. Chairs and desks are in place, and the silver ink stand used by the delegates to sign the Declaration sits at the ready.
The courtyard behind the Hall, where local colonists gathered with their kids and cows to hear the Declaration read aloud for the first time, is lush and wooded. It's a nice place for a picnic or to rest weary feet.
The Centennial Bell, forged and rung for the 1876 Centennial celebration, is atop the hall.
The famous Liberty Bell, the one that first proclaimed Independence but cracked in 1835, draws 2 million visitors a year to its glass and steel pavilion a short walk away.
Across the street from it is the Bourse, the country's first commodities exchange. It now houses a large food court, gift shops and office space.
The Mummers, who have strutted through Philadelphia with their string bands and fanciful costumes in a New Orleans-style extravaganza every New Year's Day since 1901, will do their stuff on July 1, winding up at the Liberty Bell.
On July 4, descendants of the signers of the Declaration of Independence will tap the Liberty Bell, setting off a nationwide bell-ringing. In the afternoon, Sen. George Mitchell will be presented the Philadelphia Liberty Medal for his work toward peace in Northern Ireland.
Head east to Penn's Landing along the Delaware River waterfront for an afternoon of arts, games and entertainment. Several stages will be set up for musicians and there will be food aplenty.
On the evening of July 3, boats large and small and decorated with strings of lights will parade up and down the Delaware to live island funk music as part of the Electrical River Spectacular.
On your way to the waterfront, pop into the City Tavern, a reconstruction of the original City Tavern that was built on the same spot in 1773. Rare 18th-century maps grace the walls.
Also in the historical area is the 18th-century home of seamstress and upholsterer Betsy Ross and her family. It's believed that this is where Ross, at the request of George Washington, stitched the first American flag.
Across the street is the Humphreys Flag Company. In this location since 1864, the company makes flags of over 200 nations and sells over 100,000 American flags every year.
A five-minute walk from the Betsy Ross House is the charming cobblestone street, Elfreth's Alley, decorated with flower boxes and flags. With its 33 houses dating to the early 1700s, it's the nation's oldest continuously occupied residential street.
Heading back to the Liberty Bell from there, you pass the historic Christ Church, founded in 1659 and attended by the likes of George Washington and Benjamin Franklin.
Enclosed in an ornate wrought iron fence outside the church is the burial ground where you'll find the graves of Ben Franklin, his wife and their children. Folks like to toss a penny onto his grave for good luck.
For the Fourth of July parade, head to the Franklin Parkway. If you don't have a car, look for one of the purple Philadelphia Phlash shuttle buses. They run from 10 a.m. to midnight on a loop from the Parkway to the historic district.
A good place to start is the Swann Fountain in Logan Circle. The massive fountain is a perfect place to relax or, on a hot day, to take a dip. And on July 4 it'll be a good place to start watching the parade with it's floats and bands and the best Ben Franklin look-alike you've ever seen.
The parade kicks off at 6:30 p.m. and follows the Parkway to the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Many people like to run the steps of the museum like Sylvester Stallone did in the movie "Rocky."
After the parade, Peter Nero and the Philly Pops and later Boyz II Men will give free concerts from a stage in front of the museum.
Thousands of people flood the Parkway for the concert, and the fireworks display that follows. So grab some grub from one of the numerous food carts lining the street, pick out a comfortable curb, and settle in for an evening's entertainment.
Besides the Parkway pyrotechnics of the July 4, the cities of Philadelphia and Camden join forces on the night of July 5 to produce a fireworks extravaganza launched from barges on the Delaware River. Penn's Landing offers a good viewing spot for you and 50,000 of your closest friends.
Not to be outdone, the Philadelphia Phillies will host two nights of fireworks after their games against the Milwaukee Brewers on July 3 and 4.
If you go
Lodging: There are 26 hotels and inns in downtown Philadelphia, ranging from the luxury of the Four Seasons Hotel to the charm of the restored circa-1769 Thomas Bond House in the historic district.
Information: The Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau can provide a listing of hotels and eateries. They can be reached by phone at 1-888-907-4452, or by e-mail at (www.libertynet.org/phila-visitor).
For information about the "Welcome America" Fourth of July celebration, phone 1-800-770-5883 or e-mail (www.americasbirthday.com).
Getting around: Philadelphia International Airport, just eight miles from downtown, handles flights from more than two dozen airlines and is a hub for USAir. The airport is connected to center city by the SEPTA Airport Rail Line.
Amtrak's 30th Street Station links the city by rail as a major East Coast commuting hub. By car or bus, regional highways make the city a breeze to find. I-95 is the main north-south highway running from Maine to Miami. I-76 is the major east-west roadway and bisects the state.