Attractions

5 Philadelphia historic sites off the beaten path

Go beyond the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall with our guide to offbeat historical sites.

Philadelphia is known for its history, which stretches back before the founding of America. If you’ve seen all the top spots and had your fill of Colonial Era architecture, opt for one of these attractions to add a little of the strange, unusual, and sometimes downright creepy to your Philly itinerary.

Founded centuries ago, this haunting, now dilapidated structure was the world’s first penitentiary. Today, it sits hulking in the middle of a Philadelphia neighborhood, where unsuspecting tourists may never happen to stumble upon its quite possibly haunted halls. It’s definitely one of the city’s strangest spots and you can spend an entire day exploring. During the Halloween season, the venue is home to a popular haunted house, but you can still take an audio tour, which is somehow appropriately narrated by Steve Buscemi. A big plus — the penitentiary was once home to Al Capone, and his former cell is preserved almost perfectly.

This attraction may rival Eastern State in creepiness, or at least the wall of centuries old skulls will. The museum, which is located within part of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, began in the mid-1800s and is dedicated to medical oddities and artifacts. Interesting items guests can see there include sections of Albert Einstein’s brain, a nine-foot colon, the shared liver of famous Siamese twins and more. It’s definitely not for the queasy.

Sadly, Edgar Allan Poe is one of Philadelphia’s most often overlooked former residents. The National Historic Site is where Poe lived for about a year with his wife and mother-in-law, and also where he wrote "The Black Cat". Some say that the home’s basement was the inspiration for the eerie short story. See exhibits on Poe, his family, and the literature he inspired, as well as recreated furnishings and decor.

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