One of Philadelphia’s biggest assets is that it’s such a walkable city. Center City has a grid structure that dates back to the 17th century, which makes it pretty difficult to get lost. Equally noteworthy is the number of public parks in the downtown area, which means it’s a perfect place to walk your dog and give her the chance to hang out in the grass—while you get a nice dose of American history.
While one of our favorite things to do in the city is explore all its different neighborhoods, today we’re going to only discuss Center City. (We’ll be writing about the other wonderful communities in Philadelphia soon.) When you think of public green space in Center City, the first two parks that come to mind—and justifiably so—are Rittenhouse Square and Washington Square. They’re great gathering places, but during this pandemic, they’re becoming a bit overcrowded, making it more difficult to social distance as you’re walking your dog. So while it’s still possible to keep yourself safe when taking your pooch to Rittenhouse or Washington Square, we’re going to offer some smaller—but no-less excellent—parks nearby that you and your dog will have some more breathing room in.
Today, we’re going to explore alternatives near Washington Square. And by “near,” in some cases, we’re literally talking right across the street. Chances are, your dog loves to walk, so giving her the opportunity to take just a few more steps for new places to roam in the grass will probably be a welcome treat.
But the best part is that you can do all these parks—collectively known as Independence National Historical Park—together in less than an hour. To make it easier for you, if a park doesn’t have a formal name, we’re going to identify it by the landmark structure(s) in it.
If you cross Walnut and Sixth streets exiting Washington Square, you’ll wind up in a tranquil grassy space directly behind Independence Hall. During tourist season, the park gets a bit more crowded, but these days, it’s usually pretty empty. It’s almost all grass, so there’s plenty of places to pee and poop and, best of all, sniff. And we’ve walked there many times and been the only people with dogs.
The Rest Is History: You’re walking your pooch directly behind Independence Hall. There’s only one place in the entire world that you can go to and be able to say that. It’s one of the most important buildings in this country’s history: The Declaration Of Independence and Constitution were both adopted there. Even though it’s not the original structure, you can’t help but feel patriotic when you look at Independence Hall and realize what happened in that space not even 250 year ago.
Second Bank Of The United States Park
If you exit Independence Square and cross Fifth Street, you’ll end up here. Once again, you’ll be behind a VIB (Very Important Building). But more importantly for your dog, there’s plenty of grass and lots of room to roam once again. Like Independence Square, this is hardly ever crowded, so you won’t have to worry about any social contact if you don’t want it.
The Rest Is History: The Second Bank Of The United States handled all of the U.S. government’s monetary transactions. It was designed in the Greek Revival style (uncommon for Philly in that era), and in non-pandemic times, it’s open to the public—humans only, unfortunately—free of charge to view the more than 150 portraits in its gallery of the founding founders.
Carpenters’ Hall & First Bank Of The United States Park
If you cross Fourth Street exiting the Second Bank Park, you’ll find yet another excellent green space to walk your dog. And lots more history as well. While the grass areas of this park are broken up more than the others discussed earlier, that’s not a big deal, as the whole space is very walkable for you and your pooch. It’s typically a little more crowded than the other two, but you’ll never feel like you’re in danger of being too close to others.
The Rest Is History: The main attraction here is another VIB: Carpenters’ Hall, which in 1774 hosted the First Continental Congress. It was also home to Ben Franklin’s Library Company as well as the place where Franklin and others had secret meetings with a French spy that led to the French Alliance during the Revolutionary War. These days, you can rent Carpenters’ Hall for private events, though sadly, we don’t think dogs are welcome. Unless, of course, your pooch is a spy. The First Bank Of The United States is also here, though the bank itself was housed in Carpenters’ Hall until this building was finished. The structure is not only the oldest bank building in the U.S., it’s also the oldest building in this country with a classical facade. And the stairs out front of this classical facade serve as a great place to take a break from walking to sit with your dog.
Just up Walnut Street is the Rose Garden, located between Walnut and Locust, and Fourth and Fifth. It’s a hidden gem. We’ve never walked a dog there who doesn’t love it, with the park being both spacious and intimate at the same time. You can enter from Walnut or Locust, and while it does boast lots of roses (supposedly 250, consisting of 96 varieties, though we never counted, nor knew there were that many varieties of roses), the main draw for you and your pooch is two nice-sized patches of grass and ample places to sit down and rest with plenty of private space around you. This is the time of year the roses are in full bloom, so if you and your pooch care about such things, you should head over ASAP. Also, the Rose Garden has a small portion of original cobblestone, so you can walk on it and thank Dog that you and your little buddy weren’t around back when all the streets in the city were like that.
The Rest Is History: The Rose Garden turns the big 5-0 next year. It was established by the Daughters Of The American Revolution and dedicated to the signers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, both of which your dog will remember were adopted at the first stop on your tour: Independence Hall.
Another hidden treasure! Philly is full of them, if you know where to look. When you exit the Rose Garden on the Locust side, cross the street and you’ll enter the Magnolia Garden. Like the Rose Garden, this serene jewel is named after what’s inhabiting in it. The Magnolia Garden is by far the smallest of the parks we’ve visited today, but there’s a lot of grass for your dog to take advantage of given its small confines. It kind of feels like you’re in the backyard of those rich friends of yours who don’t invite you over as much as you’d like. During these social-distancing times, a handful of dogs and their owners might make this green space seem a little cramped, but most times we go there, it’s pretty empty. So there’s more room for your and your pooch to enjoy the magnolia trees, a really cool circular fountain that’s turned on during the warm months and places to sit to rest before you head to the final destination on your walk in the parks.
The Rest Is History: Founded 61 years ago by the Garden Club Of America, the Magnolia Garden was also dedicated to our founding fathers. There are 13 hybrid magnolias around the perimeter of the park, one for each of the original colonies. And why magnolias, rather than, say, dogwoods, you and your pooch might be asking? Because although George Washington will forever be wrongly associated with cherry trees, he did love magnolias—so much so that he named his prized Arabian stallion after them.
Liberty Bell Park
Like most of you, we like to save the best for last. Philadelphia is known for its cheesesteaks and pretzels, its obnoxious sports fans, Rocky and many other jawns. But when the world thinks about the City Of Brotherly Love And Sisterly Affection, the first image that usually comes to mind is the Liberty Bell. Between one and two million people travel from across the globe each year to see this cracked, two-ton piece of copper, tin and various other metals. Yet you can go there every day if you want to. And when we were saying we saved the best for last, we meant for your dog. Aside from the Liberty Bell Center, which houses the actual Bell, the surrounding area is virtually an entire city block of grass. And even in non-social-distancing times, there’s hardly ever anyone in the actual park. So you and your pooch have free rein to sniff, pee and poop to your hearts’ content. And if your dog wants to check out the Liberty Bell, there’s a ground-level window on the southeast side of the Liberty Bell Center that’s perfect for your pooch to peer in and see this national treasure with her own two eyes.
The Rest Is History: The Liberty Bell was built in London and is owned by the city of Philadelphia. The last time it was rung was Feb. 22, 1846, for George Washington’s birthday. Speaking of our first president, he spent most of his two terms living and working out of the President’s House, which was right next door to where the Liberty Bell now resides.
We started this dog-walking tour behind Independence Hall and ended in front of it. But we traveled lots of ground and saw lots of history in between. So you’ll need comfortable shoes and, to quote one of our favorite bands, Guided By Voices, “endurance like the Liberty Bell,” which is now 268 years old. But we guarantee you and your pooch will be so happy you did it together, you’ll both want to do it again tomorrow as well. But remember to check your weather app before you go, because it’s not always sunny in Philadelphia.