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Philadelphia Fourth of July Celebrations

Posted on Wednesday, July 1, 2015

America’s birthplace is the best place to spend America’s birthday.

The History

It was nearly 250 years ago, in the assembly room of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, that 56 men approved The Declaration of Independence, severing their ties with Great Britain and creating the United States of America. It is that momentous occasion that we celebrate every 4th of July and Philadelphia, the place where it all began in 1776, is perhaps the most fitting place in America for a 4th of July celebration. But make no mistake; Philadelphia doesn’t rest on its laurels as America’s Birthplace, we also make sure to throw the very best party in America, and everyone is invited!

Philadelphia has a lot of practice with 4th of July celebrations. Philadelphia held its first 4th of July celebration back in 1777 when the nation was only a year old.  Ships lined the Delaware River and fired 13 cannon shots to honor the 13 states that had declared their independence in the city a year prior.  The next year, celebrations were arguably even more raucous.  Philadelphia had been occupied by the British Army since September of 1777, but the British were forced to evacuate the city on June 18th, 1778, setting the stage for another exuberant 4th of July celebration barely two weeks later.  The 1778 celebrations were aided by none other than General George Washington himself, who ordered a double ration of rum for all troops stationed in Philadelphia.

Celebrations in front of Independence on July 4th, 1957

In more modern times Philadelphia has been sure to take cues from our forefathers, as our 4th of July still contains raucous partying and the setting off of explosives, though now fireworks have surpassed cannonballs as the celebratory incendiary of choice.  But we’ve also tried to go bigger and better than the founding fathers could have ever even dreamed of.  These days, a 4th of July Celebration in Philadelphia can’t just be contained to one day.  4th of July festivities stretch out of the course of an entire week, culminating on the evening of the 4th of July with the largest free concert and fireworks display in America!  And while Philadelphia’s 4th of July Concert may be free, you’d never be able to guess that by judging its star studded list of headliners.  Throughout the years artists have included Ray Charles, Peter Frampton, Elton John, Lionel Ritchie, John Legend, Queen Latifah, Lauryn Hill, Nicki Minaj and Jennifer Hudson. And of course Philadelphia often pays tribute to some of its own greats, as Philly’s own Hall and Oats, Patti LaBelle, and Boyz II Men have all performed over the years and in 2009 Philly’s legendary, The Roots played and were so beloved that they’ve been back every single year since.

What to See

In 2015 Philadelphia’s 4th of July festivities are known as “Wawa Welcome America!” as Wawa, a local convenience store, is the corporate sponsor for this year's Philly July 4 celebration. Festivities run all week long with all kinds of events that provide something for everyone.  If you’re a real history buff there are plenty of events to satisfy your history itch. On July 2nd entrance into the National Constitution Center, the only museum in the world dedicated to the understanding of our American Constitution is open to the public for FREE!  Plus 800 children will receive a free book at the National Constitutional Center. The very next day on July 3rd, the front lawn of the National Constitution Center will be transformed into a 1776 Revolutionary War encampment. You’ll be able to practice with troops and even watch a blacksmith craft a real bayonet!

If you’re more focused on celebrating America’s Independence than learning about how it was achieved, there will also be plenty of fun to be had.  On July 3rd the Liberty Block party will be cranking all afternoon, as the street festival will feature food, live entertainment and more. Speaking of food, July 2nd is the 23rd annual Wawa Hoagie Day.  Show up on Independence Mall starting at noon to receive your FREE hoagie and meet Food Network chef Robert Irvine. If all of this sounds a bit too hectic and you’re looking for a more relaxing activity, you can also enjoy a Philadelphia-centric movie under the stars. A number of movies will be shown for free throughout Philadelphia with the highlight undoubtedly being a showing of “Rocky” that will actually take place right on the very steps that Rocky made famous, in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

4th of July Parade in front of Independence Hall - Photo Courtesy of Visit Philadelphia

On July 4 in Philadelphia there’s also a 4th of July parade that passes right in front of Independence Hall and countless live concerts and fireworks displays.  But the truth is, all of these many different festivities are all just setting the stage for the grand concert and fireworks finale on the evening of July 4th. The “Party on the Parkway” starts at noon on July 4th and features a festival, which lasts all day with food, live entertainment and family friendly fun. Come 7pm, the “Party on the Parkway” transforms into the “Philly 4th of July Jam” which is a free concert that this year features special guests Miguel and Jennifer Nettles.  The concert will be hosted by Philadelphia’s own, The Roots! Once the concert ends, the greatest fireworks display in the world begins. No one celebrates Independence Day like Philadelphia, and the incredible grand finale of our 4th of July fireworks display makes sure everyone gets that message. For more info on all of the many 4th of July festivities, please check here.

Insider Info

This year’s 4th of July Celebration in Philadelphia is extra special.  Fifty years ago on July 4th, 1965 one of the very first LGBT civil rights demonstrations in our nation’s history took place right here in Philadelphia. LGBT civil rights advocates from Philadelphia, New York City, and Washington D.C. participated in the event.  It was not caused by any specific event or cause; it was simply a demonstration for equality, a truly unique event for its time. Only 40 brave activists picketed at the event, and yet it was the largest demonstration for gay rights in world history at the time.

It was no coincidence that this event took place in Philadelphia. Demonstrators purposely marched and picketed in front of Independence Hall on the 4th of July.  Independence Hall is the place where we approved The Declaration of Independence, a document that proclaimed that all had a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and promised that all men are created equal. With the Supreme Court decision for marriage equality last week, Thomas Jefferson’s words in The Declaration of Independence have never rung more true. In order to celebrate the demonstration that began the path to today’s victories there will be a number of events celebrating the 50th anniversary of the LGBT Civil Rights Movement here in Philadelphia. The proceeding will be hosted by Wanda Sykes.  For more information and event details, please check here.

Fireworks above the Philadelphia Museum of Art - Photo Courtesy of Visit Philadelphia

How to Get There

Events will be held all across Philadelphia, although many of the events will take place right on Independence Mall. Independence Mall is directly adjacent to the National Constitution Center where The Constitutional Walking Tour both begins and ends.  For more information on the various locations of each event and information on how to get there, please check here. Also note that SEPTA will be running a special late schedule on the 4th of July, making it even easier to get around to Philadelphia’s many 4th of July celebrations via public transit.


Varies by event. Please check here for more information.

Additional Information

Wawa Welcome America!

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