How to Celebrate Independence Day as a Swattie

In my definitive ranking of holidays, I’ll be honest, the Fourth of July isn’t high up on the list. I don’t get presents (like Christmas) or candy (like Halloween) or even a chance to eat as much as I can without it seeming socially inappropriate (like Thanksgiving). However, my holiday ranking was turned on its head after a Philadelphia Fourth of July weekend. Unlike in my Wisconsin hometown, where there’s a parade and some grilling with friends and maybe swimming in the lake, Philly pulls all the stops for Independence Day. And it makes sense, given that this is the city where America was literally founded. As I was gearing up for the long weekend, I found pages upon pages of fun activities running from Thursday the 29th until Tuesday the fourth, but here are the highlights from my Fourth of July weekend, in case you, as a Swattie, find yourself in the area for Independence Day:

Tip #1: Treat yourself to the Franklin Fountain

Craving the wonderful ice cream from Sharples dining hall, but not on campus? The Franklin Fountain is a 1930’s style soda fountain and ice cream parlor nestled in a turn-of-the-century building in Philadelphia’s Old City. Don’t let the long lines deter you; the charm of the building and the extensive list of ice cream and soda flavors will keep you occupied as you wait to order. The ice cream at the Franklin Fountain even rivals the ice cream served at Sharples!

A scrumptious ice cream float from the Franklin Fountain

Tip #2: Go see the Philadelphia Orchestra perform at Penn’s Landing

At Swarthmore, I get used to having free concerts at my fingertips—from on-campus and off-campus ensembles. In the “real world,” getting good music for free is much harder. Thankfully, there are a number of free concerts scheduled for the Fourth of July weekend. My favorite was seeing the Philadelphia Orchestra perform in an open-air concert at Penn’s Landing. Down by the river, hordes of people gathered around the amphitheater in front of the orchestra, but I felt like the only person there as I listened to new songs, like the Overture to Candide, and familiar ones, like medleys from West Side Story and Star Wars.

The Philadelphia Orchestra playing at Penn’s Landing

Tip #3: Visit a museum (or three!)

Swatties are characterized for their curiosity and thirst for knowledge, which means that museums are a good place to visit when class is not in session. Many museums offer free or pay-what-you-wish admission on the Fourth of July weekend, so go check out some of the many wonderful museums Philly has to offer. One of my favorites is the Penn Museum, which boasts archaeological finds, so you’ll definitely learn something new. Of course, you also can’t go wrong with Philadelphia’s top two art museums, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Barnes Foundation. One of my favorite exhibits at the PMA is a Japanese tea house reconstructed in the museum!

The view of the city from the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Tip #4: Watch the fireworks

Even though Swarthmore students are continually breaking with and remolding tradition, fireworks on the Fourth of July are a can’t miss. And while you’re sure to see something all weekend long, the fireworks show set to music by the Delaware River on the Fourth is nothing short of spectacular. Do yourself a favor and bring a blanket to sit on while you enjoy the show!

Fireworks from Penn’s Landing

Tip #5: Don’t forget to bring friends

The spirit of Independence Day, especially in a city as historically relevant as Philadelphia, is best shared in good company. Whether it’s humming along together to beautiful classical music or delighting in a work of art together, Swatties will know how to live it up while celebrating America’s birthday. So, gather up your Swat friends who are in the city for the summer and head on out!

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