Free Historic PA Landmarks, Towns, and Mansions


May 3, 2017

Have you truly explored all there is to offer in Pennsylvania?

There are 169 national historic landmarks in the state – 169 places for you to explore history and find new adventures. You could spend every weekend for three years exploring each one, and you still wouldn’t see them all.

The best part is that you can access many of these historical sites for free. If you’re tight on cash or just looking for a fun family activity, these short day trips are excellent economical and educational choices.

Before visiting, check the landmarks’ websites for hours of operation since many historic sites are closed during winter.

1. Historic Moravian Bethlehem, Bethlehem

One of just eight towns designated a national historic landmark in Pennsylvania, Historic Moravian Bethlehem features 18th century German Colonial architecture and many buildings preserved to look as they did centuries ago.

What’s free: You can walk around the town for free and visit the stores, as well as attend many free events, such as Community Heritage Day.

What’s not: The town walking tour, apothecary tour and museum all require admission fees.

2. Valley Forge National Historical Park, King of Prussia

Discover the place where George Washington and his troops camped during the brutal winter of 1777-1778. You can also explore cabins used by the soldiers, as well as Washington’s headquarters.

What’s free: Valley Forge does not charge for entrance. You can bike, walk or ride horseback around designated areas in the park and attend special events such as storytelling and culture programs for free.

3. Union Canal Tunnel, Lebanon

This lovely park is home to the first surveyed canal with a tunnel in the United States. The canal was proposed by William Penn in 1690, but wasn’t completed until 1828.

What’s free: The park is free to the public and open year-round.

What’s not: Boat tours and museum admission cost extra.

4. Carlisle

During a visit to Carlisle, one of the notable historic towns in Pennsylvania, you can check out two national historic landmarks. Visit the Army War College to see the location of the Carlisle Indian School where Jim Thorpe once attended. Also see Dickinson College, a prominent private university, and the oldest building on its campus, Old West, where many ceremonies and traditions take place.

What’s free: You can visit both historic landmarks for free, in addition to enjoying the quaint shops and atmosphere in downtown Carlisle.

5. Joseph Priestley House, Northumberland

One of the notable mansions to tour in Pennsylvania, Joseph Priestley’s house features a rare example of an 18th century chemistry lab. Priestley is credited with discovering oxygen and invented soda water. Due to his religious beliefs and support of the French Revolution, he was driven out of England and to the United States, where he and his family sought refuge.

What’s free: The house has a visitor’s center with an introductory exhibit free to all guests.

What’s not: You can also pay for a tour that takes you through the Pond Building, Priestley’s manor house and his laboratory.

6. The Braddock Carnegie Library, Braddock

William Halsey Wood designed the library in the late 1880s, and its grandeur stands on par with the mansions in Pennsylvania. The second floor houses an incredible children’s collection, and the library’s exterior has been featured as a backdrop in several movies.

What’s free: If you have an Allegheny county library card, you can gain admission to, and borrow books and art from, the library at no cost.

What’s not: Guided tours of the building are available for $2.

7. Philadelphia

You could probably spend a week in Philadelphia and still not finish exploring all of the amazing landmarks and venues. Here are just a few can’t-miss designated historic landmarks to hit when you visit this city:

  • Masonic Temple
  • Edgar Allan Poe House
  • School of Design for Women
  • City Hall

What’s free: You can enter nearly all of these buildings for free, and most offer free tours, including the Edgar Allan Poe House, where the author lived for six years.

What’s not: You must pay for tours at City Hall and the Masonic Temple.

8. Beginning Point of the U.S. Public Land Survey, Beaver County

Where did settlement of the Northwest Territory begin when our country was in its infancy? Right here. Monuments on both the Pennsylvania and Ohio sides of the Ohio River commemorate the historic 1785 undertaking. You can explore the Lincoln Highway Historic Byway along the way.

What’s free: There’s no cost to see the landmark and walk around the park.

9. Brandywine Battlefield, Chadds Ford

Did you know the largest battle, in terms of soldiers, during the War of Independence was fought in Pennsylvania? The Brandywine Battlefield Park commemorates that event.

What’s free: There’s no cost to walk the grounds.

What’s not: You can take a guided tour or view the museum for a fee.

10. Drake Well Museum and Park, Titusville

This gorgeous park offers hiking trails and fly fishing, but it’s also home to a museum and historic area tracing the development of Pennsylvania’s petroleum industry.

What’s free: Walking around the grounds is free.

What’s not: There is a fee to tour the museum.

Plan Your Next Trip in Pennsylvania

With a wealth of historic sites to choose from, you can find a lot to do in Pennsylvania while also learning about the state’s remarkable history – and the best part is, you can do it for free. Find more affordable ways to explore Pennsylvania on our blog.

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