Independence Hall, Philadelphia, PA, photo by NSL Photography

The July 4th holiday in the US is just three days away, but in America’s birthplace, Philadelphia, the party’s already started as the “Wawa Welcome America!” festival has begun. The temperature is expected to be hot (near 90ºF) this week, but Philly’s party will be hotter. The party will hit a high at the “Rocky steps” of the Philadelphia Museum of Art on the 4th, but there are events to enjoy through July 7th.

While Philadelphia has the most historic building in America, Independence Hall, and the most enduring symbol of the nation, the Liberty Bell, there is much more here, which is why Philadelphia is the fastest-growing destination for international travelers among the top 20 US markets.

For those who crave historic sights, you can’t do better in the US than Philadelphia, the nation’s first capital. The Continental Congress met, created, and signed the Declaration of Independence and US Constitution (11 years later), both at Independence Hall. The nearby National Constitution Center tells the stories of the creation of these documents and other stories of America beautifully. There are many other historic buildings and sights nearby.

But there’s much more than that in Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Barnes Museum, both on the famous Benjamin Franklin Parkway, are among the greatest art museum one-two punches in the world. The museums’ collections are sure to wow anyone interested in the visual arts.

That’s not enough? At the Franklin Institute see “SPY: The Secret World of Espionage,” featuring over 200 historical artifacts, including a collapsible motorbike, a two-man submersible, and a CIA robotic catfish.

Not making your reservation yet? Philadelphia boasts some of the best restaurants in the nation, many from Stephen Starr, one of the most recognized restaurateurs in the US. Eat at such great spots as Buddakan, Pod, Alma De Cuba, Morimoto and Butcher & Singer. There are other wonderful restaurants, like Vetri’s, called the best Italian restaurant on the East Coast by Mario Batali. And, of course, Philadelphia is the only place in the world you can enjoy an “authentic” Philly cheese steak.

If you have the time, check out Philadelphia’s City Hall, the tallest masonry building in the US. There’s a great view of Center-City from the top of its tower.

Want an amazing museum visit unavailable anywhere else in the US? Visit the Mutter Museum. It houses a collection of medical oddities, anatomical and pathological specimens and antique medical equipment. Don’t miss Joseph Hyrtl’s collection of skulls, the preserved body of the “Soap Lady” or President Grover Cleveland’s preserved cancerous tumor.

Perhaps you’re interested in something even more macabre? Visit Laurel Hill Cemetery, one of the few cemeteries to be a US National Historic Landmark. High on a hill overlooking the beautiful Schuylkill River, such notables as Civil War hero General George Gordon Meade and nine other Civil War generals, 24 members of Congress, 2 attorney generals, world famous architect and medal of honor winner, Frank Furness, and Baseball Hall of Fame announcer, Harry Kalas, are all buried there.

Maybe you’re looking for something a bit more main stream? You could visit the University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, with its great Egyptian collection, a 12-ton sphinx, mummies, and its Nigerian Benin bronzes. Do you love flowers and gardens? Visit the University of Pennsylvania’s Morris Arboretum’s 92 acres of flower gardens, rose garden, trees, Japanese garden, swan pond and a glasshouse fernery. You could also visit Bartram’s Garden, established in colonial times by John Bartram, who was King George III’s Royal Botanist.

If you can make it to Philadelphia tomorrow evening, you can enjoy a free outdoor screening of “Rocky,” right from the very steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which are part of the Rocky legend.

Also on Tuesday, the world renowned Philadelphia Orchestra will give a free concert on the River Stage at the Great Plaza at Penn’s Landing.

On Wednesday, right at Independence Hall, you’ll be able to enjoy Peter Nero and the Philly Pops for a free performance of great American music, patriotic anthems, marches, and holiday favorites.

On July 4th, more than 5,000 will participate in the Independence Day Parade, then in the afternoon, the ceremonial Liberty Bill “tapping” will “Let Freedom Ring.”

On the evening of the 4th, after a day of culinary treats, music and games, it’s “Philly 4th of July Jam & Fireworks,” the “Largest Free Concert in America,” starring Kevin Hart, The Roots, John Mayer, Demi Lovato, Jill Scott, Ne-Yo, and others. After the concert, one of America’s most spectacular fireworks displays will be held.

After the 4th, the celebration continues with “A Taste of Philadelphia,” through Sunday, July 7th.

Join me in Philly.