Picturesque and quaint, Elfreth’s Alley is considered a prime example of the early colonial era in Philadelphia. This narrow street is situated in the western part of the city (between Second Street and the Delaware River), and its 32 beautifully well-kept homes are a fantastic display of 18th-century Federal and Georgian architecture. A popular tourist attraction, it’s worth spending a bit of time here to experience how life was like in the city’s early days.
Although it was designated a historic landmark in 1966, Elfreth’s Alley was not originally part of the city’s street plans. It was established in the early 1700s as a pathway for vendor carts en route to the river. The homes were built in the late 1700s, and a variety of merchants—blacksmiths, woodworkers, and glassblowers, to name a few—moved in. The street was named after Jeremiah Elfreth, a silversmith.
Over the years, the alley’s name changed and the area fell into disarray. Far from a tourist attraction, the street was nearly demolished in favor of new construction projects. However, in the 1930s, the Elfreth's Alley Association (EAA) was formed to preserve the alley's exceptional and historic homes. Successfully saving the street from destruction, the coalition also helped restore its name to "Elfreth's Alley." Today, history buffs around the world consider this narrow, cobblestone street to be a captivating destination and one of the most visited historical sites in Philadelphia.
For the most complete and authentic visit, you should plan to tour the Elfreth’s Alley Museum House first. This will give you the opportunity to meander through actual buildings that were the former homes of dressmakers. You will also get a glimpse at artifacts from that era, and see how homes were situated and decorated during that timeframe.
A guided tour is also an excellent way to experience this charming street, as the experts here know everything about the history of the alley and surrounding neighborhood. They will even share intriguing stories that have historical significance. These tours are available on specific days of the week, so it’s best to check the website in advance.
Elfreth’s Alley hosts a number of festive celebrations throughout the year. This includes a major holiday event in December called “Deck the Alley," when visitors get the rare opportunity to tour the interior of a number of homes along the block, each brightly decorated for the winter season. You might even catch some holiday music, Christmas carolers, and a historical reenactment or two.
How to Visit
Elfreth’s Alley is located in the Old City district of Philadelphia. On a warm day, it’s an enchanting spot to walk around and admire the incredibly alluring homes. It is easy to find and just a quick stroll from a number of the other historical monuments and sites in the city, including Independence Hall, Betsy Ross’ House, the United States Mint, Christ Church, and more.
Although you can stroll down the lovely alley at any time, it’s best to plan your visit around the Elfreth’s Alley Museum House, which is open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Self-guided tours are available throughout the day for $3. The museum also offers informative guided 45-minute tours of the alley and the museum at 1 p.m. on Fridays, and at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. on weekends. Guided tours are $8 for adults and $2 for children.
Tips for Taking Photos at Elfreth’s Alley
As Elfreth’s Alley is one of the top city attractions for tourists, it tends to get crowded during the warmer months and peak times of the day. If you are interested in capturing some great photos for Instagram (or just for your own photo album), it’s best to arrive as early in the morning as possible. Another option is around sunset, which gives the appealing street an even dreamier glow.
Before visiting, be sure to check out the official Elfreth’s Alley website, as it lists special events and events happening throughout the year, as well as ticketing information.