- Airport – Philadelphia International Airport (PHL)
- Currency – U.S. Dollar (USD)
- Official Language – English
- Population – 1.5 million
Combining the best parts of the old and the new, the so-called “City of Brotherly Love” is a must-see for any traveler looking to explore one of America’s fastest growing cities. First established in the late 17th century, Philadelphia served as a key meeting spot for the Founding Fathers during the American Revolution. It was also one of the nation’s capitals during the Revolutionary War and while Washington, D.C., was under construction. Today it’s the fifth most populous city in the country and boasts nearly 40 million tourists a year.
I flew out of Boston’s Logan Airport to Philadelphia, which should have only taken a little over an hour but severe thunderstorms in the D.C. area kept us grounded for about 90 minutes. Still, I saved some time (and money) once we landed by traveling with just one carry-on and one personal item, thereby allowing me to avoid the dreaded baggage carousel.
I took a cab from the airport to my brother’s apartment in the northern part of the city, which cost less than $40. Philadelphia has decent public transportation, but we often used Uber or walked since the temperature in late August was so pleasant. It’s also remarkably cheap and quick to take Ubers around town. Philadelphia’s subway system, though inexpensive, can be tricky since there are only two lines. Unless you’re traveling in one of the four cardinal directions you might have to walk a number of blocks or hop on a bus the rest of the way.
In addition to the proper clothing conducive to the time of year you’re visiting, be sure to bring a comfortable pair of shoes to walk in and a portable cell phone charger. I can’t tell you how many times I ran out of battery and missed out on Snapchat or Instagram-worthy moments
Check Out Chinatown
Like many other U.S. cities, Philadelphia is a melting pot of various nationalities. Be sure to explore Chinatown in Center City. Despite its name, the neighborhood is home to many different Asian cultures besides Chinese. It’s a great place to grab some quality Pad Thai, bubble tea, sushi, or pretty much any other Asian dish that strikes your fancy. If you’re trying to up your likes on Instagram, the China Gate at 10th and Arch Streets is the perfect place for a photo op. Also be sure to check out the Asian Arts Initiative, a community-based arts center on Vine St between 12th and 13th Streets.
Visit The Liberty Bell and Independence National Historic Park
Okay, hear me out. I know this is a pretty obvious pick but you can’t go to Philadelphia and not see the iconic Liberty Bell. It’s arguably the most famous landmark in all of Philly, and it’s very interesting to learn how various groups throughout American history adopted the bell as a symbol for their cause. For some added danger, try to touch the Liberty Bell when the park ranger isn’t looking. (Note: please do not actually do this; I tried and was politely asked to leave). When you’re done gazing at the 2000-pound behemoth, step out onto the grassy area adjacent to the exhibit. It’s a great place to have a picnic.
Located just a few steps from the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall is pretty much where ‘Murica was born. Here in the summer of 1776, colonial representatives met and drafted the Declaration of Independence, changing the course of history forever. A little over a decade later they met once again to begin drafting the U.S. Constitution, an original draft of which is on display here. Tickets are free but can go quickly, especially during the summer. I recommend getting there early or buying a timed ticket for $1.50 on the Hall’s website.
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Though I’m not exactly an art connoisseur, I really enjoyed the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Before braving the seemingly endless staircase leading up to the museum, look for the nearby Rocky statue. If you don’t know who Rocky is, watch the movie before you go to Philly. Consider it required research.
After posing with the statue for my Snapchat story, it was time to tackle those daunting stairs. If you need some motivation, I suggest you listen to “Eye of the Tiger,” or the theme from Rocky. Trust me, the view from the top of the steps is more than worth the workout. I also used it as justification for a post-museum ice cream treat.
Tickets for the museum are free for children, $14 for teens and students, $18 for seniors, and $20 for adults. If you want to save a few bucks, I recommend visiting either the first Sunday of the month or any Wednesday after 5 PM since the museum runs a “Pay-What-You-Wish” promotion these days. Every Friday the Museum hosts Art after 5 events which feature live music and a cash bar. Before visiting, take a look on the museum’s website to see what the special exhibit will be while you’re there. When we went there was a special Impressionist exhibit featuring Renoir’s most famous paintings. It was pretty crazy to be in a room filled with art that costs more than my parents’ house.
Food in Philadelphia
All that sightseeing can certainly work up an appetite. Consistently ranked as one of the Top Five food cities in America, Philadelphia is home to many different cultures, each with their own distinctive cuisine. Though perhaps best known for its Italian food, Philadelphia also boasts fantastic steakhouses, soul food joints, Mediterranean restaurants, and everything in between. Both the types and the price ranges of the restaurants run the whole gamut, so it’s safe to say you’ll never go hungry here.
Reading Terminal Market
I’ve never been to a place quite like Reading Terminal. Originally founded in 1892, Reading Terminal is the nation’s oldest continuously running farmer’s market and now boasts more than 80 different vendors. Here you can try anything from the best Amish pastries nearby Lancaster County has to offer to Travel Channel’s “Best Sandwich in America,” a roast pork, provolone, and broccoli rabe sandwich on fresh Italian bread from DiNic’s.
I personally made a beeline to MeltKraft, a sandwich stand serving up artisan grilled cheeses made with only locally sourced ingredients. It did not disappoint. Since the market is usually packed on weekends, I suggest going during the week either in the morning or after 2 PM to avoid the lunch crowd.
The Twisted Tail
If you’re looking for a funkier place, I suggest The Twisted Tail on South 2nd Street. With its quintessentially hipster atmosphere and innovative take on Southern fare, The Twisted Tail is a unique dining experience. The menu changes seasonally, but when I went the restaurant was featuring duck nuggets and a braised short rib. The plates are small and can be on the pricier side, but The Twisted Tail would also be a great place to have a drink later in the night when it features live music from local artists.
Steve’s Prince of Steaks
No trip to Philly would be complete without a cheesesteak sandwich. Though Geno’s Steaks and Pat’s King of Steaks get the most press because of their well-documented feud, locals say Steve’s Prince of Steaks is the real winner. I ordered a steak sandwich with provolone, onions, and roasted hot peppers and a side of spicy fries for good measure. Though the meal probably took years off my life, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this place to anyone. It’s good enough to make a vegetarian question their existence.
Spruce Street Harbor Park
Nestled between South Christopher Columbus Boulevard and the Delaware River, Spruce Street Harbor Park is a must-see attraction during the summer months. Whether you’re looking to lounge in a hammock, have a snack, or simply enjoy the view, Spruce Street Harbor Park is the place to be from May through September. It’s consistently rated as one of the best urban beaches in America. Though fun any time of the day, the Park is probably best at night so as to properly take in the colorful LED lights adorning the trees and the free nightly entertainment. We ate dinner there one night on a floating barge. The delicious seafood meal coupled with the colorfully lit trees that reflected so beautifully on the river made for a one-of-a-kind evening.
Lorenzo and Sons Pizza
Recently voted one of the top 100 pizza joints in the country, Lorenzo and Sons Pizza has been serving up slices for more than 40 years. Open till 4 AM every day, it’s the perfect place to grab a quick bite before continuing your bar crawl. I got a plain cheese slice and loaded it up with parmesan and buffalo sauce. Not exactly the most authentically Italian combo, but it sure did hit the spot. Be sure to bring cash, otherwise you’ll face the wrath of the locals in line behind you.
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