The 18th-century city tucked inside Philadelphia, where the United States was born at Independence Hall, swarms all year with curious tourists, history buffs, and children on school trips. Sprawling out from it is the other Philadelphia, firmly rooted in the 21st century and bustling with the activity of a rapidly evolving destination city.
‘Philly’ is quickly becoming my favourite American city to visit; beautiful neighbourhoods, some great shopping, top food spots, a vibrant nightlife, and a warm friendliness from most Philadelphians you encounter. It’s also under two hours on a train to New York City, so seeing this wonderful city whilst combining other trips is very easy!
Top Things To Do In Philly
Recreate Rocky’s Run (along Ben Franklin Parkway)
If you are a fan of the iconic film series, a recreation of the famous running montage (from the sequel Rocky II) is a must. Take in the sights of Benjamin Franklin Parkway (of which there are a lot). Start at the Rocky statue, located to the right of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and then run up the steps to become Rocky, arms firmly in the air.
If you are not a fan, it’s worth starting here anyway! After leisurely strolling up the Rocky steps, turn and pause to see the beauty of the city behind you. I’ve visited the city in every season, and each one brings it’s own beauty; whether it’s the beautiful clear blue skies in summer or the crisp, red fauna lining Ben Franklin Parkway.
Make sure you stop into the Museum of Art whatever you do – it’s “pay what you wish” every Wednesday after 5pm, and on the first Sunday of every month!
Continue walking south east along Benjamin Franklin Parkway, and you’ll come across the Barnes Foundation, The Franklin Institute, and the Rodin Museum, all of which are worth a dip in to experience some Philly Culture.
One of the cities best-known landmarks is Robert Indiana’s famous LOVE sculpture, located in John F. Kennedy Plaza (or LOVE Park, as it’s referred to by the locals). You will reach it’s translated sister-sculpture on this route first, the equally-impressive AMOR, in Sister Cities Park.
From here, you can take in the view of City Hall (the largest municipal building in the country) and then cross to South Broad Street for the best view in my own opinion.
My favourite spot for breakfast is not far from Ben Franklin Parkway. Sabrina’s Cafe (Callowhill Street) have a great menu for all day breakfast (and lunch/dinner items) and is the best spot I’ve found in Philly full of locals for the best breakfast around – I make sure I visit here every time we visit the city! Walk up to Spring Garden Street after to discover some fun wall graffiti!
Tour Independence Hall (the birthplace of the USA)
The Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia is a park that preserves several sites associated with the American Revolution, all of which are must-sees! While historical attractions are abound in Philly, Independence Hall holds monumental significance to the development of the nation. In 1776, the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence in the building’s Assembly Room. Just 11 years later, representatives from a dozen states met here to lay the framework for the U.S. Constitution. Today, the UNESCO World Heritage Site is the centrepiece of Independence National Historical Park, and guided tours are available year-round.
Free, timed tickets are required and can be picked up at the Independence Visitor Center. But plan ahead — tours fill up fast! I would recommend booking a timed ticket online here which is only $1!. Tickets are not required in January and February, after 5 p.m. during summer hours, on July 4th, or on Thanksgiving Day.
See Liberty Bell
The Liberty Bell was originally used to call the Pennsylvania Assembly to meetings. It was later adopted by abolitionists, suffragists and Civil Rights advocates, making it a symbol used by many today. The bell, which is free to visit year-round, draws people from around the nation to snag a photo in front of the soaring glass walls overlooking Independence Hall. No tickets are required.
See Philly from the Top (from One Liberty Observation Tower)
My first thought when I heard about this particular “sight” was that most observation decks in big cities are overpriced. This is not. $15 adult and $10 children is well worth the price, and it really is the best way to view Philadelphia. The observation deck was also very quiet when I went – no cramming through to get a view! Buy tickets in advance online, or rock up on a quiet day and purchase in person.
The Sun & Stars package allows a second visit within 48hrs to see the city at sunset into the evening and is well worth the extra couple of dollars for the return trip
Visit Reading Terminal Market
America’s oldest farmers’ market and current foodie paradise, this indoor food market is an almost unbelievable one-stop shop for everything from local produce and meats to artisanal cheeses and desserts. The public space also provides open seating where customers can enjoy meals from restaurants, ranging from hot roast pork sandwiches from DiNic’s to duck noodle soup from Sang Kee Peking. Be sure to check these out
Authentic Philly Cheesesteak (although here they just call them ‘cheesesteaks’)
The Philly cheesesteak is the city’s most famous food. Those in the know order their cheesesteak with two words only: cheese selection (provolone, American or Whiz) and “wit” or “without” onions. The debate about which local spot cooks up the best sandwich may never end, but for an iconic Philly experience, visit the corner of South 9th Street and Passyunk Avenue, where rivals Geno’s Steaks and Pat’s King of Steaks feed the masses daily.
Admire the quiet beauty of Boathouse Row on the Schuylkill (pronounced “SKOOK-uhl”) River
A national historic landmark, the 19th-century boathouses lining the Schuylkill River consist of 10 charming houses. The structures have been associated with rowing since the 19th century, and the boat clubs that occupy them have produced many Olympic champions. Get an up-close view of the houses during a stroll along the Kelly Drive path or head over at night, when glittering lights framing the boathouses create idyllic reflections on the river’s surface.
Take a break from shopping in Rittenhouse Square
Shop till you drop on Chestnut and Walnut, and once you’re done, visit the peaceful Rittenhouse Square. Stop at the quant English pub “The Dandelion” for a pint, or “Howl at the Moon” for a livelier experience!
We usually stay in the Logan Hotel (part of the Curio Collection by Hilton), on Logan Square. It’s a luxurious and art-centric based hotel in the heart of everything you’d want to see in the city. The restaurant, Urban Farmer, is one of the best hotel restaurants you will experience, and on it’s own is one of the best steak restaurants I’ve ever been to. Gym & Pool access is provided, and again, one of the better hotel pools I’ve experienced.