The first thing visitors discover about Philadelphia is that it's a walking town. You'll find most places are within a mile of
Start your visit with the neighborhood around
North of Market Street is Old City, which is Philadelphia's version of New York's Soho, with wonderful restaurants like
East of Old City, along the Delaware River, Penn's Landing is a backdrop for outdoor festivals and free summer concerts, as well as fireworks on holidays. Or you can take a ferry across the river to the aquarium. In the summer, open-air clubs north of the Ben Franklin Bridge (such as
West of Old City, between 8th and 13th Streets, is Chinatown. These days Chinatown is about half Chinese and half a combination of Vietnamese, Thai, Japanese, Burmese and Pan-Asian, and rivals any Chinatown in the country. It's also home to the
On the west end of Center City is the fashionable
Avenue of the Arts
Broad Street, south of City Hall, is the Avenue of the Arts. The orchestra, the
This is where rich Italian history and new communities of Vietnamese and Thai are just the tips of the iceberg when it comes to great dining.
Across the Schuykill River in West Philly, the
And north of Old City, this is the "new frontier" of the hip scene. The
Like most cities, Philadelphia has invisible layers of history running through the streets. Decide what you're looking for on a particular day and then everywhere you look it will seem there are examples of it to see.
Tour Independence Hall, the place where the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were signed. You'll find the Liberty Bell just steps away. Dine at Brasil's. Nearby are the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and Old City Hall are also in this area.
The National Museum of American Jewish History is located on Society Hill, close to the Franklin Court, which chronicles Ben Franklin's achievements. Indulge in authentic Italian at Sfizzio. The Liberty Museum focuses on exploring America's beginnings, while the Graff House preserves the room in which Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence.
The historic George W. South Memorial Church of the Advocate and the Shoe Museum can both be found in Chinatown, but the real draw to this district is the dining. Get tasty dim sum at the nearby Joy Tsin Lau or try the Vietnam Palace, which is just steps from the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
Philadelphia Museum of Art
The Philadelphia Museum of Art has a collection of 19th and 20th-century masterpieces by Renoir, Picasso and more. The Rodin Museum down the road has more of the same. Grab a bite at the nearby London Grill, then stroll along Kelly Drive and admire the ships on Boathouse Row.
The nearly 9,000-acre Fairmount Park is also close to the Philadelphia Zoo. Dine at the Adobe Cafe, then stop into the nearby Please Touch Museum and the Academy of Natural Sciences, where interaction with the displays is encouraged.
Poor Richard's Walking Tours (+1 215 206 1682/ http://www.phillywalks.com )
Constitutional Walking Tour of Philadelphia (+1 215 525 1776/ http://www.theconstitutional.com/ )
Philadelphia Tours ( +1 888 478 1479/ http://www.phillytours.us/ )
Connective Tours (+1 215 925 8687/ http://www.phillytour.com/service.asp?ID=27 )
Philadelphia Tours ( +1 888 478 1479/ http://www.phillytours.us/ )
Sterling Helicopter (+1 866 783 7435/ http://www.sterlinghelicopter.com/ )
Spirit of Philadelphia (+1 866 455 3866/ http://www.spiritcruises.com/ )
Liberty Belle Cruises (+1 215 757 0800/ http://www.libertybelle.com/ )
Chef's Tour of the Italian Market (+1 215 772 0739 )
Wok and Walk Tour (+1 215 500 9774/ http://www.josephpoon.com/toursWokWalk.htm )
76 Carriage Company (+1 215 923 8516/ http://www.phillytour.com )
Philadelphia Trolley Works (+1 215 389 8687/ http://www.phillytour.com/ )
Big League Tours (+1 866 619 1748/ http://www.bigleaguetours.com )
Ghost Tour of Philadelphia (+1 215 413 1997/ http://www.ghosttour.com/
If every museum, business, historic site and theater in town burned down overnight, you could still have a terrific trip to Philadelphia simply by eating.
Many of the high-end restaurants are grouped along Walnut Street between Broad Street and Rittenhouse Square and are located in the Old City district around 2nd and Market. Everything is available here, starting with an extraordinary number of Italian and Asian restaurants. Philadelphia was also an early center for American nouvelle cuisine and this has developed into a heritage the locals take for granted. One good option for the more exotic cuisines is Amara Cafe, a small, modest Thai restaurant that is a neighborhood favorite. The Saffron Cafe is a homey, internationally influenced café that is sure to please everyone. For a little taste of the islands, Roy Yamaguchi’s Roy’s cooks up all the flavors of Hawaii. For a real, down home Philly joint, try the delightfully gritty Little Pete’s. Finally, if you’re more in the mood for something a bit more European, the Brasserie Perrier is the place for you.
For a classic Philly Cheesesteak, two different places in the Italian Market stay open all night to supply the crowds. For some more casual food, the family owned Cosmo’s Deli is a crowd pleaser for all kinds of Italian deli items. For something a bit more upscale, but that won’t break the bank, stop in to Gayle Restaurant. Moving south of the border, Cantina El Caballito is sure to please with all your favorite Mexican specialties.
Chinatown is a haven for those visitors who are in the mood for a taste of Asian cuisines. The grand and elegant Ocean Harbor serves specialties from all over China, while vegetarians can delight in the meat-free fare at Harmony Vegetarian Restaurant. Although called “Chinatown,” there is more than just Chinese food on offer here; the Palace at the Ben offers spicy and rich Indian cuisine, Penang serves up in-demand Malaysian cuisine. Leaving the Asian continent altogether, Johnny Brenda’s offers Mediterranean food in a lively, bar-like atmosphere.
The charming Society Hill neighborhood features many quality restaurants, ranging from fancy to cozy and casual. Bistro Romano is an elegant restaurant featuring delectable European specialties. For a more casual option, the South Street Diner is a late night favorite featuring everything you would expect from a traditional diner, as well as a variety of Greek specialties, while another late night eatery, Hello Cafe serves up satisfying Chinese dishes. Italian food is not lacking in this neighborhood with Sfizzio and the Monte Carlo Living Room, one of the area’s most popular restaurants.
Philadelphia has a history of introducing new entertainment to the rest of the country. Broadway shows used to regularly try out their material here before moving on to New York. The popular television show, "American Bandstand" originated here and introduced rock and roll to millions of American homes. There are still lots of new plays and touring companies that perform here and this is still a town where they talk about the Philly Sound.
One of the world's best collections of Impressionist paintings is the Barnes Foundation, in the suburb of Merion. All of the pieces here are instantly recognizable from reproductions, but only a small number have ever traveled, and then only recently. The Philadelphia Museum of Art and its small companion, the Rodin Museum, represent a brief history of world art on the Ben Franklin Parkway: Ancient Egypt, Impressionism, Expressionism, Cubism and Post-Modernism comes with guided tours and souvenir reproductions available in the gift shop.
Because of the city's rich history, there are plenty of historic sites that are innovative in the way they educate and entertain at the same time. One of the most famous Philly landmarks is the Liberty Bell, the bell from the Pennsylvania Statehouse commissioned by William Penn in 1751. Another key piece of American history found in this fair city is Independence Hall, the birthplace of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. For some literary history, the Edgar Allan Poe House, where the famous poet penned “The Fall of the House of Usher” and “The Tell-Tale Heart,” among other masterpieces. Another famous residence, Franklin Court, was once the home of Benjamin Franklin, and now houses seven different museums chronicling different aspects of this historic American’s life and contributions to the world.
Every possible sound is available in Philadelphia on Wednesday through Saturday nights. On other nights, the choices are narrower, but if you look carefully there's always something going on. Philadelphia has always been a popular stop for national acts. There are concert halls from the massive stadiums of the Susquehanna Bank Center to the comfortably mid-size Trocadero, Tower, Electric Factory or Keswick, right down to the overheated and cramped rooms of the legendary bars where everyone from Bruce Springsteen to the Roots paid their dues. There is a string of clubs along Delaware Avenue on piers jutting into the Delaware River. There are more clubs around South Street, such as Fluid, a place known as much for its no-right-angles design as for its techno mix.
It is possible to find a string quartet, opera or symphony performance every night of the week. With the Curtis Institute and the various college programs, the quality of street performers brightens the parks and sidewalks in the spring. The Philadelphia Orchestra is legendary for conductors like Leopold Stokowski, Eugene Ormandy, Ricardo Muti and Sir Simon Rattle.
Theater & Dance
For nearly a hundred years, Philadelphia was mainly known as a "tryout" town. New York producers would try out material here before opening on Broadway. These days it's more likely a play will originate here. The Walnut Street Theatre has produced the American premieres of two Tom Stoppard plays that were hits on London's West End, but have never played New York. InterAct hosts a new play reading every January which supplies work to regional theaters across the country. Keep an eye out for anything by Brat Productions, a young edgy company that often stages strong works in a bar.
The first ten days of September, the Philadelphia Fringe Festival takes over the Old City district with a mix of local acts and visiting troupes from the Edinburgh, Toronto and New York. There are still national touring companies that perform big Broadway musicals at the Forrest, maintaining a healthy balance of new and recognized work. From the Pennsylvania Ballet to The Philadelphia Dance Company (known as Philadanco), the dance performance scene here is low profile, but substantial. The city often acts as a lab for companies that are seen and celebrated in New York or Washington. Once again, because of the numerous collegiate dance programs, there are always visiting professional and resident performers to see.
Philadelphia pays particular attention to its younger visitors. The National Park Service provides tours and multimedia, interactive, educational displays at Independence Hall. At the Please Touch Museum, children are encouraged to put their mitts on everything and the entire museum is scaled to kids. There are similar setups in the Academy of Natural Sciences and the Franklin Institute. Don't forget the popular petting pen at the Philadelphia Zoo.
Many of the larger chain bookstores around town have Saturday programs for children with readings and performances. The Free Library often has scheduled activities, including readings, films and performers. Then there are the children's theater programs at the Arden and Annenberg. To make your travels more convenient, children under the age of 12 ride free on SEPTA's buses and subways on Saturdays.