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
Opening the new convention center a few years ago caused a hotel building boom that nearly tripled the number of accommodations overnight. Everything is available, from five-star luxury suites to family bargains at inexpensive motels. Bed-and-breakfast establishments can put you in a quiet cozy room a few blocks from your destination. Cabs and public transportation make cars unnecessary for most places, though many hotels provide parking.
Center City - East
Downtown Philadelphia is the destination for most tourists and business travelers. By the Delaware River on the east end of town is Independence Hall at 6th and Chestnut, the Liberty Bell at 6th and Market and most of the sites and museums of early American history are preserved in the Independence Hall National Historic Park. Along the river is Penn's Landing, home to the Independence Seaport Museum, summer festivals and riverfront entertainment spots. Just across the river is the New Jersey State Aquarium, a short (and fun) ferry ride away.
In the other direction, the Pennsylvania Convention Center is at 13th and Market, on the edge of Chinatown. Hotels here, such as the Omni Hotel at Independence Park or the more moderate Alexander Inn, cater to families and travelers needing conference rooms or fully wired workspace facilities. The Market East train station at 11th Street links this part of town to anywhere, including a direct trip to Philadelphia International Airport for a reasonable price.
Center City - West
From City Hall, head west to Rittenhouse Square or down Broad Street to the Avenue of the Arts. Hotels on this side of Center City tend to cater to more upscale travelers with luxurious rooms available in the moderate (Latham Hotel) to quite expensive (Ritz-Carlton) range. One thing to note is that since many of these hotels are for business travelers, they frequently have affordable weekend packages available, to fill their slow period.
Philadelphia International Airport is 10 to 20 minutes from most destinations. Ample parking, a convenient train stop and affordable rates make this a popular spot for tourists and business travelers alike.
There are many chain hotels here, such as the Marriott. All airport hotels run shuttle buses to Center City. SEPTA runs a train from the airport to stations at 30th, 15th and 11th Streets in Center City. It runs every 20 minutes at a flat rate and connects with all other trains.
West of Center City is filled with schools and hospitals. This area is popular with visiting relatives, staying in the Penn Tower Hotel or Sheraton. Hotels along Chestnut and Walnut Streets, between 34th and 38th, are in the moderate to expensive range.
The dividing line between the city and the surrounding suburbs has become grayer over the years, as more people have opted to work in town and live elsewhere. Many moderate-priced hotels and bed-and-breakfasts can be found either in the small towns along the way, or right off the two major highways that run through town: I-95 runs north toward New York City, through Northeast Philadelphia, New Hope and Washington's Crossing and south, passing the airport to Delaware and Maryland; Route 76 heads west out of town to popular local towns such as Narberth, Valley Forge and King of Prussia. For the perfect weekend getaway, don't miss Inn at Bowman's Hill in New Hope. Voted in the Top 10 Most Romantic Inns in the United States, the warm welcome and cozy yet luxurious rooms and surroundings will make for an unforgettable retreat.
When the American colonies were founded in the 1600s, the guiding principle for the New England colonies was freedom to practice religions not popular in England; for the southern colonies the aim was agricultural development extending the holdings of British landowners. There were two exceptions. New York, established by Dutch companies, has always been a place for trade. The other exception was Pennsylvania, and the town of Philadelphia.
William Penn (1644-1718) arrived in 1681 from a London that had recently burned and was just discovering sanitary plumbing. He wanted Philadelphia to be "a green country Town, which will never be burnt, and always be wholesome." Founded on Quaker principles of tolerance and harmonious living, Philadelphia had a religious foundation like its New England neighbors, but welcomed other beliefs and races. Like its southern neighbors, it started with an agricultural economy, but slave auctions were banned early. A community of ex-slaves grew, centered around the Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the cornerstone of the A.M.E. movement. By 1790, there were 300 slaves in Pennsylvania and 7,579 free blacks. By 1860, there were 22,185 free blacks and Philadelphia was an important stop on the Underground Railroad, the secret network that helped slaves escape from southern slave states.
Instead of sprawling mindlessly, streets were laid out on a grid system with five public squares (the present day Washington, Rittenhouse and Franklin Squares, Logan Circle and City Hall). The town was built with no fortifications. Native Americans were welcome. Even the name of the town demonstrated peace; while most other colonial towns were named for founders or expedition sponsors, Philadelphia is Latin for "City of Brotherly Love."
Of course, when you invite everyone in, there's the likelihood of disagreement. By 1690, scarcely nine years after the first Quaker Meeting House went up, arguments over the direction of the city had turned into formal ideologies. Philadelphians have been arguing ever since.
Penn had originally envisioned his colony as a "wholesome" farming community, but the port quickly became one of the most important trading spots in America, rivaled only by New York. The rising merchant class wasn't terribly interested in the simple Quaker lifestyle. Pubs, theaters, circuses, dances and races soon entered the scene. The tolerant attitude attracted many immigrants. British Quakers were followed by German immigrants as early as the 1690s.
In 1723, Benjamin Franklin arrived from Boston. He eventually started his own publishing house, producing several newspapers and an annual farm guide, Poor Richard's Almanac. In his spare time, he invented the Franklin stove, the glass harmonium and bifocals. He helped write the Declaration of Independence. He was a founding member of the University of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Hospital, the first public library, a fire insurance company, the Post Office and the Constitutional Congress. His 1751 book, Experiments and Observations in Electricity, was considered the most important scientific work in the world in its time. His name is on everything here.
The city is filled with reminders of the colonial period. Fairmount Park is dotted with colonial homes that were moved there as museums. Elfreth's Alley is the oldest continually occupied neighborhood in the country. Old Swede's Church offers a perfect example of the "public" architecture typical at the country's founding. Delegates to Congress were astounded at the wealth and beauty they saw here. Because of the active seaport, food and fabrics from the Indies and China were readily available, even with the difficulty of getting past British warships. There were some of the finest examples of colonial silversmith, textile work and furniture in the homes.
In 1800, the nation's capital moved to Washington, DC. New York began to overshadow Philadelphia as a financial and cultural center. Also in the 1800s, Irish, Polish and Italian immigrants came in waves, drawn by employment on massive projects like the new turnpike system, the canals and the railroad. Coal mining upstate created more jobs and the coal provided steam power for the factories of the Industrial Revolution that made Philadelphia a major manufacturing center. The Centennial Exhibition of 1876 brought 100,000 people to Fairmount Park to see the wonders of industrialism.
By the end of World War II, things were looking up again. While heavy industries moved out, the economy stayed robust. Always known for its hospitals, medical schools and research facilities, Philadelphia is now leading bioengineering research and development, and the city has become a popular film location thanks to innovators like M. Night Shyamalan.
The Philadelphia of the present has achieved what previous generations had thought impossible: New Yorkers come for a quick visit, fall in love, and decide to look for a house, hearkening back to the year 1776, when Congressional delegates were bowled over by the quality and comfort of this city.
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.