Affectionately known as the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection, Philadelphia has top things to do for sports fans, museum-goers and everyone in between.
The large, bustling city is known for its historic significance in cementing the country’s democracy as much as it’s known for being the land of Philly cheesesteaks (and yes, you must try one). Catering to all the senses, Philly does not disappoint with its smorgasbord of top-notch dining and cocktail spots, open-air cafes, public art, shopping, culture and nightlife.
1. Get a history lesson at Independence Hall
Whether or not you’re a history buff, you have to check out the red-brick, Georgian-style structure of Independence Hall. As the birthplace of the Declaration of Independence (hence the name) and the US Constitution, there’s no denying the importance of this landmark.
Take a guided tour or watch live reenactments of the signing of the Declaration. If you’re visiting in summer, look for one of the storytelling benches just outside, where Historic Philadelphia’s storytellers give you a quick history lesson as part of the Once Upon A Nation program. Independence Hall sits on the 45-acre National Historic Park, which is also home to the Liberty Bell and the Benjamin Franklin Museum.
Planning tip: Independence Hall is free to visit, but you still need to secure a ticket ahead of time, which has a $1 handling fee. Tours are also limited, so book tickets in advance.
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You might know the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum thanks to the Rocky movie © Samuel Borges Photography / Shutterstock
2. Find inspiration at the Philadelphia Museum of Art
The Philadelphia Museum of Art is the city’s biggest cultural draw, home to more than 240,000 works of art from countries and cultures around the world. This impressive museum is made up of the main building, the Rodin Museum, the Ruth and Raymond G Perelman Building, and Mount Pleasant and Cedar Grove Park Houses, which cover more than 1 million sq ft. The hours will fly by as you try and explore it all, from East Asian art and European sculpture to contemporary art and photography.
The museum’s 72 steps were made famous by actor Sylvester Stallone in the movie Rocky. Tap into your inner boxer and race to the top –don’t worry, you won’t be the only one doing it.
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3. Root for local sports teams at Xfinity Live
Philly’s a sports lover’s paradise, boasting pro football, baseball, basketball and hockey teams, so find a good spot to catch the games with local fans while you’re in town. Xfinity Live, an arena-like sports bar, has five bars and three homegrown restaurants: Chickie’s and Pete’s (known for its Philly-famous crab fries), Geno’s Steaks (one of the two types of cheesesteaks you’ll need to try while in town) and Lorenzo and Sons Pizza (large thin-crust pizza slices).
The complex is conveniently located between Citizens Bank Park, Lincoln Financial Field and the Wells Fargo Center, and it’s the perfect location to watch all Philly sports teams on the big screen. Join in with fans as they cheer for their favorite teams. If you’re feeling adventurous, try riding the bull at PBR: A Coors Banquet Bar. How long do you think you can hold on before being tossed off?
4. People-watch in Dilworth Plaza
Dilworth Plaza is the perfect place to people-watch and plan your next Philly adventure (or simply give your feet a well-deserved rest). With 4 acres of renovated lush green lawns, a fountain, a cafe and an outdoor skating rink in the spring and summer months that morphs into an ice skating rink in the fall and winter, there’s always something (and someone) to observe.
Located at the doorstep of City Hall, Dilworth Plaza hosts a variety of events, from yoga and outdoor musical concerts to dance performances and outdoor movie screenings. The park offers free wi-fi for you to stay connected on the go.
Detour: Looking for a bird’s-eye view of the city or a fun spot for a selfie? Book a City Hall Tower Tour, which takes you 538ft up in the air to Philly’s highest open-air observation deck.
5. Find a little bit of everything on South Street
Known for its bustling and lively atmosphere, South St is a 14-block stretch of clothing boutiques, bars, restaurants, music venues, art galleries and other shops, and it offers more opportunities to people watch, shop and experience local culture.
You can indulge in gyros, cheesesteaks, and Caribbean, Indian and Mexican cuisine. MilkBoy bar offers creative cocktails and live musical performances from local bands. Catch a show at the TLA (Theater of Living Arts), a favorite local venue for 40 years. It’s mostly standing room with a tiny VIP section.
Planning tip: Take public transit or a ride-hailing service because parking can be a challenge.
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Reading Terminal Market houses more than 80 vendors © Sean Pavone / Shutterstock
6. Give your tastebuds a treat at Reading Terminal Market
Smell freshly baked cakes and breads from Beiler’s Bakery, munch on Creole flavors from Beck’s Cajun Cafe and sip on locally roasted coffee at Old City Coffee – it’s all possible while wandering Reading Terminal Market, which offers an extensive variety of cuisines from more 80 merchants.
Reading was originally made up of two markets, the Farmers Market and the Franklin Market. Today, more than 100,000 people visit the market weekly. In 2018, the market celebrated its 125th anniversary, making it one of the largest and oldest public markets in the country.
Planning tip: Given its status as a major tourist hotspot, visit during off-hours to avoid extra-long lines.
7. Shop ’til you drop at Fashion District Philadelphia
If updating your wardrobe sounds like your dream vacation activity, the 1.1-million-sq-ft Fashion District Philadelphia will bring you pure shopping bliss. You’ll find national favorites, such as Sephora, Pandora, Columbia and Torrid.
Even if shopping isn’t for you, the renovated establishment also includes a movie theater, bowling alley and amusement center complete with billiards, karaoke, 250 arcade games, and Wonderspaces, a 24,000-sq-ft space of mesmerizing, immersive art installations for the entire family.
Some of the most infamous American criminals have spent time at Eastern State Penitentiary © catnap72 / Getty Images
8. Contemplate incarceration at Eastern State Penitentiary
The infamous Eastern State Penitentiary is known for having housed mobsters like Al Capone, William “Slick Willie” Sutton and Morris “The Rabbi” Bolber, but roughly 85,000 other people were also kept in solitary confinement.
It’s a little easier to get in these days – and nowhere near as terrifying. You have several options to view the historic prison: book a walk-through during the day, a virtual tour or, if you’re brave enough, a night tour. Eastern State Penitentiary is considered to be one of the most haunted sites in the country.
Planning tip: A number of artists have installations on view at the penitentiary, so check them out on your visit.
9. Snap pretty photos of Boathouse Row
If you appreciate architectural delights, check out Boathouse Row, west of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Fifteen houses make up the historic row of social and rowing clubs and even the Navy. Many of the area collegiate teams practice rowing on the Schuylkill River.
You can take a walk, jog or rent a bike to take in the beauty of the 12-acre area of lush lawns and walking and bike trails. During the holiday season, the houses are decked out in colorful lights.
Planning tip: Strings of lights outline the 19th-century boathouses at night, but the lighting system is undergoing maintenance until the end of 2023, so visit during the day until the upgrade is complete.
10. Immerse yourself in Black culture at the African American Museum in Philadelphia
Four levels of interactive exhibits and objects commemorating the history of Black Americans and their ancestors make up the African American Museum in Philadelphia. In 1976, the Smithsonian created the museum for the bicentennial celebration, making it the first institution created for the purpose of preserving and showcasing African-American history and culture. It’s conveniently located two blocks from Independence Hall.
Check out Audacious Freedom: African Americans in Philadelphia 1776–1876, a permanent display that focuses on the contributions made by Philadelphians of African descent. You can view images, historical records and much more.
Planning tip: You must choose a time to visit, and four time slots are available per day. Check the calendar to see what other events, such as lectures, film screenings and workshops, are happening to decide the best day and time to visit.
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