Philadelphia is a town of many nicknames – from the simple (Philly), to the endearing (City of Brotherly Love), and even the historic (Birthplace of America). So it should come as no surprise that a town with such a collection of cognomens has an equally eclectic list of things to see and do. With fantastic food, world class museums, and bit of old world charm, Philadelphia is a perfect city to explore and conquer either on your own, in a group, or with a loved one on a long overdue weekend getaway. Here’s a rundown of 14 fun things to see and do in Philadelphia that will be sure to satisfy the foodies, history buffs, and sports fans on your whirlwind tour.
Pat’s Steaks – Let’s face it – if you’re in Philly, you need to get a cheesesteak. So why Pat’s? Well, they don’t call themselves the King of Steaks for nothing. You’d be remiss to spend a day or weekend in Philadelphia without swinging by this South Philly mainstay. Don’t be turned off by the line – the guys behind the counter pump out cheesesteaks at a baffling rate. Make sure you read the sign teaching you how to order and have your money ready. Recommendation: Wiz ‘wit.
Reading Terminal Market – Built into the ground floor of the Reading Terminal’s former train shed, Reading Terminal Market is home to over one hundred merchants. They sell all sorts of delectable items, from fresh produce, to baked goods, to specialty and ethnic treats. Must-see vendors include:
- The Original Turkey – If you’re only going once, it has to be the Stuffin’ Cranberry. Thanksgiving dinner on a roll. Budget a nap into your schedule for later that day.
- Beiler’s Donuts – Hardest decision: Apple cider donut, M&M donut, or both. Or both twice.
- DiNic’s Roast Pork – In 2012, Adam Richman from Travel Channel declared DiNic’s Roast Pork the best sandwich in the country. With our current assumptions on the existence of intelligent life, it is very possible this could be the best sandwich in the galaxy.
Marrakesh – Though Stephen Starr and Marc Vetri may have a stronghold on Philadelphia cuisine, it is Marrakesh that will provide the most memorable dining experience. Located in an alley off South Street, this Moroccan gem will transport you to another world the moment you step inside. At the time of this writing, Marrakesh offered a five-course feast for $25 – to be enjoyed lounging on plush couches throughout three stories’ worth of intimate nooks. Be sure to knock twice when arriving – oddly enough, the door will be locked. But don’t worry, someone will surely be by to let you in.
Philadelphia Museum of Art – Though the columned exterior and towering steps of this building may have been immortalized by a hard-hitting fellow by the name of Rocky Balboa (heard of him?), it’s what’s inside the Philadelphia Museum of Art that makes it spectacular. The museum is home to more than 200,000 pieces of art – including masterpieces by folks such as Picasso, Renoir, and Monet. Oh, and feel free to dash up the stairs like Rocky when you get there. Trust us – you will not be alone.
The Barnes Foundation – Originally displayed in the home of Gilded Age millionaire Albert Barnes, The Barnes Foundation – home to almost 1,000 paintings worth an estimated $25 billion – recently set up shop in a new home on the Ben Franklin Parkway. Begun as Barnes’s personal collection, the paintings are displayed today in ensembles – just as Barnes used to display them. This means you can see a Van Gogh hanging right beside a Monet hanging right below a Matisse – almost as if they were simply pictures of Barnes’s khaki-clad children at the beach.
The Franklin Institute – Primarily a museum of science (though it also serves several other functions), the Franklin Institute has been a staple of elementary school field trips across the Delaware Valley since its founding in the early 1800’s. Through exhibits such as Electricity, The Train Factory, and Space Command, the Franklin Institute allows its curious visitors a hands-on learning experience. Be sure to check out The Giant Heart – it’s always a fan favorite.
The Loop – For the folks interested in long walks on a Sunday afternoon, look no further. The Loop is an 8.5 mile lap on Philadelphia’s historic East & West River Drives. Beginning at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Loop winds its visitors through picturesque Fairmont Park alongside the Schuylkill River. Sights include The Philadelphia Water Works, Boat House Row, and the famed Philadelphia rowing race course – home to both the Stotesbury and Dad Vail regattas.
Old City – If you’re looking for a more urban alternative to The Loop, why not stroll through Old City? Philadelphia’s historic district, Old City was the city back in the Revolutionary days. Federal-style brick townhomes (now some of the city’s most expensive real estate) line shady, cobblestone streets, creating an old world feel not found in most American cities. To get the full experience, be sure to check out Delancey Place and the Head House Farmer’s Market in Society Hill.
Credit: Cmpahbl MupaIndependence Hall – Remember that one nickname? Birthplace of America? Well, that’s literally right here. For anyone with even an inkling of interest in American history, Independence Hall is an absolute must see. Spend an hour to tour the landmark. As you walk throughout the building and its grounds, try to imagine what it must have been like before, during, and after the Revolution. You are in the place where a group of men thought up and then created the United States of America. If you don’t think that’s cool, then I’m not sure what is.
Bonus: The Liberty Bell is located right across the street. While you’re in the neighborhood, why not swing by and check it out? Tip: Leave your sledgehammer at home. Security does not have a great sense of humor.
USS Olympia & USS Becuna – While sites such as the Betsy Ross House or Ben Franklin Post Office would often slide into the two spot on a historic Philadelphia short list, the USS Olympia and USS Becuna are two oft-overlooked historic landmarks in Philadelphia. Both located on the Delaware River, the Olympia (from the Spanish-American war) and Becuna (a World War II submarine) are retired warships that are open to the public for tours. If this is your kind of thing, we also recommend checking out the Battleship New Jersey docked right across the Delaware on Camden’s waterfront.
Sports & Athletic Activities
Credit: Mike SimmonsThe Palestra – Called The Cathedral of College Basketball, The Palestra has hosted more college basketball games than any venue in the history of the game. Located on University of Pennsylvania’s campus, the Palestra is not only home to the UPenn Quakers, but it is also the historic battleground for Philadelphia’s Big 5 universities – Penn, Temple, LaSalle, St. Joe’s, and Villanova. Simply a must see for any true fan of the college game.
The River Rink – Should you find yourself in Philadelphia during the winter months, why not check out the River Rink? Set up alongside the Delaware River at Penn’s Landing, the River Rink is a public, outdoor ice skating rink open from late November to early March each year. We recommend visiting at nighttime – the lights from the Ben Franklin Bridge and the skyline of nearby Camden really create a unique ambiance. Don’t forget to bundle up!
South Philly Sports Complexes – For the professional sports aficionado, the Sports Complex in South Philadelphia is the place to be. Home to all four of Philadelphia’s major sports franchises (Eagles, Phillies, 76ers, and Flyers), this part of town is an entertainment Mecca, routinely hosting concerts in addition to sporting events. Check out bar and restaurant complex Xfinity LIVE for some drinks and dinner before the game.
Bonus: For A Scream
Eastern State Penitentiary – Situated smack-dab in the middle of Philadelphia’s trendy Fairmount neighborhood, Eastern State Penitentiary looks more like a medieval stronghold than a 19th century prison. Spanning several city blocks, Eastern State Penitentiary held thugs and gangsters (including Al Capone) from its opening in 1829 until its closing in 1971. While open for tours during the day, Eastern State Penitentiary is best experienced in the evenings during the Halloween season. With the help of a massive cast of horrifying costumed actors, the penitentiary is transformed into one of America’s most frightening haunted houses.
Philadelphia, aside from being a town with a lot of culture and character, is a city chock full of fun and interesting activities. We hope these greatest hits have inspired you to start planning your trip to the City of Brotherly Love today. See you there!