Current Search Destination: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
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IntroductionEarly to bed, early to rise as Benjamin Franklin advised? Not in Philadelphia. Native son W.C. Fields once joked, “Last week, I went to Philadelphia, but it was closed.” Now Philly boasts more than a place in American history. It's hip. It's open all hours. Stroll along myriad streets and discover upscale galleries and fine boutiques, elegant haute-cuisine restaurants and gritty fast-food joints—Philly cheesesteak, anyone? In warm weather, dance in open-air clubs to river lights and a view of the Ben Franklin Bridge. This Colonial enclave has transformed itself into a city so happening that even old Ben would stay up past his bedtime.
But don't forget history. Philadelphia is the “Cradle of the American Revolution,” after all. No dry civics lesson here—this is where Independence Hall stands, where the Liberty Bell rang out (and cracked), where the Declaration of Independence was signed and our war for freedom began. Walk down Market Street, or use one of the Bike Share Philadelphia bicycles to get around, and you're following in the steps of the founding fathers.
The neighborhoods in the City of Brotherly Love have their own stories to tell, too. In South Philly's Italian Market, Main Line socialites bicker over the price of basil, while commuters and families wait in line to order famous hoagies. On South Street, musicians play on the sidewalks and hipsters buy the latest fashions in trendy stores. All over town, bleary-eyed students sip lattes after late-night clubbing on Delaware Avenue. There's so much to do in Philly, both Ben and W.C. would be amused—early in the morning or late at night.
In DepthSo, why is the Liberty Bell cracked?
There are many tales concerning the circumstances of the bell’s first crack, but consensus has it that the fracture dangerously expanded and ultimately rendered the bell unusable after it rang in 1846 to commemorate George Washington’s birthday. It was probably a fitting occasion for its final performance.
Philadelphia teems with icons like this hallowed bell that inspire an undeniable sense of history and awe. These vestiges of the past send shivers down the spines of visitors and residents alike as it hits home that this is indeed America’s birthplace. Have lunch at City Tavern like Washington did, or tour Christ Church, where he was a parishioner, along with Benjamin Franklin and some members of Congress. Then wander inside the Betsy Ross House to learn about the woman who reputedly sewed the first stars and stripes on Old Glory.
To experience Philadelphia to the fullest, a good place to start is where it all began: Independence National Historical Park. You can easily spend the entire day here, exploring landmarks that represent the nation’s founding. There’s Congress Hall, the site that hosted the inauguration of John Adams and the second inauguration of Washington, and of course, that famous bell.
Outside of this historic square mile, there are other nooks and crannies of the Old City ripe for exploration. Stroll down narrow Elfreth’s Alley, said to be America’s oldest continuously inhabited residential street. Take the self-guiding tour at the U.S. Mint to see the birth of currency, or learn about Quaker life at the brick Historic Arch Street Meeting House, built as a gathering spot in 1804.
Now that you have a sense of the old, you can appreciate the new. Skyscrapers like Comcast Center, One Liberty Place (with its new 57-story-tall One Liberty Observation Deck) and Three Logan Square soar over Center City, and statues of historical figures meld with those of modern day heroes. You can get a closer look at the commanding statue of city founder William Penn presiding over his “City of Brotherly Love” from a perch atop City Hall’s clock tower.
Penn’s brotherly love and the strong sense of family and tradition instilled by the Quakers are still values held near and dear to Philadelphians. Philly's neighborhoods have histories of their own. To the south, there’s Bella Vista, characterized by the colorful, aromatic Italian Market. In Chinatown, diners can indulge culinary cravings at all hours. Handsome 18th-century Colonials flanked by quaint courtyards grace the fashionably preserved Society Hill area, while Rittenhouse Square exudes luxury and wealth.
Although many head to Philadelphia to explore attractions focusing on history and patriotism, a healthy shopping, dining, cultural and sports scene also are part of the mix. The Philadelphia Museum of Art houses great works of art, and immortalizes fictional boxer Rocky Balboa with his larger-than-life likeness at the base of its steps. The Philadelphia Orchestra offers a popular summer concert series, and the Philadelphia Ballet's annual "Nutcracker" performances enchant holiday audiences. The Franklin Institute and Philadelphia Zoo stimulate the imaginations of all ages.
And Philadelphians turn out in droves to show their love for the Phillies (baseball), Eagles (football), Flyers (hockey), 76ers (basketball) and Union (soccer).
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EssentialsBook your tickets in advance to see one of the world's most celebrated collections of post-impressionist and early modern art at The Barnes Foundation (2025 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy.). You'll be mesmerized by a diverse ensemble of works that spans multiple cultures and time periods.
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For romance, hail a horse-drawn cab at 5th and Chestnut streets. As the horse trots down Society Hill's 18th-century cobblestone streets, enjoy the sights: Colonial and Federal architecture, row houses and intimate courtyards. Other routes include a trip through Independence National Historical Park's tree-lined lanes and a peek at the bustling Old City area, featuring such sites as the Betsy Ross House (239 Arch St.) and Elfreth's Alley.
Think about it—or go to the Rodin Museum (in Fairmount Park at Benjamin Franklin Pkwy. & 22nd St.) and leave the pondering to Auguste Rodin's best-known sculpture, “The Thinker.” While you're here, tour the museum and discover other sculptures to consider, contemplate and regard.
Cheer for one of Philly's sports teams. If there's a nip in the air, you can head to Lincoln Financial Field (1020 Pattison Ave.) and take your chances on tickets for an Eagles game. And if football's not your thing, applaud at Wells Fargo Center (3601 S. Broad St.) as a 76er dunks the ball or a Flyer hooks the puck. In spring and summer, go to a Phillies game at Citizens Bank Park (1 Citizens Bank Way) and catch a foul ball on the third base line. The latest addition for area sports fans is the region’s first Major League Soccer club, the Philadelphia Union, that plays at Talen Energy Stadium (1 Stadium Dr.). Warning: Philadelphia sports fans are very loyal to their teams.
Jog to the top of the steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2600 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy.) and—like Rocky Balboa in the movie—pump your arms in the air! Once you catch your breath, enter the museum to enjoy one of the world's premier art collections. With some 240,000 objects on-site, it's a challenge to see everything, so consider joining one of the daily tours.
Enjoy music the old-fashioned way at Macy's twice daily Wanamaker Organ recitals Monday through Saturday. One of the largest musical instruments in the world, this grand organ fills the store atrium with classical and contemporary tunes from seven floors above the cosmetic counters, downtown at 13th and Market streets. During the holidays, there's a light show to go along with the musical numbers.
There's no better way to experience the founding of our nation than to visit Independence National Historical Park (145 S. 3rd St.). It's packed full of history, Colonial architecture and iconic sights like the Liberty Bell.
Chow down on a Philly cheesesteak, the famous hoagie made with thinly sliced rib eye, melted cheese and grilled onions. Most South Philly sandwich shops are open 24-7-365 (and most claim they cooked up the original idea). Two of the best are Pat's King of Steaks (1237 E. Passyunk Ave.) and Geno's Steaks (1219 9th St.).
Gawk at the strange, spine-tingling exhibits at the Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia (19 S. 22nd St.). Exhibits at this College of Physicians of Philadelphia museum include the Soap Lady, celebrity body parts and casts of patients who suffered from gigantism, eye diseases and other deformities.
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Top Picks For Kids
Under 13Thrill wee ones with a trip to Sesame Place (100 Sesame Rd.) in nearby Langhorne. Rides and waterslides entertain tots, as do huggable Sesame Street friends like Big Bird, Elmo and Cookie Monster. For an educational experience that's also tons of fun, attend the Neighborhood Street Party parade.
Ages 5-12 will have a blast at The Franklin Institute (222 N. 20th St.). The Train Factory mesmerizes young conductors as they learn about operating a 350-ton locomotive, while aspiring astronauts can command a mission and examine space expedition equipment. Kids can also walk through a two-story-high giant heart with sound and lighting effects or peer through a telescope in the fourth-floor observatory.
The Please Touch Museum (in Fairmount Park at 4231 Avenue of the Republic) amuses young children with interactive exhibits that stimulate learning through touching and playing. Explore a neighborhood in City Capers, experiment with movement at Space Station or wind through Wonderland's maze.
TeensTeens love intrigue, and they'll find it at Ghost Tours of Philadelphia (5th & Chestnut sts.). And what's more, they'll be exposed to a little history in addition to pondering such dilemmas as whether Edgar Allan Poe's spirit lingers in the Old City. Guides conduct a candlelit stroll past Philly's spooky nooks and crannies, telling tales of haunted houses and ghostly encounters. And, of course, there's the requisite cemetery stop.
Philadelphia is known for its iconic treats, and Reading Terminal Market (51 N. 12th St.) is the perfect venue in which to sample the city's delectable tidbits. In this enclosed historic farmers market built underneath the Reading Railroad's train shed, you'll find everything from cheesesteaks to soft pretzels to whoopie pies.
Guided tours aboard the cruiser Olympia and the World War II submarine Becuna at the Independence Seaport Museum (211 S. Columbus Blvd.) spark the imaginations of students as they investigate these historic vessels. The “Ship Via Philadelphia” display features hands-on activities—including a miniature cargo crane—that illustrate the concepts of commerce and trade.
For a buggy endeavor, head to The Insectarium (8046 Frankford Ave.) a museum devoted entirely to creepy-crawlies. You can handle some of the live creatures if you choose, but if you'd rather admire them from afar there are plenty of exhibits, including mounted specimens.
All AgesIndependence National Historical Park (145 S. 3rd St.) awes history buffs with the revered Liberty Bell and sites like Independence Hall that played a pivotal role in the nation's development.
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At the Philadelphia Zoo (3400 W. Girard Ave.), rides like the carousel, train and swan boats excite tots, while older kids are eager to saddle up on a pony or camel. Habitats are plentiful, and include Monkey Junction, Bear Country, African Plains and First Niagara Big Cat Falls, where you'll come face to face with the endangered inhabitants.
Several Philly events bring joy to the entire crew. The Mummers Parade on New Year's Day is a merry extravaganza with colorful costumes, elaborate floats and entertainment. Odunde, held during the second Sunday in June, is one of the country's largest African-American festivals. Wawa Welcome America around July 4 has a number of fun activities leading up to its Independence Day festivities. For the culturally inclined, the Philadelphia Orchestra Family Concert Series on occasional Saturdays from October through April makes for a nice outing.
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ShoppingSure, big name department stores like Macy's and Nordstrom are available at the area malls. But those on the hunt for fabulous finds know that the heart and soul of Philly shopping lies in its unique neighborhoods and its nearby suburbs.
Oh, and did we mention that there's no sales tax on clothing or shoes in Pennsylvania?
Even if you’re not in the market, Center City’s quaint Antique Row, bordered by Locust and Lombard streets from 9th to Broad streets, delights with its engaging window displays. Here, anything goes, from kitschy bargains to refined elegance: You can pick up an unusual $4 china plate or a $40,000 Chippendale highboy, barter for a mustache cup or negotiate for a priceless silver service. Historic samplers and needlework are the specialty at M. Finkel & Daughter (936 Pine St.), while stained glass and porcelain entice at Kohn & Kohn (1112 Pine).
The section of Chestnut Street from 8th to 18th streets is a busy corridor where Philadelphians find a mixed bag of stores in a range of tastes.
Bargain shoppers and fashionistas rejoiced at the end of 2015 when the Bloomingdale’s Outlet opened in Center City’s Shops at Liberty Place (1625 Chestnut). With nearly 23,000 square feet of women’s, men’s, children’s and home goods at discounts of 20 to 70 percent off to choose from, there’s almost nothing you can’t find. The urban mall with the typical retail potpourri is further enhanced by a stunning glass atrium.
Lapstone & Hammer (1106 Chestnut) is a fashionable man’s paradise, with both high-end sneakers and Italian leather products, as well as men’s grooming products. Athletes and sports fans sprint to Mitchell & Ness (1201 Chestnut) to ogle the amazing collection of reproduction pro jerseys and jackets. It makes sense to open a flagship store of Five Below (1529 Chestnut) just blocks from its headquarters on a grand scale—this one in a two-story 1915 theater is nearly twice as big as all the others, selling all of its goods for $5 or less. International clothier Uniqlo (1608 Chestnut) has three stories of functional, simple men's, women's and kids fashions to explore. If you’d like to create a tranquil, cool, space of your own at home, step into The Shade Store (1725 Chestnut), which expanded to Philadelphia from its New York space in 2015.
The Market & Shops at Comcast Center, farther north at John F. Kennedy Boulevard and N. 17 Street, has a handful of shops and eateries catering to downtown office workers.
Jewelers’ Row, on Sansom between 7th and 8th streets (between Chestnut and Walnut streets), is Center City’s diamond district, second in size only to New York’s and reputedly the nation’s oldest. You’ll surely find a trinket that tickles your fancy in this treasure trove of shops, many operated by the same Philadelphia families for generations. Don’t buy on first impulse—checking out the competition generally pays off, since many of the jewelers do offer discounts.
Those inclined toward high-end tidbits land in the Rittenhouse Square area, in a class all its own. As you browse along Walnut Street from Broad to 20th, you’ll come across fashion-forward designs at Diesel, Urban Outfitters (originally launched in Pennsylvania) and a multitude of other chic retailers. For some great deals, peruse the sale racks in the lower level of Anthropologie (1801 Walnut), another sophisticated chain born in the Keystone State. Pricey designs with an edgy flair are all the rage at Joan Shepp (1811 Chestnut), while Boyd’s (1818 Chestnut) is the arbiter of classic elegance amid upper crust digs complete with chandeliers—it even has a sushi lounge. Savor some lunch or the luxury goods of Tiffany & Co., Polo Ralph Lauren and other upscale merchants at Shops at the Bellevue, (Broad and Walnut streets). The Apple Store (16th and Walnut) draws the technically savvy masses into its packed quarters.
Even more style moved in in 2015; try Shop Sixty Five (128 S. 17th St.) for expertly curated womenswear, denim and accessories by stylist Linda La Rosa; and the trendy Skirt boutique (212 S. 17th St.) where you can work with a stylist to create a perfect wardrobe.
Shoppers looking for something a little more worldly in their home goods, beauty products and stationery will be thrilled to hear that Japanese goods seller Rikumo has moved and expanded from its Spring Garden store to a shop in Center City (1216 Walnut).
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Foodies must stop by the happily bustling Reading Terminal Market (12th and Arch streets), a cornucopia of palate-pleasing sensations. Indulge in a steaming cheese steak, freshly baked soft pretzels, succulent pastry and other culinary treats. (Hint: It’s also an affordable breakfast stop.) The Hard Rock Cafe Philadelphia, is located nearby at 12th and Market streets. Urbanites looking for a mall-type experience with moderate prices can dash into Market Place East (701 Market St.) in a historically handsome building.
For a slice of history with your purchases, duck into Macy's Center City in the Wanamaker Building (1300 Market St.), where you are serenaded by the music of the Wanamaker Grand Organ as you shop. Out-of-state visitors get extra discounts.
Young hipsters love to pop into the trendy emporiums clustered about Old City to search for modish clothes, new age home designs and vintage furniture. This neighborhood just north of Independence National Historical Park also is dotted with some of the most happening galleries in Philly’s art scene. If you’re around, you can sample wine and hors d’oeuvres during the “First Friday” evening of the month, when galleries host an open house that turns into a wandering street party. The Bourse, a renovated 1895 grain and stock exchange just across from the Liberty Bell at 21 S. 5th St., is a good place for tourists to pick up some souvenirs. Weary shoppers seek refuge in the food court, a comfortable oasis within a stylish multilevel atrium.
Those in the know who also want to feel good about themselves when they shop stop into The Wardrobe Boutique (1822 Spring Garden St.), near the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Proceeds from sales of the gently-used clothing and accessories goes to help local women - and these designer duds can perk up any closet.
Out in Fishtown, you can cozy up to luxury garment hawkers Kit and Ace (1424 Frankford), the Canadian sensation that sells men’s and women’s clothing that’s both beautiful and functional.
South Street, just south of Society Hill, has an eclectic assortment of funky shops with unique baubles. If you’re into vintage and have a hankering for the exotic, this is your turf—the scene heats up at night. You can't help but notice Philadelphia's Magic Gardens, a folk art gallery and sculpture garden housed within a whimsical building adorned with mosaics. Antique hounds should note that a few dealers branch off the main drag.
Head a little farther south and you’ll come across the Bella Vista neighborhood, home of the 9th Street Italian Market. Running along 9th from Wharton to Fitzwater streets, the market tantalizes your senses with the aromas of garlic and freshly baked bread along with the colorful displays of fresh vegetables, pastas, spices and cheeses. For culinary delights sure to tease your taste buds, stop by Di Bruno Bros., a foodie haven brimming with cheeses and other gourmet specialties. The market’s a great lunch spot—roasted garlic pizza is a hit at Sarcone’s, while locals swear by both Pat’s King of Steaks and Geno’s Steaks for mouthwatering cheese steaks, a short jaunt south down 9th Street. Fabric Row, at S. 4th Street and Fitzwater, is a hub of textile-related concerns featuring custom draperies, tailors, designer fabrics and sewing supplies. Also in South Philly is the new Miss Demeanor (1729 E. Passyunk), in the old Tom’s Prime Meats building—though it’s been transformed from a butcher shop to a place for fair-trade dresses and other made-in-America women’s clothes.
In Philadelphia's Northern Liberties neighborhood, a few blocks north of the Old City, the Piazza at Schmidt's Commons (2nd Street and Germantown Avenue) is a landscaped open-air plaza surrounded by art studios and boutiques; it's also the site of concerts, festivals and other events. Liberties Walk, 1040 N. American St., is a pedestrian walkway that travels past boutiques and restaurants.
On the fringes of Philly, wander the charming cobblestone streets of pretty Chestnut Hill and relish the assortment of some 125 shops. An easy trip from downtown, this northwest enclave with a moneyed vibe attracts those on the prowl for art and antiques, suburbanites out for a spin, and those just happy to park in a quaint café and do a little people watching. Individually owned boutiques touting specialized merchandise co-exist with established chains. About 7 miles northwest of Center City, Main Street Manayunk offers an assortment of galleries and shops interspersed with restaurants. You can browse for home furnishings, jewelry, boutique-style fashions, and vintage and consignment finds.
If you only visit one suburban shopping mall, make it the King of Prussia (US 202 at Schuylkill Expressway), a monstrous labyrinth of stores that makes fighting traffic almost worthwhile. Reputedly the East Coast’s largest, the megamall features more than 350 shops and seven major anchors, including Bloomingdale's, Lord & Taylor and Neiman Marcus. You can replenish your energy in one of the numerous eateries, including upscale steakhouse Morton’s of Chicago.
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NightlifePhilly is a drinking town, as evidenced by the number of handsome brewpubs and classy lounges. But the city which gave birth to television sensation “American Bandstand” also continues to party hearty with a decent selection of trendy dance clubs and good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll.
Clubs providing entertainment may include cover charges, and usually require drink or food minimums. To avoid surprises, phone ahead and confirm prices, opening hours, scheduled acts and dress codes.
Nowadays, you never know where you'll find great late-night places to eat or drink as pop-up restaurants and food trucks and beer gardens have been sprouting up everywhere.
Case in point: The Independence Beer Garden (Independence Mall West/(215) 922-7100) offers 20,000 square feet of space to relax and unwind with 20 beers on tap. The new space also offers food and other cocktails for those who aren't into hops.
In fact, every neighborhood has its favorite brewpub, but there are definitely standouts. Homey touches like an antique wooden bar, brick accents and an inviting fireplace make young movers and shakers want to snuggle up with a cold one and some first-rate munchies at The Black Sheep Pub & Restaurant (Rittenhouse Square/(215) 545-9473). Fergie’s Pub (Center City/(215) 928-8118), a rip-roaring Irish pub, throws quite a party on St. Pat’s Day—the jovial spot attracts a multifarious gang, including those eager for some good music or fresh mussels along with their brew. Savor one of Philly’s best burgers with your brew at Good Dog Bar & Restaurant (Center City/(215) 985-9600), where youngish patrons like to shoot pool and select tunes from an Internet jukebox amid canine-inspired decor. The packed taproom at Monk’s Cafe (Center City/(215) 545-7005) specializes in beer from Belgium, with one of the ales actually custom brewed in that country—you might be able to escape the throngs of kids by nabbing a seat at the back bar. An edgy, 20-to-30 something set hangs out at Standard Tap (Northern Liberties/(215) 238-0630), home of well-crafted drafts and a cranking jukebox—the pub grub is heavenly, from the roast pork sandwich to the duck confit salad. U-Bahn (Center City/(215) 800-1079) offers local beer, local food and even local music; singer/songwriters perform several times a week.
If your idea of fun is a little more physical—more specifically, a sea of bodies gyrating to a thumping beat—then you’ll find bliss partying in Philadelphia’s dance clubs. Philly’s most coveted DJs spin funk, punk, rock ‘n’ roll, trance, progressive and what not in this sleek, high-tech danceteria serving up potent drinks. The party begins behind the retro façade of Silk City Diner, Bar & Lounge (Northern Liberties/(215) 592-8838). Grab a nosh at the diner and then migrate to the club, where you can burn the calories on a dance floor accented by disco balls, neon lighting, DJs and live music performances. District N9NE (Callowhill/(215) 769-2780) features electronic dance music along with a great sound and lighting system to match.
Jazz aficionados head to Chris’ Jazz Café (Center City/(215) 568-3131), a locally touted joint featuring top hometown acts and the occasional touring show in cozy digs. It’s not the tasty soul food that has them singing the blues at Warmdaddy’s (South Philly/(215) 462-2000)—it’s the top-notch sound system. Jam sessions showcase local cool cats at this down-home find with a laid-back vibe, Friday-Sunday evenings. The Raven Lounge (Rittenhouse Square/(215) 840-3577), which draws a disparate bunch in search of tunes in an unpretentious atmosphere, has been known to put up a live jazz or blues ensemble on its music stage upstairs. You can take a trip through time and a far-away place to 1930s France by visiting the Paris Bistro & Jazz Café, offering music, French food and drinks every Thursday-Sunday (Chestnut Hill/(215) 242-6200). For cuisine of a more southern American flavor, have a serving of Relish (West Oak Lane/(215) 276-0170) and live jazz Thursday-Saturday. Slip into an intimate jazz parlor six nights at South (Spring Garden/(215) 600-0220) and move out to the bar or dining hall for some food from that region.
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For those who like to sit and sip, Philly offers plenty of swank lounges and happening bars. In summer, the rooftop deck at Continental Mid-town (Center City/(215) 567-1800) is a major hangout—inside, a trendy crowd sips apple martinis and soaks up the ambiance of the chicly decorated space. Mellow-minded hipsters who would rather skip the scene, settle in a comfy chair and peruse a decent wine list choose L’Etage (South Street/(215) 592-0656) for a low-key evening with a French flair. For drinkable assets, brave the line at The Franklin Bar(Rittenhouse Square/(267) 467-3277), a snug and dimly lit subterranean speakeasy that captivates patrons with designer cocktails.
If you’re not averse to spending some serious coin, you'll relish a costly libation amid Victorian décor reminiscent of the Prohibition era at Vango Skybar & Lounge(Rittenhouse Square/(215) 568-1020). Vango features an outdoor lounge on the top level, where you can sink into plush couches and appreciate a skyline panorama—get there early if you want to avoid the crowd and gaze at the twinkling lights of Center City in peace.
The Old World style wine bar at Panorama (Old City/(215) 922-7800) in the Penn’s View Hotel impresses oenophiles with its state-of-the-art dispensing system—if you are new to the wine game, this is a great place to order a “flight,” a sampling of five different vintages to taste. Eclectic touches like a wine bottle chandelier, stamped-tin ceiling and exposed brick walls entice connoisseurs at the Vintage Wine Bar & Bistro (Center City/(215) 922-3095), where Old City character melds with a new Philadelphia vibe. Reasonable prices along with open-air seating, yummy nibbles and a popular happy hour draw a youngish clientele to Jet Wine Bar (South Street/(215) 735-1116), a friendly and funky neighborhood nook just right for quiet conversation. Tria Cafe Rittenhouse (Center City/(215) 972-8742) delights foodies who like to select from the tempting assortment of cheeses and appetizers to pair with their wine (or beer).
You might not expect to find a country bar in Philly—but you'd be wrong; Boot & Saddle (Bella Vista/(267) 639-4528) is a restaurant and bar, and a venue for live music.
But it's rock ‘n’ roll that's still alive and kicking in the City of Brotherly Love. Twenty-something punkers and rockers infiltrate Trocadero Theatre (Chinatown/(215) 922-6888) in hopes of discovering hard-hitting, edgy talent—the roomy Chinatown club’s ornate accents hint at its past stint as a burlesque house. Bigger names are now filling the likes of The Fillmore Philly (Northern Liberties/(215) 309-0150) that seats 2,500 or the only slightly larger Electric Factory (Franklin Square/(215) 627-1332).
The focus isn’t on mainstream tunes at World Cafe Live (University City/(215) 222-1400), a modernistic live-music venue hosting a diverse global line-up, from indie bands to hip-hop to acoustical performances. Happy hours are a hot bargain. Johnny Brenda's (Northern Liberties/(215) 739-9684) is a gastro-pub that also happens to have a concert hall upstairs—the small Fishtown space has a welcoming, relaxed feel and showcases indie rock acts and the latest in Philly's rock scene at a value.
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For something completely different, The Rotunda (University City) offers world music, spoken word and theatrical performances and even art exhibits. It's alcohol and admission free.
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Performing ArtsThe Philadelphia Orchestra, one of the country's finest symphonies, presents its main season (May-September) in The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. The Philly Pops Christmas Spectacular is popular for families. The Kimmel Center also hosts Broadway musicals, speakers and special concerts; phone (215) 731-3333 for tickets. Opera Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania Ballet perform at the Academy of Music, one block north at Broad and Locust streets; phone (215) 893-1999 for orchestra, opera and ballet tickets.
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Philadelphia theater is popular. The Forrest Theatre presents pre-Broadway and hit shows with name stars; national touring companies appear at the Annenberg Center and the Merriam Theater.
There also are numerous regional and community theater companies, including the Arden Theatre Company, the Bristol Riverside Theatre, the Hedgerow Theatre, the New Freedom Theatre, the People's Light and Theatre Company, the Philadelphia Theatre Company, the Prince Theater, the Walnut Street Theatre and the Wilma Theater. College theater can be enjoyed at Temple University or Villanova University.
Painted Bride Art Center presents an array of performing arts and music performances as well as art exhibits.
The biggest concerts often come to the Wells Fargo Center, which also plays host to the city's sports teams. Call (800) 298-4200 for tickets.
Boat ToursThe Spirit of Philadelphia offers narrated 2-hour lunch and dinner sightseeing cruises on the Delaware River. Cruises depart from Columbus Boulevard and Lombard Circle at Penn's Landing; phone (866) 394-8439.
Bus And Trolley ToursMural Arts Tours
Food ToursTaste of Philly Food Tour
Guided Walking ToursJoining Chef Joe Poon's narrated Wok 'n Walk Tour is a good way to see Philadelphia's Chinatown. Tours, which depart daily from 1002 Arch St. in Chinatown, include a five-course meal. Reservations are required; phone (215) 928-9333.
Self-guiding ToursThe heart of historic Philadelphia lends itself to a walking tour. A stroll through the narrow cobblestone streets among restored Georgian and Colonial buildings is the best way to discover the essence of the city and to assimilate its 18th-century atmosphere. A good way to see historic Philadelphia is to combine the walking tour with stops at the attractions along the way. The names of sites listed in detail in the Attractions section are printed in bold type. Even if you do not tour a listed site, reading the attraction listing when you reach that point will make the tour more interesting. This tour takes approximately 5 hours, which allows for a leisurely pace.
Start at City Hall at Centre Square. Walking east on Market Street, you pass Macy's department store on the right. If you're in this area on a weekday afternoon, stop in for the 45-minute 3:30 tour of the historic Wanamaker building ($10, cash only); phone (215) 241-9000, ext. 2408. Advance reservations are required.
Continue east on Market Street to 7th Street, where you will find the shops and restaurants of Market Place East and the Declaration House.
Cross 7th Street to the Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent. Upon leaving the museum, take the walkway to the right to 6th Street for a stop at the Liberty Bell Center, which houses the famous symbol of American freedom. From there, walk across Chestnut Street to Independence Hall.
Within the next 3 blocks of Chestnut are numerous historical buildings that are part of the Independence National Historical Park. They include Congress Hall and Old City Hall, which flank Independence Hall; Second Bank of the United States Portrait Gallery; the New Hall Military Museum; Carpenters' Hall; Todd House; and the Bishop White House.
Facing Independence Hall is the renovated Philadelphia Bourse. The historic merchants' exchange now houses shops, restaurants and an information center on the first floor.
Just east on Chestnut Street is a path leading to Franklin Court, where a steel frame suggests the shape of Franklin's home, destroyed in 1812. Traces of the original foundation are visible.
From Franklin Court, exit onto Market Street and walk east to 2nd Street. Take 2nd Street north to Christ Church, on the left. Continue north 1.5 blocks, then stroll through Elfreth's Alley on the right. The 6-foot-wide alley is lined with a number of quaint, modest houses from the early 1700s. Farther north on 2nd Street is Fireman's Hall Museum, a museum depicting the history of fire fighting in America with memorabilia, graphics, films and antique equipment.
From this point turn around and return to Arch Street. Turn right on Arch Street and walk a half-block to the Betsy Ross House, on your right. After a visit, proceed west and cross 3rd Street toward the Historic Arch Street Meeting House, a Quaker gathering place since the early 1800s, which is on the left. The next block is occupied by the United States Mint, where pocket change and commemorative coins are made.
To end the tour, walk south to Market Street on 5th Street. You will pass the Free Quaker Meeting House on the right. Once on Market Street you can rest your feet, relax and refresh at one of the many restaurants in the area. At City Tavern, tucked away at 2nd and Walnut, diners experience a taste of the Colonial past. The 1792 building was once an unofficial meeting place for the First Continental Congress.
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Pennsylvania Quest for Freedom: Philadelphia, features stops showcasing African-American history, including the Underground Railroad. Brochures can be picked up at the Independence Visitor Center and at many of the tour's sites.
The Historic Philadelphia Center offers brochures about the Once Upon A Nation storytelling program. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, there are 10 benches scattered throughout historic Philadelphia where passersby can stop to listen to stories about historic sites and influential people from the past.
Philadelphia boasts more than 3,000 murals, so check some out while you're in the city. Seventeen murals in Center City make up Mural Mile; a plaque at each stop contains the mural hotline number, (215) 525-1577, so you can call to hear audio commentary on your cellphone.
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Philadelphia In 3 DaysThree days is barely enough time to get to know any major destination. But AAA travel editors suggest these activities to make the most of your time in Philadelphia.
Day 1: MorningBegin your first day in the City of Brotherly Love at Independence Visitor Center in Independence National Historical Park located at the corner of 6th and Market streets in Center City. If you arrive early, you'll be ahead of the crowds. Get free tickets and sign up for a National Park Service walking tour.
Head to Independence Hall then to Liberty Bell Center. Continue touring Independence National Historical Park and see the National Constitution Center, Congress Hall and the Second Bank of the United States Portrait Gallery.
Day 1: AfternoonWalk north on 5th Street. Stop at Christ Church's modest burial ground, where Benjamin Franklin and other signers of the Declaration of Independence are interred.
For lunch, dine in an Old City restaurant—take your pick of places, from casual diners and sandwich joints. Try Sonny's Famous Steaks at 2nd and Market. Fancier establishments include Fork and Amada at 2nd and Chestnut. If you're in the mood for a Philly Cheesesteak, why not visit the most popular place in the neighborhood? Hoof it to Jim's Steaks at 4th and South streets. You'll also discover lunch trucks serving the famous sandwich on just about every corner.
After grabbing lunch, walk (or bus it) back to Christ Church. This time go inside to see where the American Episcopal Church got its start and where some of the Founding Fathers worshipped. After a church visit, head over to the Betsy Ross House at 239 Arch Street. And then make your way to Elfreth's Alley, the oldest continually inhabited street in America; the museum is at number 124.
In the late afternoon, walk southeast to Head House Square (Lombard and S. 3rd streets). How about resting your feet? Take a romantic horse-drawn carriage ride. Meander through Society Hill's 18th-century cobblestone streets. The architecture, row houses and intimate courtyards cast fabulous shadows as twilight beckons.
Day 1: EveningFor dinner, try one of Old City's restaurants or head back toward Independence National Historical Park. If you're in the mood for some hip Asian cuisine, try the fusion Buddakan at 3rd and Chestnut. If meatloaf or macaroni and cheese are more your speed, head to Jones.
After dinner, head to Penn’s Landing on the waterfront, scene of Friday night concerts all summer and Thursday film screenings under the stars in July and August. In the winter, you can practice your turns on the outdoor ice-skating rink. Afterward, nab a cocktail on “The Hippest Street in Town.” The popular song's lyrics don't lie: as you amble down South Street between Front and 9th, you'll find plenty of bistros and bars where you can swill that nightcap.
Day 2: MorningBegin in Center City and visit the Pennsylvania Academy of The Fine Arts and its huge collection of American art. After a few hours of soaking up the visuals, walk south on S. Broad Street toward City Hall, glimpsing a bronze statue of William Penn perched on top, then duck into Macy's, a.k.a. the John Wanamaker Building. Twice daily Monday through Saturday, the Wanamaker organ, the largest operational pipe organ in the world, blasts out a dramatic concert within the department store's seven story court.
Day 2: AfternoonFor lunch, walk east to Reading Terminal Market, where you can taste true Philadelphia eats such as the highly regarded cheese steak or buttered soft pretzels. Try some Amish sassafras jelly or ginger snaps. Of course, dozens of food stalls offer plenty of edible options, including lo mein and pizza.
Now head back toward City Hall and walk east on Market to find the strangest, most wonderful museum in town: the Mütter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. The museum's better than watching a forensic television program, as visitors find anomalous and aberrant medical oddities on view, such as a woman's corpse whose body turned to soap. Be warned: the Mütter's bizarre displays are not for weak stomachs.
Head north to The Franklin Institute, which offers four floors of interactive exhibits. Walk through a model of a human heart, watch a film in the Tuttleman Dome IMAX Theater and or gaze at blinking stars in the Fels Planetarium.
Day 2: EveningFrom the museum, turn back toward Rittenhouse Square, where visitors will find bars, restaurants and plenty of shops. You've got a wealth of choices here. For great burgers, fries, beer and a homey atmosphere, try Good Dog Bar & Restaurant. Looking for a chic but comfortable tapas restaurant that serves great wine and brewskies? Head to Tria Cafe Rittenhouse. Want romance, a splendid view of the historic grassy square and acclaimed cuisine? Lacroix at the Rittenhouse is the ticket.
After dinner, mosey around Pine Street and make your way along Antique Row, where the window shopping is superb.
Day 3: MorningSure, everyone remembers the exciting scene in the movie “Rocky,” when the browbeaten boxer runs up the stairs at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. But step inside the museum for the real excitement—here you'll find a huge collection of art. And this mammoth place is easily navigated. Spend a couple hours wandering the collections, and you'll see major paintings by major painters, such as Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet, Edgar Degas and Peter Paul Rubens, to name just a handful.
Day 3: AfternoonAfter soaking up some high culture, you've earned your appetite. There are a couple of choices close to the museum. Dine alfresco (weather permitting) while you down a crab cake sandwich at Jack's Firehouse Restaurant. For some spice, Rose Tattoo Café brings the heat with their Cajun cuisine, burgers and quiche.
If you don't mind bussing it or driving, and you haven't yet experienced a Philly cheesesteak, head to South Philly where it all began. On Passyunk Avenue diehards will find two of the best (and original) sandwich shops in town, Pat's King of Steaks and Geno's Steaks. Place your order “wid” or “widout” (onions and Cheez Whiz that is).
After lunch, if you didn't go to South Philly for cheesesteaks, you're still in the Museum district, so visit the Rodin Museum, where you'll find the largest collection of Rodin sculptures outside of France.
If you couldn't resist the cheesesteaks and you're already in South Philly, head to the Italian Market. Grab a cappuccino from any of the local cafés and soak up the local atmosphere. Right off the docks, venders hawk their fruits and vegetables to passersby. Cheese shops dole out large samples of olives and brie. And the people-watching is a delight. Don't miss Sarcone's Bakery, whose Italian bread is heavenly.
Day 3: EveningTo understand Philadelphians, one must understand their passion for sports. Take in a game and cheer for one of city's teams. Grab a dog, a soda and some peanuts and take part in one of America's favorite pastimes—sports. During football season, nothing's more fun than an Eagles' game at Lincoln Financial Field—if you can score tickets. Want a little court or ice action? Watch the Sixers dribble or the Flyers skate at Wells Fargo Center. When the weather's balmy, don't miss the Phillies' boys of summer playing at Citizens Bank Park.
If you decide not to eat at the ballpark, head to Center City's Asian district to the Vietnam Restaurant for delicious noodle dishes.
AttractionsIn a city with dozens of attractions, you may have trouble deciding where to spend your time. Here are the highlights for this destination, as chosen by AAA editors. GEMs are “Great Experiences for Members.”
Situated between the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers, Philadelphia was the “Cradle of the Revolution.” The American Revolution, of course. You can explore the nascence of modern democracy in the Old City at the AAA GEM Independence National Historical Park—it's America's most historic square mile and features more than a dozen separate sites, including Independence Hall and Liberty Bell Pavilion.
Begin your sightseeing itinerary with the Independence Visitor Center. At the center, you'll find orientation exhibits, daily listings of area events, informative touch screen computer kiosks and tickets.
Continue your excursion at the adjacent Liberty Bell Center, where the 2,000-pound Liberty Bell is housed. In 1776, its peals rang in the birth of a new nation, and you can stand close enough to read its inscription: “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof….” You can also eyeball the bell's famous crack—the one that silenced it, but did not dim its historical relevance.
Only by going through security and walking through Liberty Bell Center can you enter into the area surrounding Independence Hall. Awash in Colonial charm, the building retains its simple architectural beauty despite throngs of visitors—and there's no denying that the founding fathers' revolutionary spirit lingers here. This is the hall where the delegates of the Thirteen British Colonies met to debate and approve the Declaration of Independence, and where the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution were drafted and adopted.
Speaking of the United States' Constitution—“We the People….”—it's a mere four pages long, but the document is the world's most famous blueprint for democracy. You'll see an original version in the park's 160,000-square-foot National Constitution Center. This interactive museum chronicles more than two centuries of constitutional history with some 100 exhibits. You can don a black robe and sit on the U.S. Supreme Court bench, raise your right hand and take the presidential oath, step into a speakeasy during Prohibition or listen to one of FDR's fireside chats in a 1940s living room.
Formerly a county court house, Congress Hall served as the first home to Congress, with the House of Representatives meeting on the first floor, appropriately called the “Lower House,” and the Senate meeting upstairs, the “Upper House.” On the second floor of this AAA GEM attraction, you'll view the elegant meeting chamber and various committee rooms. The building is frozen in time, looking as it did when John Adams was inaugurated there in 1797.
With its thick Doric columns, the Second Bank was once the paradigm for designs of American finance buildings. Today, the bank features a different kind of currency: Art. The Second Bank of the United States Portrait Gallery features the “People of Independence” exhibit, a veritable 18th-century celebrity roster. The gallery includes 185 paintings of Colonial and Federal leaders, including many incredible works by Charles Willson Peale.
At Christ Church, sit in one of the pews where Betsy Ross, Benjamin Franklin and George Washington prayed. The church, adjacent to the park and also in Old City, is a must-see for architecture buffs; the 1727 structure typifies early Georgian style.
AAA GEM Fairmount Park is the next stop on the itinerary. The park's bucolic acreage extends along both sides of the Schuylkill and is woven with miles of scenic drives, walks, bicycle routes and horse trails. It's one of the world's largest municipal parks—several million trees grow along its paths. Within Fairmount's bounds, you can also visit numerous historic sites and museums.
One of the park's museums, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, houses the third largest public art collection in the United States. You'll recognize the Parthenon-like exterior and steps from the famous scene in “Rocky.” The AAA GEM museum boasts collections of Renaissance, Impressionist, Asian, contemporary and decorative art, including the large “Bathers” by Paul Cézanne, the infamous “Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors (Large Glass)” by Marcel Duchamp and an entire gallery devoted to native son Thomas Eakins. Upstairs are more than 80 rooms devoted to other cultures, décors and times, from temple to cloister to boudoir. While in the park vicinity, you can also visit the Rodin Museum, administered by the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The works of sculptor Auguste Rodin can be appreciated amid stately Beaux-Arts architecture and a formal French garden.
Another of Fairmount Park's sites features one of the world's most celebrated and notorious art collections, The Barnes Foundation. Albert Barnes collected works 1912-51 and stipulated that the collection should remain unchanged in its Philadelphia suburb after his death. However, restrictions imposed on the site led the foundation's board to decide that relocating to Philadelphia was the best option, and the new facility opened there in May 2012. This AAA GEM museum largely accommodates Barnes' creative, unconventional displays, where masterpieces are hung symmetrically by size and paired with such quirky objects as Amish chests, antique tools, tribal masks and Navajo rugs. The paintings are wondrous—more than 180 Renoirs, dozens of Cézannes and Matisses, works by Degas, Manet, Seurat and Van Gogh.
In a city of recognizable buildings, the Masonic Temple is one of the most impressive structures. Across from City Hall, the temple scales the clouds with its twin Norman-style spires. The interior is equally fabulous, both in variety and scope. Each of the temple's seven lodge halls exemplifies a different architectural period: Corinthian, Ionic, Italian Renaissance, Norman, Gothic, Oriental and Egyptian. Artifacts in the library/museum include George Washington's Masonic apron, embroidered by the wife of the Marquis de Lafayette.
A blast for kids of all ages, The Franklin Institute offers four floors of interactive exhibits. There's a walk-through heart, an exhibit on the life of Ben Franklin, an IMAX theater and a planetarium. Try the Sports Challenge, which offers a climbing wall, a pitching cage and virtual reality displays. Other activities include SkyBike, a bicycle that balances riders on a 28-foot-high cable; the Train Factory's 350-ton locomotive; and Space Command's orbital research station. This museum gets high marks for participation.
Students of social change and fans of spooky places will be drawn to the Eastern State Penitentiary. Inside the Gothic, castlelike building, the humane concept of solitary confinement was instituted under the Quakers in the 1830s. This 11-acre prison was developed as a state-of-the-art incarceration facility: it had flushing toilets before the White House. Now it's ghostly, with everything frozen in time—even bed sheets and shoes were left behind when the penitentiary was abandoned in the 1960s.
If you've always wanted to go on an architectural dig, stop at the Penn Museum. A 13-ton granite sphinx sits at the entrance to the Egyptian Galleries, where artifacts range from cat mummies and deity sculptures to tomb walls carved with ancient hieroglyphics. The museum's multi-gallery collection includes nearly a million objects from around the world, including a Navajo house, an Inuit fishing boat, Roman glass, Greek vases and funerary artifacts.
Housed in a converted 19th-century gristmill, the Brandywine River Museum of Art in Chadds Ford features a large collection of paintings by the celebrated family Wyeth. Andrew Wyeth, especially, captured the extremes of the Brandywine Valley—pastoral rolling hills, deep fallen snow, churning rivers and hardy residents. Works by Andrew's father, the illustrator, N.C., and by Andrew's son, Jamie (a Realist, like his father), are also on display. The collection includes more than 3,000 American landscapes, still life paintings and illustrations.
The exquisitely maintained grounds of Longwood Gardens were once the pride of industrialist Pierre S. du Pont. Covering 1,000 acres, the gardens are landscaped with fountains and more than 11,000 types of flowers, trees and plants. Wander through formal knot gardens, an Italian water garden, the eight outdoor “rooms” of Peirce's Woods and vast heated greenhouses, lush with exotic blooms.
The proper way to conclude a trip to Philadelphia is with stops at the AAA GEMS Valley Forge National Historical Park and Washington Crossing Historic Park, where the United States battled for independence.
In beautiful Valley Forge, it's hard to imagine the Continental Army suffering through a terrible winter, but during the lean, cruel months of 1777-1778, some 12,000 troops were camped here. The welcome center's exhibit, “Determined to Persevere,” uses Revolutionary War artifacts to tell the story of General Washington's army and its struggles.
At Washington Crossing Historic Park, you'll see the spot where boats spirited the “man-who-could-not-tell-a-lie” and his troops to battle across the Delaware. Skirmishes at Trenton and Princeton were resounding victories for the Continental Army—turning the tide in the War for Independence.
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RestaurantsOur favorites include some of this destination's best restaurants—from fine dining to simple fare.
The first question for most visitors to the City of Brotherly Love is not “Where's the Liberty Bell?” Instead, tourists want to know the best place for a Philly Cheesesteak—a hot topic of debate among the locals.
According to legend, Pat Olivieri created the first cheesesteak on his hot dog griddle after getting bored with the same old lunch. His new sandwich became so popular that he opened Pat's King of Steaks in South Philadelphia. As with any good idea, competition quickly rose with the opening of Geno's Steaks on the opposite corner. When the craving for a cheesesteak hits, natives head down to the corner of Passyunk Avenue and 9th Street.
Ordering your steak is almost as important as paying for it, so be sure to scrutinize the instructions at the order window before getting into line. Any hesitation and you'll be expelled to the back (either by the staff or the patrons behind you). Toss a coin and take your pick—both eateries serve up a fantastic sandwich and an entertaining crowd, 24 hours a day.
With thick bread, sharp provolone and juicy sliced beef, the cheesesteak at Tony Luke's Old Philly Style Sandwiches is definitely in the running for the city's best. Unlike many of its steak-peddling brethren, this restaurant also serves a variety of equally tasty items, including a sinful roast-pork sandwich and even a few vegetarian offerings. This is one of the few steak shops with indoor seating; service is quick and surprisingly friendly. Check out the “Wall of Stars” to see who else dropped by for an Old Philly-style sandwich.
When the locals want a good beer and a great burger, they go to Good Dog Bar & Restaurant. The burger—stuffed with Roquefort cheese and topped with caramelized onions—is not for the faint of heart. Service is exceptional, and the menu is one of the most reasonably priced in Center City; people-watching is a bonus. Here you'll see the after-theater crowd mixing with tattooed Gen-Xers in a kitschy setting. Try out the Internet jukebox, or come on a Thursday night to share your knowledge of trivia during a game of Quizzo.
After a long day at work, young professionals flock to Tria Cafe Rittenhouse for a world-class beer or a selection from an extensive list of wines by the glass. For a quick bite or a full dinner, the tapas menu features fresh salads, decadent cheeses and scrumptious desserts. Soulful music, a genial staff and candle-lit décor lend to an unpretentiously cool atmosphere in trendy Rittenhouse Square. Reservations aren't accepted; expect a half-hour wait on weekends.
With a spectacular view of the Square and an equally spectacular menu, Lacroix at the Rittenhouse is one of the area's most acclaimed restaurants. The staff is cordial while maintaining the service standards expected of a formal dining establishment. Every course is a visual work of art, with imaginative flavors to tempt the palate. At the chef's table, guests have a first-hand view of how a gourmet kitchen works. The inexpensive weekday brunch is a great way to enjoy one of the city's best culinary experiences—for a steal.
Since entrepreneur Stephen Starr added Barclay Prime to his dazzling string of local restaurants, the acclaim from critics and patrons alike has been lavish. If you're looking for the most expensive cheesesteak in Philadelphia—$120, featuring Wagyu beef—you'll find it at this gem on Rittenhouse Square. The combination of formal dining and mouthwatering steaks and chops makes Barclay Prime the perfect choice for a night on the town. For a cost-effective sampling of the menu, the Lunchbox includes soup or salad, an entrée, a side dish and dessert.
With a clean and comfortable atmosphere, Vietnam Restaurant is popular with everyone from college students to the crowd from city hall. A wide variety of noodle dishes, vegetarian options and an unexpectedly large appetizer menu only add to the appeal. This Center City favorite serves beer and wine, with a decent list at fair prices. Reservations are not accepted, but those in the know are more than willing to wait. For a memorable sunset view, ask for a seat on the third floor.
An imposing gilded statue of Buddha greets patrons at Buddakan, a modern and decadently designed establishment in Olde City. A communal 22-seat table glows at the center of the restaurant, affording its guests a view of the stylish, well-dressed crowd. Start out the night with a shared pitcher of Zen-gria or any of the bar's ever-changing cocktails. All the Asian fusion dishes are large enough to share—a blessing when the menu includes so many creative and flavorful choices. In addition to a stellar dinner menu, the dim sum menu offers an elevated take on sticky rice with Dungeness crab and vegetable rice with coconut curry foam. Desserts are works of Zen art, sculpted into gravity-defying shapes.
Modern art, neo-Japanese cuisine and pop culture come together to create the experience that is Morimoto. TV's “Iron Chef” Masaharu Morimoto has brought his innovative Japanese cuisine to this sleek, modern space near Independence National Historic Park. Deciding on Wagyu beef, black cod miso or an extensive selection of sushi and sashimi can be daunting, which is why many patrons order the Omakase, a multi-course guided tour through the day's specialties.
For the best in underground dining (a new category in food reviews), don't miss Ristorante La Buca. The name means “cave” in Italian. Decorated with warm colors and frescoes of the owner's native Tuscany, this space hardly feels like a basement. Philadelphians know they'll never have a bad meal here, especially with a fresh seafood selection. After an enjoyable afternoon at Washington Square Park or historic Independence Hall, you're only a short stroll—and a long flight of stairs—away from a hearty Tuscan meal.
If you're in South Philadelphia but not in the mood for cheesesteak, try the Mediterranean fare at Dmitri's. The meals are delicious, the portions are large, and savory smells from the open kitchen will make your mouth water. This small Queens Village restaurant is BYOB (take along your own wine or spirits). Dimitri's has a devoted following and doesn't accept reservations, so count on a wait, especially on weekends. Put your name on the list and enjoy a drink at a local bar, or make a run to an ATM for the cash-only tab.
In a neighborhood full of African restaurants, University City's Abyssinia Ethiopian Restaurant stands out with its quality ingredients and hospitable staff. The authentic Ethiopian platters of meats and vegetables are perfectly prepared, and the heat of these deliciously spicy dishes can be adjusted to suit your taste. Fans of the ethnic restaurants in the Adams Morgan district of Washington, D.C., will feel at home in Abyssinia.
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EventsIn addition to its many cultural and historic landmarks, this destination hosts a number of outstanding festivals and events that may coincide with your visit.
Philadelphia's calendar is packed throughout the year with events including the huge Mummers and Thanksgiving Day parades, flower and antiques shows, and folk festivals.
The brightly-colored Mummers Parade starts off the new year and attracts some 15,000 costumed Mummers String Bands, fancies and comics. The Philadelphia International Auto Show begins in late January at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Philadelphia then settles down for the Philadelphia Home Show in mid-January.
February is Black History Month, observed in Philadelphia with exhibitions, lectures and music at The African American Museum in Philadelphia.
The PHS Philadelphia Flower Show, held in early March at the convention center, is one of the world's largest indoor flower exhibitions.
The wearing of the green is toasted during the Philadelphia St. Patrick's Day Parade. The Easter Promenade offers music, entertainment, pony rides and a petting zoo on Head House Square on Easter Sunday.
The Penn Relays at Franklin Field in late April is one of the world's oldest and largest track meets. In mid-April, vintage hounds come out in droves for the Philadelphia Antiques Show is conducted in a tented area of The Navy Yard at the Marine Parade Grounds, 4747 S. Broad St.
In May, the city's historic homes open their doors during the Society Hill Open House and Garden Tour.
The Dad Vail Regatta, held in mid-May, is one of the largest college regattas in the country. High school rowers get their turn in the spotlight shortly thereafter when the Stotesbury Cup Regatta takes place on the Schuylkill River in mid-May. This event has been taking place annually since 1927.
Also in May, the Rittenhouse Square Flower Market for Children’s Charities is an open market featuring plants, food and entertainment in addition to a variety of blooms. Look for the striped tents at 18th and Walnut streets at Rittenhouse Square.
Summer kicks off in June with the Philadelphia International Children's Festival at the Annenberg Center, 3680 Walnut St. The festival features kids activities and theater performances. June also includes the Rittenhouse Square Fine Arts Show (also held in September) and Elfreth's Alley Fête Days. The latter celebrates patriotism and Colonial history; events include tours of private homes.
The Odunde Festival, held the second Sunday in June, is a 12-block African street festival filled with music, dance, food, crafts and culture. The day kicks off with a procession to celebrate the Yoruba New Year.
Wawa Welcome America! explodes the first week in July to celebrate the country's birth in its hometown. Parades, concerts and fireworks displays are among the more than 40 scheduled events. Mid-August brings the Philadelphia Folk Festival, which features folk music concerts and workshops at suburban Old Poole Farm in Upper Salford Township (near Schwenksville).
The Philadelphia Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe is in September. Philly festivities go on the move in late September through October, when the Puerto Rican Day Parade, the Pulaski Day Parade, the Columbus Day Parade and the German-American Steuben Parade all take place.
The Convention Center stages the Philadelphia Museum of Art Crafts Show in early November, a major exhibition of crafts by the nation's top artisans. Later in November the holidays begin in grand and traditional fashion with the Philadelphia Thanksgiving Day Parade, complete with celebrities, enormous balloons and floats.
The Philadelphia holiday season begins at Thanksgiving and includes various events, including a tree lighting ceremony at Macy's Center City (also Macy's Christmas Light Show and the Dickens Village inside the store), seasonal pop-up and craft markets like the Christmas Village at City Hall and concerts. The Franklin Square Holiday Festival and Electrical Spectacle Holiday Light Show electrifies Franklin Square starting in mid-November through December, while skaters make new designs of their own on the ice in starting in late November at the Blue Cross RiverRink Winterfest.
The city was proud to be awarded title of host city of the Army-Navy Football Classic for five games over eight years, including in December of 2017, when the game will again be played at Lincoln Financial Field.
See all the AAA recommended events for this destination.
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CitypassPhiladelphia CityPASS offers savings to those who plan to visit many Philadelphia attractions. The pass includes tickets to: The Franklin Institute; Big Bus Company and Philadelphia Trolley Works; One Liberty Observation Deck; and an option for either the Philadelphia Zoo or Adventure Aquarium.
The pass, valid for 9 consecutive days from first date of use, will save travelers 45 percent off the combined cost of purchasing individual tickets to all of the included attractions. Philadelphia CityPASS is $59; $39 (ages 2-12) and can be purchased online or from the participating attractions; phone (208) 787-4300 or (888) 330-5008.
Philly CheesesteaksWant a great sandwich? Slice some medium-roasted eye of chuck very thin. Pros use thin-sliced rib-eye quick cooked on a hot grill with a little oil. Slap the hot meat on a fresh-baked Italian roll. Douse the concoction with heated Cheez Whiz and fried onions. In Philly you order this by saying, “Gimme a whiz-wit.” Don't forget to add hot cherry peppers. Now you've got the recipe for a Philly cheesesteak (yes, it's one word). And to Philadelphians, this sandwich is manna and ambrosia rolled into one.
But where did it come from? It all started in 1932 at Pat's King of Steaks. Legend has it that Pat Olivieri, who started with a hot dog stand, soon grew tired of eating frankfurters. One day, for his own lunch, he threw some steak on a hot dog bun; a passing cab driver saw the creation and ordered a cheesesteak on the spot. A sandwich was born, no advertising required.
Now, where does one find the best cheesesteak? In Philly, it's a topic of hot debate. Of course, the unofficial home of cheesesteaks is Pat's. This is the place for purists.
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The deliberation over who serves the best cheesesteak—Pat's or Geno's—goes on every night, all night. But that doesn't stop the bustling crowds from packing it in after midnight, when the cheesesteak is a late-night tradition. Grab a seat outdoors and enjoy the locals. Even as the rooster crows, you'll find suburbanites and old couples munching alongside college kids and sports stars.
Philly's NeighborhoodsWhile you are visiting Philadelphia, you may opt to explore some of the city's unique communities. Below is a sampling of locales in close proximity to the downtown Center City area.
Bella Vista: Nestled roughly between South Street and Washington Avenue, this is the site of the Italian Market, a tribute to the culinary senses founded by Italian immigrants and reminiscent of European street markets. You'll see everything from lush produce and flowers to sausages and seafood at this bustling enclave of South Philly spanning 9th Street. Gourmet groceries offer fresh pasta, marinated mozzarella and spices, while bakeries tempt with biscotti, tomato pie and breads. And the heavenly smells wafting from trattorias lining the street may lure you in for some pizza, spaghetti and meatballs, or other favorites. Both Geno's and Pat's King of Steaks (the cheesesteak mavens) are just a couple of blocks south on East Passyunk Avenue.
Fairmount: In the northwest quadrant of the city extending from downtown's edge, this area boasts Fairmount Park and “Museum Row.” The park's graceful landscape, punctuated by outdoor sculptures and historic houses, provides plentiful recreational opportunities for urbanites and is a great place for a stroll. The Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Barnes Foundation, Rodin Museum, Philadelphia Zoo and a host of other attractions provide hours of pleasure.
Historic Area and the Old City: Birthplace of our nation, the historic area encompasses Independence National Historical Park, where the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution were signed and the Liberty Bell chimed. The adjacent Old City, home to cobbled Elfreth's Alley and the charming Betsy Ross House, is also a mélange of hip restaurants and trendy nightspots. Wander the area on your own, or hire a horse-drawn carriage and ride in the style of yesteryear.
Rittenhouse: Downtown's Rittenhouse district has been synonymous with elegance and class since the mid-1800s, when elaborate mansions were constructed bordering Rittenhouse Square at 18th and Walnut. Today, ritzy condos, high-end hotels and upscale restaurants prevail. Rittenhouse Row, just north of the square, is a cornucopia of fashionable shops, many clustered on Walnut and Sansom streets, while Broad Street, the city's performing arts mecca, is just a few blocks east.
Society Hill: South of the historical park, this storied neighborhood is a must for architecture buffs keen to observe a stunning selection of Colonial and Federal homes, accented by quaint courtyards and cobblestone streets. If you'd like to peek inside one of these masterpieces, you can tour the Powel House, a stately Georgian mansion where a ballroom dance was held honoring George and Martha Washington's 20th wedding anniversary.
South Street: South of the Society Hill area, this bohemian enclave comes alive at night. Prime people-watching opportunities abound as hipsters, punkers and college kids make the rounds at eclectic eateries and bars. By day, it's a good spot to grab a coffee or some ethnic food, or peruse the assortment of funky shops and art galleries.
Reading Terminal MarketDating from the late 1600s, markets have served as an integral feature of Philadelphia society. It's easy to envision crowds thriving in the hustle and bustle of these lively outdoor meeting places, making selections among the colorful food stalls, bartering with merchants and chatting with neighbors to secure the latest gossip.
By the mid-19th century, the earlier open-air markets were no longer fashionable, mostly due to cleanliness and health concerns. Ultimately, two indoor shopping places were developed in the area of 12th and Market streets. They eventually served as the inspiration for Reading Terminal Market, which sprang to life in 1892.
The concept behind the market, tucked beneath the Reading Railroad's train shed, was that travelers could purchase reasonably priced goods before their journey. It boasted Philadelphia's largest refrigeration facility and nearly 78,000 square feet of space organized into a grid. And suburban dwellers could have their grocery orders transported via train, a novelty at the time.
The market had its share of hard times. Despite the Depression, war and the decline of the railroad, the resilient facility continued to squeak by, even with the end of Reading Railroad's business (and consequently the upstairs foot traffic) in the 1970s. Things turned around when construction began to convert the Reading Terminal into a grand access point to a newly planned convention center. The beloved market could not be ignored and it, too, received a much-needed boost.
Today, Reading Terminal Market is a flourishing foodie haven, providing gastronomic bliss to residents and visitors alike. A variety of vendors provide breakfast and lunch fare, snacks and ethnic specialties available for dine-in or take out, including mouthwatering baked goods, produce, meat, confections and seafood. Periodically, live music is offered in the vibrant market, and a tour focusing on history and iconic Philly treats is offered on Wednesday and Saturday for a fee. Books, crafts, jewelry, clothing and gourmet items also satisfy the whims of shoppers, who will find the market open Mon.-Sat. 8-6, Sun. 9-5 (closed major holidays); for additional information phone (215) 922-2317.
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