I live a stones throw away from Philadelphia; however many don’t. If you are planning to visit this wonderful city of history, food and culture this is my “must see” for first timers list.
While Philadelphia offers a variety of authentic and top-notch attractions, exploring this vibrant city takes some planning; especially for first-time visitors. With so much to see, do and taste, it’s challenging for a novice to know where to begin in the country’s first World Heritage City. From the historic Liberty Bell to the deliciously indulgent cheese steak, here’s a look at Philly 101:
Don’t miss these historical hotspots:
- Independence Hall – While historical attractions abound in Philly, Independence Hall has particular significance to the development of the nation. In this building in 1776, the Founding Fathers came together to sign the Declaration of Independence. Eleven years later, representatives from a dozen states met here to lay the framework for the U.S. Constitution. Today, the UNESCO World Heritage Site is the centerpiece of Independence National Historical Park, and guided tours are available to visitors year-round. Free, timed tickets are required and can be picked up at the Independence Visitor Center at 6th and Market Streets. Tours usually fill up before noon, so visitors are encouraged to plan accordingly. Visitors must enter a security checkpoint at 5th and Chestnut streets prior to tour.
- Liberty Bell – Moved to its current location across from Independence Hall in 2003, the Bell was cast in 1753 in Philadelphia to adorn the State House. Originally used to call the Pennsylvania Assembly to meetings, it was later adopted by abolitionists, suffragists and Civil Rights advocates, and many use it as their symbol today. After almost a century of constant use, the Bell cracked while tolling for George Washington’s birthday in 1846. Visitors can tour the Liberty Bell Center year-round.
- Valley Forge – In the winter of 1777-1778, Valley Forge was the encampment headquarters of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. Today, a national park on this site honors the sacrifice and strength of those who helped secure freedom for the United States. Valley Forge National Historical Park offers a variety of programming throughout the year, including ranger programs, guided tours and living history demonstrations.
Capture the perfect photo:
- Boathouse Row – This National Historic Landmark consists of 10 charming boathouses that sit on the banks of the Schuylkill River. These structures have been associated with rowing since the 19th century, and the boat clubs that occupy them have produced many Olympic champions. At night, the glittering lights that frame the buildings on Boathouse Row make for idyllic scenery as they reflect off of the river’s surface.
- City Hall – Located at the intersection of Market and Broad Streets, City Hall has been Philadelphia’s government headquarters for more than 100 years, and it’s the largest municipal building in the country. For a bird’s-eye view of the city, visitors head to the observation deck, which sits just below the 37’ bronze statue of William Penn that tops the building’s clock tower. The building is open to the public from Monday to Friday, and visitors can take either a four-person tower tour that leaves every 15 minutes between 9:30 a.m. and 4:15 p.m. or a 12:30 p.m. two-hour public tour that highlights the art, architecture, the tower and history of the building. Tickets are sold first come first served. Reservations can be made on the day of the tour.
- Philadelphia Museum of Art and the “Rocky Steps” – The Philadelphia Museum of Art was forever immortalized in the classic Rocky film franchise. While the “Rocky Steps” draw a slew of visitors who want to reenact Stallone’s on-screen training regimen, the museum is even more impressive inside. The astounding art collection, spanning more than 2,000 years, comprises various media, including sculpture, paintings, textiles, arms and armor, photography, prints and drawings.
- Barnes Foundation – While its Philadelphia home opened in May 2012, the Barnes Foundation dates back to 1922 when Albert Barnes established it to promote the advancement of education and the appreciation of the fine arts and horticulture. The Barnes boasts the world’s most important collections of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and early Modern paintings, as well as Old Master works, Native American jewelry, antiquities and African sculpture.
- Mural Arts Program – In Philadelphia, every wall is a potential blank canvas, and stunning murals adorn building exteriors all over the city. Begun in 1984 as an anti-graffiti initiative, the renowned City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program uses art to ignite change in communities to transform public spaces and individual lives. To date, the program has produced nearly 4,000 murals. Interested visitors can view several of these works on a variety of walking, trolley, subway and Segway tours. Private tours and interactive options are available for groups. Most tours leave from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts’ Hamilton Building.
Outdoor Lovers Unite:
- Fairmount Park – Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park, a 2,050-acre gem scattered throughout the city, offers more than 50 miles of designated trails, 43 sculptures, two outdoor performing arts centers, the Philadelphia Zoo, Shofuso Japanese House and Gardens, historic mansions, the Smith Memorial Playground and Playhouse, renowned museums and many extraordinary landscapes.
- Longwood Gardens – This mega garden attracts visitors from around the globe to its 1,077 acres filled with 20 outdoor gardens, 20 indoor gardens, 11,000 different types of plants, spectacular fountains and picturesque meadows and woodlands. The horticultural haven also hosts 400 events each year, including flower shows, gardening demonstrations, educational programs, children’s activities, concerts and musical theater. 1001 Longwood Road, Kennett Square, longwoodgardens.org
Food Glorious Food:
- Philly Cheesesteaks – The Philly cheesesteak is inarguably the city’s most famous food. These savory sandwiches consist of chopped (or thinly sliced) steak and a choice of cheeses and/or fried onions on a hoagie roll. The debate about which local spot cooks up the best sandwich may never end, but for an iconic Philly experience, locals visit the corner of South 9th Street and Passyunk Avenue, where rivals Geno’s Steaks and Pat’s King of Steaks feed the masses. Geno’s, 1219 S. 9th Street, (215) 389-0659, genosteaks.com;Pat’s, 1237 E. Passyunk Avenue, (215) 468-1546, patskingofsteaks.com
- Soft Pretzels – Always delicious, the Philly soft pretzel is a staple of any local’s diet. These chewy, salty treats buck the traditional pretzel shape and instead take the form of a figure eight. Often enjoyed with yellow mustard, Philly soft pretzels are perfect for breakfast, lunch, dinner or anytime in between and are commonly purchased from street vendors.
- Reading Terminal Market – This indoor foodie paradise is a one-stop shop for everything from local produce and meats to artisanal cheeses and desserts. The public space also provides open seating where customers can enjoy meals from more than 30 restaurants. While the market is open seven days a week, the Amish vendors, a huge draw for visitors and locals, sell their goods Tuesday through Saturday.
- South 9th Street Italian Market – Dating back to the 1880s, the South 9th Street Italian Market is the nation’s oldest, continuous outdoor market. The iconic curb stands line South 9th Street, showcasing fresh fruit and vegetables from fourth- and fifth-generation merchants. While Italian immigrants originally dominated this shopping district, many of today’s vendors hail from all parts of the world. S. 9th Street between Wharton & Fitzwater Streets
Will you be visiting Philly this year? What is on your “must see” list?