The social and geographical center of the original 13 American colonies, Philadelphia is home to some of its most venerated historic sites, like Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. Its hospital was first in the nation, Philadelphia Zoo is the oldest in the U.S., and the Philadelphia Inquirer is the third-oldest surviving daily newspaper in America.
First-time visitors may be surprised to learn that Philadelphia is also home to the world’s largest municipal park, one of the best collections of public art in the U.S., a plethora of architectural styles (this is the city where the row house originated) and many colleges.
Now the sixth most populous city in the U.S, it is one of the few that boasts teams in four major sports: the Philadelphia Eagles (NFL), the Philadelphia Flyers (NHL), the Philadelphia Phillies (MLB), and the Philadelphia 76ers (NBA). The city’s sports fans have a reputation for being especially passionate.
The Philadelphia tourism market caters to history buffs, but the city also has enough attractions to satisfy visitors who never even get to its historic sites. Its bustling restaurants and bars serve up far more than the obligatory cheese steak or cheesecake made from Philadelphia cream cheese – practically every nationality is reflected in its populace and restaurants. Areas such as South Street and Old City have a vibrant nightlife, and Irish pubs abound.
One of America’s most walkable cities, Philadelphia has two pedestrian-friendly shopping districts. Its easy-to-walk Benjamin Franklin Parkway is home to museums like the Franklin Institute and the Museum of Art, which was made famous in the "Rocky” films. Philadelphia's neighborhoods are divided into large sections -- North, Northeast, Northwest, West, South and Southwest Philadelphia -- all of which surround Center City (downtown), the city’s compact main area for culture, arts and dining.
Major historic sites include Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was signed, and the Liberty Bell. Others include homes for Edgar Allan Poe, Betsy Ross and Thaddeus Kosciuszko; Fort Mifflin; and the Gloria Dei (Old Swedes') Church National Historic Site.
When to Go
The most popular time to visit is during summer, when kids are on school break. The Fourth of July weekend in particular is very busy. Spring and fall tend to have more moderate temperatures and fewer crowds, and consequently lower prices. During winter, tourists should note that some of the city’s tours close. The first weekend in December, the city hosts the annual Army/Navy game.
How to Get There
Philadelphia is accessible by car, train, bus or airplane. It is a two-hour drive from New York City, 90 minutes from Baltimore, three hours from Washington D.C. and about an hour from Atlantic City. Amtrak provides service along the Northeast Corridor, and the city is a hub for Greyhound. More than 25 airlines serve Philadelphia International Airport, including low-cost carrier Southwest.
Eastern State Penitentiary is an abandoned, sprawling Gothic prison complex with church-like cells. It was built in 1829, based on the assumption that solitary confinement is good for the soul.
Liberty Bell, now old and cracked despite numerous attempts at repair, is nevertheless a profound sight. Liberty Bell Center is open daily except Christmas, and free to the public.
Rittenhouse Square in Center City is a lovely tree-filled park with plenty of benches, surrounded by an affluent community with many architecturally notable buildings and popular restaurants. It is considered one of the best-used public spaces in the U.S., and a central meeting places for residents from all walks of life.
Philadelphia Museum of Art features the “Rocky” statue outside the entrance -- a tribute to the movie hero’s charge up the stairs. Once inside, visitors will find 225,000 other works, including medieval armor, colonial portraits and several Van Goghs.
Italian Market, the largest outdoor market in the U.S., has dozens of vendors along with gourmet shops and restaurants. Its butcher shops and bakers are a throwback to another era. An incredibly strong Italian heritage is complemented today by an increasingly international feel, with Mexican, Vietnamese, Korean barbecue and Thai food among the many cuisines represented. It is also home to two famous cheese steak purveyors, Geno’s and Pat’s.