Want to visit the city of many firsts? Come by Philadelphia and see for yourself how this city started it all, kept its traditions and continued to prosper in the present.
When visiting this World Heritage city (one of only two in the country), make sure to see these amazing places:
This is no ordinary prison, back in 1829, this place was built to reform criminals through solitary confinement. Back in the day, this was the most expensive building in all America. It has “central heat, running water, and flush toilets” way before the White House did. This historic landmark housed Willie Sutton and Al Capone.
You can choose to visit the site by day or visit at night to experience the “Terror Behind the Walls.” Expect to be haunted.
This park is located right at the center of the most desired address in all of Philadelphia. This is probably because Rittenhouse square is one of the five squares in the city that is included in William Penn’s (the city founder), original plan way back in 17th century.
This is a family-friendly park where you can enjoy some quiet time or visit the Mutter Museum and Kimmel Center for Performing Arts near the square. You can also grab a bite in the many eateries surrounding the area or do some shopping.
A nighttime swing by the park will not disappoint either as the square parties with more food and drinks for mellow folks, club-goers, hipsters and even posh party goers – whatever the mood, Rittenhouse may have something for you.
Pop culture found its way to Philadelphia. Now, a trip to the city does not only include selfies with statues of the founding fathers and other historical figures of centuries ago, this time you can have a selfie with Rocky Balboa from the movie Rocky III.
Sylvester Stallone’s bronze Rocky statue stands at the bottom of the Rocky Steps where the movie character exercised up and down in preparation for a boxing fight. This second most famous movie location also happens to be a symbol of “perseverance and determination.”
Both the statue and the steps are considered “a rite of passage” when in Philly.
Philadelphia Art Museum
Rocky Steps actually lead to the Philadelphia Art Museum (east entrance). It is the third largest museum in America and it holds art from the Renaissance, American, Impressionist and Modern art periods. It also showcases different cultures and periods in world history.
Regular ticket price is at $25. Discounts are offered to students, senior citizens and children aged 5-12. Museum members and children aged 4 and below can go in free. BUT if you visit on a first Sunday of the month and every Wednesday after 5pm, your ticket price is up to you. Check their website for the museum hours and other promos and events.
Explore the genius of Rodin, his radical view of how art should be and his philosophy that was against what was accepted during his time made his sculptures controversial. His works are described as “bold, energetic and emotionally intense.”
Admire the sculptures, drawings and paintings displayed in a temple-like building and be inspired by the elegant landscape around the museum as well.
According to US census, Philadelphia is still home to mostly White and African Americans while Asians from all east, south east and Indian Asia are only over 67,000 combined. However, this does not stop the growing number of sushi restaurants in the city.
For a taste of East Asia, try Double Knot on 13th Street for food from the finest Sushi chef or drop by Chestnut Street for some of the best sushi places. Sample the fashionable Morimoto, old school Zento, affordable Crazy Sushi, or the variety of food selection available at Fuji Mountain.
If you are not satisfied with any of those on Chestnut Street, ask around, the perfect sushi place for you might just be a left or right turn away.
Philly Cheese steak
The Philly Cheese steak is as iconic for Philadelphia as a hotdog sandwich is to New York. Imagine bread with juicy, thinly sliced beef covered in gooey cheese.
Introduced by Pat Olivieri in 1930, the cheese steak found its way to the local’s tummies and into their hearts, of course. There is a healthy rivalry between who makes the best version – the original Pat’sor the competition across the street, Geno’s. More Cheese steak stores are open, each catering to different local and tourist’s tastes. I personally like the version of Joe’s Steak + Soda Shop.
Interestingly, no matter how different one brand is from the other, people from Philadelphia will tell you that there is no other state that can copy the real taste of a Philly.
Thirsty for some beer? Head to city’s biggest beer garden, the Frankford Hall. You won’t miss the red-and-white painted doors of this venue, besides it is huge enough to sit 400 people. There are seats both indoors and outdoors with three separate bars, one especially dedicated for beer.
Frankford Hall is a German concept so food available are German favorites like schnitzels, rotisserie chicken and their signature pretzels. Plus, new on the menu are their mouthwatering burgers.
The boathouses lining the bank look regal by day and are most impressive at night time when the LED lights outlining the structures light up the riverbank.
The boathouses are standing between Schuylkill River and Kelly Drive. It started with the construction of a 235 feet long dam project in 1821 that created a calm stretch of water perfect for rowing boats. It was once the longest dam in the US and it instantly became a tourist attraction.
This started boating trips, fishing, and rowing boats for leisure until a row club in 1854 started to formulate race rules and organize regattas. Then came the string of boathouses and row tournaments intensified around 1876.
In 1979 a plan for the lighted boathouses came about from Ray Grenald and approved by then mayor Frank Rizzo. The lighting system was updated to LED lights 2005. Although the lights are usually white, it is now computer programmable to change colors for special occasions.
Reading Terminal Market
Farm fresh and warm from the oven delicacies from Amish merchants, authentic Philly cheesesteaks, traditional Pennsylvania Dutch specials, exotic Asian and Middle Eastern food all in one place!
If food trip is your thing, take your time here at the Reading Terminal Market and choose from 80 different stalls – they even say that 3 of these stalls vendors are actually descendants of the first stall owners. Imagine what kind of recipes were passed down from one generation to the next.
If you are not sure where to start, look for DiNic’s Roast Pork and Beef. This restaurant holds the award for “Best Sandwich in America” from the Travel Channel or read (title of blog post).
Declared a National Historic Landmark in 2007, the City Hall of Philadelphia has its own share of likers, bashers and trolls.
The monolith of a building’s construction started in 1871 and was not finished until 30 years after. Maybe because it is the “largest municipal building” with 700 rooms on 14.5 acre floor space. Or because it also happens to be the “tallest masonry structure in the whole world” made only out of brick, granite and marble materials (it actually used 88 million bricks). It was also the most ornamented building with 250 sculptures. The whole construction costs nearly $25 million.
Unfortunately because it took decades to complete, its original architectural design became outdated by the time it was finished causing several groups to call for a demolition of the building.
Thankfully since it is expensive to tear down, the city hall lives. The place is open for tours inside the grand building and an observatory under the statue of William Penn who plotted the very spot where the City Hall stands in his master plan 200 years before the building was constructed.
Outside the City Hall, visitors can enjoy a stroll on the lawns or use of the skating rink.
While walking the streets of Philly, you may reach Elfreth Street and feel like you’ve time warped back to colonial times. Don’t be confused, you are still in present day Philadelphia on one of its “oldest continuously inhabited street” in all America. After three centuries, Elfreth Street is still a hot commodity with its enchanting 18th century appeal complete with cobbled streets, two story houses with old fashioned flower boxes, artisan shops, brickwork and other details unique from the era.
14. Liberty Bell
Philadelphia is indeed a spectacular place to visit. If it is your first time in the city of firsts, plan your trip well so you can experience the authentic Philly.
9 thoughts on “Ultimate Guide to Philadelphia”
I love all your destination guides! I like your fluent writing style, keep up the good work 😉
I knew that Philadelphia had a rich history but I had no idea just how rich it really is. The architecture is fantastic and Elfreth Street looks pretty cool. I think a night visit to the Eastern Penitentiary would be a great experience even if it was a little terrifying.
Phily sounds gold with so many things I wouldn’t have expected! A) World Heritage Site B) Boat House Row which looks like Central Paris and C) a Rocky statue! How good?!! Great article.
Philadelphia is one of my favorite cities to visit on the East Coast. History, pop culture, grit… And ice hockey. Go Flyers!
I had no idea that there were so many firsts and other things to do in Philadelphia. I find it fascinating that a prison had central heat, running water, and flush toilets before the White House!
I easily fall in love with great architecture and city walking tours! I just love to explore the city by just walking around seeing people and great infrastructure.
I hadn’t really considered Philadelphia as a vacation destination until reading your guide. There’s so much to do, and you could easily fill a long weekend taking in the sites and eating all the delicious food! Elfreth Street looks particularly charming and the Eastern Penitentiary certainly has some fascinating history. Thanks for the travel inspiration!
Thanks for the great suggestions! I’d love to visit Philadelphia sometime soon–looks like a lot of fun spots to see. The night tour at the Eastern Penitentiary would be so cool. And of course I couldn’t pass up on the Liberty Bell or the Rocky Stairs!
Karla, looks like you had a great time! Philadelphia is one of the places I would like to visit but it’s difficult to get a visa. LOL. I will surely go here once I get my visa! Maybe next year.