Philadelphia is proof that history isn’t always set in stone.
The City of Brotherly Love has always clung tightly to its cradle-of-democracy character. After all, the historic treasures here offer a glimpse of Colonial America as well as a reminder of the country’s foundational roots. And Philadelphia was even named the first World Heritage City in America.
But Philly’s reinvention as a cutting-edge destination is picking up steam, thanks in part to an expansion of public art and a dining scene that continually raises the bar. Hot new neighborhoods keep emerging, each with a different flavor but all showcasing a creative energy that encourages further innovation and exploration. Still, don’t neglect the city’s core, which is nicely walkable and increasingly bicycle-friendly, with plenty of bike-share stations that make for convenient pedaling around the streets or along the scenic Delaware River Trail.
Here’s how to experience this rising star.
What to Do Envisioning the signing of the Declaration of Independence will always induce a degree of awe. But now, getting to Independence Hall via the Historic District’s gateway will elicit some “oohs” as well, thanks to “Electric Philadelphia”—an 8,500-square-foot installation brightening up the Benjamin Franklin Bridge underpass with a rainbow of colors that illuminate at night. After dazzling your social media fans with that, charm them with photos of cobblestoned Elfreth’s Alley, America’s oldest (and still functioning) residential street.
Then discover even more public art in Franklin Square—one of the five original green spaces designed by city father William Penn. The centerpiece fountain’s $2 million makeover includes a musical water show that lights up during warm-weather nights.
Just don’t skimp on Philly’s amazing museums—the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Rodin Museum, and Barnes Foundation each deserve their own weekend getaways. For fascination of a different sort, visit the creepy ruins of Eastern State Penitentiary and peruse old-school medical treasures at the Mütter Museum. (Look for the ambitious exhibit on the local influenza pandemic of 1918.) If you’re here with younger children who aren’t ready for all that, experience a wealth of kid-friendly interactive exhibits at the Please Touch Museum.
Where to Eat and Drink Sure, Philadelphia’s most famous contribution to the culinary world has long been the humble cheesesteak, with South Philly rival institutions Geno’s and Pat’s engaged in an ongoing battle for favorite-son supremacy as they continue to lure long lines of fanatic patrons.
But you’d be cheating yourself if you stuck with the staples; over the past several years, a dynamic culinary scene has swept the city. Atop the wave is chef Mike Solomonov, a James Beard Award winner whose Society Hill eatery, Zahav, has become known for its inventive spins on Israeli cuisine—from laffa bread and hummus to grilled duck hearts and Romanian beef kabobs. Chef Marc Vetri is also no stranger to James Beard nods; his Vetri Cucina has consistently pulled in nominations since 2003. And rising star Jesse Ito snagged a James Beard nomination for an under-30 up-and-coming chef thanks to his attention-grabbing omakase at Royal Izakaya.
But the biggest foodie hot zone these days is northeast of Center City in the Fishtown neighborhood, home to the creative Mexican cuisine (think lamb-shoulder tacos) of Sancho Pistola’s, the artisanal pies of Pizza Brain, and the inventive Lebanese cuisine of Suraya. Lovers of craft beer will have plenty to enjoy here, too, at tap rooms like Evil Genius and the Fishtown Brewpub.
South Philly boasts a busy suds scene all its own. Longtime gypsy brewer Joseph Fay opened his first urban tasting room—Separatist—here, which showcases his training with brewers in both the U.S. and Europe. More interested in the craft cocktail scene? Sample the renowned concoctions at Chinatown’s speakeasy-style Hop Sing Laundromat before your Philadelphia weekend getaway comes to a close.
Where to Stay The Renaissance Philadelphia Downtown Hotel minimizes the distance to Philly’s historic sites—walk there or just enjoy the epic views from oversized windows in corner rooms. Inside, though, this hotel fully embraces the contemporary: Rooms feature mid-century modern design accents and the hotel offers a newly rebranded restaurant, Franklin Social American Kitchen & Bar.
You can also find views of City Hall and historic Philly from the 1908 neoclassical bank that houses The Ritz-Carlton, Philadelphia. Elegance imbues every corner of this gorgeous property, which blends old-school charm with modern touches, like the Latin-inspired dishes at Aqimero restaurant.
Nearby is the freshly modern Aloft Philadelphia Downtown—a boutique-style Center City hotel set in the restored Liberty Title & Trust building. The streamlined rooms pop with color, as does the hip W XYZ Bar, which buzzes with live music as craft cocktails flow from the backlit bar. You’ll never get bored here: shoot pool in the Re:Mix Lounge, work out next to the old bank vault door in the Re:charge fitness center, and grab a snack at the Re:fuel Sundry Market.
If immersing yourself in luxury is more your style, book The Westin Philadelphia, set in a historic building between City Hall and Rittenhouse Square. Wind down amid your room’s marble bath, crown molding, and local motifs, then experience some of the city’s gastronomic envelope-pushing with a meal at the hotel’s innovative Winthorpe & Valentine restaurant.
Discover how Marriott can inspire more weekend getaways at Marriott.com.