Philadelphia City Culture

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Philadelphia City Culture
From history and architecture to arts and music, Philadelphia's diverse neighborhoods and surrounding areas offer traditional and offbeat sights and activities.
By Sue Manuel, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Sue Manuel
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    Philly for Fine Art Lovers
    Philly visitors could literally spend days exploring its world-class museums and art galleries. For those with limited time, consider spending a day at one of the largest art museums in the country, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and at the nearby Barnes Foundation, home to a collection of impressionist, post-impressionist, and early modern paintings. The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts on North Broad Street has rotating exhibitions, and the Institute of Contemporary Art on the Penn campus in University City has works by Warhol and Mapplethorpe.
    Photo by Sue Manuel
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    Neighborhoods to Explore
    Although visitors could easily spend their entire trip exploring Center City and Old City’s historic sites, Philadelphia comprises many areas that are worth the trip. Manayunk, a riverfront neighborhood in the northwestern part of the city, is centered around a main street full of interesting boutiques and outdoor dining. Get air on the path along the Manayunk Canal. Another destination worthy of a visit is the Italian Market, which runs for several blocks along 9th Street in the Bella Vista section of South Philly. The market's shops and street vendors offer Italian bread and pastries, coffee, spices, and other local specialties.
    Photo by Sue Manuel
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    Unique Urban Tours
    For expansive and panoramic views of all corners of the city, visit Philadelphia’s City Hall and reserve a ticket for the observation deck, situated in the tower underneath the William Penn statue. Inside the north portico, look for a plaque with William Penn's Prayer, written in 1683. In clement months, tours operate on the Schuylkill River and tourists can choose from riverboats or kayaks. One popular boat tour goes to Bartram's Garden, named for America's first great botanist. The seriously adventurous can consider a Segway tour or a scenic balloon tour over the Delaware Valley.
    Photo by Sue Manuel
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    Offbeat and Quirky Attractions
    The Mütter Museum in Center City is dedicated to medical history and maintained by the College of Physicians. The displays are world-renowned, unique, and—at times—disturbing. Interesting highlights include anatomical and pathological specimens, wax models, and antique medical equipment. Don't pass by the gift shop. Fans of the unusual can visit Philadelphia's Magic Gardens, an otherworldly outdoor folk art installation. Laurel Hill is a beautiful and historic cemetery overlooking the Schuylkill River. To appreciate the elegant tombstones and mausoleums and the gorgeous landscaping, visitors can wander the winding paths on a self-guided tour or reserve one of the informative guided tours, scheduled year-round.
    Photo courtesy of R. Kennedy/Visit Philadelphia
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    Philly's Outdoor Spaces
    Philadelphians love spending time outdoors, whether lounging with a coffee and people-watching in Rittenhouse Square or jogging along the riverfront section known as Schuylkill Banks. The city’s Fairmount Park system, one of the largest urban park systems in the United States, is a popular destination for having a picnic, hiking, and biking. A lesser-known part of the system is the Wissahickon Valley, a beautifully rugged wooded area extending from Chestnut Hill in the north to Manayunk. Forbidden Drive, a 7-mile multi-use path through the Wissahickon Valley, is closed to vehicular traffic and offers a natural escape from the bustle of the city. Penn's Landing, down at the Delaware River, is busy with programmed events, music, boats, sunset gazing, and in the winter, ice skating.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Boutiques and Shopping
    Philadelphia is made for shoppers. Downtown shopping districts include the cluster of trendy designer boutiques along Walnut Street from Broad Street through Rittenhouse Square, and Midtown Village on 13th Street, where boutiques specialize in unique home goods, hand-crafted chocolates, and accessories. The Pennsylvania General Store in the Reading Terminal Market is perfect for souvenirs, from delicious candy and local food to one-of-a-kind Amish quilts and other handmade items. The AIA Bookstore on Arch Street has a unique selection of books, toys, and gifts, and also houses a small neon museum.
    Photo courtesy of R. Kennedy/Visit Philadelphia
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    Only in Philadelphia
    Philadelphia offers several experiences that visitors won’t find anywhere else. Those who can’t attend the Mummers Parade (one of the country's oldest folk festivals) on New Year’s Day can still visit the Mummers Museum on South 2nd Street. Sylvester Stallone fans can replicate Rocky Balboa’s triumphant run up the steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and then run back down to have their picture taken in front of the commemorative statue. The Mural Arts tour transports visitors by trolley into every Philly neighborhood giving them a glimpse into the city's public art scene. The National Museum of American Jewish History, a Smithsonian affiliate, features exhibits that explore the history of Jews in America.
    Photo by Sue Manuel