Photo Courtesy of Tyler Sprague
The country’s sixth-largest city, Philadelphia has long been a travel destination for families and history buffs. But Philly, or that “overlooked middle child” between New York and Washington, D.C., has only recently found its place as an arts and culinary destination. Visitors will find world-class… galleries and museums, and premium food fare ranging from artisan chocolates to world cuisines. The city’s friendly row house neighborhoods are interspersed with parks, squares, and welcoming outdoor spaces on both the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers. And as anyone who’s watched Rocky knows, Philly locals are a proud bunch with an underdog spirit and an “atty-tood.”
What to know before you go to Philadelphia
Philly’s gorgeous parks and outdoor spaces are enjoyed year-round, though summer weather in the City of Brotherly Love can be oppressive during long stretches of humid days. Ideal times to visit are during spring and fall. Local parks and squares feature a multitude of flowering trees, providing lovely scenery in the spring and vivid colors in the peak of autumn. Winters in Philly are unpredictable and sometimes brutally cold. Those visiting in winter would be wise to choose a hotel in Center City to avoid transportation hassles in the event of a snowstorm.
The Center City area is a 20-30 minute taxi ride from Philadelphia International Airport, depending on traffic. Taxis charge a required flat rate of $28.50 from the airport to central Philadelphia, which includes Center City and some outlying neighborhoods. The city’s public transportation system, SEPTA, operates a train line from the airport’s Terminal B with stops at several downtown stations.
While central Philadelphia is concentrated and easily walkable, those who plan to visit attractions in more remote neighborhoods can travel by SEPTA buses and regional rail lines. Bus fare is $2.50 and exact change is required. Tokens and day or weekly passes can be purchased at a discount. Taxis are easily available on downtown streets or at any hotel.
There is no better introduction to the city’s outlying neighborhoods than a Mural Arts walking tour. Visitors get to see parts of the city that are truly off the beaten track while viewing an array of painted masterpieces gracing buildings all over Philadelphia.
The Philadelphia restaurant scene is thriving and holds its own against any world-class city. Stand in Rittenhouse Square and you’re a stone’s throw from dozens of the city’s finest restaurants. For a top dining experience, choose one of the many restaurants of the city’s three culinary heroes—Jose Garces, Stephen Starr, and Marc Vetri. Philly’s Chinatown offers unlimited options for ethnic food. For a quick lunch or early dinner, the Reading Terminal Market provides endless choices—from standard local fare such as cheese steaks and hoagies to artisan grilled cheese and soul food.
The keystone of Philadelphia’s thriving arts scene is the stately Philadelphia Museum of Art, recently bolstered by an annexed building across the street that enabled it to expand its already impressive exhibit space. Visitors should not miss the world renowned Barnes collection of priceless Impressionist paintings, recently transferred from the suburbs to stunning new digs on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. But the jewel in Philly’s cultural crown is the city’s Mural Arts program, which has earned it the title of “Mural Capital of the World.” Visitors can take a trolley tour into various Philly neighborhoods to view buildings transformed by all manner of imaginative murals. Those interested in the local gallery scene should spend a day roaming 2nd and 3rd streets in Old City for an impressive array of original arts and crafts—two highlights of which are The Clay Studio and The Center for Art in Wood. Old City hosts a popular “First Friday” event, when the openings of new gallery shows are celebrated with wine and cheese.
The spring through fall seasons in Philly offer unlimited neighborhood street events like the 2nd Street Festival in Northern Liberties, the biannual Rittenhouse Square Fine Art Show, and gatherings of food trucks in Fairmount and other areas. Summer music festival highlights include July’s XPoNential Music Festival hosted just over the Delaware River in Camden by revered local public radio station WXPN, and the relatively new Made in America Festival on Labor Day weekend. Penn's Landing on the Delaware River is host to frequent free events all summer long. And you won’t regret spending time strolling South 9th Street in mid-May, when the nation's oldest outdoor market throws its annual Italian Market Festival.
Yes, Philly is a big city, but most of its historical and cultural attractions are located in Center City or along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, an area that is eminently walkable. Finding parking in the city is difficult, making walking and public transit the less stressful alternatives. The Reading Terminal Market, a regular pit stop for grocery shopping or lunch, gets crowded during conventions and other large events nearby such as the annual Philadelphia Flower Show, so get to the market early. Locals wanting to stay tuned to the never-ending offerings of street festivals and events use the excellent website uwishunu, whose neighborhood and seasonal guides are invaluable.
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Sue Manuel is a self-taught artist and photography addict who is passionate about music, travel, and doughnuts. She is a regular visitor to New Orleans and her other favorite destinations include Hawaii, Latin America, Morocco, and New Zealand. When she is not exploring Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park by bike or with her dog Daisy, she is busy posting thousands of travel and Philly photos on various websites under the pseudonym lucymagoo.