The Best Things to Do in Philadelphia

Philadelphia, famous as a historic city, is more than a dusty archive of Americana. World-class museums, thriving markets, busy streets full of shops and terrific restaurants: Visitors may come to see the Liberty Bell, but they’ll fall for Philly.

2025 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy, Philadelphia, PA 19130, USA
Philadelphia is a great escape for me because it is an easy train ride from NYC, and most of my favorite destinations can be reached on foot. My favorite activities here include browsing among the incredible art collections at The Barnes Foundation; checking out the annual springtime Flower Show at the Convention Center; strolling the city to see the pocket gardens, murals, and public art installations; and stopping for some treats at Reading Terminal Market. (image: kentwang/flickr)
51 N 12th St, Philadelphia, PA 19107, USA
This historic market has been in operation since 1892, and is beloved by locals as a destination for lunch, grocery shopping, or buying regional gifts at the Pennsylvania General Store. More than 70 businesses sell fresh wares here, including ice cream, cookies, meat, seafood, produce, Mexican cuisine, and artisanal grilled-cheese sandwiches—just to name a few. Philadelphians line up daily for just-baked goods from the Amish-owned Beiler’s Bakery, which also runs a separate doughnut stand in the Pennsylvania Dutch section of the market. The market’s location, across the street from the Pennsylvania Convention Center, can mean throngs of visitors on convention days; try to get to the market as early as possible to avoid the crowds.
520 Chestnut St, Philadelphia, PA 19106, USA
Prior to being rechristened as Independence Hall, this building was used and known as the Pennsylvania State House. The founding fathers of the United States met here in the Assembly Room to debate and adopt both the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. For a time the building fell into disrepair, but an 1824 visit from the Marquis de Lafayette (who had served as a soldier under George Washington) compelled the city to rescue and preserve this historic site. Entrance to Independence Hall is by guided tour only; tickets are required from March through December, but no tickets are needed in January or February. Fun fact: For a short time, the basement served as the city’s dog pound!
526 Market St, Philadelphia, PA 19106, USA
The Liberty Bell, long associated with the American Revolution, actually predates the conflict. It arrived in Philadelphia in 1752 at Independence Hall, then known as the Pennsylvania State House. The bell was inscribed with a Bible verse: “Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land Unto All the Inhabitants thereof.” An initial crack in the bell was attributed to a test ring that occurred right after it came to the city. But popular legend has it that the bell was still rung in 1776 to officially proclaim American independence. In 1846, the Liberty Bell was cracked for good after being repaired so it could be sounded on George Washington’s birthday; it hasn’t rung since. No tickets are required to view the bell, but visitors must pass through a security screening. Photo tip: For a classic shot, snap a photo of the icon with Independence Hall in the background.
124-126 Elfreth's Alley, Philadelphia, PA 19106, USA
Visitors seeking an immersive-history experience can get a chance to travel back in time and check out the homes, stories, and daily routines of early Philadelphians, from everyday citizens to the city’s better-known inhabitants from the past. Buildings along Elfreth’s Alley, the country’s oldest continually occupied residential street, reveal the lives of the city’s earliest residents. Most of the houses on the block are private homes, but houses numbered 124 and 126 have been preserved as a public museum. Guided tours begin in the Museum Shop (Number 124). Private tours of the Alley and Museum House are available all year round.
Penn's Landing, Philadelphia, PA, USA
In warm-weather months, the Penn’s Landing waterfront area along the Delaware River is always busy with activity. On the Great Plaza there are ongoing free festivals, summer concerts, a movie series, and Fourth of July fireworks. Other attractions here include the RiverLink Ferry to New Jersey, the Independence Seaport Museum, and kayaks and swan boats available for rental. In winter, Penn’s Landing is host to one of Philadelphia‘s most spectacular outdoor ice rinks, the Blue Cross RiverRink. Historic ships, including the Moshulu, a beautiful 1904 four-masted steel sailing vessel, are moored at the waterfront. The Moshulu now features a popular restaurant on its deck, and the tall ship is dramatically illuminated at night.

19 S 22nd St, Philadelphia, PA 19103, USA
There’s truly no other place in the world like this unique and disturbing museum. It’s probably best that photography is strictly prohibited inside, because that might spoil the bizarre surprises that wait for those who haven’t been yet. The Mütter is a medical museum in Center City that’s part of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Be forewarned: Its world-renowned collections are often somewhat disquieting—biological oddities, anatomical and pathological specimens, wax models, and antique medical equipment. (Wooden cabinets in one gallery hold drawers full of objects that people have swallowed!) The gift shop may be the most interesting museum store you’ll ever visit, and might be the only place that sells conjoined-twin cookie cutters.
2027 Fairmount Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19130, USA
What do Al Capone and Bruce Willis have in common? They both did time here at Eastern State Penitentiary. (OK, Willis wasn’t an inmate, but he did shoot the film 12 Monkeys here.) The facility’s first inmate was brought through these doors in 1829, and the prison was in use until 1971. After closing, it became a target for vandals and housed a sizable colony of stray cats. Real estate developers proposed repurposing it as condominiums (high-security, of course), but preservationists won out. They raised funds to stabilize the crumbling interior and remove trees that were growing inside some cells. Wander through its stark interior and learn about the fascinating history of this unique site and its previous tenants, including Capone. Don’t miss the special art installations that are on display here all year round.
2600 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy, Philadelphia, PA 19130, USA
A Philly must-do list should include a stop at the bronze Rocky statue (commissioned by Sylvester Stallone for Rocky III and reluctantly erected in its current place by the Philadelphia Museum of Art), a Rocky-inspired run (or walk) up the steps, and, of course, a visit inside the legendary institution itself. The impressive collection includes holdings from the medieval period to the present, with art and sculpture dating back as far as the Renaissance, and one of the finest collections of American art in the country. Popular galleries include ones devoted to Asian works, Impressionism, photography, and costumes and textiles. Not interested in art? You’ll still want to see the arms-and-armor rooms, which display the second-largest collection in the U.S. Devote some time to strolling through the outdoor sculpture garden, or take a shuttle to the nearby Perelman Building galleries. On the first Sunday of each month, the admission fee is pay-what-you-wish.
1020 South St, Philadelphia, PA 19147, USA
No photograph can capture this extraordinary art space created by mural artist Isaiah Zagar down at the quiet end of South Street in Philadelphia’s Center City—you have to see it to believe it. It’s also not easy to describe: an alternate universe? A magical mosaic environment? A creative outsider’s brilliant vision? A terrarium of otherworldly folk-art delights? Decide for yourself when you take a self-guided tour of this one-of-a-kind, ever-expanding project. The site includes an immersive outdoor-art installation crafted from found objects and handpainted tiles, as well as indoor galleries. The opening hours vary due to occasional public and private events; make sure to check the online calendar.

919 S 9th St, Philadelphia, PA 19147, USA
Vendors first set up shop at the Italian Market in the mid-to-late 1880s, and today, the spread of stalls, stores, and eateries runs all along South 9th Street in Philadelphia’s residential Bella Vista neighborhood. A trip here involves all the senses: sights, sounds, vibrant colors, and, most intoxicating of all, the combined aromas of spices, coffee, and just-baked bread. Along this stretch, shoppers can find fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, fish, seafood, meats, cheeses, pastries, homemade pasta, ice cream, chocolates, and tea. The 10-block market area also includes a great variety of restaurants. Overwhelmed by the choices? Stop at the Visitor Center for suggestions. The market operates all year round, and in all types of weather.
5000 E Flat Rock Rd, Philadelphia, PA 19127, USA
The Manayunk neighborhood is a great place to spend the day, with charming Main Street shops, restaurants, and bars. Often overlooked by visitors is the scenic towpath along the canal, a wonderful spot for a leisurely walk or bike ride. The adventurous can bike to Manayunk from the Philadelphia Museum of Art via the Kelly Drive recreational path, and the super-adventurous can pass through Manayunk on their bikes on the way down the Schuylkill River Trail toward Valley Forge. Manayunk is host to several fun festivals during the year and is a lovely destination in the fall. Consider coming by in September for the Fall Streat Food Festival, which features over 50 artisan-food vendors.
1727-29 Mt Vernon St, Philadelphia, PA 19130, USA
Philadelphia is an ideal destination for lovers of outdoor spaces and beautiful art. Combining the two is the city’s Mural Arts Program, which was originally developed in 1984 as an anti-graffiti initiative and which has blossomed into one of the nation’s largest public-art projects. Buildings and neighborhoods all around the city have been transformed and revived by the colorful works. The program collaborates on 50 to 100 new public-art pieces each year, providing opportunities for thousands of participants of all ages. There are more than 3,600 artworks covering structures in every district of the city. Tours sponsored by the Mural Arts Program are the best way to view the highlights of the citywide “collection” of outdoor canvases.
101 S 3rd St, Philadelphia, PA 19106, USA
It all started with a tent. The acquisition of the original tent used by George Washington during the American Revolution was the starting point of what was to become the nation’s premier collection of colonial artifacts, now housed in this museum’s galleries. Visitors can experience key moments in the history of the United States re-created in the immersive displays and exhibits of Revolutionary-era art, weapons, manuscripts, and personal items. Located at Third and Chestnut streets, the museum is a short walk from the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. Kids will love the cannon in the museum’s plaza.
4231 Avenue of the Republic, Philadelphia, PA 19131, USA
Located in historic Memorial Hall in Fairmount Park, the Please Touch Museum has long been a favored attraction for families with kids ages 7 and under. (Parents—who are so often tired of saying no and holding kids in check in public places—are among the museum’s biggest fans.) Not only does the museum’s collection include over 25,000 toys, it houses a working carousel from 1908, and some of its permanent exhibits include a kid-size city, an interactive garden, and a space station. Special changing displays are also part of the fun. Current program updates and discount offers to followers are posted on their Facebook page.
101 S Independence Mall E, Philadelphia, PA 19106, USA
The National Museum of American Jewish History, a Smithsonian affiliate, features permanent and special collections that celebrate the story of Jews in America. Centrally located on Independence Mall at the corner of Fifth and Market streets, the modern and spacious building is home to a vast and well-organized collection of artifacts; the displays include a variety of multimedia exhibits that will appeal to all ages. Recent temporary shows have focused on topics ranging from baseball to photography to rock music. For visitors with time constraints, a free highlights tour takes about an hour and is offered on most days. Admission is free on the first Friday of each month from April through July.
200 N 6th St, Philadelphia, PA 19106, USA
Located near the National Constitution Center and Philadelphia’s historic district, Franklin Square is an urban oasis that offers fun family activities. One of the city’s five original town squares, it has evolved into a fairground with both daytime and evening attractions. Highlights include the nostalgic Liberty Carousel, a playground, fountain, and a charming Philly-themed miniature-golf course. Visitors can refuel at the popular SquareBurger restaurant. Special events include a winter holiday festival in December, when more than 50,000 lights illuminate the area. During the festival you can also do some holiday shopping, or kick back with a local brew (there’s also a hot-beverage menu just for kids). The park is open from March through December.
Old City District, 231 Market St, Philadelphia, PA 19106, USA
The Old City neighborhood has sometimes been referred to as the most historic square mile in the US. In addition to being the location of the iconic historic attractions, it is a thriving arts and shopping district with dozens of art galleries and trendsetting boutiques. Highlights include the Book Trader, the Clay Studio, Muse Gallery, and Brave New Worlds (a shop selling comic books and toys). Looking for cutting-edge bar tools and supplies, as well as creative distilled spirits? Art in the Age carries those products and hosts tastings and workshops for home bartenders and distillers. The Center for Art in Wood has a permanent collection of pieces, as well as a gallery with changing exhibitions and a great shop. If you’re spent after all that browsing, revive yourself with a sweet treat from Tartes Bakery at 212 Arch Street.
Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia, PA, USA
One of the five original public squares in Philadelphia planned by William Penn, Rittenhouse Square was originally called Southwest Square and was later renamed after David Rittenhouse, a Philadelphia astronomer, inventor, and clockmaker. Although it is now one of the most popular public spaces in Center City, in the 18th century it served as a livestock pasture and later, brickyards surrounded the square. Not until the 1880s, when the city’s elite began moving into the area, did the park begin to take on its modern-day elegance. High-rise condos and luxury hotels have replaced many of the historic mansions that once surrounded the square. Many of Philly’s finest boutiques, hotels, and restaurants sit nearby, including Parc Restaurant Bistro & Café, a great spot for people watching and celebrity spotting. Rittenhouse Square hosts many events from spring through fall, including: A weekly farmers’ market every Tuesday from 10 am to 1 pm (May through November). The biannual Rittenhouse Square Fine Art Show in the spring and fall. The next art show will be held June 6-8, 2014, when the area in and around the square displays original work by more than 140 artists. This event is the nation’s oldest outdoor original art show.
118-128 N Broad St, Philadelphia, PA 19102, USA
The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts is the nation’s first museum and school of fine arts, and home to an outstanding permanent collection of American art, including Thomas Eakins’ medical painting “Gross Clinic”. Throughout the year, PAFA presents special exhibitions and work by some of the region’s most talented contemporary artists. The galleries are contained in two separate buildings, the Historic Landmark Building (pictured), a spectacular architectural gem designed by Frank Furness and George W. Hewitt, and the new Samuel Hamilton Building at 128 North Broad Street. Be sure to visit Lenfest Plaza, a public space adjacent to the Academy to check out Philadelphia artist Jordan Griska’s fantastic sculpture made from a former US military plane. PAFA’s gift shop, housed in the new Hamilton Building, is a wonderful place to shop for unique accessories, arts, crafts and paper goods.
Lemon Hill, Philadelphia, PA 19130, USA
One of Philadelphia’s outdoor treasures, Fairmount Park is one of the nation’s largest urban park systems. The park was originally founded in order to protect Philadelphia‘s drinking water supply. The tract of land at Lemon Hill was the first land purchased to create Fairmount Park in 1855. Lemon Hill refers to both the house pictured and the hill itself, situated on a spectacular site overlooking the Schuylkill River, with views of the Art Museum and the city’s skyline. The Lemon Hill mansion is one of several original park mansions still in existence. Each house has its own unique personality and history, and all are open to the public.
1 Boathouse Row, Philadelphia, PA 19130, USA
Anyone visiting Philadelphia who plans to include the Museum of Art and/or the Fairmount Water Works in their itinerary should consider taking a little extra time to stroll along nearby Boathouse Row. The adventurous who have a bit more time can consider renting bikes and riding the recreational path that runs alongside the banks of the Schuylkill River. Many of the historic boathouses date back to 1860, and the last house on the row at #15, Sedgeley Club, is Philadelphia’s only operating lighthouse, built in 1887. The Schuylkill River and rowing are inextricably linked and the first recorded regatta on the Schuylkill took place in 1835. There is a regatta scheduled nearly every weekend from March through November, and to view the races you’ll need to venture a little further north on Kelly Drive, past the Girard and Columbia Bridges. For anyone who’d like to view or photograph the iconic illuminated boathouses after dark, the closest viewpoints would be either of the elevated gazebos behind the Art Museum, or the riverfront gazebo adjacent to the Water Works complex.
15 S 7th St, Philadelphia, PA 19106, USA
The recently renovated and reopened Philadelphia History Museum showcases an impressive collection of art, objects, and artifacts spanning 330 years of the city’s history. Dating back to 1826, the building itself plays into the journey through the past. The biggest draw for me, however, is the rotating Made in Philadelphia exhibit which looks at the city’s contributions in craftsmanship and manufacturing throughout history (particular nod to the ‘Craft Brewing’ feature which focuses on brewing from the days of William Pen right up through the revival of microbreweries in the 20th century). And if you’re keen on vintage Philly, I highly recommend the much-lauded Facebook page Old Images of Philadelphia. It isn’t associated with the museum but offers a heartwarming virtual walk through the city’s storied past.
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