The Perfect Weekend in Philadelphia

Over a long weekend, you can enjoy many of Philadelphia’s historic and cultural attractions. You have markets to peruse, doughtnuts to inhale, world-class museums, and food for days. Keep in mind, with only three days in Philly, you will just scratch the surface of what the city has to offer.

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.
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.
1623 Walnut St, Philadelphia, PA 19103, USA
Philadelphia has famous local restaurateur Stephen Starr and chef Douglas Rodriguez to thank for Alma de Cuba, a dark and atmospheric multilevel restaurant serving inventive Latin-fusion cuisine. The lounge of this beloved Philly spot offers a great tapas menu and a well-curated craft-cocktail list (starring the best mojitos this side of Cuba), which make its weekday happy hour one of the city’s favorites. The kitchen is known for its lechón asado (roast pork), as well as creative riffs on ceviches and variations on guacamole, including a divine one spiked with smoked hazelnut.
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.
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)
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.
2043 Chestnut St, Philadelphia, PA 19103, USA
In a city where hoagies are everywhere, how can a visitor know which is the best? Ask a local where they buy their hoagies, and chances are their answer will be Primo. The Primo Italian hoagie, for anyone new to these signature Philadelphia foods, is a classic. Winner of multiple awards, Primo Hoagies has locations all around Philly, and boasts an extensive menu featuring sandwiches of many sizes. The offerings include creative meatless options such as the Veggie Diablo (eggplant, sharp provolone, broccoli rabe, and long hot peppers); make sure to try a side of olive salad. Buon appetito!
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.

110 Market St, Philadelphia, PA 19106, USA
A candy store has occupied this building continuously since 1863. The current proprietors, the Berley brothers—who also own the Franklin Fountain ice cream parlor a few doors away on Market Street—are master confectioners. Even for those among us who don’t like candy (is that even possible?), a visit to the store is worthwhile simply to see its charming Victorian interior. Coming here is like stepping back in time, and you’ll feel as thrilled as a kid to peer into the vintage glass-topped cabinets full of chocolates and other sweets. Keep an eye out for the Whirly Berley Bars (chocolate nougat with salted chocolate caramel), and be sure to check out the seasonal creations, like the pumpkin-spice buttercreams.
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.
1219 S 2nd St, Philadelphia, PA 19121, USA
Federal Donuts, which sells wacky-flavored handmade doughnuts, coffee, and Korean-style twice-fried chicken, is just one example of how chefs in the City of Brotherly Love are pursuing their culinary obsessions. The original Center City shop has been joined by branches around town (including one at the baseball stadium) as well as a satellite shop in Miami: The owners’ whimsical impulse to pick up a doughnut machine on Craigslist in 2011 now seems less crazy and more like the first steps of delicious empire-building.
237 St James Pl, Philadelphia, PA 19106, USA
Chef Michael Solomonov, a 2017 James Beard Award winner, presents his take on modern Israeli cuisine at this Society Hill destination. Zahav is the Hebrew word for “gold,” which is reflected in the beautiful golden decor of the restaurant. Menu highlights include the fabulous hummus, halloumi with strawberries and peas, and any of the mezes or small plates. Try the restaurant’s signature cocktail, the refreshing Lemonnana—Jim Beam, muddled mint, fresh lemon, and verbena—served by the glass or by the pitcher. Save room for dessert; the coffee custard is divine. The bar at Zahav is a popular weekday spot for happy hour from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Dinner reservations are a must.
1500 Walnut St, Philadelphia, PA 19102, USA
That the Mad Men-esque Butcher & Singer has landed on Philadelphia Magazine’s 50 Best Restaurants list for two consecutive years speaks volumes about serial restaurateur Stephen Starr’s keen design sense and unparalleled stagecraft. Although the plush leather banquettes, imposing ceilings and throwback supper-club experience are certainly striking (“an homage to Old Hollywood,” Starr says), it’s the archetypal steaks and chops that really shine here. Those harboring an obsession with sandwiches, like myself, should opt for the 10oz dry-aged beef burger—a more than suitable strip substitute. As for that tempting third course, don’t be surprised if tuxedo-bedecked waiters encourage you to save room for their signature dessert, the Baked Alaska. Whatever you do, just say yes. Unbutton your pants if you have to, the wait staff will understand. A vintage experience, masterful steaks and a killer ambiance means yet another success story for the Starr empire and a big win for Philadelphia. Reservations recommended.
4120 Main St, Philadelphia, PA 19127, USA
Many places in Philadelphia have names derived from Native American words. Manayunk, Philly’s trendy riverfront neighborhood in the northwestern part of the city, literally means “where we go to drink”. Which is a good way to segue into this highlight... I’d recommend spending the day in Manayunk, especially in the warm weather months, when the outdoor cafes on Main Street are thriving and people watching is at its peak. But regardless of the season, the Manayunk Brewery is a worthwhile pit stop for great food and craft beer. Housed in an idyllic spot in a former textile mill along the Manayunk Canal, the restaurant offers both indoor and outdoor seating and some of the best craft beer in Philadelphia. The beer choices change with the seasons and can be purchased in cans or growlers to go. There is a diverse wine and cocktail menu for those who don’t drink beer. The brewery is currently expanding in order to increase its beer production; however, the restaurant will remain open.
1840 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy, Philadelphia, PA 19103, USA
With a rooftop lounge, it’s all about the view. This intimate and elegant spot at the Logan Hotel on the Ben Franklin Parkway offers a deck with extraordinary vistas, as well as cozy indoor and outdoor seating and fire pits for when the nights get chilly. The menu features champagne by the bottle or glass, craft cocktails, and savory small bites. The lounge’s capacity is only about 200 people, so arrive early to avoid a line; on busy evenings, a waiting list will be maintained. Hours vary by season.
135 S 17th St, Philadelphia, PA 19102, USA
The bustling corner of Walnut and 17th streets is anchored by the Latham, a stone-and-brick tower built in 1907 as luxury apartments for moneyed Philadelphians. While other Center City historic structures met their demise in the late 1960s, a group of investors doubled down on the stately building, transforming it into Philadelphia’s premier business hotel in 1970. The prestigious address completed a top-to-bottom renovation in 2011, bringing the Latham firmly into the 21st century while preserving period artifacts and style.

True to its apartment roots, arriving at the hotel is more like entering a tony doorman building, and the Latham’s residential roots bestow spacious guestrooms with tall ceilings, bay windows, and big bathrooms. Gold and gray hues are complemented by pops of blue, while big bathrooms keep it simple with a tub/shower combination.
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.

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.
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