Top Attractions in the City of Brotherly Love
For an unforgettable visit to America’s birthplace... Tour Independence Hall and enjoy a soft pretzel at the historic Reading Terminal Market. Or run up the Art Museum steps for the full Rocky experience and then head to South Philly for a cheesesteak.
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.
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!
51 N 12th St, Philadelphia, PA 19107, USA
Visitors to Philadelphia should not miss out on an iconic local treat—the soft pretzel. Sure, you can find them pretty much everywhere in Philly, but the real deal is baked fresh daily. At the Reading Terminal Market, go to the place where they’ll roll and twist the dough right in front of you—Miller’s Twist—where the soft pretzels are fresh, hot, and buttery (and beyond delicious). Locals line up here daily for fresh soft pretzels and pretzel dogs (hot dogs rolled inside a pretzel bun). There are only fresh pretzels here, still warm from the oven, baked to golden perfection, and brushed with melted butter. The aroma is intoxicating. You’ll want more than one! Save room for a milkshake made with fresh local ice cream.
51 N 12th St, Philadelphia, PA 19107, USA
There is no better place for visitors interested in one-stop souvenir shopping than the Pennsylvania General Store, located inside the Reading Terminal Market. You’ll find everything from Amish quilts to just-made fudge, as well as food items unique to the region, including locally treasured Asher’s chocolate-covered pretzels. Also recommended are decadent, fresh-baked Hope’s Cookies, and tins of Rosie’s butterkins (butter cookies). If you’re not hungry, maybe you need a soft pretzel T-shirt, City of Brotherly Love shot glasses, or a bawdy coffee mug touting the town of Intercourse, Pennsylvania? Former Philadelphians who miss their regional treats can order care packages online from the General Store’s website.
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.
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.
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.
222 N 20th St, Philadelphia, PA 19103, USA
Philly visitors, don’t miss a stop at Pennsylvania’s most-visited museum, the Franklin Institute. Allow ample time to make your way through its multiple floors, where entertaining and hands-on educational displays await. Crowd-pleasing permanent exhibits include a 350-ton locomotive, a giant walk-through heart, flight simulators, a high-wire bike, and fun interactive areas covering electricity, sports, machines, motion, and technology. The museum also includes an observatory, planetarium, and IMAX theater. The institute frequently hosts after-hours events, most notably star-gazing, and recently opened two escape-room-type attractions.
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)
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.
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.
108 S 13th St, Philadelphia, PA 19107, USA
Verde is actually two stores in one. It carries one-of-a-kind accessories, jewelry, and gifts, which makes it stand out as one of several unique shops in the Midtown Village district of Center City. Serendipitously, the boutique shares space with Marcie Blaine Artisanal Chocolates. In fact, you can watch the chocolate confections being made in the back room by peeking through the large window. A shopa-choco-holic’s dream! While in Midtown Village, venture across the street to another notable shopping stop, Open House, which sells Philly-themed items as well as a curated selection of housewares and accessories.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.