History, art, food, beauty, much to my surprise, Philadelphia has it all… Having family just 40 minutes outside Philly, and now living an hour outside of it in NYC for 5 years, I still never really thought to go there and check it out. But I recently had to go for work and decided to stay the weekend. Thanks goodness! We fell in love with it! We explored the Old City, Center City, Rittenhouse, South Street and more. Here’s some of what we saw, did and ate.
Philadelphia is a mecca for history buffs. William Penn founded and designed Philadelphia as the capital of the Commonwealth (of course, the capital moved to Harrisburg some years later). Philadelphia’s Old City is in the eastern part of the city, banging up against the Delaware River. It is chalk full of history! This is the part of the city where you’ll find the Liberty Bell, Benjamin Franklin’s grave, Christ Church, Betsy Ross’s house, the U.S. Mint, Independence Hall, Washington Square, Franklin Square, the Benjamin Franklin Museum, the African American Museum, the National Museum of American Jewish History, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and the American Revolution Museum (though this is a rather recent addition). You could easily spend two or three days here if you’re into museums. It was a bright sunny day, so we decided not to go into the museums. We will 100% next time!
Washington Square was pretty cute and just a quick walk from Independence Hall. In the middle of the park sits the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from the American Revolutionary War. It’s a little awkward because as you read the plaques you realize that you’re standing on the site of a mass grave. On the monument is inscribed, “Freedom is a light for which many men have died in darkness.” It’s a bit harrowing.
On the opposite end of the historic center from Washington Square, is Franklin Square, a park with a beautiful fountain. It is currently adorned with Halloween decorations. It also has a mini-golf course and lots of places to sit.
Across from the park is a GIANT LIGHTENING BOLT! Attached to a key, of course, for Benjamin Franklin. Neal and I imagined that at night they pulse light through this like a real lightening bolt, but we never did see it at night.
Bridge over the Delaware
Across from the key and park is a bridge that goes over the Delaware River to New Jersey. There’s a long pedestrian path over the bridge on which a LOT of people run. Turns out, it’s about 2 miles one way! We decided to go halfway and head back, but in the process got a great view of the Delaware River, the coastal line of New Jersey, and a backed up view of Philly.
The U.S. Mint
After coming off the bridge, we realized we were right next to the U.S. Mint. Neal loves currency, so we were excited to go in. Unfortunately, it’s only open during the week, except in the summer it’s open on Saturdays. It’s too bad because they give you free tours.
Christ Church Burial Ground
Next to the U.S. Mint is Christ Church Burial Ground. Benjamin Franklin is buried here, as well as Benjamin Rush and quite a few other historical figures. You can see Benjamin Franklin’s grave from the street, but it’s a just a few bucks to go in, so we did. We thought it was a little odd, though, that the burial ground is not attached to Christ Church. The Church is a ways done the road, but there was a funeral taking place when we were there, so we did not go on the grounds at all out of respect.
This area is so beautiful. Trees canopy many of the streets, so in a fall weekend like this, bursts of color fall over them. The parks are manicured and the alleyways are narrow and cobblestone. The buildings are brick and many of them have cellars doors lining the streets. Also, I love carless areas, and there are plenty around here.
Food & Drink
Not only is the history rich and the area adorable, there’s also a lot of food and drink in this neighborhood. We particularly enjoyed Old City Coffee and 2nd Story Brewing. The muffins and nuffins at Old City were fabulous, and they have great coffee. 2nd Story Brewing has a dozen of their own beers of every type. I got a flight to try a few out. I was impressed! They also have food, which was pretty good. For dinner, we ate at High Street on Market and Spasso Italian Grill. They were both delicious.
Where we stayed
We decided to stay in Old City to be close to all this action. We ended up at Kimpton Monaco Hotel, which is across the street from Independence Hall. It’s a beautiful hotel. There is no breakfast, which I was a bit bummed about, but otherwise everything was perfect.
Once we had our fill of history, we ventured west to Center City. Center City stretches from the edge of Old City to City Hall. It’s an easy walk on wide sidewalks or narrow alleyways where cars don’t go. You can see City Hall for awhile before you get there. It’s a huge, ornate building. (Everything in this area is styled French.) On top of City Hall is what’s believed to be the largest statue of William Penn. You can seriously see the statue from all over the city.
Around City Hall is a very cool looking Masonic Temple, we didn’t go in, but we enjoyed it from the street. The lighting in Philadelphia is very cool. The way it bounced off the Temple was striking. We noticed this light play all over the downtown area. Beautiful!
The Museum of Fine Arts
The Museum of Fine Arts is just down the street from City Hall. It costs $25 to go in, so we skipped it (and just such a beautiful day!), but the building outside is gorgeous and there’s some fun art around it, too.
Speaking of art, we were on a mission to find street art in this area. What we found were murals, everywhere! In an attempt to limit graffiti, Philadelphia has a Mural Program. Huge walls all over the city are designated for these murals. We found several, many of which had very interesting political/social messages. It was such a fun way to explore the streets!
Reading Terminal Market
Center City is also home to the Fashion District and is full of shopping. A giant mall lines Market Street. Reading Terminal Market also is here, which we stopped in at for lunch. Every kind of food is here, but beware, less is open on Sunday than Saturday. I ate a focaccia pizza and Neal ate a po’boy. Delish!
Not far from Center City and Old City is Chinatown. Philly’s Chinatown is not unlike other cities’ Chinatowns. There’s a big arch into the area, a lot of street vendors, lots of food (of all Asian stripes it seemed), and lots of people. We found some more art in this area, too.
If you keep going West from Center City, you end up in Rittenhouse. Or at least, we did! There are lots of shops in this area as well, and restaurants and residences. Brick row houses line the streets and in the center of it all is the beautiful Rittenhouse Square. Neal thought this square was similar to Bryant Park. It is, but it’s a bit smaller.
Where to eat
My favorite restaurant of the trip was in this area–Vedge! It’s a completely vegetarian place that features vegetable-based tapas. Every.single.dish was great!! I wouldn’t normally say that because there’s always one dish that’s too small, or overseasoned, or whatever. Not here! We were very happy.
Not far from Rittenhouse is the Philadelphia Museum of Arts, the Rocky Steps, the Oval and the Rodin Museum. We took an Uber to this area, rather than walk, because we’d walked so much already that day. The Philadelphia Museum of Arts is beautiful! Rather than the traditional pale white, the building is a sort of sand yellow. It’s got colored lining and gorgeous detail. We walked into the entrance, saw it was $25/person and decided not to go in. It was great just to be there though, as it was gorgeous!
The “Rocky Steps” as they call them, are the steps up to the museum. They were featured in, of course, Rocky. There were tons of people running up the steps like Rocky and taking their picture with their arms stretched out in a boxer pose. Neal refused to do it. There’s actually a Rocky statue here, but there was a line of 25+ people looking to take their pic with it. I couldn’t handle that.
Next time, we’ll probably go to the Rodin Museum. We LOVE Rodin! In Paris, we went to the Rodin Museum and enjoyed it so much. It was really too bad we didn’t have enough time for it during this trip.
When people find out you’re going to Philly, everyone says, “you have to go to South Street!” South Street is a long stretching road that appears to be a main street of sorts. Our read on it was that it is more of a night life kind of place. Because we didn’t have a lot of time, and I had to work a bit on Saturday night (and was exhausted), we ended up going in the morning on Sunday. It was a bit eerily empty in the morning, but it was still cool to check out. The streets jutting off South Street were adorable! Lots of carless alleyways and well-decorated apartments/homes.
As you can start to see in these pictures, we began to see more and more mosaics on the walls. The streets were covered in them. People’s apartments/houses were covered in them. It was incredible! A lot of faces and other designs in every color tile. It really livened up the neighborhood.
These all culminated in the Magic Gardens. The Magic Gardens is a museum of recycled arts. Unfortunately, it does not open until 11am, and we were there around 9am. But it’s okay because this whole area is an art exhibit. I really loved it. Next time, though, we’ll definitely go in here.
The only thing we ate along South Street (i.e., the only thing that was open) was Federal Donuts. We stopped in and got a blood orange doughnut and a pumpkin doughnut. They weren’t my favorite doughnuts, but they weren’t bad. It was nice to stop in, in any case.
So that was pretty much our weekend in Philadelphia. I tend to get a feeling about a city, and I have to say that I really enjoyed this one. It’s got history, it’s got good food, it’s got shopping, it’s got art. The people were also really nice/funny. Every Uber driver had a story. Waiters and bartenders were extremely nice. The ONE thing I will say is–make a reservation! This place is hoppin’! I can’t wait to go back to go into some of the museums, check out West Philly and go to the Eastern State Penitentiary.
Just in case you were wondering, here are my favorite shots of Neal from the weekend.
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