Philadelphia is known as the “City of Brotherly Love” and is one of the oldest cities in America. It is the fifth largest city in the US with a population of about 1.5 million and also happens to be the closest city to me for my entire life. It’s where I attended parades in my childhood, took my first job and started my career, and now where I head for a fun night out or a delicious meal. If you like indulgent food, historical sites, stunning art, and friendly people, you need to stop in Philadelphia! Philly is also known of “the city of firsts” ( I didn’t even know this until I started doing some research for a guest blog I was working on) and many people don’t know how many things in America started there. They have the first zoo, library, commercial bank, department store (Wanamakers), penitentiary, and children’s hospital. So if you’re heading to Philadelphia, check out some of these unique sites and traditions so you get the full experience of the “city that loves you back”.
Indulge at Reading Terminal Market
Reading Terminal Market opened in 1892 and since then has been a hub for great food for 100+ years and even was a train terminal until the 80’s. Pretty much every food you could possibly want exists within this building (Indian, Thai, diners, BBQ, Burgers, crepes, cheesesteaks and more!) and it’s such a fun experience to wander through the aisles and see all of your options. They have stops other than food too, with lots of shops and fresh food markets. They even have a winery that does tastings! Reading Terminal also a few Amish eating places and the lines can get very long for the Amish goods. These stands tend to be very affordable and delicious! If you’re looking to indulge in some Philadelphia favorites at Reading Terminal try a cannoli from Termini Brothers or a doughnut from Beiler’s (or both!). Tip: About a half hour before closing Beiler’s Bakery usually starts giving their bakery items away for very cheap! You’ll hear them yelling “everything is $2” and that’s my cue to get in line 🙂 Try to steer clear of RTM at typical lunch or dinner hours unless you want to see some serious crowds!
Address: 51 N. 12th Street
Stroll through Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens
Located on South Street, these magic gardens truly bring the Philadelphia experience to life. It was created by artist, Isaiah Zagar, who worked to beautify South Street in the 60’s. In 1994 he began constructing his gardens as a project and the Philadelphia community came together to buy the land from the landowner so that the garden could stay in tact. Zagar continued to work tirelessly on the impressive landscape and it became open to the public in 2008. Admission is $10 ($8 for students) and includes a small museum with the history and unlimited time in the garden. Every inch of the floor, walls, and ceiling are covered with mosaics, household items, or just random objects that create a very impressive work of art. It’s really crazy to think how long this took him and such an experience to appreciate every inch of this magical place. This is also a great stop for some artsy photos!
Address: 1020 South Street
Visit the Love Sculpture
Philly is the “City of Brotherly Love” and there is no shortage of signs to tell you that. The symbol of Philadelphia is the bright red, stacked LOVE sign. It is currently relocated to Dilworth Park next to City Hall while Love Park is being renovated but it is still a sight to be seen. At all times of the day, Dilworth is a busy place perfect for people watching. During winter, they construct an ice skating rink that is perfect for a family outing. In summertime they always have events going on and have a very picturesque fountain. If you leave Philly without a picture in front of the Love Sign, did you really go to Philly? Tip: Don’t expect a big sign, it’s actually quite small in person. You will have to wait your turn to get your picture in front of it but I always offer to take the person in front of me’s photo so that they will take mine in return. While you’re in the area, head over to McGillin’s Old Ale House which is the oldest continuously running pub in the city established in 1860. They have great beer, food, and sometimes even karaoke! I’ve never had a bad time at McGillin’s.
Love Sign Address: Market Street & S 15th Street
McGillin’s Address: 1310 Drury Street
Wander the streets of Old City
Many people aren’t aware of how much of America’s history actually happened in Philadelphia. Of course, the Declaration of Independence was signed at Independence Hall, but also historical figures lived and died in Philadelphia. If you walk down the streets in Old City, you will see that almost every house has a sign in their window saying “Built in —-”, some dating all the way back to the 1700’s. Also, Elfreth’s Alley is the oldest continuously inhabited street in America. These buildings are preserved so well and the cobblestone streets make wandering around Old City an awesome experience for your whole family! You can also visit Benjamin Franklin’s grave (right across from the Betsy Ross House) and spend some time at the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, and The US Mint.
Address: Elfreth’s Alley- 124-126 Elfreth’s Alley
Betsy Ross House- 239 Arch Street
See the original raven that inspired Edgar Allan Poe
Philadelphia is full of weird stops that makes it such an interesting city that I didn’t even know about. When doing some research for a guest blog, I found that the Free Library of Philadelphia has a rare books department that houses some of the oldest manuscripts from American history and even has the original raven that inspired Edgar Allan Poe (kind of creepy). The raven was actually Charles Dicken’s pet and after it died it was stuffed and preserved in the Rare Books Department for everyone to come see. This is a great stop because it is free and you can see the early editions of the works of Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens, and Beatrix Potter. I’m not super into literature but it was cool to see all of the handwriting of these legendary writers and it was also kind of eery. There was no one else there while we were there and the raven is ALL the way down the end of the hall by itself. Also nearby this stop is the Art Museum (AKA the Rocky Steps) so you can make a quick stop there for a photo opp too!
Address: 1901 Vine Street
Admire the Murals
Philadelphia is also unofficially the “City of Murals” due to their huge Mural Arts Program– this is something else I didn’t know! It feels like every corner you turn there is a new mural stretching the side of a building. Sometimes they share a message about brotherly love and equality while others are just aesthetically pleasing and enormous works of gorgeous art. Take some time to look up while you’re touring the city to look for some murals and appreciate the hard work that went into these giant paintings. I know when I was working in the city for a year and a half, I walked straight past at least 3 murals on the way to work and had absolutely no idea! Some must see ones in my opinion are:
- “Sanctuary” S 13th St & Chancellor St
- 990 Spring Garden Street
- S 16th St & Chancellor St
- “Pedal Powering” 1501 N Broad St
See a full list of the murals here!
Compare cheesesteaks between Geno’s and Pat’s
Ah, this is my favorite thing to do with family or friends that come visit. Philadelphians (or me with anyone else I talk to) can’t seem to agree on where to get the best cheesesteak in the city. Pat’s and Geno’s are located across the street from each other and are the biggest names in Cheesesteaks in Philly. The convenience of them being across the street allows you to real time compare the cheesesteaks and pick your favorite. The feud is one that’s fun to take part in (I personally choose Genos & you have to get the fries too!) I always order mine “Whiz wit” style with cheese whiz and fried onions. If you’re interested in another favorite, try Jim’s Steaks on South Street. No matter which one is your favorite, you HAVE to try a Philly Cheesesteak and it’s fun to be the judge and compare!
Address: Geno’s/ Pat’s- 1219 S 9th St
Jim’s 400 South St.
Overall, living near Philadelphia and working there opened up a lot of opportunity for me to experience the city as well as the history and culture that makes it special. Although our sports teams aren’t great, we have a lot of pride for our city and love to have visitors anytime 🙂
Want to read more about Christmas time in Philly? Check out my recent blog post here!