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. It’s a unique blend of history and culture and has many traditions that the citizens take very seriously. If you like delicious food, historical sites, stunning art, and friendly people, you need to stop in Philadelphia! Philly is also known as “the city of firsts” 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.”
1. Indulge at Reading Terminal Market
Reading Terminal Market opened in 1892 and since then has been a hub for great food for 100+ years. In the 19th century, it also served as a train terminal until 1984. This stop is a must if you are going to be in the area and want to experience some classic Philly traditions. Pretty much every food you could possibly want exists within this building, and it’s such a fun experience to wander through the aisles and see all of your options. They have a winery where you can do a wine tasting, an old-fashioned diner, candy stores, bakeries, and many fresh markets (seafood, produce, meat, etc.). Reading Terminal also has a heavy Amish presence, 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!).
Address: 51 N. 12th Street
2. 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 had a studio on South Street and started to take an interest in beautifying the South Street area of Philadelphia in the 1960s. In 1994 he began constructing his gardens as a project, but then the landowner decided to sell the lot. The Philadelphia community came together to buy the land so that the garden could stay intact. Zagar continued to work on the impressive landscape, and it became open to the public in 2008. For $10, you get admission to the small museum as well as the gardens that are nestled between two city buildings. 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. This is a great stop for a photo opp and only takes an hour or so to experience.
Address: 1020 South Street
3. Visit the Love Sign
Philly is the “City of Brotherly Love” and there is no shortage of signs to tell you that. The unspoken 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 the 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?
Address: Market Street & S 15th Street
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4. Wander the streets of Old City
Many people aren’t aware of how much of America’s history took place in Philadelphia. Of course, the Declaration of Independence was signed at Independence Hall. But also historical figures lived and died in Philadelphia and history was made on many occasions. 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 —-.” I saw some dating all the way back to the 1700s. Also, Elfreth’s Alley is a must stop- it’s the oldest continuously inhabited street in America. These buildings are preserved so well, and the cobblestone streets make wandering around Old City an experience to remember! 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
5. See the original raven that inspired Edgar Allan Poe
Philadelphia is full of quirky stops that make it such an interested city. 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. The raven was Charles Dicken’s pet, and after it had died it was stuffed and preserved in the Rare Books Department for everyone to come to 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. You don’t have to be a big literature buff to enjoy a stroll down the rare books department! It’s also right near the steps of the Art Museum (AKA the Rocky Steps), so you can make a quick stop there for a photo opp too!
Address: 1901 Vine Street
6. Take a tour of the murals around the city
Philadelphia is also unofficially the “City of Murals” due to its huge Mural Arts Program. 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. Some must see ones are:
- “Sanctuary” S 13th St & Chancellor St
- 990 Spring Garden Street
- S 16th St & Chancellor St
- “Pedal Powering” 1501 N Broad St
7. Compare cheesesteaks between Geno’s and Pat’s
One thing Philadelphians can’t seem to agree on is where to get the best cheesesteak. Pat’s and Geno’s are located across the street from each other and are the biggest names in Cheesesteaks in Philly. The feud is one that’s fun to take part in and since they’re so close to each other you can get one of each, split them up with whoever you are travelling with and compare both! Standing in line and ordering a cheesesteak in Philly is an unforgettably interesting experience when they ask you “Whiz wit?” (AKA do you want cheese whiz on your sandwich?). If you’re interested in a more local (less touristy) 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.
Where to Stay in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Best Budget Hotel in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – Apple Hostels
Apple Hostels of Philadelphia is located in Philadelphia just 50 m from Independence National Historical Park. The hostel is 100 m from National Liberty Museum, 500 m from Liberty Bell and 1.2 km from Pennsylvania Convention Center. Philadelphia International Airport is 12 km away.
Each room here will provide guests with air conditioning. At Apple Hostels of Philadelphia, guests will find a 24-hour front desk and a shared kitchen. Other facilities offered at the property include a shared lounge, a games room, and luggage storage. Laundry facilities are also available. Guests can enjoy free use of computers and video games. Free coffee and tea are available 24 hours, and complimentary dinner and drinks are offered on select evenings.
Best Mid-Range Hotel in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – The Franklin Hotel at Independence Park
Located in the center of the historical district, only one block away from the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, this European-Style 4-Diamond hotel offers refined and elegant accommodation in the heart of Philadelphia.
Overlooking Independence National Historic Park and surrounded by Philadelphia’s Society Hill, the Franklin Hotel at Independence Park is within walking distance the Benjamin Franklin House. It is also situated just 10 minutes away from the Philadelphia International Airport.
Best Luxury Hotel in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – The Rittenhouse Hotel
Within walking distance of major museums, world-class shopping, and the business district, this prestigious hotel in Philadelphia city center, on Rittenhouse Square, offers a fitness center with cardiovascular equipment and free weights.
The Rittenhouse Spa and Club – Hair by Paul Lebrecque offers complimentary access to an indoor heated pool and sun terrace. Lacroix at The Rittenhouse is an award-winning restaurant that serves progressive international cuisine.
Offering British tea and cocktails in a cosy living-room atmosphere, the Mary Cassatt Tea Room opens up to a private outdoor garden.
About the Writer
Emily Egner is a travel and lifestyle blogger from the Philadelphia area and currently works for a cosmetics company. She has explored areas of North/Central America, the Caribbean, Europe, and Southeast Asia. She shares experiences, tips, and lists on her blog Up and At Em.