The City of Brotherly Love is famous for its Philly cheesesteak sandwiches as well as for being the birthplace of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Home to an extensive array of historical treasures, Philly is a wonderful trip for the historian in all of us. Take a journey through many of the top cultural, culinary and historical attractions on a fabulous long weekend in Philadelphia.
You’ll need your energy if you hope to maximize your experience and take in many of the top sights and attractions the city has to offer. To start your first day off right, head to the nation’s oldest farmers market and the No. 1 visited attraction in Philadelphia, the Reading Terminal Market. This market has been described as an “indoor food paradise” and a one-stop shop for local produce, fantastic sandwiches, artisanal cheeses, desserts and more. It’s also the home of the Dutch Eating Place, were you’ll find the best and biggest breakfast that can be had in the city. There is almost always a wait, but it’s well worth it. The blueberry pancakes are heavenly, eggs are perfectly cooked, and the apple toast is something you’ll be talking about for some time to come.
After you’ve indulged, take time to walk through the market, visit with Amish merchants from Lancaster County who bring their fresh goods from the farm, and browse or purchase everything from handmade imported crafts and quilts to freshly cut flowers, exotic meats and gourmet cuisine.
Next on the must-see list is Independence National Historical Park, just a half-mile east of the market toward the Delaware River. The park is located on the same site where numerous historical events took place, episodes that established the new country as the hallmark of democracy. It is the home of the Liberty Bell Center, Independence Hall, Congress Hall, the New Hall Military Museum, Franklin Court, the Bishop White House and the Graff House.
The best part of visiting the park: it doesn’t cost a dime to visit any of these important landmarks. Independence Hall is especially significant in the development of the nation — it was in this building that our country’s founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776. In this same location, in 1887, the framework for the U.S. Constitution was laid. Free guided tours are available year-round. The Liberty Bell Center features a video presentation about the Liberty Bell, with the bell itself displayed in a glass chamber and Independence Hall in the background, making for a perfect photo opp.
Just two blocks away from the Liberty Bell is the National Constitution Center. Its aim is to “disseminate information about the U.S. Constitution on a nonpartisan basis in order to increase the awareness and understanding of the Constitution among the American people.” This is accomplished through interactive exhibits, theatrical performances and, of course, the original documents of freedom. You could spend an hour or an entire afternoon here, as it’s a destination for visitors of all ages and types who want to explore the history of America and the relevance of the Constitution.
Rather than rushing through each attraction, you may want to save some of Philadelphia’s best for the next day so you’ll be rested up and ready to soak it all in. Now may be a good time to enjoy some of the incredible cuisine that Philly is known for, including that renowned Philly cheesesteak sandwich.
Locals say Max’s Steaks in north Philadelphia is the “holy grail” of Philly cheesesteaks. Order like a local and ask for a sandwich with fried onions, salt-peppa-ketchup (all one word), hot peppers, mayo and provolone.
If you’d prefer a little more history with your sandwich, you’ll need to head to south Philly and the original home of the cheesesteak, Pat’s King of Steaks. It’s still owned and operated by the Olivieri family. It’s said that the founder, Pat Olivieri, invented the steak sandwich back in 1930, growing from a tiny stand in an Italian market to become one of the most famous cheesesteak shops on the planet. It’s open 24/7 and draws celebrities, politicians, athletes and others from around the world — there is always a line, but it moves fast. Always be prepared to order quickly to keep it that way by specifying if you want your steak wit (with) or wit-out (without) onions; specify plain, Cheez Whiz, Provolone, American or Pizza Steak; have cash ready (no checks or cards), and only order your steak at the first window since the second window is for drinks and fries.
When you’re ready for your next day of exploring the city, venture over to the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood west of the city center to visit The Franklin Institute, Philly’s most visited museum. Inside is the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial, a towering, 20-foot-tall statue of the great man himself. The museum dates back to 1824 and explores science in a wide range of disciplines including everything from sports to space. There is enough here to spend an entire day or longer, with highlights that include the Sports Challenge, an exhibit that uses virtual-reality technology to illustrate the physics of sports; a fully equipped weather station; the largest collection of artifacts from the Wright brothers’ workshop; and a simulated earth-orbit research station.
Just a half-mile northwest is the famed Philadelphia Museum of Art, where many visitors head just to climb the 72 stone steps before its entrance. They’re now referred to as the “Rocky Steps,” due to the classic scene in the Oscar-winning film, Rocky. A bronze statue of Rocky sits at the bottom right of the steps, providing a popular photo op for visitors. At the top you’ll enjoy commanding views of Philadelphia City Hall, Eakins Oval and Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
The museum itself includes such vast collections that it’s the third-largest art museum in the country, and considered a must-see cultural attraction. Some of its most impressive pieces include works by Matisse, Van Gogh and Picasso as well as a Japanese teahouse and a 17th-century Chinese palace hall.
After all this exploring, you’re likely to experience some serious hunger pangs, but you’ll have no problem getting a great bite to eat anywhere in this city. In fact, within walking distance of The Franklin Institute and the Philadelphia Museum of Art is The Oval. During the summer it features a rotating lineup of food trucks, with local favorites such as Sum Pig, Seet Box, Chewy’s and Lil’ Pop Shop. Keep an eye out for Sweet Box Cupcakes, another local favorite, when you’re craving something sweet. Beware — you’ll want to try everything on the menu and they’re incredibly addicting. But you’ve been walking all day, right?
Philidelphia is a gorgeous, historic city that would be nearly impossible to cover in just a weekend. But with the right know-how, you can cover a lot of ground and enjoy a little fun, a little food and a lot of great sites in the City of Brotherly Love.