The City of Brotherly Love has come a long way in the past ten years, but it still holds onto the blue color roots that its known for. As a Philadelphia native, I am constantly surprised by the neighborhoods that have changed, and those that have stayed the same. Coffee has a culture all its own and the microbrew scene is exploding, but that’s not why we keep coming back. Nope, besides our family who still lives there, we love hitting the streets, exploring the colonial culture, checking out the latest mural that has gone up, and gorging ourselves on hoagies and soft pretzels.
Oh, and if you need to know the ultimate answer to the Philly cheesesteak debate, skip to the end. All locals agree on the answer. For now, here are seven reasons you will want to head to Philadelphia as quickly as possible.
Walk the Mean Streets
Some of the most amazing art in Philadelphia can be found on the streets of the city, and not always in the best neighborhoods. You don’t have to head to the dodgy parts of town though. You can do a self-guided tour through Chinatown, City Hall and Market Street. If you want to dive in even deeper, you can book guided walking, trolley, train and Segway tours of some of the best art around the city. Keep in mind that a lot of the tours cover the older murals though. The more contemporary murals going up aren’t on tours yet. These you will just have to discover on your own.
OK, so Hamilton was actually up in New York, but he knew Ben Franklin. Philadelphia was where the Declaration of Independence was signed, the Liberty Bell lives, Betsy Ross made our nation’s first flag and Ben Franklin, one of our founding fathers liked to call home. Why not continue your colonial history tour by discovering all of the historical sites in and around the nation’s first capital? Lin-Manuel Miranda hasn’t written a musical about Philly… yet. But “just you wait.”
Stare People Down
Philadelphians have a reputation for being some of the worst drivers in the city, so why not give them the stare down. I don’t mean giving them direct looks. No, you should escape the city streets and get high above the city at One Liberty Observation Deck. Head up to this observation area where you can sip coffee, play a few games and watch the sun set over the city. Sadly, there is no outdoor viewing platform, but you can still get the best lay of the land the city has to offer.
Take a Bite Out of Old City
While many colonial sites are in Old City (Elfreth’s Alley is a must!), the art scene is another reason to head to this part of town. And if you have kids, or you love ice cream, you need to go to Franklin Fountain. Old City hosts First Friday each month, which is when galleries throw open their doors to show off their new exhibits and shows. Take advantage of this time to see some new art, enjoy a little wine and cheese and mingle with the local arts crowd.
Chicken and Waffles
Philadelphia food is always a good reason to visit the city. If you think you can only get decent chicken and waffles in the south, you haven’t explored Philadelphia’s neighborhoods. Brunch is an art form, and this food craze was not forgotten. Fishtown and Northern Liberties have their cult followings, but I will always go for North Third for my brunch fix when in town. Their Maple-Tabasco Chicken and Waffles is a savory and sweet powerhouse. Oh, and my kids are welcome at this bar anytime for breakfast. It’s a particularly great place to head to brunch when another popular brunch spot in the neighborhood, Honey’s, is crowded with much longer wait times.
Walk Through a Giant Heart
Growing up, most Philadelphia public school kids knew exactly where to walk through an open heart. The Franklin Institute had a life size human heart you could wander through, and no kid ever missed the chance to do just that on a field trip. This is just the beginning of what this science museum has to offer visitors when they walk through the historic halls.
Not to be outdone, the Philadelphia Museum of Art always gets impressive exhibits each year, and of course you will need to do your Rocky Balboa run up those famous steps. The Barnes Foundation, which was moved a few years back despite much controversy, is now on the parkway and more accessible to visitors in its new space. Check museum websites for discount and free or “pay what you like” days, making visits much more affordable for visitors and families.
Kiss a Hippo
Not too long ago, no one really wanted to go to Camden, NJ. Low and behold, families and aquarium lovers are crossing the Delaware River to see local fish life, and a few aquatic visitors, including some hippo friends we just can’t get enough of. Drive over or take the ferry from Philadelphia for a morning of fun at the Adventure Aquarium. The Philadelphia Zoo, America’s First Zoo, is also worth a visit, if you want a few creature encounters.
And now for that cheesesteak debate. First of all, it is never called a “sandwich.” Mayo should also go nowhere near it. Second, Pat’s and Gino’s are for tourists. Go to Jim’s on South if you want to go where the locals go. Of course, every local has his or her favorite spot. The never-ending debate in the city is where to get the best cheesesteak. Everyone has their favorite shop, and it’s usually a neighborhood joint. You’ll have to do your own research and let me know which spot you love. All I can say is, don’t follow the crowds or the usual travel write ups when it comes to your Philly cheesesteak. Ask your hotel bellhop, shop keepers and coffee shop baristas where they go. I guarantee you no one will tell you the two you have already heard about.
Keryn Means is an official Travelocity Gnational Gnomad. Gnational Gnomads is an exclusive group of high-profile travel and lifestyle experts who offer tips and inspiration on behalf of Travelocity. For more information on the Travelocity Gnomads, visit travelocitygnomads.com.
Travelocity compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site; such compensation may include travel and other costs.