The true underdog of the northeast, Philadelphia is often overshadowed by NYC, DC, and Boston when it comes to travel and tourism. Full disclosure, I had no idea that Philadelphia was much more that the Liberty Bell and South Street (two huge tourist traps). That was until I moved there and got a taste of all of the real gems the city has to offer. Consider this your insider’s guide to the most noteworthy in culture, food, and history in the City of Brotherly Love.
Philadelphia Planning Guide
- Where to stay: Hotel Palomar
- Flight details: Fly into Philadelphia International Airport (PHL)
- Time of year visited: Summer
- Time in Philadelphia: I live here! But this itinerary can be done in about 3 days.
Save this map to use on your Philadelphia trip:
- Click the star to the right of the map title
- Open the Google Maps app on your smartphone
- Click on the three lines in the upper left corner and select “Your Places”
- Select “Maps” and the map will be saved there for you to use on your trip. Have fun!
Favorite Moments in Philadelphia
The Great Outdoors
Philadelphia is already well-known for its historical significance in America’s revolution. But one of my favorite things about the city is so many of its most charming historical places are outdoors. Conveniently, they are all readily available for you to wander through at your leisure!
Philadelphia Outdoor History
Elfreth’s Alley is the oldest continuously inhabited street in the country (since the early 1700s), and one of my favorites. The façades of the homes here (still inhabited today!) all retain their historical significance. Not to mention, they make for some gorgeous photos!
There are additional hidden pieces of history within these walls if you have a keen eye. Look towards the upper floors on some of the homes, and you’ll see plaques featuring hands or a tree. These plaques represent some of the first fire insurance companies in the nation. According to rumor, if you weren’t a friend of the fire company (in the financial sense), then the volunteers let your home burn to the ground (ouch!).
Next, move to the back left side of the alley. A shaded walkway called Bladen’s Court is tucked away here. With its circular courtyard and old water pump, the court transports you even further back in time. Notably, two homes here were originally inhabited by brothers who chose opposite sides during the Revolutionary War. In fact, one of them was hanged for his collaboration with the British. Talk about family drama!
In the same manner, continue your amble around Old City and Society Hill, the two primarily historical neighborhoods in the city. This area includes the Independence National Historical Park. Well-known historical attractions like the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall are found here. While walking, make sure to look up, down, and all around. Thus, you’ll find one of my favorite discoveries on this walk—the markers on the sidewalk on Market Street between 5th and 6th. These markers denote the residents of the homes that were there. All of these men of diverse backgrounds, incomes, and occupations lived here side by side. As you can imagine, this was uniquely American back in 1787.
Finally, make sure to check out these great spots along your walk: First, B. Free Franklin Post Office & Museum is the only Colonial-themed post office in the country operated by the United States Postal Service. Christ Church once hosted a star-studded cast of worshipers including Ben Franklin, Betsy Ross, and GW himself. The lovely gardens here are the burial grounds for seven signers of the Declaration of Independence. Next, Betsy Ross House is where you can see the original American flag. Don’t miss the curious cat fountain in the courtyard. Finally, check out Arch Street Friends Meeting House. This Quaker meeting house is still in operation today. Their ideals of the absolute right of conscience, the equality of man, and nonviolence, and the people are SO kind!
Philadelphia Outdoor Walks/Hikes
Conversely, if history isn’t your thing, no worries! Philadelphia is flanked by two rivers, and each has its own lovely walking path. Philadelphia is also home to one of the largest urban green spaces in the country, Fairmount Park. The park has more than 9,200 acres of rolling hills, gentle trails, relaxing waterfront, and shaded woodlands. The Forbidden Drive Trail in the Wissahickon section of the park is my favorite. The trail boasts both hilly and flat areas, a river, bridges, and a marble statue of Native American chief Tedyuscung. This statue pays homage to the original inhabitants of the Philadelphia region, the Lenape tribe. On top of that, the amazing Shofuso Japanese House and Garden is also in the park. Here, you can explore a beautiful 17th century Japanese tea house that was built in Japan.
While you can see all of the historical sites from the outside any time of the day or night, make sure to check the hours to get inside, especially the Christ Church gardens. Things tend to close earlier in Philadelphia than in other nearby big cities. Additionally, the historical sites and trails are extremely crowded on summer weekends. So make sure to visit on weekdays off season to have them to yourself.
A Foodie’s Paradise
My favorite thing about the Philadelphia food scene? You can always get a table at the best/newest restaurants. Unlike some other big cities where you have to wait months to get into the most popular spots, there’s something refreshingly unpretentious about Philly restaurants. Plus, the food here is ridiculously delicious and diverse!
The Philadelphia dining scene makes me feel like I’m in Europe, with its authentic dishes and dreamy outdoor cafés. My absolute, hands-down favorite is Gran Caffé L’Aquila, which will transport you straight to Italy. The downstairs has an adorable sidewalk gelato shop and bar with coffee, cocktails, and their full menu. The gelato and coffee makers are both from Italy, so their product is top notch. Upstairs, the specials menu changes weekly to highlight foods from different Italian regions—including imported cheeses. My favorite dishes are the spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with clams) and the gelato flight—a sample five of their top flavors. Most noteworthy, pieces of the building were even brought over from Italy.
Second, Parc, aka the next best thing to Paris, is amazing. This beautiful Parisian-chic bistro is a top spot for people-watching on the enchanting sidewalk seating facing Rittenhouse Park. If the weather isn’t nice, the bar offers an equal opportunity to be whisked away to the ambiance of France. The chicken paillard salade is a personal favorite of mine. And don’t miss the beer floats made with Lindemans Framboise and house-made ice cream.
As mentioned, it’s usually pretty simple to get a table at either of these places. But make a reservation to be safe, especially if you want to sit outside.
Continuing with the alfresco theme, Philadelphia has the most amazing outdoor mural arts program. The program started to help channel the graffiti culture into something valuable and appreciated by the whole city. The works of art completed over the last 30 years are not only beautiful, but they also often hold some kind of symbolism for the artist. Take the Mural Mile walking tour, which goes through Philadelphia’s downtown.
Additionally, there’s a fascinating immersive outdoor art installation called the Magic Gardens. Here you’ll see nontraditional materials such as folk art statues, found objects, bicycle wheels, colorful glass bottles, hand-made tiles, and thousands of glittering mirrors. They are all fashioned into a maze that’s something out of Alice in Wonderland.
For indoor art experiences, you can’t beat the iconic Philadelphia Museum of Art. I absolutely love the Cloister with Elements from the Abbey of Saint-Genis-des-Fontaines, which is from medieval France. The Barnes Foundation is right down the street and a must-see for art lovers. The once private collection includes some of the most amazing examples of impressionist paintings. Coincidentally, this is my personal favorite art genre and one of the few I actually enjoy (in case you haven’t seen my rants about modern art 😉).