Even though Philadelphia is just about an hour and twenty minute train ride away from where I live in New York City, I had never spent much time in Philadelphia, which is perhaps best known for the Liberty Bell and its association with the Rocky movies franchise (which were shot on the steps of the famous Philadelphia Museum of Art). But there is actually so much to do and see (and eat) that it can be challenging figuring out where to begin. During my three day trip to Philly, the town oft-referred as the “City of Brotherly Love,” I found myself overwhelmed with amazing choices of things to do and see. After experiencing so many wonderful things I have compiled a list of the top ten places to visit and some of the Best Philadelphia events that make a visit worth it alone!
1. Independence Hall
Historical attractions abound in Philadelphia. There are so many in fact that history buffs may feel like their heads are going to explode. Independence Hall is where the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence. Pretty cool, right? You can take a guided tour and learn about the document that laid the foundation for the United States Constitution. I highly recommend getting here early in the morning as tickets for the whole day can sell out by lunchtime. 520 Chestnut Street, (215) 965-2305
2. Barnes Foundation
The Barnes Foundation is home to the legendary Dr. Albert Barnes’ astounding art collection including 181 Renoirs (the largest collection in the world), 69 Cezannes (more than all of France has!) 59 works by Matisse, along with plenty of pieces by Degas, Seurat, Prendergrast and Picasso. The bulk of the collection features post-impressionist works, which are arranged in the unique setup alongside unique objects and older artwork like African sculpture and antique trinkets to display the similarities and stark differences. The Barnes Foundation is wrought with scandal actually, there’s even a documentary about it called The Art of the Steal. Be sure to make a reservation well in advance of your visit to avoid long lines or being sold out altogether. 2025 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, (215) 278-7000.
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3. Philadelphia Museum of Art & “Rocky Steps”
No one will ever forget the Philadelphia Museum of Art since it was immortalized into our hearts in the unforgettable Rocky film franchise. Remember? It’s the final segment in Stallone’s epic training scene as he runs up those seemingly never-ending stairs. So, you pretty much have to run them, throw your arms up in triumph at the top and then of course stay to experience one of the largest art museums in America. The Philadelphia Art Museum is home to an extraordinary collection that spans more than 2,000 years worth of priceless collections of everything from Impressionism to textiles to armor. Oh and the Rodin Museum (one of the largest collections outside of Paris, including the Thinker!) and the Perelman Building are part of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. 2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, (215) 763-8100.
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4. Reading Terminal Market
Reading Terminal Market is an indoor foodie playground that will make your mouth water the moment you step through the door. They sell every delicacy from every heritage you can think of. Dumplings, noodles, deli sandwiches, cheesesteaks, gourmet grilled cheese, burgers, you name it. You can also pick up local produce, meats and artisanal cheeses–and don’t even get me started on the desserts! They have everything from the world’s best chocolate chip cookie to my personal favorite donut I have ever tasted. You can read more about Philly’s best restaurants and food you must try.
5. Boathouse Row
Boathouse Row is a row of incredibly charming houses along the Schuylkill River and a National Historic Landmark. They’re named because of the association they have with the boat clubs that occupy them (many of which have produced Olympic champions). They make for an excellent photo opp–especially at night when they are all lit up and their lights reflect off of the river. #4 Kelly Drive.
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6. Elfreth’s Alley
This tiny alley is known as the nation’s oldest residential street, dating all the way back to 1702. This Alley preserves three centuries of history, which can be seen in its old-fashioned architectural details. There is also a museum that’s open during the summer where you can discover everything that used to go on three centuries ago–you’ll also see how tiny these homes are by modern standards.
7. Mural Arts
Before I came to Philadelphia, I heard that it had an impressive amount of public art on the streets. I couldn’t have imagined what the city had in store though there really are sculptures, installations and murals everywhere you turn. I learned during my stay that in an effort to eradicate graffiti a while back, that the Mural Arts Program was created to cover the walls of Philadelphia in stunning murals. Today there are nearly 4,000 murals around the city. Visitors can take tours and hear the stories behind the different murals. Since we were in town on Valentine’s Day, we did a special tour that took us through the city to learn about Steve Power’s murals are inspired by an imaginary story of a woman being wooed by a potential suitor on her commute to work on the train. You can see each of the murals as you whiz by.
Each mural is inspired by its surroundings and/or the building that it adorns. It was true fabulosity–and so romantic! It warmed my heart even in the freezing cold! And the guides are super knowledgeable about the city and give plenty of trivia about buildings/historical sites you pass along the way during your tour. Along our walk (and I think many of them) we saw City Hall, which is the largest municipal building in the country. You can hit up its observation deck for sweeping views of the city. Definitely worth checking out.
8. The Franklin Institute
Benjamin Franklin is Philly’s favorite founding father and The Franklin Institute is one of the most famous museums in the city. You can explore interactive displays about everything from the brain to immersive exhibitions like the iconic Giant Heart. There’s also a planetarium with several different shows each day. It’s Philly’s most-visited museum for a reason, y’all. Prepare for long, long, long lines if you don’t buy tickets ahead of time. We went here and loved it but be aware that it’s definitely a very popular family destination. I also recommend a visit to where Benjamin Franklin is buried at Christ Church Burial Ground.
9. Eastern State Penitentiary
The Eastern State Penitentiary is one of the most famous prisons in the world thanks to mobsters like Al Capone and Willie Sutton who served time here. Visitors can come take daytime tours of the cellblocks, solitary punishment cells and of course Al Capone’s former cell. The surroundings are haunting and crumbling and all around bad ass. It is one of the five places Charles Dickens insisted on visiting when he came to Philly.
10. The Liberty Bell
The Liberty Bell is arguably the most famous landmark in Philadelphia and definitely on our list of must-see attractions on your trip. The bell was originally meant to adorn the State House. It was used to call the Pennsylvania Assembly to meetings and soon became seen as a symbol of liberty by civil right activists and other protesters. When you visit the Liberty Bell, you’ll learn all kinds of fun facts like the word “Pensylvania” is mispelled on the Liberty Bell–it’s missing another N. I also learned that it was cracked on its first use. 526 Market Street, (215) 965-2305
BONUS: Capture Your Memories
My favorite souvenir from any vacation are the photos I take. But now that I’m a professional traveler I was tired of blurry selfies, double chins and cut off landmarks. Plus, the pressure of making sure you get a few good shots stresses me out. Asking strangers, balancing my camera on ledges, contemplating a selfie stick just really wasn’t working for me anymore. Enter Flytographer. It’s a super service that connects you with a photographer in your travel destination. If you’re a regular reader of mine, you’ve definitely heard me mention them. They take care of all the details, give you shoot recommendations and take professional, photojournalistic-style vacation photos of you and your travel companions–friends, family, dog? I use them for all my vacation photos now–they have talented photographers in over 130 cities–even as far as Cape Town! Our shoot in Philadelphia was complimentary–being such loyal customers we were tasked with the most fun assignment–trying out their new photographers who I must say did a fantastic job capturing my perfect Valentine’s Day getaway in Philly. To book your shoot visit Flytographer online.
Philly Events Worth Traveling for
Ohh and don’t forget that Philly hosts some of the best events in the Northeast. Forever, I’ve been wanting to make it to the Mummer’s Parade. This New Year’s Day tradition dates back to 1901 and is like Mardi Gras. People plan their costumes all year and compete for who wore it best! There’s also the PHS Philadelphia Flower Show every March. It’s actually the largest flower show in the United States and has been going on for almost 200 years! Even non-gardening enthusiasts will be blown away by the magnificent landscape of flowers and plants.
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Fairmount Park (the iconic Love sculpture is here) and the Magic Garden of Philadelphia are best saved for warmer weather. But we will be back!
Best Restaurants in Philadelphia
And while you’re in town, check out our top picks for the best restaurants Philadelphia has to offer.
Where to Stay in Philadelphia
And don’t forget to check out our favorite hotel in Philadelphia, the Kimpton’s Hotel Monaco.
*Disclosure* I received free museum admission as well as a complimentary photo shoot for review purposes. However, I did not receive any other compensation for this post and I paid for transportation costs on my own. You can’t buy the love here, people!