Philadelphia is an amazing city with a bad reputation. West Philadelphia is never going to live down its appearance in the Fresh Prince’s rap, and the city of brotherly love isn’t so brotherly when it comes to hitchhiking robots. Despite its flaws, it’s a great place to visit with a ton of history. Here are the best things to do in Philadelphia, and reasons why the city should be on your USA bucket list.
What is Philadelphia Famous For?
Philadelphia is most famous for its cheesesteaks (I mean come on, the food is named after the city! Who can resist a Philly cheesesteak sandwich when they are in Philadelphia?), Rocky, and of course, the American Revolution.
The city’s biggest claim to fame is obviously its history. Philadelphia is the site of the first constitutional congress, the place where revolutionaries met to write and sign the Constitution of the United States. Obviously, seeing this location is one of the best things to do in Philadelphia, and it’s also one of the best things to do in the whole state of Pennsylvania!
The Best Things to do in Philadelphia
Here are the best things to do in Philadelphia. This list showcases the most famous historical locations, the best museums the city has to offer, and of course, the best things to eat in Philadelphia.
The first place on your Philadelphia bucket list needs to be Independence Park. This is a 55-acre area owned and protected by the National Park Service, fully known as Independence National Historic Park.
The Park is the birthplace of American democracy and the constitution. Nestled between Chestnut and Walnut streets, this tiny area is known as the most historic mile in America. It contains Franklin Court, home to the Benjamin Franklin Museum and the United States Postal Service Museum, and Independence Mall, which houses the National Constitution Center and Independence Visitor Center.
The Liberty Bell
One of the most iconic things to see in Independence Park is the Liberty Bell. The bell would sound in the early days of our country to let members of congress know it was time to meet. It also served as a notification for townspeople to gather to hear the news.
The crack in the bell adds to its character. It’s been cracked most of its life, but that didn’t stop it from ringing, or from becoming an iconic symbol of freedom.
Independence Hall is where both the constitution and the Declaration of Independence were written. There isn’t a building full of more United States History than Independence Hall. Filled with artifacts from the early days of the Republic, the hall is now a museum of the revolution. Its walls are home to the inkstand that held the pen which signed the constitution and George Washington’s rising sun chair.
Tours are available through Independence Hall daily from 9-5. Visitors can only access the hall with a guided tour, and it’s best to get tickets for a pre-determined time in advance. Tickets only cost $1 per person.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art
If you are a fan of art, the Philadelphia Art Museum needs to be on your list. While small, the museum is home to a wonderful collection of impressionist art, and you can find works by some of the most famous painters throughout history on its walls.
The best part of the museum, in my opinion, is the third floor. Although I love the paintings on the floors beneath, there’s something magical about the real medieval doorways that Philadelphia imported and installed for this collection. You can see the spectacular design work of masons from the Middle Ages, and feel good about the fact that these gorgeous works are protected.
The Rocky Statue and Rocky Stairs
There’s another reason to visit the Philadelphia Art Museum, even if art isn’t your thing. The museum stairs are iconic in and of themselves!
This is where Rocky Balboa finished his training montage in the iconic film Rocky. Everyone remembers the scene where Rocky ran up the stairs to the epic cords of “Eye of the Tiger”, and yes, those very stairs are outside of the Philadelphia Art Museum.
There is also a bronze statue of The Italian Stallion in the garden next to the stairs. Visit the museum to run up the stairs and grab a photo with the legend himself!
Eastern State Penitentiary
Eastern State Penitentiary is an old prison that has been turned into a visitor center. Built in the 1800s and operational through the middle of the 1900s, this prison has seen a lot. It was even home to some infamous players of the early 20th century – Al Capone had a cell there for a short time.
The prison shut down in the 1970s and remained destitute for nearly 20 years. It was reopened in 1994 to the public, but the infrastructure was not repaired. Some parts of the prison are falling apart, which adds a macabre feeling to an already morbid destination.
The prison doesn’t shy away from its unfortunate history. It uses the horrible way prisoners were (and still are) treated as a teaching tool to showcase the humanity that criminals still have and to make a statement about the way we treat people.
The Magic Gardens
Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens is a home filled with mosaics. Magic Gardens started as the home of Artist Isaiah Zager, who created majestic mosaic masterpieces with common, everyday items. Tiles, bottles, mirrors, bicycle parts, and more can be seen as pieces of his work.
The garden itself is the best place to see the majority of his works, but a stroll through the South Street neighborhood will give you a preview of what you can find inside. There are murals on random walls and alleyways throughout the neighborhood.
Eat an Authentic Cheesesteak
One thing you must do when you are visiting Philadelphia is indulge in an authentic Philly Cheesesteak sandwich. This culinary masterpiece is made from shaved ribeye sauteed with onions and bell peppers served on a soft hoagie roll.
The title of the “Best Cheesesteak” is hotly contested. There are a ton of options all over the city, and each one boasts that it’s the best. Ultimately, each person must judge for themselves which they prefer.
The Rodin Garden
A few blocks away from the Philadelphia Art Museum is a wondrous garden, filled with bronze cast sculptures from one of the most famous sculptors of all time – Auguste Rodin.
The Rodin Museum in Philadelphia has one of the best collections of Rodin casts in the country, all in a glorious outdoor garden. The star of the show is one of the most iconic sculptures in the world. Known as “Thinker”, this is the sculpture of the man with his head laying on his fist, seemingly lost in thought. This sculpture is located right outside the main gate of the museum, so you don’t actually need a ticket to see it.
However, the museum has numerous other statues inside and is well worth the visit. Tickets to the garden are included with a ticket to the art museum.
It’s important to note that Rodin was famous for his casts, not necessarily his sculptures. This meant that he was able to make more than one of many of his most important works because the casts were the same. The original Thinker is in the Rodin Museum in Paris, and there are reproductions of both him and Rodin’s other famous works in museums around the world.
The Barnes Foundation
The Barnes Foundation is an art museum and educational center in Downtown Philadelphia. Located next door to the Rodin Garden, the Barnes foundation helps secure Philadelphia’s place as an art city.
The Barnes Foundation has one of the best collections of impressionist and post-impressionist art in the country. It has numerous works by famed painters such as Cezanne, Matisse, Picasso and Renoir in addition to vast collections of Native American art. It’s a must-stop gallery for anyone interested in art history.
The Franklin Institute
The Franklin Institute is a science museum, aptly named after one of America’s most famed scientists, inventors, and statesmen who called Philadelphia home. This interactive museum is filled with exhibits on the human body, machines, and electricity.
The Franklin Institute also features a planetarium and a vast exhibit on space exploration. It’s the best place to go in Philadelphia to learn about science, technology, and the intersectionality of globalism.
Although Philadelphia isn’t renowned for its Chinatown the way New York and San Francisco are, it’s a great place to check out for any tourist visiting the city. Philadelphia’s Chinatown is a four-square block area of Chinese restaurants and marketplaces.
Dim Sum Garden, located on Race Street, is one of the best Dim Sum restaurants I’ve ever experienced. With a huge variety of dumplings and dumpling soups, there’s something for every palette here. Chinatown is also a great place to find reasonably priced parking in the city.
Travelers interested in the luxurious aspects of Philadelphia need to head to Rittenhouse Square. Located in the city center, near the most expensive neighborhood in the city, this square is a gorgeous enclave of sculptures and manicured lawns. It’s a great place for a quick respite from walking around the city.
The location of Rittenhouse Square adds to its magic. As it’s squarely in one of the most glamourous areas of the city, tourists can find high-end shops and dining nearby. It’s also near the Rittenhouse hotel and conference center, one of the most luxurious hotels in the city.
Visit the Reading Terminal Market
Reading Terminal Market is one of the largest and oldest public marketplaces in the country. Operating since 1893, this market is the go-to place for fresh produce, locally sourced meats and cheeses, and exotic spices.
In addition to offering goods for you to take home and prepare, the market is home to many food vendors and restaurants. Is the best Philly Cheesesteak at By George in the Reading Terminal Market? Check it out and find out!
The Edgar Allan Poe House
The most famous American poet, Edgar Allan Poe, spend many of his best years in Philadelphia. Although a Baltimore native with additional landmarks in New York City, the Philadelphia Poe house is where he lived when he published his best and most influential works.
The Poe house in Philadelphia is now a small museum dedicated to the famed poet. Although there’s not a lot of furniture in the house, visitors can admire the parlor and walk on the same hardwood floors that were present during Poe’s time.
The Betsy Ross House
The Betsy Ross House sits in Philadelphia’s Old City neighborhood right next to Independence National Historic Park. Betsy Ross is perhaps one of the most famous women of the revolutionary era, renowned for sewing the very first American flag.
The house became a museum in the late 1800s and is now dedicated not only to Betsy and the flag but also to the merchants and artisans of that era. The house is a great learning experience with videos of Betsy discussing her life and times.
The Mutter Museum, located on 22nd Street near Center City West, is one of Philadelphia’s unique museum attractions. As part of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, this museum is dedicated to the understanding of the human body.
This museum is home to a vast collection of unusual, interesting, and sometimes morbid specimens related to human anatomy. You can view slides of Albert Einstein’s brain, a vast assortment of human skulls, and a woman whose body encased itself in a soapy substance after death. The unique compilation is dedicated to understanding diseases and showcasing the history of medical intervention and diagnosis. It’s a fascinating stop for anyone interested in science as it relates to medical practice.
Love Park is one of the most Instagram-able locations in Philadelphia. Officially called John F. Kennedy Plaza, the park is now renowned mostly for its sculpture of the word “LOVE” by Robert Indiana.
The statue is not the only reason to visit the plaza. The park also offers gorgeous fountains, walking trails, and lush green areas that make it a wonderful summer oasis.
King of Prussia Mall
Those interested in shopping need to take a slight detour to Philadelphia’s suburbs and check out the mall at King of Prussia. This mall is one of the largest shopping centers on the East Coast. There are 450 stores and 2.9 million square feet of retail space.
The mall has most of the department stores you would expect, like Macy’s, Niemen Marcus, and Bloomingdales but also features over 30 restaurants and eateries. It’s a one-stop-shop for everything you might need.
Philadelphia Academy of Fine Art
The Philadelphia Academy of Fine Art is both an art school and a gallery. This was the first art academy established in the United States and boasts famous alumni such as Thomas Eakins and Marry Cassatt.
A plethora of works by early American artists are on display in the galleries of PAFA, but they also showcase works by their students and have a variety of traveling exhibits on display during the year. Seeing the amazing work of students on display inspires you to draw, paint, and create your own amazing works of art.
How Do I Spend a Day in Philadelphia?
There’s so much stuff to do in Philadelphia that it’s hard to decide what to choose if you only have one day in the city. The answer depends on what you are into.
If you’re a history buff, use the day to visit Independence Park. Visit the place where the constitution was signed, and see the iconic liberty bell. If you’re more into art, visit the mosaic house and the Rodin Field, where you can wander through the sculpture garden. If you have more time, visit the Philadelphia Museum of art. Foodies might want to explore the Reading Terminal Market and try to find the best cheesesteak in the city.
The options for spending a day in Philadelphia are endless! So pick the things to do in Philadelphia that speak to you, and have a great time exploring the city.
Traveling to Philadelphia
The easiest way to get to Philadelphia is by air. Philadelphia International Airport is the easiest option, as there are direct flights to the city via American airlines regularly from a variety of cities. The airport has a train station housed within, so you can easily transfer to the center of the city.
Driving to the city is also easy, as it’s right of the 95 freeway that connects the North East to the South. There are a plethora of bridges surrounding the city, as it’s nestled between two rivers (the Schuylkill River on the West, and the Delaware River on the East which separates the city of Philadelphia from its neighbor, Camden New Jersey) but navigating by car is fairly straightforward.
Don’t forget to travel safely. While Covid is still a concern, make sure you get tested prior to testing, and if you feel any symptoms during your trip, you can use wikifortravel to search and compare prices for Covid testing locations in Philadelphia.
Planning Your Trip
Plan your trip to Philadelphia today! Check out Booking.com for the best deals on hotels and Scott’s Cheap flights for the best in airfare, then head to CityPass to get great deals on all the attractions in Philadelphia!
This article first appeared on Partners in Fire.