Philadelphia: a star of past and present
Philadelphia is a city where past and present collide. Its walkable downtown makes it easy for visitors to see some of the most important historic landmarks in the US, all while experiencing life like a local. Visitors can sip pints in a colonial-era pubs, eat like the Founding Fathers in atmospheric taverns, indulge in some tax-free shopping, see some world-class street murals or take in some edgy art installations -- all in a single afternoon.
The city is moving from strength to strength with huge programme of events for 2020 and beyond. Check out our rundown of the top things to do and see below.
The city's monuments and cobblestone streets tell the story of America
Founded in the 1600s, Philadelphia is one of the oldest cities in America, and has borne witness to many of the most important events in the founding of the U.S. You've probably heard of the cracked Liberty Bell, which once rang out from the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Independence Hall to celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence -- and plenty lies beyond the city's legendary symbol of freedom.
History lovers will revel in simply wandering the Old City, which is peppered with blue plaques calling out the country's oldest houses, gardens and taverns. You'll find yourself immersed in another era without even trying -- indulge in the excellent local beer on a crawl around the city's colonial period pubs, or eat like the Founding Fathers in the carefully reconstructed City Tavern. We recommend visiting Elfreth's Alley, which is the oldest residential street in the USA. The brick townhouses with cherry-red shutters are especially beautiful in the autumn months.
Philadelphia has some of the most established museums, galleries and theatres in the whole country
Philadelphia's arts and culture scene is one of the best-established in the United States. The country's oldest gallery (Pennsylvania Museum of the Fine Arts), oldest theatre (Walnut Street Theatre) and oldest opera house (Academy of Music) can all be found within a 15-minute walk of each other. The Benjamin Franklin Parkway, dubbed "Museum Mile", has some of the finest arts institutions in the country, such as the Barnes Foundation and Philadelphia Museum of Art.
These ground-breaking establishments remain impressively innovative to this day -- this year, the Philadelphia Museum of Art is will complete a dramatic renovation adding 23,000 square feet of new gallery space, and the Please Touch Museum will debut a scale model of the original 1889 Centennial exposition. A brand-new experiential gallery, Wonderspaces, opened in January, 2020, at Fashion District Philadelphia, which has 24,000 square feet of interactive art from 16 different artists, including two immersive virtual-reality exhibitions.
Philadelphia also has the nation's largest public art programme, first established by artists in the 1800s to transform the city into a museum without walls. Thousands of sculptures and murals are scattered around the city thanks to the Mural Arts Philadelphia group, and can be toured with a guide or indepdently. One of the most popular tours takes you to Steve Powers' "A Love Letter for You" installation, a series of rooftop murals best seen on the elevated subway train in West Philadelphia.
The innovative food and drink scene in Philadelphia goes well beyond hoagies and cheesesteak
Philadelphians sure know how to eat well. There are over 1500 bars and restaurants in Philadelphia's Center City, as well as diverse and eclectic neighbourhoods each renowned for their signature dishes. South Philadelphia is known for its Italian cusiine: the historically Italian neighbourhood is crammed with family-run trattorias and authentic red-gravy spots, and has some of the best pizza you can find outside Italy.
The local love for microbrewing dates back to the early 1700s, when William Penn praised the tipple that locals made from pine and molasses. Nowadays, many local establishments serve an impressive array of craft beer far cheaper than London or New York.
On your quest to sample the best local flavours, we recommend stopping by Reading Terminal Market, one of America’s largest and oldest public markets. This vast bazaar is your one-stop-shop for locally owned, family-run food: you'll get your fill of cheesesteaks and pretzels amid a smorgasboard of gourmet international cuisine, artisanal produce and Pennsylvania Dutch specialties.
You'll find quirky artisan products in an eclectic array of independent boutiques
Philadelphia has 1.6 million inhabitants, but plenty of its neighbourhoods maintain a small-town vibe. A city of makers and doers, it enjoys a huge array of traditional Amish farm shops, hip independent boutiques and artisan markets, selling everything from farm-fresh dairy to handmade American quilts.
Importantly, Philadelphia offers tax-free shopping on clothes and shoes, so it is well worth spending a few days hopping between local retailers and department stores. There are plenty of small boutiques perfect for picking up one-of-a-kind gifts, and the glitzy Rittenhouse Row has an impressive array haute-couture boutiques and chic designer stores. Century 21 in Fashino District Philadelphia has huge discounts on designer labels, South Fellini is the go-to place for quirky Philadelphia-themed gear, and The Sable Collective has a wonderful selection of locally-sourced, female-owned clothing, jewellery and houseware brands.
You can stay in Philadelphia for days, or pair it with a trip to the countryside
With non-stop flights from many locations, Philadelphia is easy to get to, affordable, and has plenty to do and see. Philadelphia's central, East Coat location also makes it the perfect gateway for discovering the surrounding countryside, including Amish Country and Gettysburg. If you'd like to pair it with another city, you can also reach New York (around 90 minutes' drive) or Washington, DC (around two hours' drive). If you're feeling adventurous, you could catch a Bolt bus between the cities for as little as $1.