I was expecting to enjoy some of the history of Philadelphia and maybe a cheesesteak or two. But the city completely took me by surprise by how wonderful it was. From old stone streets to a booming foodie scene you definitely need to add Philly to your list of places to travel.
When we discussed going on this trip my partner started joking about how he wanted to steal the Declaration of Independence and the National Treasure jokes kept coming throughout the trip. But jokes aside it was such an interesting part of the trip. We got a good quick hit of American history that was an excellent precursor for the rest of the trip.
Also we got told all of this history by an actual Park Ranger… she had the same uniform as Yogi Bear, which was a thrill for this Canadian.
You can’t actually take any pictures of the Declaration of Independence but you can see one of the first copies and here about the first ever place of American government.
Don’t worry… the National Treasure jokes continued here. You can’t touch the bell but you can get really close to it. It sits on a National Park in a museum that is filled with history and other interesting information you’ll want to take in rather than just rushing to the bell.
Also right across the street is an amazing coffee shop called La Colombe that you’ll see throughout the rest of Philly. It’s a local favourite for sure.
Christ Church Burial Ground
This might confuse you if you’ve been to Boston since there’s a big “FRANKLIN” gave there. But Benjamin Franklin is actually buried in Philadelphia… just down the street from Independence Hall. There are lots of other famous graves worth visiting. You have to pay $5 to get in but then you can take a free tour of grab a map and walk yourself around. Don’t forget to leave a penny on Franklin’s grave.
Reading Terminal Market
The best place to grab lunch. It’s packed with every type of food you could imagine. Cheesesteaks are of course a favourite here, but you’ll want to save that for later. Instead check out the amazing chinese food or duck or southern buffet. I also picked up some old fashion candy, a soft pretzel and a lemonade.
Betsy Ross’s House
The original creator of the American flag. You can walk around the grounds of her old home, see the flags and her grave for free. It’s quite a bit of money to tour the old house so we didn’t go in but I think you can get a lot without even bothering.
The oldest residential street in the US. People still live here and homes go for around $750,000. Which, considering I live in Toronto seems way cheap. I imagine there are a lot of rules involved about what you can and can’t do. But I guess puppies are allowed.
Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens were created by a husband and wife artist duo who started it out to keep the neighbourhood alive and from being demoed. But then it grew and grew, now every inch is covered in mosaics and art. It is breathtaking and worth spending 30 minutes or so walking around in. No food or drink allowed and you have to walk around with your backpack on your front so you don’t accidentally smack anything.
Geno’s and Pat’s are known as the best cheesesteaks in Philly. Both are a bit of a trek outside of the core but if you are feeling up to walking I highly recommend it. You’ll wander through all sorts of Latin American and Asian neighbourhoods with foods and shops that are seeped in cultured. So we decided to get one from each place and rate which one was best.
We ordered the same at both cheesesteak – cheese whiz with onions. Both places are cash only and you order drinks and fries at other windows. Be prepared with all this knowledge because they won’t tolerate slow learners.
I love ice cream, especially on a hot day. We hiked down to Franklin fountain and braved the line (out the door and around the corner but we were through in less than 15 minutes) to get a classic ice cream sundae and a root beer float. It was a tough choice though and I’d had back in a heartbeat, even if only for the cash register that gives a new inspirational Ben Franklin quote with every order.
Next door is a candy store out of time. It has all of the old fashion favourites and then some. I ended up picking up a few items including a lemon stick that they ask you if you want half a lemon with.
Without a doubt the most beautiful city hall I’ve ever seen. It was so large and grandiose you’ll notice I couldn’t exactly fit in the picture. The front has food and a public space including a gorgeous fountain that acts as a splash pad for kids looking to cool down. Or at night an amazingly romantic path to walk through while everything is lit up – make sure you know where you’re going though or you’ll get stuck.
The building itself is so massive it has a courtyard within it filled with amazing carvings. Then you can look up and see staircases for miles. It’s a must see. It took my breath away.
The streets leading from the city hall up to the art gallery are incredibly wide and european. With two parks either side, you can walk up among trees and flags before arriving at even larger parks and then finally the art gallery. There are also memorials and statues along the way.
Once you reach the museum you’ll probably see a line to take a picture with the Rocky Statue. Then if you are brave enough to run up the large steps there’s often someone playing the theme song on a trumpet for money. Be sure to drop some in their case.
Then stop at the top and take in the view.
Philadelphia Art Gallery
The art gallery itself is beautiful and has such interesting exhibits. We were running short of time so we skipped it but we’ll be sure to go back next time. Take in the view of the rest of the city while you’re up there. It’s worth it.
Green Eggs Cafe
A local favourite, there are three locations across the city. It specializes in different types of french toast, specifically the stuffed kind. My partner had the cookie dough version and I had the pecan pie. Be warned though, they are American portions so it is way more than enough food.
If you want more recommendations or an idea of where everything is – check out the interactive map before you can upload easily to your phone.
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