Once upon a time, the main draw surrounding the best things to do in Philadelphia had lots to do with Revolutionary War history. Although that’s still a great reason to visit town, exciting new urban development projects, restaurant and bar openings and a burgeoning community of innovators, artists and chefs have made this Pennsylvania city much more than a twirl around the Liberty Bell.
There are oh-so-many things to do here: a revamped shopping and fashion district has found its footing at Market East, whereas the boom of entertainment hotspots has taken over the Delaware River waterfront. Culinary fiends will undoubtedly appreciate the local food scene, which has been nabbing international buzz—and then some (we’ve got the best Philly cheesesteaks right here).
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Things to do in Philadelphia
No city in the country comes close to Philly when it comes to Revolution-era history. We’ve got Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were hotly debated and signed, there’s the Liberty Bell in all its cracked-up-the-side glory, which rang in 1776 to alert citizens to the first public reading of the Declaration. Dive deeper into the fight for independence at the Museum of the American Revolution, which houses George Washington’s actual army tent, and learn all you need to know about the Constitution at the National Constitution Center. Not in the mood for museums? You can still get a feel for this city’s history with some ultra-passive endeavors, like visiting Benjamin Franklin’s grave at Christ Church Burial Ground or strolling down the oldest—and oh-so-adorable—Elfreth’s Alley, the oldest continuously occupied street in America. It looks just like it did back in the 1700s, with cobblestone streets and tiny thatch-roofed houses, some of which you can go in and explore.
World-class art-perusing awaits those who step inside the hallowed halls of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, one of the largest art museums on the planet. You could spend an entire day cruising the vast collection of artworks from throughout the ages, which run the gamut from world-famous paintings and sculpture to medieval architecture, textiles and furniture. Among the masters on display are Picasso, Cézanne, Modigliani, Brancusi, Eakins, Kahlo and Duchamp. Pro tip: If the $20 admission price is too steep, you can score pay-what-you-wish admission on the first Sunday of each month or every Wednesday between 5 -8:45pm.
Reading Terminal (pronounced “Redding,” like Otis’s last name) is one of the oldest and largest urban markets in the country, and it’s a true wonderland for all the senses. There’s no shortage of local, delicious things to eat here—from cheesesteaks and ethnic foods to ice cream and tons of farm-fresh produce. The Amish markets—open every day except for Sundays—are a particularly worthwhile draw with their fresh-baked whoopie pies and pastries, cheese straight from the farm and a variety of canned pickled goodies. Beiler’s Donuts is a no-brainer stop for slap-your-granny-good donuts and Bassetts Ice Cream is the oldest ice cream company in America—and still amazing after all these years.
The Delaware River waterfront is in the midst of an exciting renaissance, with fun attractions popping up along the riverbanks nearly every couple of years. The latest is Cherry Street Pier, a long-abandoned pier that is now an artsy mixed-use space. The site is outfitted with food stalls and a bar, allowing folks the chance to have drinks and listen to live music while looking over the river. Weekends are especially bustling with a bazaar-like atmosphere. Food trucks line up out front and local farmers, artists and antique dealers set up tables to sell their goods. Next door, Race Street Pier is a slick urban green space that beckons park lovers with an expansive lawn, ample seating areas, dozens of shade trees and spectacular views of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge.
The Delaware River waterfront is abuzz all year thanks to a couple of attractions that bring food, drink and carnival-like fun to the river banks. Spruce Street Harbor Park and Blue Cross RiverRink Summerfest hold things down in the warmer months with an outdoor roller rink, a floating beer garden and hammocks hanging in twinkling light-strung trees so you can kick back and enjoy the festive scene. In the winter it’s all about Blue Cross RiverRInk Winterfest, with its open-air ice-skating rink, family-friendly games and a massive chalet decked out with cozy fireplaces and eateries cranking out rib-sticking grub and booze throughout the season.
Compared to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the smaller Barnes Foundation offers a more downscale art-browsing experience, but with every bit as much of a wow factor. The museum—a modern architectural marvel in itself—is home to one of the most renowned collections of French impressionist and post-impressionist paintings in the world. The galleries are lined with pieces by greats like Van Gogh, Picasso, Matisse and Rousseau. The destination also holds the largest collection of Renoirs in the world, at a whopping 181 pieces, in addition to 69 Cézannes, which is more than you’ll find in one place in all of France, the artist’s country of origin.
Lace up your sneaks or rent a bike for a blissed-out journey along the Schuylkill River Trail, a 26.5-mile urban park that extends from Center City all the way to Phoenixville. The trail meanders along the Schuylkill River, passing various works of public art and a slew of historic stone bridges towering over the water. During warmer months, you can catch outdoor movies, kayaking tours and even free yoga along the path. There’s also a skatepark, where you can watch local boarders perform tricks throughout the year—or bring your own wheels to try some of your own.
Newly renovated in 2019, the Benjamin Franklin Parkway is the city’s most picturesque boulevard, modeled after Paris’ Champs-Élysées and stretching grandly from City Hall to the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA). Along the way, notice stately fountains, lovely patches of green space and a collection of the city’s best museums, including the aforementioned Philadelphia Museum of Art and Barnes Foundation. The Franklin Institute satisfies science nerds with tons of hands-on gadgetry—and a giant, walk-through heart—and the Academy of Natural Sciences puts you face to face with massive replicas of dinosaurs and other prehistoric creepy crawlies.
Just to the northwest of City Hall, LOVE Park is home to one of the most iconic Philadelphia images: Robert Indiana’s vibrant LOVE sculpture. Snap a selfie in front of the artwork and then enjoy the park, which serves as an entrance to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. It was recently renovated to include more green space, comfortable seating and an understated water fountain. Food trucks usually line up on the outskirts of the park, but visitors will soon be able to check out a new restaurant on site by superstar Philly restaurateurs Marcie Turney and Valerie Safran. Called Loveluck, the eatery is slated to open in late 2019 in the UFO-looking Welcome Center located on the northeast corner of the park.
The toniest zip code in Philadelphia beckons travelers and locals alike with an array of stellar restaurants, happy hour spots and shopping galore. Hit Walnut Street, from Broad to 19th streets, for Philly’s closest thing to New York City’s 5th Avenue. The promenade is filled with shops to fit every budget, like Zara, Anthropologie, L'Occitane and awesome locally owned sneaker boutique Ubiq. Not in the mood to shop? Most people come here for the people-watching alone. Plop down on a bench in gorgeous Rittenhouse Square or nab an outdoor seat at French bistro Parc to ogle all the fashionable passersby.
You can’t come to Philadelphia without trying a cheesesteak sandwich and, lucky for you, your options here are nearly limitless. Trips to Pat’s and Geno’s, two of the most hyped-up gridders in the game, don’t disappoint with their bona fide South Philly authenticity. In other words, you don’t come here just to eat. Located at the intersection of 9th Street and Passyunk Avenue, “Cheesesteak Vegas” is decked out in so much pulsating neon signage that you could probably see it from space. Is it touristy? Hell yes. Will you get a decent sandwich? Sure, and maybe some good ol’ Philly smack talk to go with it.
If you can’t go to Philly without doing the Rocky experience, we’ve got a game plan just for you: start your day with a selfie at the Rocky Statue, at the base of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Then turn the corner and jog to the very top of the Rocky Steps, humming “Gonna Fly Now” along the way. Once at the top, turn around with your arms held high to take in an amazing view of Center City. In South Philly, head to the Italian Market, where you’ll recognize some of the authentic produce vendors and, when it’s cold, maybe even a burning barrel or two from Balboa’s epic run through the area in Rocky II. Finally, dinner is all about Victor Café, where several scenes from the Rocky spinoff Creed were filmed. A meal here is an experience in itself, with the waitstaff, all trained opera singers, serenading you with arias sporadically throughout the night.
Thanks to Mural Arts Philadelphia, this city is home to the world’s largest collection of outdoor public art. There are more than 4,000 official murals decorating the streets of Philadelphia, including HOW and NOSM’s Personal Melody in Midtown Village, and Legendary, the vibrant tribute to homegrown hip-hop group The Roots, at Broad and South streets. See these and more on a guided or self-guided Mural Arts Philadelphia tour. If you’re pushed for time, hop on the Market–Frankford subway line from 46th to 63rd Streets for an elevated view of Stephen “ESPO” Powers’s “A Love Letter for You,” a series of 50 murals painted on buildings throughout West Philly. The works, which include sweet sayings like, “Forever begins when you say yes” and “Open your eyes I see the sunrise,” are an urban love letter to the city.
You can’t miss this imaginative museum on South Street, with its facade—and even some surrounding buildings—plastered with bits of colored glass and shards, broken ceramics and even bicycle wheels. The experience continues inside, as you wind your way through mosaicked hallways and step into glistening courtyards. The labyrinthine museum is the product of the insanely creative mind of local artist Isaiah Zagar, who’s gone on to contribute hundreds of mosaics throughout South Philadelphia. See how many you can spot while you’re strolling around the area.
Breathtaking views draw big happy-hour crowds at this open-air bar that’s situated on the rooftop of a former high school in South Philly. Its position on the tippy-top of the enormous building affords guests sweeping, panoramic views of Philadelphia from the south—from the Delaware River and all its iconic bridges to West Philly. The Center City skyline juts up in the middle, looking particularly dazzling—and almost cinematic—in the evening. When you’re done ogling the scene, wander over to the bar for an extensive collection of beers, more than a dozen wines and even locally brewed kombucha. Middle Eastern-inspired grub, such as gyros, kebabs and falafel, is also up for grabs. Keep in mind that the Bok Bar is a seasonal affair, usually open during the warmer months from around May until the end of September.
Fishtown is the reigning “it” neighborhood in the City of Brotherly Love and is often, like other up-and-coming ’hoods around the globe, slapped with the moniker “the Brooklyn of Philadelphia.” The area is still rough around the edges but, today, the grittiness is interspersed with gleaming cafes, art galleries and some fancy new eateries, like Pizzeria Beddia, that are attracting all kinds of buzz. The easy access to public transportation makes it an ideal spot for tourists who want to see a different, more-neighborhoody side of Philadelphia. Get a room at the ultra-hip Wm. Mulherin’s Sons boutique hotel and start exploring. The neighborhood is home to the flagship location of La Colombe, several game-centric bars (Barcade, Garage and Frankford Hall, to name a few) and one the best indie-rock music venues in town, Johnny Brenda’s.
Dinner at modern Israeli eatery Zahav, widely regarded as the number one restaurant in town, is an experience in itself—especially if you and your dinner guests opt for the “tayim,” a smorgasbord of small plates that will give you a taste of all the wonderful flavors the restaurant is famous for. At $48 per person, the spread begins with a whirlwind of six daily vegetable salads and mouth-watering hummus. You also get to choose from two mezze, or small plates, one larger, grilled entrée and dessert. Just be sure to make plans months in advance. This is one of the hardest reservations to snag in town.
Housing roughly a million artifacts from across the globe, the Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (Penn Museum) is a veritable treasure trove of unfathomably old relics. For one thing, it boasts one of the finest Egyptian collections this side of the Atlantic, including a host of mummies and the museum’s pièce de résistance, a massive, 15-ton granite sphinx. Recent renovations also spotlight a renowned collection of Middle Eastern artifacts, which include bling worn by a Sumerian queen 4,500 years ago and the famed Ram-in-the-Thicket statuette.
The Rail Park—a long-unused railway line that’s been converted into an elevated urban park—is only in its earliest stages of completion but it’s already rad enough to warrant a visit. Located in Callowhill, the completed quarter-mile section of the planned three-mile greenway is outfitted with trees, shrubbery, plenty of benches, public art and a group of massive swings where you can sit and take in the urban view. It’s particularly inviting at dusk, when you can peep the sun setting over Philly and get a head-on view of Shepard Fairey’s cool The Stamp of Incarceration: James Anderson mural when it’s lit at night.
It doesn’t get more macabre than The Mütter Museum, but that’s exactly why you should go, right? The museum houses a curious collection of antique medical oddities, deformed organs floating in jars of formaldehyde and anatomical specimens and wax models. You can ogle the 200-year-old conjoined liver of the famous Siamese twins Chang and Eng Bunker, look for marks of genius while staring at pieces of Albert Einstein’s brain and ponder the mystery of the famed “Soap Lady,” a local woman whose body was exhumed in 1875 after being encased in a bizarre soaplike fatty substance. It’s all a true feast for the eyes, but you might want to skip lunch.
Once the world’s most expensive prison, Eastern State Penitentiary is now a fascinating museum, charting nearly 150 years of criminal history. The imposing fortress closed its doors in 1971, but not before it housed renowned inmates like Al Capone and Slick Willie Sutton, who famously tunneled out of the prison in 1945. Guests are able to walk through the creepy halls and peek into the empty cells, all while listening to a Steve Buscemi-narrated audio guide. If you’re here in the fall—and brave enough—the facility turns into a monstrous haunted attraction called Terror Behind the Walls, which offers multiple haunted experiences and a pop-up bar near Capone’s former holding cell.
Tons of breweries scattered about Philadelphia have helped this city stake its claim as a front runner on the American craft beer scene. As such, beer lovers will find no shortage of spots to sample locally crafted suds—from tasty and inventive IPAs to lagers and so much more. Starters should check out Yards Brewing Company’s massive brewery and taproom in Northern Liberties and have the bartender pour flights from the 20-tap draught line. Philadelphia Brewing Company operates out of the oldest and largest brewing facility in Philadelphia, churning out Philly-inspired brews, such as the Pennsylvania Pale Ale, Walt Wit and seasonal varieties like the complex ale Rowhouse Red. If you like your beers experimental, head to Old City’s 2nd Story Brewing. Curious concoctions like the Uno Mas, a Mexican lager with lime and jalapeno, and the Schwartz Court, which incorporates notes of coffee and baker’s chocolate, may be found among the lively brewpub’s lineup of nearly a dozen types of suds.
If Philly is known for anything in the food-and-drink world other than cheesesteaks and pretzels, it’s the vision-blurring, throat-burning Citywide Special, a stout concoction that pairs a shot of Jim Beam with a Pabst Blue Ribbon chaser. You can find a Citywide at most bars in Philadelphia—some even offer high-end versions of the stuff—but you’ll want to try it at the place where it originated: legendary South Street dive bar Bob & Barbara’s Lounge. Swing by on a Friday or Saturday night to listen to the Hammond B-3 organ combo playing "Liquor Drinking Music,” or stop by on Thursday night to sit in the front row for Philly’s longest running drag show, starring Miss Lisa Lisa and all her sassiest friends.
When in Old City, sweets lovers can—and should—visit two of the historic area’s oldest dessert spots: Shane Confectionery and Franklin Fountain. Established in 1863, restored Victorian candy emporium Shane Confectionery fills its shelves with loads of chocolate truffles, taffies, fudge, candy bars and more goodies—most of which are made following centuries-old recipes. A few doors down, old-fashioned ice cream parlor Franklin Fountain keeps the sugar high going strong with delicious cones and indulgent sundaes boasting names inspired by Philadelphia history.
When it comes to getting hype for their teams, Philadelphia sports fans are like none other in the world (yeah, even you, Bears fans). They’ve perfected the art of game-day shit-talking and have made headlines for crazy-pants antics (like the time Eagles fans pelted Santa with snowballs). Watch them in all their glory by catching a game at the South Philadelphia Sports Complex, which hosts four of the city’s five pro teams: the 76ers and Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center, the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park while recent Super Bowl champs the Eagles play at Lincoln Financial Field. Food and drink options are plentiful—and actually quite delicious for a sports arena—at each venue, so be sure to bring a hearty appetite.
One of Philadelphia’s newest music venues isn’t really all that new at all. The long-shuttered opera house, The Met Philadelphia, which was built in 1908 by Oscar Hammerstein’s grandfather, was recently renovated into a massive, 100,000-square-foot Live Nation entertainment complex that can hold 3,500 guests. The gilded hallways are home to no less than 12 bars and a gathering place called the Grande Salle, with plush couches where folks can lounge between shows. The 2019-2020 season includes four Madonna shows, performances by Deadmau5 and Martina McBride, and even a smattering of theater events, such as recent Webby Award winner My Dad Wrote A Porno.