Philadelphia lies on the very eastern border of the state of Pennsylvania, at a stone’s throw from New Jersey, on the other side of the Delaware River. The Keystone state, or Quaker state, or Coal state, as it is commonly referred to, Pennsylvania also borders – in a clockwise fashion – with New York State, Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland and Delaware.

Despite being the biggest city in the State, followed by Pittsburgh, Philadelphia is not the state’s capital.

Visit Philadelphia – what to expect

Philadelphia has an Old City fronting the Delaware river that attracts national and international tourism. It is amongst the clean streets of the Old City that the most precious and renowned historical attractions are found and preserved, almost stuck in time: Independence Hall and Liberty Bell.

The western part of Philadelphia develops around the omnipresent City Hall, the real beating heart of a vibrant city whose popularity is marred by stark contradictions.

Philadelphia has – not without struggles – embraced diversity and promoted integration like nowhere else in conservative Pennsylvania. Yet, there are fallacies in its justice system, harshly criticized for discriminating against people of colour.

Striking poverty levels are also tangible and visible with homeless people sleeping rough and begging for money. By just turning a corner you may find yourself in an isolated, dirty and sketchy alleyway, while, a few feet away, artsy spirits, hipster vibes and a popping food scene proceed undisturbed.

Visit Philadelphia – the map

Use our handy map to navigate the streets of a city that will eventually grow on you, we promise!

As you can infer from the map, our hotel was in New Jersey, about a 30-minute drive from the city centre.

Arriving and getting around in Philadelphia

From the Philadelphia International Airport, take the Regional Rail (Airport Line) and get off at central stations such as Suburban or Jefferson stations.

If you arrive by train, you’re most likely to terminate your journey at 30th Street Station, located on the western bank of the Schuylkill River. From there, you can hop on a bus or on the subway to more central stations. Visit the public transportation SEPTA website for more detailed info on journeys and fees.

If you’re driving to Philadelphia, make sure to check the INRIX ParkMe app to find the best parking options in town. As for us, we’ve found that the Gateway Parking Garage had the most convenient tariffs ($18.00 for up to 10 hours).

We enjoyed Philadelphia entirely on foot but, if you don’t feel like walking and have just two days to spend in the city, load a SEPTA Key Card with the travel package closer to your needs, for instance, a re-loadable, cheaper Travel Wallet. Read more about it here.

Once you’ve figured out how to arrive to Philadelphia, you are now ready to explore the city.

To this purpose, we have tailored a two-day tour that should cover everything there is to see and do in Philly.

You will find that, thanks to the simple urban grid designed by Quaker William Penn, the city’s founder, and the incremental street numbers, Philadelphia is very easy to navigate, much like New York City, albeit on a smaller scale.

Visit Philadelphia –  DAY 1

If you arrive by public transport, 8th&Market St station is the closest stop to the starting point of our tour: Declaration House. Here is where Virginia’s representative Thomas Jefferson has penned the Declaration of Independence.

The site – demolished in 1883 and reconstructed in 1975 – is closed to the public.

Next is Liberty Bell, housed in a separate building, opposite the Visitor Center. It can be very crowded, especially in high season, so arm yourself with patience and drinking water. Once inside the building, you can walk directly to the centrepiece or read the history behind the bell, its meaning for American citizens, its journey across the country and much more.

Alternatively, if queuing is not your preferred activity, you can peep at old, cracked Liberty Bell through a glass from the centre of the Independence National Historical Park, conveniently located between Independence Hall and the Visitor Center.

Cross Chestnut Street with a free, timed-entry ticket in hand (promptly fetched at the Visitor Center). Wait for instructions from the many, smiley Park Rangers who run tours of the “room where it happened” every 20 to 30 minutes. Once inside, you are allowed to take pictures. It is within these walls that the Declaration of Independence and – a decade later – the US Constitution were discussed and adopted.

Keep in mind that what remained intact of the room – after the invading British forces had set it on fire during the occupation of Philadelphia (1777-1778) – are the thick paint on the walls and George Washington’s chair. The star documents you are talked through and presented with are just cheap copies. The originals are preserved in the National Archives in Washington D.C. Read about our visit to the US capital here.

A word of advice: we visited in October and were able to collect our tickets with no issues. On the website it is recommended to reserve tickets online if you plan to visit during busy holiday months. You can find them at this link ($1.00 reservation fee per ticket is applied). Alternatively you can collect same-day tickets from 8:30am in the morning from the Visitor Center. They are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis.

Once terminated the tour, retrace Market St and keep walking east-bound. Turn left onto North 2nd Street and carry on walking until you’ll see, on your right-hand side, a picturesque, narrow, cobblestone street that seems to have fiercely resisted the test of time. This charming spot is known as Elfreth’s Alley. A National Historic Landmark built in the early 18th-century, it is said to be the country’s oldest continuously-inhabited residential street

Take a short breather from history and walk the Race Street Pier, jetting onto the Delaware River. Here you can admire, from an advantageous point of view, the Benjamin Franklin bridge towering above. If you are already hungry, head to the next pier, called Cherry Street Pier, an artsy urban space with culinary offers. But please leave room for a more substantial lunch later on.

Abandon the scenic waterfront and walk towards the Christ Church Burial Ground. Here you’ll find Benjamin Franklin’s grave. There is an entrance fee of $3.00 which you can avoid since the tomb can be seen from the street.

A few steps back, at 239 Arch St, is the house where Betsy Ross allegedly sew the first American flag in 1776. If you wish to visit the site, click here.

Lunch break

Prepare your taste buds as you enter the Reading Terminal Market, a covered food hall offering a wide variety of foods since 1893. Look for Philly’s classic cheesesteak, served either at DiNic’s Roast Pork or at Carmen’s. Pennsylvania Dutch stalls (closed on Sunday) serve genuine farm products ranging from meat, cheese and spreads.

Read more about cheesesteaks and who serves the best one in Philly here.

Lunch break is over and it’s time to carry on with the tour. Walk along Filbert St. until you’ll bump against a sturdy mixture of granite, limestone and marble that compose Philadelphia City Hall.

Decreed a National Historical Landmark, it is the largest municipal building in the United States. At a height of 548 ft (167 m), including Alexander Milne Calder’s  bronze statue of city founder William Penn, atop its tower, City Hall was the tallest habitable building in the world from 1894 to 1908.

Walk past City Hall along John F. Kennedy Blvd. and, on your right, you’ll encounter JFK Plaza. A photogenic spot, also known as LOVE Park, due to Robert Indiana’s iconic LOVE art piece. Make sure to come back here when the sun has set and the city is at its most magical.

There is one more place you can visit, if it’s not too late: Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens. A quirky corner that constitutes an art installation in its own right. Mosaics and used materials is what creator Isaiah Zagar has cleverly assembled. Read more about this art space here.

Practical info for Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens

Address: 1020 South Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147

Prices: Adults $10; Students $8; Children (under 5) Free. Check all prices here.

Opening times: Wed – Mon 11:00am – 6:00pm

Dinner time

For dinner you can choose amongst the many eateries found along S 13th Street. If you feel like it, you could even throw in a graffiti hunt in between nibbles to make your evening even more exciting. Read our dedicated post on the street art tour known as Mural Mile here.

Visit Philadelphia – DAY  2

Start your second day with Philadelphia’s most-visited museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art: it has an extensive collection of artworks which you can browse at this link. The museum is served by buses number 38 and 43.

Practical info for Philadelphia Museum of Art

Address: 2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia, PA 19130

Prices: Adults $25; Seniors (65+) $23; Children (18 and under) Free. Check all prices here.

Opening times: Tue – Sun 10:00am – 5:00pm (Wed & Fri until 8:45pm)

Another reason for the popularity of the museum is due to the fact that the building was featured in a famous scene of the movie “Rocky”. In the training montage, Sylvester Stallone – who plays boxer Rocky Balboa – runs up the stairs of the museum. The movie has become such a classic that a statue of Rocky is now found down the stairs on the side of the museum.

Next up is the Barnes Foundation, founded in 1922 by Albert Barnes. It now houses around 5.000 art objects and paintings. If you wish to visit the museum check their opening times and admission fees here.

You can conclude an intensive educational morning by visiting the Franklin Institute, a science museum, education and research centre named after Philadelphia’s most notable inhabitant, politician and inventor, Benjamin Franklin. The museum offers everything from live science shows to tech labs, from hands-on exhibits to escape rooms.

Practical info for The Franklin Institute

Address: 271 North 21st Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103

Prices (general admission): Adults $23; Children (3 to 11) $19. Check all prices here.

Opening times: Mon – Sun 9:30am – 5:00pm

Lunch break

Head (again!) to the Reading Terminal Market. There are over 70 merchant stalls selling everything from houseware to flowers, spirits, pretzels, pancakes, pizza, cheesesteaks and much more. You cannot possibly have tried all the food stalls the previous day. Go crazy! Most stalls do accept card payments. If not, there are ATM machines inside the market.

If you’re not yet stuffed and have space for dessert, visit one of the eight locations that Federal Donuts has recently opened around Philly. The closest one to Reading Terminal Market is found at 1632 Sansom St.

Easily our favourite dessert in Philadelphia, the doughnuts come in various flavours, from the simplest one topped with cinnamon and brown sugar to the fanciest, seasonal – as we visited in fall – pumpkin spice latte.

But it doesn’t end here: despite its name, Federal Donuts offers also another specialty: fried chicken. Certainly an unusual combination, both the doughnuts – and the chicken – are fried to perfection. Not oily, never greasy, just like the doughnuts, the chicken can be topped with different sauces or dry-rubs.

At this point you would most likely be glad to burn off some of those calories by taking a walking tour. So why not follow the Mural Mile? You can find a basic map online at this link. If you need a more detailed map, look no further as we have put together just that to help you find and enjoy some of Philly’s best street art. Click here.

Dinner and drinks

For an alternative dining/lounging scene, go to Fishtown. Either take the public transport, or, if you are not exhausted, walk along the western bank of the Delaware river, glancing from time to time to New Jersey, on the opposite bank.

For dinner you may as well devour the umpteenth cheesesteak at Geno’s Steaks inside the SugarHouse Casino or at Joe’s Steaks on W Girard Ave. From there go and enjoy the lively neighbourhood of Fishtown. There are a few bars and breweries you may want to check out while you’re here, such as Garage Fishtown, Evil Genius Beer Company, Stateside Vodka. Drink responsibly, kids!

Visit Philadelphia – Exploring Alternatives

Each and every item on the list below, marks a spot or site that, in retrospect, we would have liked to visit or explore but could not to for lack of resources, namely time and money.

  • Masonic Temple. Located on the north-eastern corner of Penn Square, the Temple catches your eye for its cathedral-like appearance and a 2017 bronze sculpture depicting George Washington as showing his masonic apron to Benjamin Franklin, a gift he had received from French General Lafayette, who participated in the War for American Independence.

Are you visiting with kids?

Here’s a list of fun places you may want to take your offspring to:

  • Please Touch Museum surely provides a good dose of fun for the kids. Located within Fairmount Park, it also has a public pool right outside. If your kids are still hyped, you can try to drain their residual energies at the Smith Memorial Playground & Playhouse, on the other side of the river.
  • The Franklin Institute (mentioned above, as included in our two-day itinerary).
  • Adventure Aquarium, just across the Benjamin Franklin bridge, in New Jersey, makes it for a fun experience with the opportunity to feed animals and enjoy live shows and performances.

If you are planning on visiting a few museums and attractions, you may be interested in the CityPass for access to three, four or five attractions (valid for nine consecutive days) or the Philadelphia Pass, available as an All-Inclusive pass, an Explorer Pass or a more flexible Build Your Own. Make your informed choice and enjoy Philly!

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