Philadelphia has kept things edgy since before the U.S. was even a country. With special history, great food, and an effortlessly cool personality, a visit here should be high on anyone's bucket list. Whether you're a history geek, a film buff, a foodie, traveling with kids, or just looking to take in some unexpected sights, sounds, and flavors, Philly has something to offer.
Understanding the city's history, and the important role it played in forming the U.S., should set the tone for your trip. This is where the Declaration of Independence was signed and the Constitution was drafted. Everyone from Ben Franklin and George Washington to John Adams and Thomas Jefferson spent time here.
You can only enter Independence Hall with a tour through the National Park Service; timed entry tickets are required during most of the year. Tickets can be reserved online or over the phone and cost $1.
The Liberty Bell
Near Independence Hall is the iconic Liberty Bell. It's free to visit, and you'll want to hear the story of this famed symbol of freedom from park rangers. Learn about the bell and its notorious crack, and how it became synonymous with Philadelphia and U.S. independence through self-guided exhibits. Even if you just go for the photo op, it's worth a visit.
Reading Terminal Market
Another historic gem in Philly is the Reading Terminal Market. Home to restaurants, shops selling food and specialty ingredients, boutiques (don't miss Amazulu Gift Shop), and more, it's a great place for snacking and souvenir shopping.
Tommy DiNic's is known for its mouthwatering roast pork and broccoli rabe sandwich, Termini Bros is notorious for its cannoli, Beiler's makes a mean, Amish-style donut, Bassetts is known for its vanilla ice cream—we could go on and on, but don't fill up too much here if you're going to want to try a famous cheesesteak for dinner.
The ultimate Philly photo op? Love Park's oft-photographed sculpture. Designed by Robert Indiana, it was installed in 1976 and was initially intended to be temporary as part of the U.S. Bicentennial celebration. But public demand to keep it in place was high, so the statue's been around ever since.
Philadelphia's Magic Gardens
Philadelphia's South Street was once a bustling Black neighborhood and the home of civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois. Today it's a tourist-heavy spot with a storied past and a reputation for being funky and artsy.
In the late 1960s, Isaiah Zagar, a renowned muralist and mosaic artist, started bringing his unique brand of art to South Street. The Magic Gardens were declared finished in 2008; it encompasses 3,000 square feet of brightly tiled labyrinth. If you look closely, you can see themes emerge and familiar places and events come together—everything from Las Pozas to Día de los Muertos to 9/11. Even though the neighborhood has changed, the Gardens continue Zagar's mission of beautifying the area. It also serves as a hub for artists in Philadelphia by hosting events, workshops, performances, and more.
It's cheesesteak time. As many know, there are two main cheesesteak spots in Philadelphia: Geno's and Pat's. Both claim to be the best, but you'll have to try them both and decide for yourself. Note that there are no bathrooms or indoor seating at Geno's, and don't even think about bringing a cheesesteak from Geno's into Pat's, or vice versa. (And definitely don't order your cheesesteak without the cheese whiz.)
Pat's King of Steaks
Pat's is a little more humble; the kind of place where you'll find a lot of old locals—and it's the preferred cheesesteak of Rocky Balboa. Simply specify "wit" or "wit out" (translation: with or without grilled onions) and the kind of cheese (cheese whiz) and get ready to enjoy melty, meaty bliss. Bonus: Add cheese fries.
Khyber Pass Pub
If you're looking for a beer, head to Khyber Pass. The gastropub serves up Creole cuisine (with loads of veggie options) and features a massive beer menu of harder-to-find brews. Snack on sweet potato fries or boiled peanuts and enjoy the dark and historic atmosphere as you sample a few beers. There are a lot of other great bars in the area if you're looking for some bar-hopping action.
Mcgillin's Olde Ale House
McGillin's Olde Ale House has been open since 1860, and, as Philly's oldest operating tavern, it's a must-visit. It offers cocktails, beer, old-school eats, and a killer karaoke night. It's got the classic Irish pub feel that's synonymous with drinking in Philadelphia and is decked out in old signs and pictures from Philly's history. A history lesson while you throw back drinks? Classic Philly.
If you want to fully appreciate the Rocky Statue at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, you have to make like the boxer and take a jog up the stairs in the morning to watch the sun rise over the cityscape. The statue was used in Rocky III, and the film's star donated it to the city after filming ended—of course it was installed at the iconic spot in the movie. Don't miss a visit to the museum itself—it's a great art museum.
Sabrina's Cafe At Powelton
This casual cafe is the perfect brunch spot. The stuffed challah French toast is one of the most popular dishes, and it's perfectly decadent, but Sabrina's also offers steak and eggs, omelets, burgers, sandwiches, and more. Plus, with huge portions, great prices, inventive dishes, and free coffee refills, it's really no surprise that this joint is beloved by locals and tourists alike. You'll also find two other locations in the city, one on South Street and the other near Logan Square.
The Mutter Museum
While the building isn’t huge, the museum's curators have filled it with weird medical oddities cut from the human body. Mutter Museum began humbly enough in 1858 as a small donation of specimens by Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter to the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. As the years went on, more oddities were added, and the collection eventually required its own building.
Today, there’s a whole section dedicated to mutants, a cabinet filled with more than 2,000 strange items swallowed by a single person, and the corpse of a woman whose body turned completely into soap. And all of that is just the beginning—just go, and enjoy the weirdness.
The prison, built in 1829, was originally notable for its unique design—the cells built into a wagon wheel shape were intended to keep inmates as separate from each other as possible. Prisoners spent most of their time alone in their cells, which were the height of high-tech at the time (the prison had running water even before the White House). The halls of the prison were built to feel like a church, and each cell had a small glass window in the ceiling, meant to represent the "Eye of God."
Notorious residents included bank robber Willie Sutton (who led a successful escape with several other inmates by digging a tunnel), and Scarface himself, Al Capone. Capone's cell has been redone to look as though it did when he spent time there at the end of the 1920s.
By 1913, the solitary confinement system proved to be unworkable, as prisons became overcrowded, but Eastern State remained in business until the 1970s when it was abandoned. For several years, it was kept in a state of protected ruin, until it was re-opened as a museum and historic site now housing exhibits and art installations, as well as offering tours.
This woman- and Black-owned bookstore offers a tribute to Harriet Tubman—who fled to Philadelphia from Maryland—because there's no monument for her in the city, says the owner. The bookstore celebrates female authors, activists, and artists, and has a small meditative garden and basement called "The Underground." Located in a neighborhood with a history of racism and segregation, the bookshop serves as a safe space and amplifies Black authors.
Ralph's Italian Restaurant
The city is known for its large Italian-American population, and you can't visit without at least trying a few meatballs. Ralph's has been serving up pasta and other classic staples to dignitaries and old-timers since 1900. Chicken livers, calamari, red gravy, veal, osso bucco, eggplant parm, and other traditional Italian favorites are on the menu, and have been prepared with the same love and attention that Nona would have used.
Originally opened in 1911, and now under new ownership, the confectioners make some of the most intriguing and delicious candies around. From banana foster and cinnamon chile caramels to rich drinking chocolate to buttercreams to assorted sweets to chocolate-covered bacon—there's so much deliciousness crammed into the small store. Also make a stop at the Franklin Fountain, an old-school ice cream parlor/soda fountain that's run by the same owners, and not too far away.
The best time to visit Philly depends on what you're looking to do. Spring and summer attract more families and tourists, and the historic sites can get busy, but careful planning can help you avoid lines and crowds. Winter brings cold weather and snow, but if you're looking to beat the crowds (or maybe catch an Eagles game), it's not a bad time to visit. Fall brings milder weather and can be an ideal time to visit as well.
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