Cheeseteaks, The Liberty Bell, and Independence Hall….those are the images that come to mind when you think of Philadelphia but this city is so much more than that. Over the span of three days I was able to explore, experience, and appreciate all that Philadelphia has to offer. One of the best parts about Philadelphia is its walkability, as most of the places I visited were within downtown. I opted to walk for most of my journey, but eventually rented one of the Ride Indego bikes that are scattered about the city. I’ll take you on my adventure from where I started and hopefully give you a better perspective of what Philadelphia is like beyond the Cheesesteaks.
Tree lined streets dotted with Georgian and Federal style architecture, narrow cobblestone alleyways barely big enough for one vehicle, cafes and pubs with outdoor seating; this is the true character of Philadelphia, and the heart of it is in Old City. Dubbed America’s “most historic square mile” as it is home to Independence National Historic Park, Old City is located just to the east of downtown and sits along the banks of the Delaware River. On any given street you will find pubs, art galleries, museums, coffee houses and local boutiques. The close proximity to Independence National Historic Park, makes this a popular location to stay, and I highly recommend it. For those of you on a budget, or if you want to meet some new friends try Apple Hostels.
Old City is so compact that within a few blocks you can experience Independence Hall and then walk down to The Franklin Fountain for some of the best ice cream you will ever have. For other historical attractions I recommend checking out Elfreth’s Alley, Franklin Square, and the Fireman’s Museum. As for food in the area, don’t miss out on Big Ass Slices and go with the Chicken Bacon Ranch. Old City Coffee made me one of the best cappuccino’s I’ve ever had and Lucha Cartel has some insanely delicious pork belly tacos. For nightlife Old City does it right with some great Happy Hour specials, check out Drinker’s Pub on Market Street and JJ Bootleggers on 2nd Street, their Saturday and Sunday Night Happy Hour specials can’t be beat.
As I made my way south of Old City, I stopped at Penn’s landing which is on the waterfront of the Delaware River. Within Penn’s Landing is the Blue Cross RiverRink where you can lace up your roller skates and skate around with the Delaware River as a nice backdrop. Heading a little further south of Penn’s Landing you meet Spruce Street Harbor Park which is located on the waterfront and couldn’t be in a more perfect location. It has an old-fashioned wooden boardwalk that is lined with food and beer vendor’s, shuffleboard, ping-pong, and a variety of other games. Located within the park are hammocks, fire pits, picnic benches, and plenty of places to hang out with your friends by the waterfront.
Adjacent to Spruce Street Harbor Park is one of, if not the most beautiful neighborhoods I have ever seen. If you want to feel like you have been transported back to the 18th and 19th century, this is your place. Georgian and Federal style row houses line the bumpy cobblestone streets while American flags flutter in the breeze. Even though you are still downtown, this neighborhood exudes peace and quiet, you get a nostalgic sense that you might round the corner and see Benjamin Franklin walking about. I was simply in awe of the amazing composition of buildings that have still retained their historical character and in terms of class, ambiance and history, this place cannot be beat. Within Society Hill you’ll need to visit Headhouse Square which are the two pictures above. It is lined with cafes, shops, and some of the best restaurants in the area.
Just to the south of Society Hill is a very unique neighborhood. South Street Headhouse District is in a whole different universe when compared to its northerly neighbor Society Hill. This is not a bad neighborhood by any means, just very different from its neighbor to the north. South Street Runs west to east the entire length of downtown and is filled with a random mix of businesses ranging from used electronic stores, pawn shops, tattoo parlors, every ethnicity of food you can imagine, and then a Starbucks. I’ll be honest; this was not my favorite neighborhood at all. It is a strange combination of hipsters, gangsters, frat boys, and families all wandering around. If you have been to Denver, think of it as a combination of South Broadway and Colfax.
I guess it’s about time for the obligatory Cheesesteak talk. As many of you know, Philadelphia is home to the Cheesesteak, and arguably the two most popular are Pat’s King of Steaks and Geno’s Steaks, which so happen to be located directly across from each other. Unfortunately, I was only able to eat at one of them and it ended up being Pat’s King of Steaks. All I can say is wow! I got the Pepper Cheesesteak wit onions and of course cheese wiz ….my God was this thing heaven. I’m sad I didn’t get to try Geno’s, but hey there is always next time.
Philadelphians really have it made when it comes to parks. This city is abundant with its famous squares and gardens for people to enjoy and it’s evident how popular the parks are here. Each square I visited there were tons of people out having a picnic in the vast green space, reading books near the fountains, or spending time with friends. The parks here are so alive and the sheer size and beauty of these parks is hard to rival. There five main squares in the city, one in each quadrant and one in the center. Each one of the parks has a central fountain which makes them popular for people to relax by and put their feet in on a hot day.
Franklin Square- Families everywhere, and it makes sense as this park while not the most lush or beautiful made up for it with its historical carousel, mini golf, playgrounds and a delicious hamburger/hot dog stand.
Washington Square- Massive and magnificent trees line this park up to its central fountain. Also within this park is the Tomb of The Unknown Soldier and a statue of none other than George Washington head it up. This is an important piece of Philadelphia history as underneath the park there are thousands of buried soldiers from the American Revolution.
Rittenhouse Square- The busiest park by far, there was a nice buzz to the park all while staying true to the peaceful and relaxing nature as the other squares. Surrounded by Victorian homes and some of the best shopping on Walnut Street, this was a park where you could sit and read a book, eat lunch near the fountain, or people watch for hours.
Logan Square- Accessing this park was my favorite; you take Benjamin Franklin Expressway which cuts diagonally from LOVE Park to the Northwest. The expressway is lined with the flags of various nations as it approaches the square. By the way of design, the central fountain and square is more of a circle for traffic flow. In terms of tranquility, this had the least just because of its busy location; however the fountain here was stunning.
Centre Square- Here you will find one of the most impressive buildings in Philadelphia. City Hall is the tallest masonry structure building in the world and the largest municipal building in the United States. I was awestruck looking at this building, its sheer size and architecture is a must see while in Philadelphia. To the west and adjacent to CIty Hall is a public fountain were many kids were playing, and tons of people enjoying the liveliness of downtown.
This wouldn’t be a true Philadelphia trip without a visit to the LOVE sculpture, so here it is! It was a pretty cool thing to see, but there were was a line of people waiting to get their picture taken so I decided to snap a quick pic and head to what I thought was more impressive, which was the fountain behind the sculpture. The Love Fountain is massive, shooting about 30 feet in the air as it comes crashing down in its circular basin where multiple people had taken their shoes off to dip their feet in the fountain to cool off and relax. From this fountain you have some of the best views of Downtown, City Hall, and Ben Franklin Expressway.
Who wants to go to prison? Well, since I had time to kill I decided I’d try it out. My journey took me to Eastern State Penitentiary which is regarded as the world’s first true penitentiary and it had its start thanks to none other than Benjamin Franklin (this guy really had his hand in everything). First off, this place is literally a fortress; it looks like a medieval castle which is
unique as it seems so out-of-place being in a neighborhood just north of downtown. As you enter the prison, the sheer height of the thick stone walls let’s you know that there is no escaping this place. Cell blocks are arched with decaying brick and stone, and the cells are about the same size as current prison cells today. As you walk around and explore the grounds you begin to understand that this was no place you wanted to end up and certain places of the penitentiary will send shivers down your spine.
After being locked up for a few hours, I knew prison wasn’t my cup of tea so I headed out to what I believe is the best place in Philadelphia….Fairmount Park. Remember how I said Philadelphia has some great parks, well this is the icing on the cake. Situated along the banks of the Schuylkill River, Fairmount Park is located just northwest of downtown. This park is massive, roughly 9,200 acres of rolling hills, trails, gardens and parks. The views from Fairmount park are Instagram worthy, but the best part of the park is its crown jewel, the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Parthenon on the Parkway, is a fitting way to describe the magnitude of this place. The museum sits a top a hill at the end of Benjamin Franklin Expressway and as you begin to take in the beauty of the exterior you feel as if you have been whisked away to Greece. The architecture of this structure is Greek Revival, giant columns support this behemoth structure. Here you will see one of the most elaborate and intricate pediments. If you look in the upper right had corner of the picture you will see that the pediment is a depiction of the most prestigious ancient Greek Gods and is a sight definitely worth seeing. From the atop the steps of the museum you peer south towards the city and you are met with the best view of downtown Philadelphia. Your eyes take you down the steps to the Eakins Oval which depicts a uniformed George Washington atop a horse facing downtown and as you look up you follow Benjamin Franklin Expressway to the ever picturesque City Hall.
As my day began to close and my flight back home approaching faster than I wanted, I took one last bike ride to savor my time here and the experiences I’ve had. As I cruised along Lombard Street in Society Hill, I realized that my visit to this city was long overdue. Philadelphia had not only met my expectations and hopes for a good trip, it blew them of the water. In my opinion, Philadelphia is a top American City and is vastly underrated when compared to its eastern seaboard counterparts (I’m looking at you Boston and New York City). This place is not only abundant with history, it has some of the best food I’ve had, and the amount of pride and patriotism I saw was pleasantly overwhelming. This city has an incredible character and culture to it, one that I will always appreciate. So now is the time to book that flight and come experience the true nature of Philadelphia.