The original U.S. capital was central to the unfolding of democracy, but there’s a lot more to the City of Brotherly Love than the hallowed halls of American history.
History buffs should plan on a lengthy stay, but Philly is also a modern, pulsing city with superior hotels, unlimited business opportunities and a vibrant night life. Even the broadest overview of Philadelphia can’t capture its unique and multifaceted personality.
History of Philadelphia
Philadelphia may be forever linked to Benjamin Franklin and Rocky Balboa, but it was founded in 1682 by an English Quaker named William Penn.
Mounting tension with England led to the first meeting of the Continental Congress in 1774, and the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776. British troops briefly occupied the city during the Revolutionary War.
As Philadelphia became a major manufacturing center, the population boomed. By 1800, it was the largest city in the U.S. A city hall, a zoo, churches, museums and libraries sprang up one after the other.
Today, traditional and modern buildings exist in harmony to reflect the rich, ongoing history of Philadelphia.
Cheesesteak is just the tip of the iceberg. Philadelphia restaurants are beloved by patrons and critics alike. Check out these hot spots:
• Vernick Food & Drink
Chef and owner Greg Vernick won the coveted James Beard Award in 2017. This is not just delicious food, it’s creative art. The extensive menu features delectable nibbles on toast, raw foods done right, small plates for sharing and heartier fare like venison au poivre.
• Harp & Crown
The ambitious menu includes charcuterie, lamb meatballs, diver scallops and stiff drinks. Generous leather booths and exposed brick will make you want to linger in this homey upscale bar.
• Wm. Mulherin’s Sons
The 100-year-old whiskey bottling facility was falling apart until restoration began in 2013. Now, it houses a popular neighborhood spot for brunch or wood-fired pizza. It is also a boutique hotel with just four guest rooms.
Try Abe Fisher for elevated Jewish-deli soul food or Double Knot for a 10-course, authentic Japanese experience. Even omnivores swarm to Vedge, which many prominent food critics consider the best vegan restaurant in America.
The craft beer boom is alive and well here, and local breweries consistently win accolades and national awards. In 2016, Philadelphia snagged seven medals at the Great American Beer Festival.
Popular stops on the craft beer trail include Victory Beer Hall, Sly Fox Brewing Company, Dock Street Brewing Co., Tired Hands Brew Cafe, Yards Brewing Company and Crime and Punishment Brewing Co. Most Philadelphia breweries offer tours.
Things to Do in Philadelphia
Here are some ideas for a well-rounded first visit:
• Independence Hall
Prepare to get cold chills. The forefathers signed the Declaration of Independence and laid the framework of the Constitution in these very rooms.
• The Benjamin Franklin Parkway
Devote a day or two to culture along this grand plaza inspired by the Champs-Elysees in Paris. Art, science, invention, history and horticulture are displayed at their finest in world-class museums.
• Boathouse Row
Located on the Schuylkill River near the Philadelphia Museum of Art, this stretch of boathouses retains its 19th-century charm. It’s best viewed in early evening.
• Reading Terminal Market
Sample the artisan wines, breads and cheeses of dozens of local vendors in this massive farmer’s market.
Don’t forget professional sports. The Philadelphia Eagles have finally toted home the long-overdue Vince Lombardi Trophy, so a home game would be thrilling. The MLB Phillies, formed in 1883, are the oldest continuous, one-city franchise in U.S. professional sports.
An simple internet search titled “Philadelphia things to do” will prove that Philly is anything but boring.
More iconic sites
Iconic sites abound in Philadelphia, and you’ll recognize most of them from history books or your favorite movies:
• The Liberty Bell
The great bell once summoned lawmakers and townspeople for urgent business. It has served as a timeless symbol of liberty ever since.
• Philadelphia City Hall
South Broad Street affords the best view of America’s largest municipal building.
Robert Indiana’s famous sculpture is a treasured piece of American iconography. It resides in John F. Kennedy Plaza, also known as LOVE Park.
• Philadelphia Museum of Art
Watch the original “Rocky” before you go. It will inspire you to scale the 72 steps out front without even getting winded.
Local hoteliers offer a variety of travel experiences for every taste and budget. The better-known names, such as the Marriott, the Four Seasons and the Omni, don’t disappoint in service or amenities.
Here are some other highly rated contenders:
• Penn’s View Hotel
This quaintly elegant inn in Old City will take you back in time. The rooms are lovely and spacious, and the hotel is within walking distance of Christ Church, Liberty Bell Center and Independence Hall.
• Sofitel Philadelphia
Located on the site of the former Philadelphia Stock Exchange, the Sofitel is the centerpiece of the French Quarter. The sleek decor and fine art suggest French sophistication without the stuffiness.
• Loews Philadelphia
The prime downtown location and outstanding service get high marks. Dine at the Bank & Bourbon, warm up in the heated indoor pool or spark romance with a his-and-hers sauna.
Philadelphia hotels pour on the hospitality.