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A perfect weekend in Philadelphia
Looking for a destination that combines the finest of history, arts, entertainment, sports, public spaces, shopping and cuisine? Check out Philadelphia! The dynamic and culturally diverse “City of Brotherly Love” is also a terrific place to people-watch, look at architecture, or simply sit in an outdoor cafe along one of its green and glorious parks.
Choosing from all that Philadelphia has to offer is a little bit like deciding on lunch at its famous Reading Terminal Market—a lot to choose from, and much depends on what satisfies your appetite on that particular day. It's easiest to break down what to do into a fistful of agendas.
Rich With History
Founded in 1682 by William Penn, the city and its residents make no secret of being proud of its heritage. After all, this is where the first Constitutional Congress was held, the Declaration of Independence was signed, and a temporary capital of the United States. To appreciate its past (and begin your contemporary visit), start in “Olde City,” where you can tour Independence Hall (a national historic park), see the Liberty Bell, and take in National Constitution Center. Elfreth's Alley, one of the oldest continually-inhabited streets in America, is just a stroll away, as is Ben Franklin's grave and homesite.
If this is your first time in Philadelphia, think about hopping on a double-decker from the Phila Trolley Tour and Big Bus Company to acquire the lay of the land. Tours depart from Independence Hall; you also get on/off privileges aboard either kind of bus for a full 24 hours, with easy pick-up and drop-off at 21 conveniently-located stops (all of the CityPASS attractions except for the Aquarium).
Worth a stop for grown-ups (and off the beaten path from Center City) is Eastern State Penitentiary, a captivating-yet-crumbling “living ruin.” You won't soon forget this close (maybe too close?) look at what happened to the bad guys of yore, with plenty of informative tidbits, including the legend that Al Capone's “luxurious” cell was haunted!
From a bus or trolley, you'll also have a chance to see the many terrific neighborhoods that give Philadelphia such richness — Chinatown, South Street, Antique Row, just to name a few—as well as discover what areas you'd like to return to.
Fun for the family
Don't miss ogling City Hall, the nation's largest stone building, topped by William Penn himself. [Photo #2] Then head toward the Benjamin Franklin Parkway for the pleasant walk from Love Park (JFK Plaza) to The Franklin Institute. It's one of those places where you can lose yourself in every interactive space. So is the Academy of Natural Sciences, right nearby. It doesn't seem to matter what you're interested in—dinosaurs or dioramas, aeronautics, seashells or constellations—there's something for everyone. Both also offer affordable upgrades to CityPASS holders (I especially like the Butterflies! exhibit at ANS).
Keep walking up the Parkway and you'll see the Rodin Museum; farther up the way sits the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Even if an art museum isn't your thing, jog up the steps, Rocky style—and don't miss the statue of Philly's most famous (fictional) fighter that sits along the museum's grassy exterior. Stroll around the building to check out another two dozen more statues—a perfect pastime on a nice day.
Traveling with your family and want some kid-friendly fun? Go to the Philadelphia Zoo (you will definitely want to catch the Trolley to this one), the Adventure Aquarium on Camden's waterfront (located a short ferry ride across the Delaware from Penn's Landing), or the Please Touch Museum (in Memorial Hall at Fairmount Park, north of the Art Museum). All three sites offer state-of-the-art hands-on experiences, designed to stimulate and educate the curious of all ages.
Don't forget to eat!
Is all this sightseeing making you hungry? Well, no matter what you like to eat or how much you want to spend, yummy treats abound. Ethnic street-front choices are numerous—some affordable, some at a splurge. Many famous fine-dining restaurateurs, including Stephen Starr, Jose Garces, and Georges Perrier, all call Philadelphia home.
For something simple, pick up picnic goodies at an upscale deli like DiBruno's or at America's oldest outdoor market—the Italian Market, on South 9th Street. Or, also in the Italian neighborhood, snag an iconic cheese-steak sandwich. The two most famous vendors, Pat's King of Steaks and Geno's Steaks, vie for attention within a stone's throw of each other. Be sure to see the “rock and roll wall of fame” painted on a nearby wall.
Such murals, popping up where you least expect them to be, are definitely a big part of Philadelphia's public art scene. Feeling energetic? You can stroll the circuit of 17 of the most famous of them on a route called the Mural Mile.
Love ballet or the opera? Want to see the latest high-powered show? World-class concert and theater opportunities are centered on the Avenue of the Arts. Big-name contemporary stars often perform at Lincoln Financial Field, part of the South Philadelphia Sports Complex, home to Philly's professional sports teams (the Eagles, Phillies, Flyers, 76ers, and Wings). All of these venues are known for being super fan friendly and are within walking distance of a SEPTA train station.
Want something a little more dynamic? Participate, along with 50,000 others, in the 10-mile-long Blue Cross Broad Street Run or other competitive charity event; stop by the colorful (and constantly changing) Magic Gardens on South Street; snag tickets to the World Cafe radio program, aired on NPR and taped live near the University of Pennsylvania campus; or consider renting a bike to enjoy the best of either (or both) of Philly's beautiful riverfront areas.
If your craving for history hasn't yet been satisfied, consider a side trip to Valley Forge, where George Washington wintered during the Revolutionary War, or rent a car and drive the Amish countryside to one of the most important Civil War battlefields, Gettysburg National Military Park.
If you're looking for a captivating destination, consider Philadelphia. And ask yourself, “Why stay only a weekend?” With so many wonderful things to do and see (and your CityPASS booklet lasts a full nine days), consider extending your visit!