Hometown Edition: A Weekend in Philadelphia
Benjamin Franklin, Rocky Balboa, cheesesteaks, and brotherly love...
welcome to Philadelphia.
Just kidding, I’m from the suburbs. However, that doesn’t disqualify me from knowing how to spend the perfect weekend in Philadelphia. I grew up just outside the city in a town called Abington and recently went back for a trip to visit family over the holidays.
Through the years I’ve learned how to explore Philadelphia from both the local and tourist perspective. In this post, you’ll get a bit of both. I'm sharing with you a few of my favorite places and you can pick and choose to arrange your own itinerary. I’ll also teach you how to order a cheesesteak, find the “Rocky Steps”, and discover a bit of Philadelphia’s history.
What to do
Start your city tour at Suburban station, right near city hall. Suburban is a gorgeous art deco building that's worth stopping at for a quick photo.
Walk over to City Hall and explore this architectural beauty that was built to be the tallest building in the world in 1894. The Love sign that normally sits at Love Park (see below) is currently outside City Hall while Love Park is being renovated.
When Love Park (aka John F. Kennedy Plaza) opens back up, have lunch by the fountain and take pictures in front of the famous Love sign. The Love sign was designed by Robert Indiana and placed in the park temporarily in 1976. The city loved it so much, it was returned permanently in 1978. If you hang out for long enough, you’re bound to see a few marriage proposals.
Stroll down Chestnut Street and Walnut Street for some shopping. There are shops lining both streets, including the Shops at Liberty Place. As a bonus, Pennsylvania is one of 5 states that is fully exempt from a clothing tax.
The Barnes Foundation Art Center
The Barnes Foundation Art Center was founded by Albert C. Barnes, a wealthy Philadelphia chemist who took an interest in collecting art around 1910. The Barnes Foundation Art Center houses an impressive collection including 59 paintings by Henri Matisse and 46 by Pablo Picasso.
The Rodin Museum
Just a few steps away is the Rodin Museum. Don’t miss the newly renovated garden that houses some of Rodin’s sculptures.
The Franklin Institute
The Franklin Institute is right across from the Barnes Foundation and Rodin museum. This is by far my favorite museum in Philadelphia. Come here to see old trains and planes, interactive science experiments, and rotating exhibits that are sure to teach you something new.
The Philadelphia Art Museum and Rocky Steps
Continue down Benjamin Franklin Parkway and you’ll see the Rocky Steps in the distance. These are actually just the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum, but they were made famous by the Rocky movies. There’s even a statue dedicated to this fictional Philadelphia legend.
The Liberty Bell
The Liberty Bell sits in the Independence National Historical Park and is free to access. It’s worth a quick stop to see the large crack that runs vertically down the center. Right across the street is it's original home, Independence Hall, which is where the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution were both signed.
Where to eat
The Reading Terminal Market
The Reading Terminal Market is a great place to grab lunch while you’re exploring the city. The market houses almost 80 vendors with something for everyone, including soft pretzels and Philadelphia cheesesteaks. You can also find bakeries, Amish specialties, fresh meat and cheese, seafood, and so much more.
Steve's Prince of Steaks
A common question I'm asked when someone finds out I'm from Philadelphia is: "Pat's or Geno's?" Well, my answer is Steve's. Pat and Geno make a great cheesesteak, but nothing compares to the perfection of Steve's Prince of Steaks. They serve the perfect ratio of meat to cheese, thinly sliced, on the softest Amoroso rolls that have been freshly baked in Philadelphia every day since 1904. Once you order your cheesesteak, step to the left window and order cheese fries and a cherry soda.
The New Whole Foods
The greatest Whole Foods in the world (in my opinion) is located right on Pennsylvania Avenue, less than a five minute walk from the Art Museum. This isn’t just a grocery store, it’s like a food department store. It has its own coffee shop, two full pubs, a 140-seat food hall, and all of the olives you could need in the world.
Stephen Starr is a food legend, and his restaurant company includes 19 incredible restaurants just in Philadelphia. Interested in Asian food? Try Buddakan or Morimoto. Parc sits right on Rittenhouse square and has a delicious brunch menu. For a London-inspired gastropub, stop by The Dandelion. Regardless of which Starr restaurant you choose, you’re guaranteed to have a good meal. Starr restaurants are perfect for celebrations and special occasions.
Sabrina's Cafe and Spencer's Too
Sabrina’s Cafe and Spencer’s Too is a local favorite for brunch on Callowhill Street, though there are a few other branches in the city. You can expect humble, delicious diner food, and great coffee. I recommend the french toast!
TBP INSIDER TIPS
> All of these recommendations are within walking distance of each other and that's my favorite way to explore a city. If it's too cold outside, try using Uber or Lyft.
> To order a cheesesteak, just say the cheese you want and then whether or not you want onions. It’s easy: "Whiz with" means cheese whiz with onions, the Philadelphia way. "American without" means American cheese without onions.
> Make sure you order a Yuengling at a local bar. It’s from the oldest brewery in the U.S. and it’s the best cheap beer in the world.
> Grab a soft pretzel from a stand on the street or at the Reading Terminal Market. Soft pretzels are a Philly staple.
> If you’re in the city during baseball season, go to a Phillies Game!
> Philadelphia is the 5th largest city in the U.S. and it can be hard to know where to stay. I recommend the areas around Rittenhouse Square and Old City. Check out my wishlist to help you decide.
> Philadelphia has four distinct seasons, so make sure you check the weather and pack accordingly. I recommend the spring or fall for a visit. In the spring, flowers start to bloom and the city comes out of hibernation from the cold winter. In the fall, the leaves turn red and yellow and orange and decorate the city.