From the arts, to the parks, the views and the food, Philadelphia is quite captivating – below I’ve outlined some suggestions based on popular city spots & those that brought me the most joy:
A couple of weeks ago my cousin sent me a picture of the Philadelphia Magic Gardens – given that Philly is less than 2 hours away from NYC and I have a best friend who lives there, it was a no brainer, we were going. I immediately texted my best friend, let my cousin know what dates worked and we booked our bus tickets.
Megabus is a cheap & comfortable way to travel to different major cities in the US, Canada & Europe. The earlier you book your travel the cheaper your ticket can be & there are often coupon codes available. We booked 4 weeks in advance & found a $10 coupon code so our RT was $20.25 each, including the $2.50 booking fee.
The art projects in Philadelphia really make the city come to life, the sculptures, the colors, I just couldn’t get enough of it and I barely scratched the surface.
- The Mural Arts Project has made quite a statement in the city of Philadelphia, with over 3,000 public walls dedicate to the project it is hard to miss. Mural Arts Philadelphia is the largest art project in the USA, motivated by the idea that art ignites change; it is the collaboration between artists and communities to create art that transforms public spaces.
- If getting lost in a mosaic master piece sounds of interest to you, make your way to Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens. The Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens is the largest work, to date, created by mosaic artist Isaiah Zagar; although it wasn’t always meant to be an art project. It began in Isaiah’s home and spilled on to two abandoned buildings nearby; when the value of living on South Street rose the owner of the properties wanted to sell them. However, with help from the community Isaiah was able to purchase the properties and the Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens was born. The Magic Gardens is a total of 3,000 square feet with indoor galleries and a large outdoor labyrinth where even the floor you step on is mosaic art. Tickets are no more than $10 and I recommend buying your tickets in advance online because they sell out so quickly; they sell for 30 minute time slots but you’re allowed to be inside for as long as you’d like.
- If you didn’t book The Magic Gardens in advance you can tour South Street for a while like my cousin and I did, I actually recommend this even if you did. There are several houses, alleys and walls filled with the work of Isaiah Zagar, honestly speaking there was so much mosaic that I started questioning why I paid the entrance to the Philadelphia’s Magic Garden (but of course, once I got inside I didn’t regret it).
THE PARKS & THE VIEWS
- Rittenhouse Square
- Logan Square
- The South Street Bridge was torn down and replaced by November 2010, it is now a great place for a jog or to see the Philadelphia skyline.
- Start your day early with a workout at The Rocky Steps, it’ll also probably be the only time you can find them empty (or close to it). The Rock n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon was happening when we were in Philly which I’m sure was the cause of heavier foot traffic in the area. The Rocky Steps were named the 2nd most famous filming location in the world and are filled with locals and tourists alike reenacting the jog scenes from the movies. Once you reach the top you can choose to either sit on the stairs to admire the Philadelphia skyline & the Benjamin Franklin Parkway or walk into the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
- Located relatively close to the steps is also The Rocky Statue, you’ll see a line of people waiting to take a photograph with the statue – there is no one regulating this line so just be patient and ready to take the picture for the person in front of you.
As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m not the most passionate about US history, but as one of the original 13 colonies, Philadelphia, is rich in historical context.
- Take a walk down the USA’s memory lane on Elfreth’s Alley, referenced to as the nation’s oldest residential street, with its creation dating back to the early 1700s. It is located in the Old City, Philadelphia neighborhood between Second Street and the Delaware River. The Elfreth’s Alley Museum is one of the only two homes open to the public year round; to see the inside of the other homes go during “Deck the Alley’s” or “June’s Fete Day” when the current residents allow visitors in and share their history.
- If you’re a lover of history you’ll love visiting Betsy Ross’ Home, the birthplace of the first American flag. Walking through the home you will feel as if you’ve taken a time machine back to the 18th century and have the option to take an audio tour. We headed Betsy Ross’ Home less than an hour before our bus back to NYC so we were unable to go inside. However, admission is $5 and to receive the audio tour you’d pay an additional $2.
- The Independence National Historical Park
- It is believed that on July 8, 1776 the chimes of The Liberty Bell summoned the citizens of Philadelphia so they could hear from Colonel John Nixon the first reading of the Declaration of Independence, given the conditions of the bell historians do not believe this story credible. However, the bell became iconic when abolitionist in the USA adopted it as a symbol for the movement, they also adopted the name ‘The Liberty Bell’. Now the bell sits in the Liberty Bell Center that opened in October 2003, the admission is free and as you walk through the building you can read different facts and stories relating to the bell and it’s significance in history.
This weekend also happened to be Center City’s restaurant week which made finding places to eat without reservations quite the challenge.
- This was especially challenging on Friday night when we arrived, however, we were able to grab two seats at the bar in Barbuzzo, a spot known for using farm fresh ingredients for their Mediterranean dishes. If I’m quite honest I haven’t tried Mediterranean food often and usually don’t know what most items on the menu are, trust me this time was no different. However, after a couple of google searches and help from the waiter I decided on the Seared Chicken Thighs, my cousin on the Uovo Pizza and I can confidently say this was the best meal we had in Philly! The food was delicious, a great combination of flavors and the Basil Lemonade drink was great too 😉 (P.S. I was a little too hungry to photograph it all).
- El Vez is an extremely popular Mexican restaurant in Center City, Philadelphia. They have great choices of guacamole (my current obsession) and the decor is quite unique with hanging bicycles, a photo booth, colorful couches, etc. Due to it’s popularity the wait time can be 1hr+ so make sure to make reservations.
- Little Spoon Cafe: Honestly, the French toast was disappointing and bland but I would recommend the sandwich and pancakes
- Scoop DeVille: We all know I can’t go anywhere without trying their ice cream. Scoop DeVille has enough options to make an ice cream lover out of anyone, even their menu had a menu! I chose to make my own soft serve – once you choose the ingredients you want they blend it into a machine to make your soft serve, there are also tons of shakes, scoops, sundaes, etc.
The weekend flew by and although we crammed in a lot, as with almost all of my trips, there were a couple places that stayed on my list for next time.
- The Graffiti Pier: Not only one of the most instagrammable spots in Philly, also a great spot to lookout at the Benjamin Franklin Bridge & Philly skyline
- SkyGarten: A beer garden with German bar bites, although I don’t drink beer I can’t wait to go and take in the views from this 51st floor rooftop
- Hop Sing Laundromat: This spot was recommended by a local so you can only imagine how bummed I am that I didn’t make it. It’s a swanky speakeasy-style bar with interesting cocktails (P.S. looking at the website just made me regret not going a little bit more).
Every time I make a trip I’m reminded of small travel hacks that are so easy to forget
- Plan your departure: I tend to wait for the last minute to catch my bus/flight as if I enjoy that kind of anxiety and Megabus is extremely punctual. When we were in the Uber on our way to the Megabus that departed in less than 30 minutes (and we still had to pick up our luggage), firefighters blocked off the street. Once we told our Uber driver the bus’ departure time he earned his 5 star rating driving on the sidewalk to get around the road block. Make sure to know the last place you plan to hit before leaving, how far it is from the station/airport and calculate waiting for a taxi & traffic.
- Google search your travel dates: There were several events happening in Philadelphia the weekend we went from the Half Marathon, Oktoberfest, street fairs and Center City Restaurant Week. They were all a great surprise to experience but had we did our research we could’ve planned to incorporate them into our travels a bit better.