How to experience one of America’s most historic cities in just a few short days.
For most of us who grew up in the United States schooling system, we’re well aware of the significance of Philadelphia. It’s the birthplace of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. It’s where the First and Second Continental Congress took place. When walking the streets of Philadelphia, one experiences a unique combination of old and new: cobblestone streets surrounded by aging brick, side-by-side with paved streets and modern metropolitan buildings. If history isn’t enough to draw you there, the food will be. Philly is known for its gastronomic scene. Likewise, the nightlife has made a name for itself. In one neighborhood one can lounge at a posh rooftop bar then walk ten minutes and find a low-key dive bar with pool tables and go-karts.
Here is everything you need to know about your Philadelphia weekend getaway.
As someone who has lived in NYC for nearly two years, I was kicking myself for not going to Philly sooner when I realized how easy it is to get there. Trains and buses are your best options. However, like most train travel in the U.S., it can get really expensive really fast. My friend and I took a Peter Pan express bus and arrived less than two hours later. Our tickets cost $13 one way, so a total of $26 each round-trip. Not too shabby. The seats were comfortable, there were outlets (albeit, ours didn’t work) beside the seat, and overhead and under the bus storage for luggage. It was an ultimately pleasant ride.
Where to stay
The more I stay in hostels, the more I love them. Granted, they aren’t for everyone. Communal showers and bunk beds bring many of us back to our less pleasant college days. However, I see them as one of the best ways to meet people. Not only that, but they are quite inexpensive. There are two hostels in downtown Philadelphia and both are centrally located, which made venturing out at night a breeze.
We stayed at Apple Hostels where it was around $35 per bed, per night. It’s incredibly cheap compared to paying over $100 for a mediocre hotel room nowhere near the areas we wanted to explore. That said, if you are not traveling on such a tight budget, there are several nice hotels in the Historic District (where all the main attractions and great restaurants are). Airbnbs are also an option. If you opt to take the hostel route, I do recommend booking as far in advance as possible. I was able to book our’s a week out, but it wasn’t my first choice. The cheapest hostel was totally booked for several weeks out. Just something to keep in mind.
Where to eat
Where do I begin?!?! Here: Start your day off right with a meal from the Reading Terminal Market. It’s a giant space filled with vendors serving all kinds of foods and goods. You can go there for any meal and find something delicious to fill your stomach with. We chose a mediterranean place and it was delicious. It was also fun to walk around, experiencing the different smells and sites. There are so many foods from so many cultures are packed beneath a single roof! The prices are pretty good too.
I know what you’re wondering: “Didn’t you eat the classic Philly cheesesteak while you were there?” The short answer is no, we didn’t. While I’m sure a Philly cheesesteak tastes amazing, it was not what my taste buds were craving and Philadelphia is filled with countless types of food. My mouth is watering just typing this…
For dinner, we popped in the Revolution House on Market Street. This street alone was filled with all kinds of restaurants and bars. We shared an amazing pizza (the crust was perfectly baked) and had a couple drinks. It was loud and bustling for a Saturday night and fit with the overall theme of the city. We definitely enjoyed it. Next, we went to another part of the city to find a rooftop bar. Posh and polite, the bar more resembled something you’d find in NYC. It was dimly lit and loud, but it was a nice and warm night. We each had a glass of wine by the fireplace before heading out.
Our next stop was a bar in a neighborhood known for its college student population. Indeed, this proved to be true. Tattoo Mom definitely had a style that attracted a certain type of person and we were all about it. Random pieces of art were plastered to the walls, action figures were posed on shelves throughout the space, and we had little toys on our table. It was filled with young people sporting piercings and tattoos, drinking with their friends and trying to have a conversation over the thumping music. We were invited by a few guys to head upstairs where there was yet another bar, except this one had a pool table to play on and go-karts to sit in. We hit up the bar then found a seat on a couch with our new friends. The atmosphere was alive and chill simultaneously. I would highly recommend exploring more bars and restaurants in this area.
Here are some other places that were recommended to me, but we unfortunately didn’t have time to try:
- Federal Donuts
- The Cow and the Curd
- Lucky’s Last Chance
- Mac Mart
- Luke’s Lobster
- Termini Brothers
- Vietnam Cafe
- McNally’s Tavern
No matter what kind of foodie you consider yourself to be, you’ll find something in Philly that will make your stomach happy.
What to see
Your first stop might want to be the Liberty Bell. With its bizarre and frankly unknown history, this attraction is hugely popular with a long that gets long fast. It’s free to get in and a staple of American history. Leading up to the actual bell is a short museum detailing how it was made and its significance in history. One of the amazing things about Philly is how much there is to learn. This museum is no exception.
Visiting Independence Hall is also a must. I highly recommend getting tickets for the guided tour inside the building. The tricky part might be actually getting tickets. Each day there is an amount allocated for reservation and an amount for walk-up. The walk-up is obviously first come, first serve and they tend to sell out fast. We went to the Independence Visitor Center first thing when we arrived in the city and managed to get tickets for later that afternoon. By the time we lined up for our tour, there were signs saying that day was completely sold out.
All that said, Independence Hall was fantastic. It’s such a cool building and we loved walking where the creators of the American government worked through their differences to found a country. We also had an great tour guide.
For a wonderful view of the city, you might want to get timed tickets to climb into the City Hall tower. Once again, we had a great tour guide who later recommended we go check out a cool mosaic – something we would have otherwise never found (see picture below). One a clear day, you can see far and wide from the top of City Hall. Side note: City Hall is a really cool-looking building. It’s a domineering sight in a bustling city. We also stumbled upon a Bernese mountain dog meet and greet, and got to pet some adorable dogs. It basically made our morning.
Philadelphia is filled with museums. Our City Hall tour guide raved about the Philadelphia Art Museum and the Museum of the American Revolution located not far from Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. Between your larger tours or museum visits, you might want to see the Betsy Ross House, an adorable little structure a few blocks from the main Historical District, Ben Franklin’s grave, or Carpenter’s Hall. We went to the American Constitution Center where they had a display about Alexander Hamilton open. We followed this with a video performance that was not what we expected. The auditorium was 360 degrees with lights that projected on a narrow screen that spanned the entire room above our heads and on the ground in the center of the room. An actual human came out and narrated an abridged story of American history. Between the lights, sound, and images, it was a pretty cool experience. A museum detailing various key moments in American history followed.
At the end of the day, what’s most important is that you craft your trip to Philadelphia in the experience you want to have. It’s an incredible city with so much to offer its visitors. With a lush history, thrumming nightlife, kind locals, and amazing food opportunities, it’s certainly one to add to your list.