As you might have noticed I’ve been exploring a lot more of America lately (Chicago, Connecticut, Colorado etc) so I was delighted to add Philadelphia to that list. The spreadable cheese, the theme tune to The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, the Rocky steps; Philadelphia is famous. But, really, I didn’t know anything about the real Philadelphia before I arrived. I didn’t know the Philadelphia landmarks and I certainly had no idea what you could do with 2 days in Philadelphia. But I was soon to find out that there is a lot more to this city than I ever would have expected.
2 Days in Philadelphia – A Whirlwind Tour
Philadelphia 2 Day Itinerary
Arrive in Philly. Check in at Hampton Inn City Centre, Race Street. Have lunch at City Tap House. Uber to Independence National Historical Park. Check out the iconic Liberty Bell. Walk through downtown Philadelphia to the beautiful Elfreth’s Alley to look at the gorgeous houses and learn about the alley’s history. Walk to the river front for a fantastic view of Ben Franklin Bridge.
Walk back along Race Street through China town. Stop for bubble tea at Kung Fu Tea. Watch for street art as you walk because Philly is full of it. In the evening walk from your hotel to the Liberty One Observation Deck to get a fantastic view of the city lights at night. Head to El Rey for an amazing Mexican dinner. Try the frozen margaritas.
Breakfast in the fantastic Reading Terminal Market full of food to suit all tastes. Then it’s time to head to the Rocky steps! Make sure to victory dance when you get to the top. When you get to the top visit the Philadelphia Museum of Art for some culture. If you’re not too hungry head to the Eastern State Penitentiary for an incredibly informative tour of one the most famous prisons in America.
For lunch you have to try a cheesesteak at Campos. If you want some more art and culture visit the Barnes Foundation, an offbeat art gallery with an incredible collection. If you’re feeling more contemporary then take a Mural Arts Tour of Philadelphia where you’ll get to see some of the best street art the city has to offer. Or visit Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, a mosaic wonderland. For dinner and drinks head to the Yards Brewing Company.
*TIP*- Philadelphia has a very obvious homeless problem which can be quite off-putting and upsetting when you first arrive. It’s just not something I’m used to seeing and it was very confronting. But the city is still a fantastic place and I honestly felt safe walking around by myself once I saw all the locals confidently striding around. If you want to do something to help Philadelphia’s Text to Give campaign is the best way to do so. Rather than providing cash to panhandlers directly, you can donate $5 by sending a text message to the number 80077 and typing “Share.” The funds collected will be matched by the City’s Office of Homeless Services to support non-profits that provide services to the homeless.
Obviously there is a lot more to see in Philadelphia than I have squeezed into the itinerary above, but when you only have 48 hours in Philly you HAVE to prioritise!
Philadelphia Landmarks and Things to do in Philly
The Rocky Steps and Statue – You can’t visit Philadelphia without running the Rocky steps, all 72 of them. For maximum effect play the theme tune on your phone while you run. The steps are at the entrance to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. We managed to run the steps without feeling too winded, but I supposed we hadn’t been running for ages before hand like Sly Stallone in the movie. Next to the steps there is also a giant bronze of Rocky with his arms raised in victory. It’s at the bottom right of the stairs and is great for a photo. There are sometimes homeless guys around the statue who offer to take group photos in exchange for tips. I was with a group and the guy did a fantastic job for us.
The Liberty Bell – Philadelphia is a very walkable city, so take a stroll down to the Independence National Historical Park to see the Liberty Bell. The giant cracked bell is an icon of American Independence. There is a lot of history and plenty of stories attached to the bell which you can discover at the Liberty Bell Center.
One Liberty Observation Deck – Whenever you’re in a big city, seeing it from above is very impressive. Philadelphia is no different. The One Liberty Observation Deck overs 360 degree views across Philadelphia from 57 stories up. The windows have a tint on them, so it can be a bit hard to get a good photo from the observation deck (it took me AGES) but that doesn’t take away from the views. I visited at night when the city was all lit up and it was stunning. There are seating areas as well in case you want to sit back and enjoy the view. You can buy a pass that lets you visit twice within 48 hours called the Sun and Stars Ticket, for €12.80. It means you can see the view at night and in the morning if you want to.
Chinatown – Nearly every big city has a Chinatown so you know what to expect – giant ornate arches/gates, incredible food and lots of interesting shops. It starts from Vine Street in the North and runs to Filbert Street in the South. At 10th and Arch Street you’ll find the beautiful, colourfully decorated, Friendship Gate. It’s a great spot for lunch or dinner. Fill up on a bit of everything from bao to Japanese street food and more in the Chinatown Square food court.
Philadelphia Bus Tour – If you only have a limited time in Philly then a bus tour should be your go to! Just make sure you bring a jacket, scarf, hat and gloves with you if you want to sit on the top deck, because it is COLD. The bus tour will take you around all of the main sites and you can hop on and off at all the main Philadelphia landmarks. It’s a great way to see the city without exhausting yourself. We went with Big Bus Philadelphia Bus Tours. Tours cost around €45.
Eastern State Penitentiary – This was definitely the best thing I did when I was in Philadelphia. Who knew a prison could be so interesting? The Eastern State Penitentiary used to be the most famous and expensive prison on earth. Nowadays it’s looking a little rougher. It’s known for having famous prisoners like Al Capone. We went on a guided tour, led by Damon our thought-provoking guide. He posed a lot of questions and really made us think about the prison system and prisoners. It was an incredible tour and I cannot recommend it enough.
The Barnes Foundation – If you like art with a twist then you’ll love this place. The collection is remarkable. They have pieces by Picasso, Cezanne, Renoir, Matisse and many more. But the real beauty of the Barnes Collection is in the way they are displayed. Dr. Barnes curated the collection himself and wanted the pieces to mirror each other in a sort of symmetry upon the walls. You could spend hours there, especially if you ever studied art. Definitely worth a visit.
Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens – Isaiah Zagar, an artist living in Philly since 1968, loved folk art. He started to create mosaics on vacant lots across from some property he already owned. This lot ended up evolving into what is now the Philadelphia Magic Gardens, a dreamland of colourful tiles and glass. It has been open since 2008 and people can go there to tour the installations, artworks and designs as well as participate in workshops and classes.
Street Art – There are murals and street art all around Philadelphia. In fact, there is a law in place that means any new building in the city that receives any government funding MUST dedicate at least 1% of its budget to pubic art (or something along those lines). Basically Philadelphia CARES about making art accessible to the people of the city and about making the city a beautiful places for its inhabitants to be proud of. You can find a giant mural of Will Smith or a wall full of flags. Local artists and visiting guest artists have made the wall of Philadelphia a tourist attraction in themselves. You can see a list most of the artworks around the city here.
Catch an Eagles Game – In 2017 the Eagles (Philadelphia’s American Football team) won the Superbowl. Their logo, the head of an eagle, is present throughout the city on various merchandise. I got myself an iced coffee in Dunkin’ and it was on the cup. If you happen to be in Philadelphia when the Eagles are playing a game in Lincoln Financial Field then do your best to snag some tickets and experience a hell of an atmosphere.
Food in Philadelphia
Philadelphia is KNOWN for its cheesesteaks. But the big question is – whizz or provolone? If you don’t know what cheese whizz is, think the cheese you get with nachos in the cinema. It’s usually very orange and comes from a can. And well, you all know what provolone is! This question is like asking Irish people “Tayto or King?”, incredibly divisive. SO, when you’re deciding whether or not you like cheesesteaks, make sure you try both ways before you make your decision.
If you’re not into cheese, or steak (like me), then why not try another Philadelphia delicacy, like a Philadelphia soft pretzel or some water ice. When I was flying over from Dublin with Aer Lingus they had Philadelphia pretzels in the lounge and they were delicious. When choosing a soft pretzel you need to think about whether you want it with salt or without (bald), braided or twisted. But the most important thing is where to get them. Miller’s Twist is a firm favourite. They make them in all sorts of flavours and with fillings too. Be adventurous!
Water ice seems to be Philadelphia’s answer to Italian ice, which in turn seems to be America’s version of sorbet. I googled the recipe and you make Italian ice the exact same way you make sorbet. BUT HEY, let’s not think about it too much. Water ice is a delicious, sweet, icy treat that comes in all varieties of fruity flavours. Sometimes it can be a bit more slushy than sorbet, but it’s always tasty. Every neighbourhood in Philly has its favourite place to get water ice. BUT, Fred’s is always popular. They have over 20 flavours and you can find them in a couple of places around the city.
There are plenty of incredible dining options in Philadelphia. I LOVE food halls where you can taste lots of things in one sitting. The Reading Terminal Market is INCREDIBLE. It is absolutely packed at lunch time on weekdays. So go for breakfast or a later lunch. There are plethora of veggie options. I had a delicious, way too big, cheese and egg bagel with a drink from Spataro’s and I think it was about $3.60. It can be as cheap or as expensive as you like depending on where you eat. In the Pennsylvania General Store they sell Hope’s Cookies and they are absolutely to die for. Miller’s Twist is actually in Reading Terminal Market too.
I mentioned a few restaurants above in the 2 day Philadelphia itinerary, but that doesn’t even begin to cover the bustling food and drink scene in Philadelphia. Hopefully I’ll get around to writing another article or two all about the great restaurant scene in Philly. But for now you can read more about the Philadelphia foodie scene here.
Have you been to Philadelphia?
What did you think?
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