The City of Brotherly Love is one that is close to my heart for many reasons. Philadelphia is the first place I visited in the USA, the first city I ever lived in, and the location for lots of American adventures.
Society Hill is full of cobblestone streets, shutter-framed windows and American flags outside the 18th-century row houses. South Street is its edgy neighbour, while Center City is home to soaring skyscrapers, high-end boutiques and the ritzy restaurants of Rittenhouse Square. Across the Schuylkill River is University City, where I spent most of my months in Philly.
Old City is the tourists’ first stop: history is the mainstay of Philadelphia, which was home to Benjamin Franklin and served as the country’s temporary capital after the American Revolution. Here you’ll find Independence Hall, where you can read the Declaration of Independence before lining up to look at the Liberty Bell across the road.
An equally popular attraction in this city is its artwork. Philly boasts a multitude of murals and one of the country’s best art collections. The Philadelphia Museum of Art is excellent and well worth a visit – even if only for the city views and run up the ‘Rocky’ steps. On the Parkway back to Center City is the Rodin Museum, where The Thinker poses enigmatically at the entrance.
Philadelphia has a penchant for public art: among the most memorable pieces are Robert Indianna’s sculpture in ‘Love Park’ and the infamous button outside the University of Pennsylvania’s main library. If you’re around on the first Friday of the month, the city’s galleries open their doors to the public on an evening that takes on the air of an outdoor party.
When all the sightseeing makes you hungry, good food won’t be hard to find. Reading Terminal Market is an absolute must-see (and there are plenty of must-eats too). Fresh food of all flavours can be found under one roof: there’s homemade ice cream, Amish specialities, colossal corned beef sandwiches at Hershel’s East Side Deli, and big, big breakfasts at the Down Home Diner. Save space for happy hour at the Oyster House on Sansom Street, before grabbing some gelato at Capogiro.
In this cultural melting pot of more than a million people, there is something for everyone, from history and art to fine food and drink. It was as a student in Philly that I found football and frat parties, a coffee addiction and The Colbert Report, not to mention the wonders of WaWa and everything outlined above. Most of all, Philly was where I found fast and firm friends – and for me that makes it worth the journey any day.
Stories My Suitcase Could Tell Recommends:
Eat: Pennsylvania’s notoriously strict liquor licences mean that BYOBs are everywhere, from trendy Center City spots to student staples. Mexican Don Memo’s in West Philly is almost a UPenn rite of passage; for a more mature margarita, make for Lolita’s in Midtown Village. The hand-made guacamole is a definite go-to. And of course, you can’t forget to chow down on a Philly Cheesesteak. Pat’s and Geno’s are well-known rivals, but Jim’s on South Street beats them both.
Drink: City Tap House sits at the edge of the University of Pennsylvania campus on 40th and Walnut, and hosts an impressive range of local, seasonal and speciality brews – sit on the terrace by the outdoor fires for extra ambience. For center city views and classy cocktails, take the lift to XIX (Nineteen) at the Hyatt at the Bellevue on Avenue of the Arts.
Visit: The Magic Gardens on South Street. The maze of mosaics and murals made from discarded china, broken bottles and coloured glass is the spectacular result of more than a decade of work by artist Isaiah Zagar.