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Philadelphia Travel Guide

Weekend Getaway


Falling for Philly
The City That Loves You Back

Philadelphia's City Hall
City Hall

If every dog has its day, then Philadelphia is poised to win best of show. Long a city that sat on the sidelines, Philadelphia now takes center stage with plenty of surprises for the more than 30 million visitors who come to the region each year. While history has been the city's calling card since the Founding Fathers sowed the seeds of revolution at the First Continental Congress in 1774, Philadelphia isn't defined only by its past. With its vibrant neighborhoods — 152 in all — to its burgeoning downtown, awash in trendy restaurants and new condominiums, the city buzzes with energy and vigor. Stay three days or three weeks, and you'll find that Philadelphia possesses a dynamism that always takes first-time visitors by surprise.

The beauty of the city that loves you back is that it has a little taste of everything. Mid-sized with a very small-town vibe, it offers culture and fine dining beside neighborhood bars and verdant green space. New Yorkers will argue that Philly exists in the shadow of its northern neighbor, but residents and visitors know that Philly has an intimacy New York can never hope to achieve. To know Philadelphia is to appreciate it as a city that stands on its own.

Like many East Coast cities, you don't need a car to get around in Philadelphia. If you choose to forego the rental, there are public transportation options provided by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA). If arriving by air, take SEPTA's regional rail train to Center City and make your way to either the brand new boutique The Independent Philadelphia or The Hotel Palomar, an artsy outgrowth of the Kimpton brand. The Independent is an appealing choice for its location in artsy Midtown Village, just a few blocks from the historic sights; but if you want to splurge, The Palomar is sure to please you as much as it does the celebrities who pass through town. Another alternative is the Omni Hotel at Independence Park: small, elegant and convenient to the historic district.

Before you go, consider getting a CityPass to save up to 50% off the price of regular admissions to some of the city's finest attractions.

PHILADELPHIA ITINERARY: DAY 1

Elfreth's Alley in Philadelphia, a National Historic Landmark
Elfreth's Alley
Wherever you're staying, the activities of your first morning are within walking distance, in Old City. This part of Philly is rich in history yet packed with contemporary pastimes. After heading north on Second Street, and crossing Market Street, you will notice Christ Church. Built between 1727 and 1754, its burial ground at Fifth and Arch Streets is home to the graves of such historic tenants as Benjamin Franklin and his wife, Deborah.

In addition to indulging in the historical aspects of this area, explore its modern side by dropping in on the notable art galleries and shops up and down Second and Third Streets. Just don't miss a stroll down Elfreth's Alley, a National Historic Landmark. Still a residential street for several lucky Philadelphians, this narrow cobblestone walkway is the nation's oldest residential street, established in 1702. Once a year, its homeowners open their doors to the public for a glimpse into the historic row homes. Off Second Street on Arch Street you will find the unassuming Betsy Ross House, where the famed seamstress once lived.

Franklin Square, Philadelphia, one of the five public squares originally laid out by William Penn
Franklin Square

One of Philadelphia's newest attractions is also among its oldest. Franklin Square, one of the five public squares that William Penn laid out in his original plan for the city, was renovated at a cost of $6.5 million, and opened to the public in 2006. The family-friendly park now includes an 18-hole Philly-themed miniature golf course; a classic 30-figure carousel; storytelling benches where you can hear tales of Franklin Square's past courtesy of the friendly storytellers of Once Upon a Nation; a picnic area and more. Four new herringbone brick walking paths with nighttime lighting lead to the centerpiece of the Square, Franklin Square Fountain, an 1838 marble masterpiece enclosed by elaborate wrought iron. Bring a picnic for lunch, or have a bite from Square Burger, a new food concession opened by local restaurant czar Stephen Starr. Menu highlights include an impressive burger, Hebrew National hot dogs, and Tastykake shake, flavored with Butterscotch Krimpets.

Liberty Bell, Philadelphia
Liberty Bell
Or take a break for lunch at a local eatery such as Fork/Fork Etc., a casual place for fresh bistro fare and a glass of wine. Try one of the salads — grilled lemongrass steak, cucumbers, romaine, carrots and crushed peanuts is delish — or a sandwich made from bread baked on premises.

Finish your Old City tour by walking back to Market Street via Third Street. When you reach Market, cross the street and head one block west. Tucked into a location known as Franklin Court, is the site of Ben Franklin's former home. All that's left is a recreated structure of metal beams giving a visual approximation of the home's dimensions, and a few glass-encased remains of the original building. It's worth taking a look at these preserved artifacts and reading quotes from Franklin's letters and diary engraved on the flagstones under your feet. This site is part of Independence National Historic Park.

Continue west on Market Street until you reach Fifth Street. Here you will see Independence Hall — where the Declaration of Independence was signed — and that fractured symbol of freedom, the Liberty Bell. By wandering around this area you can also see the Franklin Mint building, Congress Hall, Carpenters' Hall, Old City Hall, Graff House and the First and Second Banks of the United States. Colonial re-enactors in period costume are evident in many historic areas, and you may even catch a glimpse of Ben Franklin.

The Grand Hall at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia
The Grand Hall at the Constitution Center
You should also leave plenty of time in your wanderings to see the Constitution Center — the world's only museum dedicated to the U.S. Constitution. Afterwards, stop by the City Tavern at Second and Walnut Streets — a recreation of the original tavern where the framers of the Constitution drank and took their meals. In this candlelit spot with a pleasant garden, the staff wears Colonial garb.

After a few hours of walking through the historic sites in the park, you'll have worked up an appetite. At Zahav, an Israeli restaurant in Society Hill, chef Michael Solomonov mines his family roots by exploring the gastronomies of Morocco, Turkey, Yemen, Lebanon, Egypt and the Baltics. Choose from a casual mezze-centered menu or indulge in a chef's tasting. Zahav is an excellent choice if your family includes vegetarians and carnivores. Or check out Garces Trading Company, another winner from chef/owner Jose Garces. Garces Trading Company is part marketplace, part restaurant, with an impressive array of charcuterie, specialty olive oils and cheeses available for purchase.

If you plan ahead and order tickets, after dinner you can walk over to the Walnut Street Theatre and attend a play at the oldest continuously operating theater in America. When the curtain comes down, call it a night.

Continue to Day 2

MORE PHILADELPHIA INFORMATION

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* City Hall intro image by Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau
Elfreth's Alley
image from www.elfrethsalley.org
The Grand Hall at the Constitution Center Courtesy of National Constitution Center

(Updated: 03/21/11 BH)


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