We’ve had the opportunity to do a few weekend trips to Philadelphia and seem to find great stuff to do every time. If winters there weren’t so darn cold, Philly is definitely a city I could see myself living in as well.
I’m sharing things we’ve done as well as a couple things we will definitely squeeze in next time. I’ve also marked my must-see items with an asterisk*. Like if you don’t do/see/eat these things, you’ve failed at Philadelphia.
How to Get Around in Philadelphia
Philly is an another great walking city so get out your walking shoes. But it’s also large so you may want to take advantage of some wheeled transportation options as well.
- Indego has regular and electric bikes available at 140 bike share stations around the city.
- Philadelphia PHLASH Downtown Loop bus costs just for $2 per ride or $5 for an all day pass taking you to stops such as Penn’s Landing, Reading Terminal Market, Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Museum of the American Revolution, and more.
- Lyft ride share is also available (download the app using this link to get $5 off your first ride).
What to See in Philadelphia
Philadelphia is comprised of many different neighborhoods, each with its own unique personality. Depending on your interests, or depending on where you’re staying, you may choose to focus on one or two neighborhoods for your visit, or you might want to jump around to get a taste of each, in which case you might want to take advantage of the Philadelphia PHLASH bus loop or join an affordable Hop-on-Hop-off Tour.
Center City, as Philly’s downtown core is known, is actually comprised of several neighborhoods worth checking out including Rittenhouse Square and Old City.
- Fashionable crowds head to the stylish boutiques, art galleries, and spas along Walnut Street, in the Rittenhouse Row district.
- The birthplace of American independence, Old City, is best known for its major Colonial-era sites. Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, and the Betsy Ross House are top area attractions.
Just outside of Center City are other cool neighborhoods like Fishtown, East Passyunk, Logan Square, Penn’s Landing, and Northern Liberties.
- Fishtown is for hipsters. It’s where Philly’s culinary, art, and music trends take off. It’s a magnet for hipsters and creative types with vibrant nightlife that includes hip bistros, beer gardens, and a retro arcade.
- East Passyunk Avenue is for foodies. It’s lined with vintage shops, gastropubs, and Vietnamese pho spots, as well as the famous cheesesteak rivals Pat’s King of Steaks and Geno’s Steaks.
- Logan Square is for fancy people. It’s a vibrant mix of historic buildings, swanky high-rises, and museums sharing verdant parkland. It is also home to the iconic LOVE sculpture.
- Penn’s Landing is for wanna-be-outdoorsy types. It attracts families to its stretch of parks and multicultural eateries along the Delaware River.
- Northern Liberties is for beer drinkers. It’s a former industrial area, revitalized by artists in the 1990s. Head to North 2nd Street for global restaurants, craft beer halls, and dance clubs, or to the Liberties Walk pedestrian mall for bike paths and unique shops.
Where to Stay in Philadelphia
In our most recent visit to Philly, we stayed with our friends, Carl and Sam, and I would highly recommend getting a reservation there. We’ve also previously stayed at the Sheraton Philadelphia Downtown a couple years ago. It was extremely fine but has since been renovated and recent visitors seem extremely happy.
But here are a few other places that look nice and have good recent reviews.
Central First Floor Apartment – bright apartment with high ceilings, large back patio and decks, well stocked kitchen.
Planet B612, the home of “the Little Prince” – 222 year old structure with four floors connected with spiral stairs, quirky, cozy, truly an experience.
Loews Philadelphia Hotel – historic building with an old bank vault in the lobby, gym with all new Techno Gym equipment and Peloton bikes, and outstanding customer service according to reviewers.
Lokal Hotel – Old City – boutique hotel, modern features, cozy white robes, Instagram worthy rooms.
Morris House Hotel – national historic landmark, luxury boutique hotel, elegantly combines 18th-century charm with all of today’s modern conveniences, afternoon tea with homemade cookies.
What to Do in Philadelphia
Philadelphia City Hall is the largest municipal building in the country and it features more than 250 sculptures on the exterior. It’s pretty much the center of Center City and hard to miss if you spend any amount of time in Philly.
Follow Benjamin Franklin Parkway north-west of City Hall into Logan Square to find some of the city’s most important cultural institutions, including the Barnes Foundation, The Franklin Institute, The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University and the crowning Philadelphia Museum of Art.
- The Philadelphia Museum of Art is perfect if you’re in the mood for art. Or in the mood to run up the iconic stairs from the movie “Rocky.” Or in the mood for taking great Insta-ready scenic photos of the city.
- Love Park is a busy park with an iconic sculpture ready to pose for some selfies.
- *The Mütter Museum is a small museum packed to the gills with oddities, curiosities, and medical abnormalities. You’ll see a number of skulls, cadavers, organs, jars of hands and faces, plastic representations of every disease in the book, and even a medicinal garden. You can even buy your very own stuffed, oversized colon!
Reading Terminal Market is just north-east of City Hall. The 127-year-old market serves as both a dazzling tourist destination and a source for fresh produce, seafood, meats, and cheese for locals. The public space also provides open seating where customers can enjoy meals from dozens of restaurants.
Head east to Old City to get your fill of American history.
- Sign up for a guided Constitutional Walking Tour of Philadelphia.
- Visit the Declaration House. The first-floor features exhibitions and a short film regarding Thomas Jefferson’s endeavors at the home where he rented two second-floor rooms from Graff, a well-known bricklayer. The second floor features the parlor where Thomas Jefferson wrote the all-important words that created a new nation in 1776, as well as his bedroom.
- Wander around Christ Church Burial Ground. Inside the gates of this cemetery lay the graves of many historical leaders, including five signers of the Declaration of Independence. Benjamin Franklin and his wife, Deborah, are buried here, as is the man who dug their graves.
- Tour the Betsy Ross House. Wander through the tiny rooms and tight staircases of the circa-1740 residence of America’s most famous flag maker on a self-guided tour. Learn about Betsy Ross’ role in the American Revolution and her fascinating work and life. Bonus: There will be people in costumes.
- Wait in line to get a selfie with the Liberty Bell. No one recorded when or why the Liberty Bell first cracked, but the most likely explanation is that a narrow split developed in the early 1840’s after nearly 90 years of hard use. In 1846, when the city decided to repair the bell, metal workers widened the thin crack to prevent its farther spread and restore the tone of the bell so the wide crack in the Liberty Bell is actually the repair job!
- *Reserve tickets through recreation.gov to visit Independence Hall, the site where the Declaration of Independence was signed, finalizing the colonies’ break with England. If you’re very lucky, your tour guide will bear an uncanny resemblance to Chris Farley as Matt Foley in a “School House Rock” version of on the “Living in a van down by the river” sketch.
South Street represents the southern boundary of Center City and has a wonderfully eclectic lineup of businesses and is always buzzing with activity. There are also a number of things to do and so many places to eat beyond South Street in South Philly.
- *Explore Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens. A local artist began tiling South Street in the 1960s and never stopped, constructed the space out of cement, bicycle spokes, bottles, ceramic shards, and other artistic knick-knacks. Covering an indoor and outdoor space equivalent to half a city block, Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens glistens with creativity, urban renaissance, and a hint of madness.
- Check out the cheesesteak rivals: Pat’s King of Steaks is open 24h a day serving cheesesteak across the street from it’s main competitor, Geno’s Steaks. A cheesesteak consists of a long, crusty roll filled with thinly sliced, freshly sautéed ribeye beef and melted cheese, with or without onions.
Where to Eat in Philadelphia
For breakfast and coffee:
- Korshak Bagels – Get to this bagel shop early to get in line. When you get to the front of the line, you will be given a private mini-tour to learn about the bagels and how they are made. Then order whatever bagel suits your fancy along with the house schmear of cream cheese whipped with goat milk and the brine of mozzarella.
- Federal Donuts – Visit any one of several locations. Coffee, crispy Korean fried chicken, and donuts. They have fancy donuts and hot donuts and I highly recommend a hot cinnamon and sugar donut for now and a fancy donut for later.
- Rival Bros Coffee Bar – A full-service coffee shop with all the classic espresso drinks enhanced by pleasant service and tasty pastries. There are several locations throughout the city.
- Jim’s South Street – A good spot to try a famous Philly cheesesteak if you skip Geno’s and Pat’s. These sandwiches consist of chopped steak ordered with provolone/ American/ Whiz and “wit” or “without” onions.
- Phở 75 – Classic no-frills, cash-only pho place.
- Di Bruno Bros. – offers the area’s largest selection of international cheeses. Find new cheeses that will take your next pasta dinner to sublime levels, a variety of treats to compose the ultimate antipasto, and so much more. Stop by to build your own cheese board picnic lunch.
- *Zahav – Israeli cuisine where even something as simple as hummus is genuinely eye-opening. Reservations required.
- *Monk’s Cafe – Belgian beer emporium with a perfect repertoire of rotating beers on tap and hundreds by the bottle, from Chimay Dorée and Tripel Karmeliet on tap to Achel Blond and Westmalle Tripel by the bottle. The food is solid too.
- Bing Bing Dim Sum – Overtly Americanized interpretation of dim sum classics. Don’t miss the crispy-bottomed cheesesteak bao!
- Separatist South Philly – This brewery places an emphasis on lagers and spontaneously fermented styles produced with a coolship, a method associated with Belgian lambics. Separatist South Philly also offers rotating draft cocktails.
- *Human Robot – Definitely go here for beer. Their Burgenstraße is dang incredible. It’s easy drinking, lightly sweet, lightly hoppy, and tastes very zwickely. Robo-latte is an amazing pick-me-up combining delicious stout with Vietnamese coffee over ice. The Czech 10⁰ is a nice and crisp summer beer. Poe’s Sandwich Joint is onsite to provide food. Get something with smoked Cheeze Whiz. If indoor seating is not available, you can order from the takeout window and sit on the giant outdoor ship.
- Evil Genius Beer Company – This place comes with some serious ’90s vibes and a side yard that operates as a beer garden in warm months. Even the innovative beers have funky names The flights are a great way to go here. The First Rule of Flight Club is a 5 beer flight with a fun mix of different, mostly fruity beers, all of which are quite lovely. Flight at the Roxbury is a 5 IPA flight, all of which are quite distinct from one another and a good way to decide what you might like a full pint of.
- Morgan’s Pier – Super hip, outdoor, riverfront restaurant and bar with an extensive tap list. It’s a great place to go with a group too.
- *John’s Water Ice – transforms fruit, sugar and frozen water into “wudder ice” – something magical with the texture of creamy snow. Choose from four flavors of water ice; four flavors of ice cream; or a combination thereof called “gelati.”
Can’t decide what you want to try or just want some insider tips? Join the Flavors of Philly Food Tour to visit locals-only food joints and sample iconic Philly favorites, such as cheesesteak, tomato pie, and soft pretzels. Or narrow your focus with the Italian Market Experience Tour.
Itinerary for a Weekend in Philadelphia
From my experience, 2-3 days is a good amount of time for a first visit to Philly, but you could easily spend a week without getting bored. That said, I’m not going to spell out a detailed itinerary for you because you may want to do slightly different things than we did, but hit me up if you want help coming up with your own personalized itinerary. Or just explore and see what you find! Here’s my Google Map that you can use to start planning your own adventure in Philadelphia, PA.