Halfway between New York and Washington, Philadelphia suffers somewhat from the immense notoriety of its neighbors and tourists don’t necessarily stop there… It’s a shame, because it fully deserves it. In a country that is often criticized for not having a historical heritage, Philadelphia holds a special place, since it is THE city where the United States was born… So here is a small overview of things to see, to do… or to eat, if you have the chance to visit Philadelphia, or “Philly” for friends.
1/ Admire the impressionists of the Barnes Foundation
The Barnes Foundation, it is without hesitation, the jewel of Philadelphia! Albert C. Barnes (1872-1951) was a pharmacist who made his fortune and amassed an incredible art collection. Today estimated at 25 million dollars, it has no less than 181 Renoirs, 69 Cézannes, 59 Matisses, 46 Picassos… It is the largest private collection of Impressionist paintings in the world… It reopened in May 2012 in brand new premises. Within its old walls, the collection was cramped, and you had to book months in advance to have the chance to enter. With these new buildings, the capacity has increased from 60,000 visitors per year to 220,000. The presentation of the works is quite original. Not at all based on authors or timeline, but exactly as Barnes decided at the time: based on colors, themes and sizes of tables. Portraits, still lifes and landscapes are exhibited facing each other, so as to respect a symmetrical presentation. The first impression may seem a little cluttered and overloaded, but in fact it is quite fascinating to discover so many exceptional works at a single glance. A bit like breaking into a real Ali Baba’s cave.
2/ Discover the birthplaces of the United States
It was in Philadelphia, on July 4, 1776, that the Declaration of Independence was proclaimed by Thomas Jefferson! After the war, the first Constitution was written there in 1787. And the city was even briefly the capital of the United States, from 1790 to 1800.
Not to be missed to better understand the country’s history: the Liberty Bell Center, with the famous liberty bell that rang for the independence of the colonies… It’s a bit of the city’s tourist attraction And also , next door, Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were signed.
Note, for his role in the War of Independence, La Fayette is a real star in Philadelphia… The city is very Francophile… To see in particular: a statue of Joan of Arc (near the Benjamin Franklin Parkway), and a Rodin museum.
3/ Eat a cheesesteak
So cheesesteak is THE specialty of Philly! The thing that all travelers who have been there recommend to taste! And me in turn… So not necessarily for the gastronomic qualities of the dish in question, but rather for the experience of such an American tradition… The cheesesteak is quite simply a sandwich of minced meat, with cheese and the onion… But be careful, don’t miss the ordering ritual! (read below) At Pat’s King of Steaks, the line at the counter stretches out onto the sidewalk. And you have to have prepared what you want before reaching the cashier, because slowing down the pace of service is out of the question! While we queue, we have time to read the sign with all the instructions for “ordering a cheesesteak properly”: 1/ say whether or not you want onions, that is to say “wit” (with onions, in Philly, we say wit and not with…) or “wit-out” (without onions); 2/choose your type of cheese (roughly more or less plastic cheese like McDo…); 3/prepare your change because you don’t have to hang around at the checkout… Finally, you can quietly sit down on the metal tables to “taste” your huge, well-deserved cheesesteak! The ketchup-mayonnaise-mustard seasonings are at will. And enjoy the lively atmosphere of the terrace, frequented by the neighborhood’s Italian-Americans. Provide you can sit quietly on the metal tables to “taste” your huge, well-deserved cheesesteak! The ketchup-mayonnaise-mustard seasonings are at will. And enjoy the lively atmosphere of the terrace, frequented by the neighborhood’s Italian-Americans. Provide you can sit quietly on the metal tables to “taste” your huge, well-deserved cheesesteak! The ketchup-mayonnaise-mustard seasonings are at will. And enjoy the lively atmosphere of the terrace, frequented by the neighborhood’s Italian-Americans. Providea good afternoon of walking in Philadelphia to eliminate all that!
Among the other institutions where you can taste cheesesteak: Geno’s Steaks (right opposite Pat’s King) or Jim’s Steak, which I unfortunately didn’t have time to try…
4/ Hang out at the Italian Market
The Italian Market is right next to the two cheesesteak institutions mentioned above: Paat’s King and Geno. Super lively street market, we could as well call it “World Market”, because there are both Italians and Mexicans, as well as Asian stalls. Fruits and vegetables, butchers, hardware stores, trinkets of all kinds… I would not have thought of finding such a place in the United States! A real popular market with a great atmosphere and where you can sit quietly on the terrace for lunch or a drink.
5/ Run like Rocky!
It’s a mythical scene in American cinema: you remember, in Rocky, Sylvester Stallone jogging through the city and ending up running up the stairs with a panoramic view… Well, it’s in Philadelphia! And these steps are those of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, renamed today “Rocky steps”.
The funny thing is that everyone re-enacts the scene and runs up the stairs to raise their fists high in victory when they reach the top! A truly unusual spectacle to watch… And when a school bus arrives in front of the museum, a whole swarm of over-excited children rush running down the legendary steps!
And at the bottom, there is of course the souvenir statue of Rocky, in front of which you have to wait patiently in line to get your picture…
6/ Toast at the Philadelphia Museum of Art
Even if it means running up the stairs, you might as well take the opportunity to take a trip to the museum all the same, right? The Philadelphia Museum of Art is Philly’s largest art museum. You can notably see “Les Grandes Baigneuses” by Cézanne, “Les Tournesols” by Van Gogh, or “Japanese Bridge” by Monet… In a more modern register, there is also “Urinal” by Marcel Duchamp…
The ideal is to be able to go there on Friday at the end of the afternoon to be able to take advantage of the “ Arts After five ”. From 5 p.m., the large atrium of the museum turns into a bar… The opportunity to take a well-deserved break between two paintings while enjoying a good cocktail or a glass of wine! And in addition, conferences and concerts are organized. A great initiative that I would like to see in Parisian museums!
7/ Browse the city to discover the murals
This is one of my biggest favorites in Philly! I, who love street art, fell in love with the murals of Philadelphia. There are more than 5,000 throughout the city! The walls of car parks or sports grounds become works of art. It is absolutely necessary to obtain the map of the “mural tour” at the tourist office, and this is an opportunity for a great walk through the city to discover the frescoes drawn by local artists.
8/ Visit the Magic Garden
The “ Magic Garden ” is a unique place, created by the mosaic artist Isaiah Zagar. A large house and a garden transformed into a work of art thanks to mosaics and recycled objects (glass bottles, crockery, old bicycles, etc.). It’s like entering a magical maze with lots of nooks and crannies to discover.
Address: 1020 South Street, between 10th and 11th Streets on South Street
9/ Lunch at Reading Terminal Market
The Reading Terminal Market is Philly’s other unmissable market! Originality: you have to go there from Wednesday to Saturday because the Amish have their stands there to come and sell their farm products. There are plenty of counters everywhere with bar seating for eating in. To taste absolutely: the cheesesteak (if it is not done yet…) or the pretzels (us spelling for pretzels)…
10/ Fall in love at Love Park in Philadelphia
Love Park is the postcard picture of Philadelphia, with the “Love” statue by pop art artist Robert Indiana. It has been there since 1970. Since then, it can be seen in major cities around the world such as New York, Tokyo, Montreal or Singapore… But it was in Philadelphia that it was installed for the first time. Philly is a very artistic city: in addition to the frescoes on the walls, there are also plenty of modern statues on display everywhere. A real open-air museum! Located in the city center, right next to the City Hall, the Love Park is a place not to be missed, with a beautiful fountain and a corner of greenery to take a break… And fall in love with the American charm of beautiful Philly!
11/ Climb to the top of the One Liberty tower
This scenic observatory opened in 2015 so I didn’t get to do it, but it’s now become a must do in Philadelphia. This 269m high skyscraper offers a superb 360° view of the entire city. See One Liberty Observation Deck tickets .
Practical notebook to prepare a trip to Philadelphia
- Book a hotel at the best price: you can compare prices on Booking . One of the best addresses is the Motto by Hilton , very well located next to the Barnes Foundation with modern and comfortable rooms. For an establishment with more character, look at the rooms of Morris House Hotel , located in a superb old residence.
- To see as many attractions as possible in Philadelphia, you can get the Philadelphia Explorer Pass , which saves you money to visit the must-sees.
- To book guided tours and excursions (dinner cruise, visit in the footsteps of Benjamin Franklin, excursion to an Amish village, etc.) or your shuttle transfer from the airport, go to the Ceetiz tourist site, a 100% French-speaking.
- To improve your level of English before leaving, you can try Babbel ‘s online courses (9.95 euros for one month, then decreasing price depending on the duration).
- To read also: my story about my stay in New York .
- For more info: the collection of travel guides Lonely Planet had the very good idea to release a small guide devoted to Philadelphia: Philadelphia in a few days . Very useful for visiting Philadelphia and having a great stay!
I discovered Philadelphia at the invitation of the city ‘s tourist office , which organized a press trip for a dozen bloggers. This in no way changes my assessment of the city and the content of this article. This article contains affiliate links, which means I earn a small commission if you book through them. The price is the same for you and on my side it allows me to continue to make this blog live. Thanks in advance.