Last Updated on 22nd September 2019 by Sophie Nadeau
Looking for an excursion that is adventurous, historical and maybe just a tad revolutionary? Then let me suggest to you Philadelphia, Pennsylvania! Home to plenty of history, a mouthwatering foodie scene, and some stunning architecture, this is one American city that can be explored over the course of a day or enjoyed over a long weekend. Here’s your ultimate guide to the best things to do in Philadelphia, including insider tips to help you make the most of your trip!
On a recent visit to this captivating US city, I had a marvellous time learning more about the founding of the United States, exploring the diverse neighbourhoods and meeting friendly locals wherever I went. Philadelphia is one of the oldest U.S. cities and was founded as early as 1682. As a result, the city is about as historical a place as one can find in the states.
Editor’s note: If you’re looking to enjoy the best of Philadelphia (and visit most of the top things to do in the city), then you might want to consider investing in a Go Philadelphia all-inclusive pass. Included in the price is entry into over 30 top attractions, including the Science Museum and the Franklin Institute. See all the details here!
Why you must visit Philadelphia on your next USA adventure
Philadelphia has been the site of many important events in history, especially during the American Revolution! After all, it was where the Founding Fathers met and signed the Declaration of Independence. The city is also home to the first library, hospital, medical school, and stock exchange in the entirety of the United States of America.
And that’s not all! In 2015, Philly became the first city in the U.S. to become a member of the Organization of World Heritage Cities! Still not convinced as to why you should plan a visit to Philadelphia on your next US trip? Read on to discover plenty more top attractions in the City of Brotherly Love, as well as hidden gems you won’t find in any guidebooks…
Best things to do in Philadelphia
Embark on a Historical Walking Tour
With so much to see, one of the best things I did on my trip to Philly was to take a walking tour soon after I arrived. The guided tour included all of the most famous landmarks in the historic district of Old City. Soon enough, I learned all about the city’s history from a local, allowing me ample opportunity to get my bearings for the rest of the day.
The tour ended up being so thorough that I didn’t even need to go back to anything afterwards as I had originally planned. While there are many different types of walking tours to choose from, I would highly recommend one with a focus on the historic district. From Independence Hall to the Liberty Bell, the oldest residential street in America to the first federal bank, Philly is rich with history you don’t want to miss. Book your Philadelphia historical walking tour here.
Experience World Cuisine
Philly may be best known as the home of the Philadelphia cheesesteak (a scrumptious sandwich overflowing with melted cheese and thin steak strips), but with a steady flow of immigrants making a home in the city since its founding, Philly is also considered a foodie destination with cuisine from around the world.
Redding Terminal Market and Bourse Hall are two excellent food markets packed with varied food stalls. With everything from the famous cheesesteak to Indian cuisine, you certainly won’t go hungry! There’s also the delicious Italian market on South 9th street boasting a mouthwatering array of Italian-American eateries, gelato and gorgeous produce.
Marvel at the Philadelphia Museum of Art
The Philadelphia Art Museum is a wonder. Home to the Rocky Steps and Statue, the museum also boasts impressive art collections and visiting exhibitions. While in the cultural space I saw a wonderful collection of impressionist paintings as well as an exhibit on the work of Japanese colour woodcut artist Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.
A ticket to the Philadelphia Museum of Art also gets you into the Rodin museum nearby, which houses a small collection of treasures in the only dedicated Rodin museum outside of France. Purchase your entrance ticket to the Museum of Art and Rodin Museum here.
Snap photos with the I Love Philly Sign & the LOVE sign
As with many other major cities across the world, Philadelphia has its own ‘I Love this City’ sign. All bold red and larger than life in size, get your camera at the ready! What you may well not know is that another brilliant and beautiful sign can be found in the form of the LOVE sign.
Originally installed in 1976, the LOVE statue was a park addition for the United States Bicentennial and was only ever meant to be temporary. However, after its removal just two years after installation, the public outcry was such that the statue was once more installed in the John F. Kennedy Plaza. So iconic is the Robert Indiana LOVE sculpture, that the park surrounding it has since been renamed LOVE park!
Visit The Franklin Institute
Named for Benjamin Franklin, the Franklin Institute is part science museum and part education centre. The Institute is fun for adults but also ideal for groups visiting Philly with children. With a planetarium, escape rooms and virtual reality demonstrations, as well as exhibits, it would be easy (and fun) to spend an entire afternoon here. I particularly loved walking through the Giant Heart and learning about the human brain in the Your Brain exhibit.
Enjoy one of the best views in the city from One Liberty Observation Deck
Hands down, one of the best views in Philadelphia is that from the One Liberty Observation Deck. Enjoy the 260-degrees panoramic view during the day or the night (or even during sunset if you plan your visit right!). For the history buffs out there, free guided tours in English are available on the hour between 11:00 and 17:00. Purchase your observation tickets here in advance.
Stroll along the Philadelphia Riverfront
The Philadelphia waterfront is lovely stretch along the Delaware River with lots of amusing attractions. My favorite spot was the Spruce Street Harbor Park. In the park, they had hammocks to relax in, ice cream trucks, beer and food stalls, as well as areas for games.
There was such a beautiful sense of community at the park that it was easy to tell that the Riverfront is a favourite spot for tourists and locals alike. Other fun districts to explore on the waterfront include Penn’s Landing, Benjamin Franklin Bridge and Cherry Pier.
Experience The Magic Gardens
The Magic Gardens is a mixed art immersive experience created by Isaiah Zagar. The gardens feature mosaics and sculpture pieces of reclaimed materials. The gardens, located in the South Street neighbourhood, also function as a nonprofit museum and community outreach centre.
While I got to the gardens too late to go inside, I ended up going on the self-guided walking tour of Zagar’s murals around the neighbourhood, a free and fun alternative.
Getting to (and around) Philadelphia
Philadelphia is a major U.S. city, so there are plenty of ways to reach the city’s heart. If you’re visiting from New York, I believe that Philadelphia is an excellent day trip, at just 1.5 hours from NYC by train. I personally took an early morning train from New York to Philadelphia and left after dinner. Truth be told, it was the perfect amount of time to see everything I wanted.
If you prefer for all of the smaller details to be taken care of for you, then you may want to consider booking a guided tour from New York City like this one. Taking place over the course of two days, this guided visit will show you Philadelphia and Washington DC on a two-day tour from New York.
Once in Philly, then many of the city’s major historical features can easily be explored on foot. However, if you’re looking to see more than a simple overview of the city, then you can purchase tickets for the Double-Decker Hop-on Hop-off Sightseeing Tour, which encompasses 16 miles of the city, making 28 stops and includes an audioguide. Purchase your bus tickets here.
Alternatively, this one-hour segway tour will show you the neighbourhoods of South Philly, Society Hill, and the Historic District from an entirely new perspective. So, as you can see, if you’re looking to see all of the best things to do in Philadelphia, then there’s no shortage of ways to get around the city!
Where to stay in Philadelphia
For the ultimate getaway, you may well want to consider booking an overnight stay in the city, so as to see all of the historical attractions and soak up the ambience of the Pennsylvanian city. For the best rates and availability, I recommend booking your accommodation as soon as you’ve booked your tickets to go! Check out this hotel for oodles of luxury, and check here for the best rates in the city.