Philly is one of those cities that makes you feel as though you have stepped back in time. Originally supposed to be the site of the capital of the United States Philly is almost bursting at the seams with American history. And as many of you know is something this history nerd looks for in weekends away!
This was my fourth time back to the 'City of Brotherly Love' so I didn’t feel the need to rush all over the place. But lucky for all of us Philly also happens to be on the smaller side and can easily be done in a weekend.
HOW TO GET THERE
For people located in and around the East Coast there are multiple bus operators that can get you to Philly including the Bolt, MegaBus and Greyhound. Depending on how far you book your tickets in advance you can get them for under $10 each way!
If you happen to be located in (or are visiting) the NY/NJ area you can either drive, take Amtrak’s quick Acela train, or you may be surprised to find out you can actually get to Philly via public transportation.
From NY all it takes is a subway ride to Penn Station. From there you jump on a NJ Transit train and take it to Trenton. It’s then a quick hop across the train platform and onto the SEPTA train, which will take you right into Philadelphia’s 30th Street station! If you are already in NJ just get on the NJ Transit and the directions are the same. Easy peasy!
SITES TO SEE
Historical sights aside (because you are obviously seeing those) Philly has a multitude of unique and fun things to take in.
PRO TIP: Even though you most likely will have cell service while in Philly it is a huge help and time saver if you mark these things in your Google maps. Not only will it save you the time of stopping and Googling you can easily plot out how you want to tackle your days.
The site of the infamous Rocky stair running scene, a great view, an awesome collection of medieval art and the golden Diana statue.
TIP TO NOTE: Your ticket to the museum is good for two days and also gets you into the Perelman Building and the Rodin Museum. Be a smart traveler and don’t forget your student I.D. for a discount!
Unfortunately, the LOVE Park is currently closed for renovation through the end of November (and therefore Robert Indiana's famous LOVE sculpture has been temporarily removed). But you can see his AMOR sculpture (the bilingual version of the LOVE sculpture) just down the road in Sister Cities Park.
Located between Second Street and the Delaware River this cute, historic street (which dates back to 1702) is also known as "our nation's oldest residential street”. 32 homes line the alleyway and were all built between 1728 and 1836. If you’re looking for a real treat, time your Philly trip with either “Deck the Alley” in December or June’s Fete Day, which is when residents open up their homes to the public.
I told you there would be historical stuff. Head here to see the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall (where the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were signed) and nearby Christ Church Burial Ground which is the final resting place of Benjamin Franklin himself!
Way back in 1791 this guy, also known as Alexander Hamilton (take note Hamilton fans), believed the US needed a national bank in order to stabilize and improve the nation's credit. Along with Congress the bank was created as part of a three-part expansion of the nation’s monetary power (which also included a Federal Mint). Step back into history by visiting the “First Bank of the United States”.
TIP TO NOTE: There are 4 United States Mints in the United States. You can tour them all, and one of them happens to be in Philly! Go get that money, honey!
The world's FIRST true penitentiary, which housed notorious American criminals including "Slick Willie" Sutton and "Scarface" Al Capone. What used to be the most famous prison in the world now stands in ruins, but is open to the public. A maze of crumbling cellblocks and empty guard towers it’s the perfect mixture for the history buff and “horror” enthusiast. From the vaulted, sky-lit cells, to the radial hub-and-spoke (“wagon wheel”) design which has been mimicked by more than 300 prisons worldwide, the ESP will give you an eerie look into life behind bars.
FUN FACT: In the Fall the ESP also hosts a series of haunted nights called “Terror Behind The Walls”. If you actually want to be scared out of your mind while walking through the best possible setting for a haunted house, put Philly on your list in October and November.
Add a little magic to your stay by heading down to South Street and taking in the Magic Gardens. The gardens are both inside and outside and span half a city block! Run by a non-profit this is the largest mosaic work by artist Isaiah Zagar. As you walk through the space you'll see visual anecdotes and personal narratives about Zagar’s life, family, and the community.
TIP TO NOTE: This place gets packed pretty quickly so don't save it to the last minute. The later you go in the day the more like you will be to stand in line.
AREAS TO CHILL OUT
(or spend more money)
RITTENHOUSE SQUARE & PARK
The most popular town square in the city, Rittenhouse is home to high-rises, luxury buildings and retail stores. The tree filled and lined park is the perfect place to relax after a long day of exploring or shopping, and when you get hungry (which you undoubtedly will) you can pop over to one of the many popular restaurants lining the square. In addition to picnicking, lunching or just taking a walk you can find events, festivals, art shows which span the perimeter of the park throughout the year. As well as the Christmas tree lighting ceremony in December.
CHESTNUT & WALNUT STREETS
Shop until you drop is the motto on these streets! But not only will they take your cold, hard earned cash (which you obviously saved for this trip) the streets are actually cute and take you right through the main center of the city. Win-win!
Not only will you get a gorgeous view of the Delaware River Waterfront, Penn’s Landing (which encompasses the entire waterfront area) has events and attractions all year round. Just a short walk from Old City and the historic center, you can visit the Independence Seaport Museum, check out one of the historic ships moored in the river, or just hang out and people watch in The Great Plaza or Spruce Street Harbor Park (which has chairs, tables and hammocks in the summer).
If you want to discover some of the hip bars and restaurants in Philly head to Fishtown in the northern part of the city. This is where the “cool people” hang out, and where culinary, art and music trends start. Typically known as a more hipster neighborhood, galleries and studios along Frankford Avenue are also open to the public the first Friday of each month. Let’s be real…the best places to eat and drink are probably located in Fishtown so pull out your phone and call an Uber.
SCHUYLKILL RIVER TRAIL
Spanning 130 miles along Southeastern Pennsylvania, this multi-use recreational path is popular for biking, running, walking and also just hanging out. While you’re in Philly you can enjoy the Center City section which is easily accessible via many access points. If you didn’t bring a bike with you (which I wouldn’t expect you did) don’t fret, Philly’s bike share program Indego has you covered. More on that below!
WHAT TO EAT & DRINK
If you’ve been paying attention you saw my trendy foods in Philly post. If you haven’t click on over to read more about what I think you should be eating in Philly.
If you need a few more ideas for food and drinks, check out these places below:
LUNCH & DINNER
Manatawny Still Works, Barcelona Wine Bar, Root (also great for brunch), Wm. Mulherin's Sons (I may be slightly obsessed with this place), Philadelphia Distilling, Hop Sing Laundromat, and McGillins Olde Ale House (because it is the oldest restaurant in PA)
HOW TO GET AROUND
Because of the fact Philly isn’t a massive city it’s a very walkable city. There is public transportation in the form of buses and an underground system but I prefer the most ‘active route’ i.e. walking and biking.
Check out Philly’s Indego bike share program. There are hundreds of bikes located throughout the city and a handy-dandy app which will tell you which stations are out of order, and how many bikes and slots are available at each station. Each station has a touchscreen kiosk for you to choose what type of bike service you want, and even better the bikes all have either a front basket or a combination of a front AND rear basket! Sorry to NY’s Citibike system but this aspect of Philly’s has you beat.
PRO TIP: If you’re just picking up and going with single rides they are a tad on the expensive side (as each ride is $4) but you can make this more economical by getting either a one-day pass for $10 (which includes unlimited 30 minute trips), or if you will be in the city for more than 24 hours just shelling out an extra $5 for the $15 month pass where you can get unlimited one hour trips – just don’t forget to cancel or pass upon leaving!
WHERE TO STAY
I have experienced a multitude of options when it comes to where I’ve stayed in Philly. This last trip I experienced something a little different by staying in luxury temporary housing instead of a hotel or Airbnb. And let me tell you, this is an accommodation option overlooked by way too many!
The benefits of staying in temporary housing is it feels like a hotel but has all of the comforts of home. I can also almost guarantee you that the amenities included will far outnumber what you have in your own home or apartment.
They own multiple buildings throughout the city but all provide the same luxuries and comfort. Business center, coffee and tea, rooftops, game centers, gourmet kitchens, immaculate bathrooms, comfortable beds, cable across multiple TV, gorgeous views and art done by local artists.
WH MULHERIN & SONS
Located in Fishtown (you know that hip neighborhood I talked about earlier), this restaurant/bar/hotel combo has some of the best pizza around, and an ambiance that is just the cutest. It is on the small side as there are only 4 available rooms, but they are both beautifully designed and feature custom-made furniture. I unfortunately was not able to stay here but on my next trip to Philly I most certainly will!
APPLE HOSTELS OF PHILADELPHIA
The city’s most popular hostel in Old City near Independence National Historical Park, Apple Hostels is an international hostel that includes multiple amenities such as free Wifi, computers, a lounge, walking tours, a laundry room, baggage storage, lockers and a fully equipped kitchen. You also won’t be short on social activities at this hostel has an open bar Thursday through Tuesday evenings, with a pub crawl on Thursdays, a wine a cheese social Saturday nights, and a complimentary pasta dinner on Wednesdays.
There you go! A quick, easy, and down-and-dirty recommendation list for Philly! Definitely doable in a weekend and packed full of unique and historical fun! As always traveling is your own experience and by no means do I expect you to follow this "guide" (of sorts). But maybe, just maybe, something piqued your interest and you can pin it for later to add it to the list!
BIG thank you to Nicole at the Eastern State Penitentiary for hooking me up with a ticket, and to Sara from Cook City Suites for the awesome apartment!
Content Creator, Traveler, Foodie, Amateur Photographer (and surprise!) Graphic Designer living in New York City. This website started in 2016 as a space to share my passion to live life to the fullest, make adventures a priority, eat all of the good food, drink all of the wine, and curate the beautiful photos that come along with it.