The City of Brotherly Love is full of surprises.
By B.C. Rausch
Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport (SAV) to Philadelphia International Airport (PHL)
Duration: 1 hour, 55 minutes
Airlines: Frontier, American
Philadelphia’s nickname — the City of Brotherly Love — is quite literally a translation of two Greek words: love (“phileo”) and brother (“adelphos”). It is very fitting because there’s quite a lot to love about this northeastern city which is packed with things to see and do, many unexpected.
Two of the most popular attractions are the Rocky statue and “Rocky steps.” A steady flow of people—visitors and locals—make the trek to the Philadelphia Museum of Art to snap a selfie with the statue or run up 72 steps for the ultimate photo op. The Philadelphia CVB (visitphilly.com) even features a self-guided, “quintessential Rocky and Creed Tour of Philadelphia.” Be sure to go into the museum behind the statue, with some great art exhibits and part of the city’s well-named “Museum Row.”
Properly introduced to the city, head to its Historic District, where our nation began. You’ll find some of our most iconic monuments and attractions—including the Liberty Bell Center and Independence Hall—as well as other worthy stops, including Franklin Square, the African American Museum, the Museum of the American Revolution and numerous dining options like the Bourse Food Hall.
But Philadelphia also teems with lesser-known sites worth seeking out.
Bartram’s Garden is the oldest botanical garden in North America, founded by John Bartram in 1728. Wander the River Trail and savor the variety of wildflowers, plants and trees. Bartram was named the “King’s Botanist” by King George III in recognition of his knowledge and accomplishments, and many of the plants you’ll see owe their cultivation to Bartram’s efforts.
Morris Arboretum is a beautiful, 92-acre public garden and another great place for walks and picnics, as is Cira Green, an elevated park in West Philadelphia’s University City District that offers lounging space, entertainment, food, and a year-round schedule of special events.
Another hidden surprise is the Mütter Museum, the country’s finest museum of medical history. On display are beautifully preserved collections of anatomical specimens, models and medical instruments in a 19th-century “cabinet museum” setting. The mysteries and beauty of the human body are explained through unusually titled exhibits such as “Dracula and the Incorruptible Body” and “Spit Spreads Death.”
Nearby is Rittenhouse Square, its park surrounded by some of the city’s most elegant homes, hotels and restaurants. For Alice in Wonderland fans, The Rosenbach Museum & Library houses Lewis Carroll’s personal copy of his famous book.
More unusual sights? Check out the Fountain Street Steps, 70 stained-glass mosaic steps known as “Water Under the Bridge.” They connect the Schuylkill River Trail to Manayunk, a trendy suburb known for its row-houses, lofts and Victorian homes, and whose name means “the place to drink.”
Speaking of drinking and, of course, eating, I asked a local for help navigating the city’s vibrant culinary scene, and in typical “Philly Phoodie” fashion, he first told me where not to eat!
“For Philly’s most famous food—cheesesteaks—never go to Geno’s or Pat’s Steaks. Angelo’s Pizzeria is the absolute best for cheesesteak and pizza.”
If you’re a pizza person, you must visit the world’s first pizza museum: the Pizza Brain Museum of Pizza Culture. It contains the world’s largest collection of pizza memorabilia and offers its own award-winning pizza for eating.
Another Phoodie mainstay is the Reading Terminal Market, which is open daily.
This historic venue is considered one of the best public markets in the U.S. It’s a “gastronomic bazaar” with more than 80 merchants selling fresh produce, meats, fish, groceries, flowers, baked goods, crafts, local spirits, books, clothing, as well as hard-to-find specialties and ethnic foods. Shopping and dining are plentiful in this inviting, vibrant atmosphere.
Now some dining suggestions from locals. John’s Roast Pork has been in the same location since 1930 and is run by the third generation of the Bucci family. Roast pork was the featured sandwich then, and now.
South Philly Barbacoa is a much-buzzed-about Mexican hot spot located in South Philly’s Italian Market. The lines are often out the door, but communal tables, wall counters and outdoor tables accommodate customers looking to feast on tacos, quesadillas, tamales and more.
For breakfast check out Green Eggs Cafe (three locations) and for dessert—at any time—stop by Weckerly’s Ice Cream (two locations), notable for using local ingredients and creating seasonal flavors.
Philly’s favorite coffee pop-up shop—Persimmon Coffee—now has a permanent home next door to the Weckerly’s in Fishtown. What started as a pandemic coffee-roasting project for three friends is now a full-blown shop with specialty drinks, merchandise and beans, all served in an airy space. Try the Cloud Dancer, an espresso drink made with tonic water, ginger beer, blueberry preserves, heavy cream and a sprig of mint over ice.
You’ll need the caffeine boost, as there’s always more to do in this fun and vibrant city.