Get to Know Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s Venerated Past — and Energetic PresentBy Laura Itzkowitz
Philadelphians take pride in living in one of the most historic cities in the nation — and with sites like the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall and the Betsy Ross House, who can blame them?
Sometimes called the Birthplace of the Nation, the “Philadelphia Story” spans more than 300 years. It’s on display at must-see historical sites but also in the 18th-century architecture, the twisty cobblestone streets and the antique boat houses lining the Delaware River.
But Philly’s too cool to live entirely in the past — and up-and-coming neighborhoods like Fishtown reveal the city at its edgiest.
As always, check for travel restrictions and closures before planning your trip.
Friday: Discover the Birthplace of the Nation
As the site where the Founding Fathers declared independence and later wrote the U.S. Constitution, Philadelphia — and the neighborhood of Old City in particular — is charged with historic significance.
Any trip to Philly should start here, with a morning cup at Menagerie Coffee and a visit to the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. Check out the Betsy Ross House to see where our country’s most famous seamstress created the American flag and also Carpenters’ Hall, where colonists plotted the American Revolution.
For lunch, head to High Street on Market, a farm-to-table restaurant serving sandwiches on artisanal bread — try the “High Street Hoagie” — as well as soup, salads and pastas.
Afterwards, head two blocks east on Samson Street to find the historical Jewelers’ Row (established 1851). Browse the storefronts, presided over by expert gemologists, wholesalers and local craftspeople, specializing in everything from loose stones to jewelry made from old American coins.
In the afternoon, stroll the surrounding cobblestone streets lined with low brick buildings, like the circa-1720 Elfreth’s Alley, which claims the title of America’s oldest continuously inhabited street. Stick around the area for dinner and you won’t be disappointed: Old City and neighboring Society Hill are home to some of the city’s best restaurants.
Book ahead to snag a table at Zahav, the well-regarded Israeli restaurant by award-winning chef Michael Solomonov. There are also plenty of places to grab a drink, whether that’s a craft beer at the 2nd Story Brewing Company or Spanish wine at Amada, chef Jose Garces’ original tapas spot.
Saturday: Immerse Yourself in Culture
Spend your second day getting a dose of culture at Philly’s world-class museums, the most important of which are concentrated on Benjamin Franklin Parkway around Logan Square.
Whether or not you choose to bound up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art like Rocky Balboa — you won’t be alone if you do — this venerable institution is worth a visit.
Highlights include impressionist and postimpressionist paintings by Monet, Cassatt and Van Gogh; the world’s largest collection of works by Marcel Duchamp; and the most important collection of sculptures by Brancusi outside of Europe.
If all that museum-going makes you hungry (again), you’re in luck: Logan Square and neighboring Fairmount have lots of great eats to choose from. Try Sabrina’s Café, a classic spot for brunch, with favorites like stuffed challah French toast and huevos rancheros.
After lunch, choose from Logan Square’s other must-visit museums. The Rodin Museum, which is part of the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s campus, boasts the finest public collection of the French sculptor’s work in the United States.
Nearby, the Barnes Foundation displays the collection of Albert C. Barnes, which includes works by Renoir, Cézanne, Matisse and Picasso, as well as African masks, Greek antiquities and Native American jewelry.
The Franklin Institute rounds out the offerings with a planetarium and interactive exhibits, making it a great choice if you have children with you.
Part of Philly’s culinary roots trace back to Italy, thanks to a long-ago flood of Italian immigrants. And today a couple of the city’s best restaurants are Italian.
Award-winning chef Marc Vetri’s Pizzeria Vetri is the place to go for wood-fired Neapolitan-style pies topped with classic and seasonal ingredients, while Osteria serves house-made pastas, charcuterie and mains like brick chicken and a fiorentina steak for two.
Sunday: Live Like a Local in Hip Fishtown
North of Center City and flanking the Delaware River, the former fishery district of Fishtown is undergoing a renaissance led by enterprising creatives.
See Philly’s hippest neighborhood for yourself by starting the morning with a latte at La Colombe‘s Fishtown flagship, which also serves excellent pastries, egg sandwiches and other brunch fare.
Then stroll down Frankford Avenue — one of the neighborhood’s main thoroughfares — and pop into boutiques like Vestige, which sells a stylish selection of vintage clothes, jewelry, candles and body-care products, and Franklin & Poe for men’s apparel and shoes.
The surrounding streets are decorated with street-art murals and lined with row houses, art galleries, independent boutiques, restaurants and bars.
Named for the shad fisheries that once lined the banks of the Delaware River, Fishtown is truly a foodie’s paradise. Whether you want to eat artisanal pizza, tacos, Lebanese food or sushi, you’ll find it there.
For lunch, tuck into some pizza and other creative Italian fare at Wm. Mulherin’s Sons in a former whiskey blending and bottling facility, or go to Mexican gastropub Loco Pez, which serves an impressive variety of tacos.
Be sure to book ahead for dinner at award-winning Lebanese restaurant Suraya or upscale sushi omakase spot Hiroki. After dinner, head to R&D for cocktails or Johnny Brenda’s to see live music and try craft beer from one of the region’s excellent breweries.