Situated at the confluence of the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers, Philadelphia combines all the trappings of a major city with the inimitable charm of a small town.
The birthplace of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, Pennsylvania’s largest city delivers a heady mix of historical landmarks and contemporary attractions. Little surprise that huge numbers of visitors descend on Philly each year, many of whom will do their best to absorb both the city’s cultural and entertainment landscapes during their stay. Below are 12 of the most fun things to see and do across Philadelphia.
Explore a unique artistic space
Spanning a vast indoor and outdoor space, Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens pulsate with creativity, urban renewal, and a liberal sprinkling of eccentricity. Isaiah Zagar, a talented local artist who first began tiling South Street back in the 1960s, constructed the space out of cement, bicycle spokes, bottles, ceramic shards and other curios. The tiled passages of the labyrinthine-like gardens weave over and underground and are a captivating place to explore, serving as an insight into the vision of a truly unique artist and the power of art to change physical landscapes.
1020 South Street / Weds-Mon 11am-6pm Closed Sun
Visit an iconic symbol of freedom
No landmark is more indelibly linked with Philadelphia’s rich and powerful history than the Liberty Bell. Part of the U.S. National Park Service and Independence National Historical Park, the giant gong is one of the world’s most recognisable symbols of freedom and daws packed crowds each day who come to admire the 360-degree view of the bell, set against the dramatic backdrop of Independence Hall (see below). Free to visit, the venue also houses exhibitions on the bell including x-rays that show its inner workings, and examples of the bell being featured in pop culture.
526 Market Street / Mon-Sun 9am-7pm
Check out a world-class museum
One of the city’s most important cultural institutions, The Franklin Institute is packed with engaging and interactive exhibits that span topics ranging from sports to space. Dating back to 1824, the museum instantly grabs the attention of visitors who enter the giant rotunda, where a 20-foot-tall marble statue of the eponymous scientist and Founding Father, Benjamin Franklin, stands proudly. Venture further inside and they’ll be greeted with such immersive highlights as a display offering a glimpse into the inner workings of the human brain, and SportsZone, which focuses on the scientific aspects of sports.
222 North 20th Street / Mon-Sun 9.30am-5pm
Tour the birthplace of the United States
If the Liberty Bell hasn’t quite satisfied your hunger for history, then Independence Hall will surely do so. During the summer of 1776, 56 courageous men gathered at the Pennsylvania State House and defied the King of England. Eleven years later, representatives from 12 states gathered to shape the U.S. Constitution, finally creating one unified nation. The legacy of the nation’s founding documents – which have influenced lawmakers around the world – has distinguished Independence Hall as a landmark of huge historical significance and an officially designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. Guided tours of the building, including the first-floor courtroom where lawyers from opposing sides shared tables and law books, are available if booked in advance.
520 Chestnut Street / Mon-Sun 9am-5pm (Summer Extended Hours 9am-7pm)
Head to a fun-filled waterside park
If you’re in Philadelphia during late spring or summer, then a trip to Spruce Street Harbor Park is close to a must-do. Perched on the banks of the Delaware River, the vibrant waterfront oasis has been a magnet for visitors since opening in 2014. Whether it’s lounging on colourful hammocks, savouring Philly-inspired eats on floating barges, cooling off with craft brews in the beer garden, or playing arcade games on the buzzing boardwalk, there’s something here to suit every recreational taste. The park is free to the public.
301 South Christopher Columbus Boulevard / Sun-Weds 11am-10pm Fri-Sat 11am-11pm
Spend a day at the zoo
Set among a scenic Victorian garden dotted with tree-lined walks, shrubbery and animal-themed sculptures, Philadelphia Zoo is one of the city’s most popular attractions. First opened in 1874, the zoo was actually the first to be established anywhere in the US and is today home to over 1,200 animals, many rare and endangered, including a large collection of primates and big cats. In addition to its animals, the zoo is known for its historic architecture and botanical collections of over 500 plant species.
3400 West Girard Avenue / Mon-Sun 9.30am-5pm
Walk in the footsteps of a silver-screen legend
For 1980s film buffs, the Rocky movie franchise continues to carry an almost mythical allure. And those visiting Philadelphia are in for a real treat with the opportunity to walk in the hallowed footsteps of Rocky Balboa (as played by Sylvester Stallone) on a fully-guided Rocky Movie Locations tour. During the four-hour tour, you’ll discover many of the legendary spots where the movies were shot. Jog up the “Rocky Steps”, visit his apartment and the gym where he worked out, and admire his giant bronze statue outside the Museum of Art. All transportation, including pick-up and drop-off within the city, is included in the tour price.
Wrap your lips around a classic Philly treat
It’s technically a sandwich – but it’s also so much more. The city’s most renowned culinary dish, the Philly cheesesteak (or simply “cheesesteak” as it’s known to locals), is the one thing you’ll want to try during your stay. And it’s easy to find, with food purveyors across the city offering their own version of the baked long roll made with thinly sliced griddle-fried ribeye steak, caramelised onion, and provolone cheese. It’s a simple combination, but the results are a bona fide taste sensation.
Feel the love at a famous sculpture
No Philadelphia experience is complete without snapping a photo of yourself in front of one of the city’s best-known landmarks, the LOVE sculpture. Installed across the street from City Hall in central Philly in 1976, the Robert Indiana-designed carving attracts visitors in their droves who line up to see the eye-catching aluminium art piece and – inevitably – capture the moment on camera with the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and the Philadelphia Museum of Art in the background.
Delve into Philly’s dark past
Every city has its seedy underbelly and Philadelphia is no different. Visitors can discover its grim side on a 2-hour Grim, Dark, and Twisted History Tour that takes you deep into Philly’s colonial history and a time when death, disease, and sadistic torture were commonplace. During the tour, your expert guide will take you to visit polluted prisons, execution sites, mass graves, former brothels, and salvaged streets where pirates – not to mention vampires and ghosts, legend has it – once roamed freely. The tour takes place during the evening to ensure maximum creepiness.
Let your hair down at a festival
Each September over Labor Day weekend, the Benjamin Franklin Parkway gives itself over to one of the region’s biggest musical celebrations. Called Made in America, the sprawling outdoor festival features a stellar line-up of acts spanning hip-hop, alternative music, EDM and R&B. Notable names to have appeared down the years include Cardi B, Nicki Minaj, Kendrick Lamar, Rihanna, Coldplay, Beyoncé and Jay-Z. As well as the live performances, there are also gourmet food and drink trucks, interactive activities, and plenty more.
Benjamin Franklin Parkway / September each year
Relive the American Revolution at a historic national park
Anyone keen to learn more about the American Revolution has the ideal opportunity at Valley Forge National Historical Park. Here, visitors can relive this tumultuous period in American history by exploring the encampment huts where soldiers lived during the war, visit memorial sites, see fascinating exhibits and artefacts, and hear stories of the iconic figures who fought in the epoch-changing conflict, including George Washington’s Army who were once based here. Guided tours of the park are available.
1400 North Outer Line Drive, King of Prussia / Mon-Sun 9am-5pm