United States

20 Unique Things to Do in Philadelphia

by Michael C. Upton  |  Published June 18, 2024

Philadelphia, historically the cradle of American independence, creates a lively culture from the intersection of history, art, and entertainment.

Travelers to Philadelphia can visit a number of great sites like The Museum of Art

One of the most recognizable buildings on the Philly skyline: Philadelphia Museum of Art (Photo: Michael C. Upton for TravelMag)

The sixth largest city in the United States, Philly provides vast opportunities for unique entertainment. Residents and visitors mingle in world-renowned museums, iconic eateries, and luxurious and fun venues. Both architecture and nature are celebrated. The City of Brotherly Love inspires the modern yet holds its historic past close. Neighborhoods have distinct personalities and offer a variety of excitement. A simple subway system aided by bus and trolley routes allows people to gather for festivals, attend arts and sporting events, and discover new areas of the city on the banks of the Delaware River.

Visit the Museum of Art

Visitors easily spot the massive Philadelphia Museum of Art building, which was designed for the US centennial celebration. Rotating exhibits provide an experience with American and world art in its many forms, from fabric to sculpture. There is a taste of art for everyone, whether it is modern abstract or ancient armor. Temporary exhibitions change regularly. Art creates art at the bottom of the museum steps where pop culture fans line up to get a photo with the Rocky statue.

Travelers to Philadelphia can visit a number of great sites like Pat's King of Steaks

Cheesesteaks are an integral part of Philly life (Photo: Michael C. Upton for TravelMag)

Find the Best Cheesesteak

One of the most typical questions asked of those who have dined on a Philly cheesesteak is Geno’s Steaks or Pat’s King of Steaks? Everyone has a favorite. But better yet, a foray away from the intersection of Passyunk and 9th St. can lead to other culinary treasures. Steve’s Prince of Steaks has three locations for customers; the original is in Northeast Philly on Bustleton Ave. Locals love Max’s Steaks in North Philly and Dalessandro’s Steaks in Northwest Philly ranks high with everyone.

Visit Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell

The founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution on the site of the Independence Hall National Park. The park incorporates several historic sites from 2nd to 7th St. and Walnut to Arch Streets in the historic district. Tickets are required for the hall tour. Liberty Bell Center encloses the enduring symbol of freedom and provides history on the famous bell. Admission is free, but there is often a long line. Park rangers can provide alternative language services.

Get Lunch at Reading Terminal Market

Opened in 1893, Reading Terminal Market was the epicenter of agricultural commerce in the city. Today, produce still flows into the market from Pennsylvania’s fertile fields outside of the city. But the biggest draw to the market is a culinary feasting. More than 30 food vendors have global influences. There is a bar for fresh beer and cocktails. Stand holders sell handcrafted and artisan jewelry, apparel, and crafts.

Travelers to Philadelphia can visit a number of great sites like the Magic Gardens on South Street

Art and fun are found on South Street (Photo: Michael C. Upton for TravelMag)

Stroll South Street

In 1963, Philly R&B group The Orlans asked “where do all the hippies meet?” The answer is South Street. That creative spirit still thrives on the commercial stretch of South Street from about 10th Street to Front Street. Specialty shops offer everything from retro couture to pop collectables. Eclectic eateries offer iconic Philly fare, multi-cultural cuisine, and pub grub in packed watering holes. Today’s crowd goes beyond hippies to include punks, yuppies, and artists from an array of ages. Visit Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens while here.

Learn at the Franklin Institute

One of the most popular field trips for students in eastern PA is a visit to The Franklin Institute. Philly’s most famous son, Benjamin Franklin, is the inspiration of the mostly interactive science and technology museum. The institute began in 1824 and today’s audience ranges from academics attending lectures and symposia to school-aged kids enamored with live science demonstrations and play-to-learn exhibits. Seasonal activities and new displays keep the museum fresh and exciting.

Travelers to Philadelphia can visit a number of great sites like the Zoo.

The nation’s first zoo is in Philadelphia (Photo: Michael C. Upton for TravelMag)

Get wild at the Philadelphia Zoo

Chartered by the state in 1859, the Philadelphia Zoo was the first of its kind in the United States. Today, the 42-acre complex is home to more than 1,300 animals, a paddleboat lake, and interactive exhibits. The zoo provides scavenger hunts, train rides, and animal feedings. The zoo’s field conservation efforts focus on Rodrigues fruit bats and golden lion tamarins. From Lions and tigers to bears and river otters, the zoo pleases locals with season passes and guests with one-day admission.

Longwood Gardens

A short drive out of the city leads to Longwood Gardens. Pierre S. du Pont founded the 1,000-plus-acre botanical garden to bring “joy and inspiration to everyone through the beauty of nature, conservation, and learning.” The first garden, the 600 ft. Flower Garden Walk, is still the attraction’s most popular. Seasonal events—especially during the winter holidays—bring visitors from all over the world. There is a pipe organ gallery and a concert series for those interested in music.

Travelers to Philadelphia can visit a number of great sites like Rittenhouse Square and antiquarian book museum The Rosenbach

Rittenhouse Square is home to The Rosenbach (Photo: Michael C. Upton for TravelMag)

Stroll through Rittenhouse Square

One of the most beloved and prestigious neighborhoods of Philadelphia is Rittenhouse Square. Anchored by one of the city’s original green spaces laid out by William Penn and designed by architect Paul Cret, the square is surrounded by lush and award-winning restaurants. Upscale and world-renowned bars like The Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co., Village Whiskey, and The Dandelion are all within walking distance. High end shopping takes place on Walnut St. And bibliophiles visit The Rosenbach.

Climb at Treetop Quest

Nature lovers can head to the canopy at Treetop Quest, a seasonal activity in western Fairmount Park. The aerial adventure park challenges guests to move through obstacles and along zip-lines. Participants don a harness and gloves and are led through a detailed safety briefing and practice session before heading out on the course. Each course has a continuous belay system, which is impossible to detach without a staff member. Use of the course is unlimited within a 2.5-hour time slot.

Travelers to Philadelphia can visit a number of great sites like Johnny Brenda's Tavern

Johnny Brenda’s is a Philly music scene icon in Fishtown (Photo: Michael C. Upton for TravelMag)

Experience the nightlife in Fishtown

Named for its original purpose of providing homes for fishing industry workers, Fishtown quickly became one of the hippest neighborhoods of Philly at the turn of the 21st century. The fishermen have long since gone. In their stead, brewers, chefs, and otherwise cool folks have taken up residence. Iconic music venues like Johnny Brenda’s merge with grand stages like The Filmore Philadelphia to create an area known for its nightlife. Hotspots include Frankford Hall, Two Robbers, and Philadelphia Distilling.

Fishtown District

Tour the Masonic Temple

Architect James H. Windrim designed the medieval Norman-style Masonic Temple when he was 27 years old. Construction was completed in 1873. Described as one of the city’s architectural wonders, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is designated a National Historic Landmark. Visitors can experience some of the seven ornate halls during a one-hour, guided tour. The exhibit hall features items from Philadelphia’s, America’s, and Freemasonry’s past.

Travelers to Philadelphia can visit a number of great sites like the Please Touch Museum

The Please Touch Museum is one of many draws of Fairmount Park (Photo: Michael C. Upton for TravelMag)

Spend a day in Fairmount Park

The city’s nature preserve is Fairmount Park. Straddling the Schuylkill River, the 2,000-plus-acre park is home to enough attractions to fill more than a day. These include several historic mansions, some of which are open to the public courtesy of Park Charms. Boathouse Row is the regatta center of the city. The park also contains the Please Touch Museum, Shofuso Japanese Cultural Center, and The Cliffs—the abandoned ruins of a circa-1753 mansion built by a city merchant.

1 Boathouse Row

Explore the strangeness of Otherworld

Step into a space of family fun and adventure by checking out Otherworld. This interactive warehouse combines art and fantasy with mystery and problem solving, where guests get as much out of a visit as they put in. There are no rules. Secret passageways lead to the unknown. One participant’s actions may cause reactions from unknown and unseen others. Philadelphia is the second Otherworld location. Admission is timed, but visitors have unlimited use of the area until closing.

2500 Grant Ave #1

Travelers to Philadelphia can visit a number of great sites like the Mummer's Museum

The Mummer’s Museum is as bright and colorful as the Mummer’s costumes (Photo: Michael C. Upton for TravelMag)

Check out some specialty museums

Philadelphia is filled with museums, some with a dedicated and unique focus. The Mummer’s Museum celebrates the history of the United States’ longest running folk parade and its costumed participants. Visitors can check their footing at the Shoe Museum at the Temple University School of Podiatric Medicine where there are more than 1,000 pairs of shoes on display. Visitors feel the submariner’s spirit aboard the circa-1944 USS Becuna. The Fabric Workshop and Museum is interactive.

Celebrate pride and diversity

The heart of queer Philly is Midtown Village, affectionately known as The Gayborhood. Every June, at the end of the city’s Pride Parade, this area teems with frivolity and a festival-like atmosphere. The PECO Multicultural Series at Penn’s Landing celebrates diversity through a series of small festivals all summer. In celebration of National Coming Out Day each October, Philly rallies for OURFest, a multi-day festival with a parade, live performances, and vendors. Special theme nights take place throughout the city at bars and restaurants during OURFest.

Travelers to Philadelphia can visit a number of great sites like Citizen Bank Park, home of the Phillies

Philly sports teams are all champions (Photo: Michael C. Upton for TravelMag)

Get tickets to a game

Philadelphia is a city of champions. Each of its major sports teams have won a championship. Hockey and basketball are currently played in the Wells Fargo Center. Baseball takes place at Citizens Bank Park and football is played at Lincoln Financial Field. All these facilities are located near each other in South Philly. Fans take photos with statues of famous athletes. Xfinity Live! Philadelphia, a complex housing bars, eateries, and a Victory Brewing Co. taphouse, enhances the atmosphere.

Grab a drink at an iconic watering hole

As one of the oldest cities in the United States, Philly has its fair share of historic places to enjoy a beer. McGillin’s Old Ale House opened its doors in 1860, shortly after the Liberty Bell received its fatal crack. In Logan Square, the Cherry Street Tavern survived prohibition by operating as a barber shop. Today the unassuming corner bar is a local favorite. Chestnut Hill’s oldest pub is McNally’s. This Irish pub opened as a lunch counter in 1921 and started serving booze in 1934.

Travelers to Philadelphia can visit a number of great restaurants like Kalaya

Philadelphia has many award-winning restaurants, including Kalaya (Photo: Michael C. Upton for TravelMag)

Eat at award-winning restaurants

While Philly patiently awaits recognition from a Michelin Guide, its restaurants have been lauded by Zagat, James Beard, and other culinary organizations. Restaurateurs like Ellen Yin (Fork, a.kitchen & bar), Stephen Starr (Frankford Hall, Parc), and Greg Vernick have expanded the city’s culinary reach. Established and new chefs are creating a world of flavors around the city. The James Beard Foundation named Chutatip “Nok” Suntaranon Best Chef in the Mid-Atlantic category in 2023. Her skill is on display at Kalaya in Fishtown.

Get chills at the Eastern State Penitentiary

Built in 1829 and closed to residents in 1971, what was once one of Americas most infamous prisons is now a relic toured by thrill seekers and history buffs. Guided by a self-paced audio tour, visitors walk in the footsteps of past prisoners like the legendary gangster Al Capone. The audio tour lasts about 40 minutes and covers 10 stops. The adventurous can hit additional stops or examine exhibits and temporary installations. Caretakers have run the Eastern State Penitentiary as an attraction in its semi-ruined state since 1994.