Philadelphia is a wonderful, historic, thriving city which has many important American landmarks, beautiful architecture, interesting attractions, and amazing restaurants, and all in an easily walkable area.
Philadelphia is where a new nation and a new ideology were born. It was here that a government by the people, of the people and for the people was forged. In the Olde City neighborhood (Front Street to 6th and Vine to Walnut) you can go see the very building where the United States took form: Independence Hall (6th and Chestnut). Across from the Hall is the famous Liberty Bell, the cracked symbol of freedom from colonial rule. While in that area, you can visit the Constitution Center where you can learn all about the document which defines the US government. The Center is currently holding a special exhibit on Bruce Springstein.
Towards the East, you can visit Christ Church, worshiping house to many of our Founding Fathers. Or go visit Christ Church’s Burial Grounds to see Ben Franklin’s grave as well as other famous Philadelphians’ graves. Just up the street from the Church is Elfreth’s Alley (between Arch and Race between Front and 2nd), the oldest continuously used street in the country. You can always go to Betsy Ross’ house) or Ben Franklin’s Court). Or just stroll around the neighborhood and soak up the charm of the historical area.
Why not stroll across the Ben Franklin Bridge (entrance is on 5th Street just above Race, you pretty much can’t miss it)? The bridge was once the largest suspension bridge in the world and still ranks in the top 60. It has amazing views of the Delaware River, Camden and Philadelphia and it is free.
PARKS OF CENTER CITY PHILADELPHIA
The original layout of Philadelphia was a rectangle which had an urban park in each corner and one in the middle. In Olde City, the park is Franklin Square and has recently been revitalized. It sits at the base of the Ben Franklin Bridge and is just a gem. It has a carousel, sand sculptures, mini golf, fountain, etc. It’s just a great place to spend an afternoon.
To the South is Washington Square, which has a great fountain in the center and an eternal flame for Tomb of the Unknown Soldier of the Revolution. The Square has a rich history, but it can be quite gruesome, so we’ll save that for when you visit it (hint, it used to be a graveyard).
Going to the West is Rittenhouse Square, which some call the most beautiful square block in America. You can form your own opinion about that when you visit. It is a pretty place and worth exploring. Plus the neighborhood is very beautiful and worth strolling around in of itself.
To the North is Logan Circle (not a square!) and you can read more about that in the Museum Mile section (below).
The center square is no longer a park but has been transformed into the seat of Philadelphia’s government. The amazing, fantastic and stupendous City Hall sits in the figurative, once literal, center of the city. This building is breathtaking. It is the largest masonry government building in the world. It has more statues on it than any other building in the world. It has the largest statue on a building in the world, all designed by Alexander Milne Calder; a statue of William Penn, our founder! Yes, it is an amazing building and should at least be seen first-hand.
While at City Hall, go see the other wonderful buildings nearby such as The Masonic Temple an amazing piece of architecture inside and out; or the Convention Center another great architectural delight. Across from that is the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, a building designed by Frank Furness and worth checking out and their art museum is pretty cool too. Or a block to the East from the Hall is the PSFS Building, which is the 1st modern skyscraper.
MUSEUM MILE (ISH)
While in Philly, go take a stroll along the Ben Franklin Parkway and visit our fantastic collection of museums.
The Parkway starts at Love Park, a wonderfully iconic park in its own right and worth a visit (if it is open again after renovation), then continues North West towards the Schuylkill River. In the middle of the stroll you will pass through Logan Circle, a great park with an amazing fountain designed by Alexander Sterling Calder. Around the Circle are a number of great museums: The Franklin Institute is a science-based institute and is currently showing the Dead Sea Scrolls plus it has an IMAX theater; the Academy of Natural Sciences is one of the first natural science academies in America and has a great collection; the Philadelphia Free Library is there and houses great rareites like Charles Dickens’ stuffed pet raven which when alive was the inspiration for Poe’s poem the Raven.
Continuing up the Parkway, you will then encounter the new Barnes Foundation. This is the largest collection of Impressionist artworks in the world and a must-see for art lovers visiting Philadelphia. Right next to the Barnes is the Rodin Museum, the only museum outside of Paris devoted solely to the sculptor, August Rodin. See the Thinker, the Gates of Hell and other wonderful works.
Finally, continue to the end of the Parkway to the majestic Philadelphia Museum of Art. This is probably one of the most beautiful art museums in the world. Sitting at the top of a hill, it is reminiscent of a Greek Parthenon. The climb up the stairs has been immortalized in the movie, Rocky. The view from the top is fabulous. Inside, the museum houses some of the best art in the world. In the main lobby is a mobile made by Alexander Calder.
Now, if you have been paying attention to this entire Philly tour, you will notice that the Parkway has 3 major pieces of art along it all done by Calders. The statues of City Hall were made by the grandfather Calder, the fountain at Logan Circle was made by the father Calder and the mobile in the Art Museum was made by the son Calder. Neat.
The gardens around the museum are lovely and worth a stroll. You can go visit the Water Works, the first of its kind when built and an engineering marvel at the time. Now it is a beautiful spot along the river. A bit further down is Boathouse Row, an historic center of rowing in America and another beautiful place, especially at night.
There are other museums of note worth visiting in Center City, such as the Rosenbach, which houses interesting pieces like various Maurice Sednak’s works, and James Joyce original works, etc. There’s also the Penn Museum, which is an archeological museum and houses great pieces from ancient Egypt, China, Alaska, etc.
Philadelphia is too huge, too interesting a city try to sum up in just a few pages and quick suggestions. There are so many great things to see and do here that are surely not on this list. To learn more about other fun things, please email Matt McLaughlin, Tourism Coordinator for the Philadelphia Tango Festival (mmclaughlingolfer AT gmail DOT com). He can give you a more personal set of recommendations and even some things not found in any tour book. In the meantime, enjoy the Festival and the City.