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One of my 2019 goals was to spend more time exploring the city of Philadelphia. It is basically my backyard! Yet it can be overwhelming to sort through lists of Philadelphia things to do. So what did I do? Made my own list! (Seems logical…right?) Here are the places that I’ve been (and continue to return back to) after years of living in the Philadelphia suburbs.
(As I continue my adventures and find more destinations, I will update accordingly so you always the best information and my most up-to-date recommendations!)
Obviously this dynamic duo is one of the main draws to visit the city of Brotherly Love. Because of their popularity, they are also some of the busiest sites within the city. In terms of the Liberty Bell, there are no tickets. It is located at the end of a long building with huge windows across the street from Independence Hall and it is fist come, first serve. Even if the line looks particularly long, it usually goes fairly quickly as people look, snap a photo, and move on.
Independence Hall take a little bit more planning than the Liberty Bell because tickets are required. You can either get tickets online and pay a handling fee, or take your chances and pick them up at the Independence Hall Visitors Center. Obviously reserving them online ensures you have a ticket. You take your chances if you decide to get them in-person that day. The NPS website recommends getting there by 8:30 am.
In case a pesky government shutdown threatens your Philly vacation, know that The Liberty Bell visitors center is mostly glass. Simply walk down to the end (closest to Independence Hall) and take a look on in. When we visited this during the January 2019 shutdown, people were calmly and congenially queueing by this window to get a makeshift photo. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than nothing.
A very small national park site only a few blocks from South Street, this is the story of a Polish revolutionary who helped fight for American freedom along with fighting for it in his home country. While you’ve probably never heard of him, Kosciuszko knew all the famous men of the Revolutionary period and lived in Philadelphia for a time. A fee free park that probably takes about a half hour or so to see everything, this is a fun stop and a nice reminder that there are still pockets of history to be discovered among Philadelphia’s brick townhouses and cobbled streets.
While the Parks Service does control a lot of the historic houses and some museums, there are still plenty throughout the city that are independent. Here are a few of my personal recommendations.
The only thing more Philadelphia than the Mummers is a cheesesteak – and even that is a tough call to make. In essence, Mummers are local citizens who dress up on New Year’s Day and parade through the city. Their website says the first parade was in 1901, so you can imagine the changes that have come about since then. The Mummers Museum is small, unique, and unlike anything you’ve ever seen, I’d guarantee it. (Plus admission is $5 – what do you have to lose?)
A small museum dedicated to the Rosenbach brothers who traded in old oddities, this museum is for the book lover in your life. If you’re less impressed with original manuscripts and first editions, I’m not sure that their home, while well decorated and full of interesting pieces, will really keep your attention. As a proud bibliophile and book-obsessive, this place was like heaven. A bonus of visiting is that you are entitled to a free return trip to pore over a piece of their rare collections in the reading room. We haven’t gone back yet for this second round of literary themed fun, but I will update when we do.
Dedicated to telling the story of African Americans in Philadelphia, the AAMP helps to round out some of the gaps in the traditional story of Philadelphia as the ‘hub of freedom’. With its interactive design, this museum is perfect if you have kids. As adults without kids, the museum was still interesting, but we got more out of the temporary exhibit, which was an art showing by John Dowell called “Cotton: The Soft, Dangerous Beauty of the Past”. Dowell’s incredible collection was an examination of slavery, cotton, and present day America. (The staff member at the front desk also mentioned that one Saturday a month is free admission, but I wasn’t able to confirm that on their website.)
I would remiss not to add this to the list, even though I, personally, never want to go here again. The Mutter Museum is run by the College of Physicians of Philadelphia and their tagline is that visitors get ‘disturbingly informed’. Those two facts should tell you everything you need to know. Full of medical oddities, abnormalities, and other exhibits that are, well, gross. Plenty of people love this museum, as evidenced by its constant crowd of visitors. If you’re going to go, be there when it opens for about an hour of less busy viewing.
Whether you find yourself in Philadelphia for a fancy event in Rittenhouse Square, down by the Christmas market at City Hall or at the Academy of Music for a holiday show, there are enough restaurants and bars in that area to overwhelm you with choices and slow down your Trip Advisor app. With so many venues and attractions in one area, it is not only a challenge to find somewhere for dinner or a drink, but also to find somewhere affordable. Thankfully, we have a few tried and true favorites that feel like a local spot without charging big city prices.
Only a few blocks from Rittenhouse Square, Monk’s Café offers more beer choices than you could drink in an entire weekend in the city. They also have a fairly extensive menu, although we’ve never eaten here. Monk’s usually makes it on any sort of list of Philly Bars, so I was skeptical of whether or not it would live up to the hype. Probably the most expensive bar on this list (depending on what you order), it also has the most ambiance and is the most well-known.
With a taproom as eccentric as the names of their beers, Evil Genius is definitely one of my new favorite breweries. They have expansive indoor and outdoor seating, which was barely enough to accommodate the crowd that had gathered to enjoy one of the first nice weekends of spring. A little out of the center of Philadelphia, we were able to walk from our hotel in Penn’s Landing.
Located just a short walk from Evil Genius, Sancho Pistola’s sold me on its short wait time and delicious food. You want to get the house guacamole and the freedom tacos with soy chorizo. Vegetarian or not, those tacos are delicious. The bartender (who, according to our server is also a DJ) was also blasting a playlist of mid-90s to early 2000s jams that made dinner that much better.
By far my favorite place on this list, the Locust Rendezvous is truly a hidden gem in the best location. Half a block from the Kimmel center and a few blocks from the Academy of Music, this is the perfect place for a bite before or after a show. A mixture of locals, visitors, and even sometimes performers from the venues, you never know who you will see at the Vous. We’ve lost count of how many times we’ve frequented the same table, just to the right of the bar, and pretended that we are true Philly locals, instead of just imposters from the semi-suburbs.
In a huge industrial space that’s been newly remade into their taproom, Yards is a nice place to drink or eat. They have an extensive beer list, plus a few other options if for the non-beer person in your group. Their menu is billed as an homage to Philly favorites and is not necessarily your standard bar food, which is a nice change. The only thing I would caution you against getting is the pork belly, unless you really like the fat. (Yes, I know pork belly is supposed to be fatty, but it was too much for my taste.)
Do not let the fact that this is a vegan restaurant scare you off – P.S. & Co. accept all kinds. They also do not fall into the trap that some specialty restaurants fall into where their menus are very limited and very obscure. With offerings as diverse as French toast, burritos, and plenty of others, you’ll undoubtedly find something familiar that still tastes delicious.
Can you come to Philly and not visit Rocky? I think not. With a statue located outside the Philadelphia Art Museum’s iconic steps, you have no excuse to leave without seeing him. Visiting Rocky (and humming to yourself as you run up the steps) does not require a ticket to the Art Museum and probably won’t even get you any weird stares from locals – everyone is so used to it.
While I know nothing about this, the Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia fan in my life says Mac’s is important. Aside from some Always Sunny memorabilia on the walls, this really could be any bar. Their drinks are about average for a city place and they have a menu that ranges from snacks to entrees, so I could see it being a hit with everyone from fans to clueless pedestrians alike.
The amount of venues, theaters, and clubs that exist would require more space than I have. For big names and touring companies, the Kimmel Center is the hub. Check out their website for a schedule. And there are plenty of other excellent venues for theater, comedy, poetry,etc. Let yourself fall down a rabbit hole of awesome options.
Do you have any great Philadelphia recommendations that I need to visit? Let me know – I’m always looking for new ideas!
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Copyright 2020 Dylaninthedetails
Hi, I'm Dylan, a photographer and marketing consultant in the Philadelphia Metro Area. I love iced coffee, red wine, and am always up for binging Gilmore Girls or Parks and Rec..