A little American history refresher: Philadelphia hosted the First Continental Congress in 1774, and served as the fledgling country’s capital city in the early years after the Revolutionary War, building a civic culture through residents of legend—including Benjamin Franklin—well before the war broke out. For evidence of the city’s grand history, look no further than the stunning capitol building, which was the tallest habitable building in the world at the time of its construction; or its grand-dame-style arts institutions, like the Barnes Foundation and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Did we mention that all of this rich history (plus ridiculously good cheesesteaks) is but a quick-and-painless ride away from NYC’s Penn Station?
National Constitution Center525 Arch St. | 215.409.6600
With a slew of interactive exhibits that make it a kid-worthy destination, this essential museum delivers on its promise of educating and offering an engaging dialogue about the Constitution. With their new Powers of the President exhibit, you can also learn about the nature of executive power under the Constitution as it has been defined through the legacies of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, FDR, and Richard Nixon, alongside lesser-known (but equally important) constitutional legacies.
The Liberty Bell6th St. & Market St. | 215.965.2305
You pretty much can’t throw a stone in this part of Philadelphia without hitting something beautiful and historic. (But maybe don’t do that.) Case in point: you can plan a walk that starts at the Liberty Bell—one of the most iconic symbols of American sovereignty—and reasonably also include Independence Hall (where the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were signed), Carpenters’ Hall (where Congress met while Philadelphia was the capital), Christ Church (where George Washington and Benjamin Franklin once had assigned pews), and the Betsy Ross House (where the building’s namesake sewed an early American flag) in a single leisurely afternoon.
The Barnes Foundation Museum2025 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy. | 215.278.7200
The Barnes Collection was originally established in 1922 by Albert Barnes, a Philadelphia businessman who amassed a stunning collection of impressionist, post-impressionist, and early modern paintings including significant works by Renoir, Cézanna, Matisse, Picasso, and Rousseau. In 2012, Barnes’ namesake foundation opened a stunning new campus building that devotes 93,000 square feet to storage, conservation, education, and exhibition space, which makes his stunning collection more accessible than ever. There’s no excuse for missing the downtown building if you’re staying city center, but if time allows, make the trek to their suburban campus in Merion, which houses the rest of the collection alongside a gorgeous arboretum.
Philadelphia Museum of Art2600 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy. | 215.763.8100
We should start by saying that yes, those stairs probably look familiar: they’re the Rocky steps, which means you can have your dorky running moment conveniently en route to the third-largest art museum in the country. Definitely be sure to check out the museum’s adjacent Rodin collection—partially installed inside a formal French garden, it’s the largest public collection of the sculptor’s work outside of Paris—and it’ll also include “The Kiss” starting in February.
Boat House Row
When the Shuylkill Navy was founded back in 1858, each of the member rowing clubs built stunning boathouses along the river to host trainings and, of course, house their boats. Today, the Navy is active as ever, hosting regattas for every level of skill and competition, and the gorgeous houses (which are lit up with lights in the evenings) still stand, in excellent condition. The best view of the houses—and regattas, if you’re lucky enough to catch one—is from the Schuylkill River Trail, which is equally perfect for long bike rides into the suburbs or quick morning walks, cup of coffee in hand.
Pat’s King of Steaks1237 E. Passyunk Ave. | 215.468.1546
Founded in 1930, Pat’s isn’t some sort of well-kept local secret—it’s the well-known originator of the Philly culinary staple, which is unsurprisingly popular with tourists and Philadelphians alike (and has been for decades). But don’t let the crowds deter you: the lines move pretty quickly, the rolls are fresh, and the steaks are among the best in the city.
Reading Terminal Market51 N. 12th St. | 215.922.2317
Philadelphia has a long market history, the first informal iterations having appeared in the 1680’s. Reading Terminal was formed from a few different markets and opened in 1892; train service began the following year. The last train left Reading Terminal in 1984, but the market lives on. Today, people come here for excellent produce, meat, cheese, specialty chocolate, flowers and gifts—and the legendary soft pretzels from Miller’s Twist.
Ultimo Coffee1900 S. 15th St. | 215.339.5177
Ultimo was early to the Philadelphia coffee scene and remains a favorite, in part because they keep things fun with tastings and coffee competitions. The original location, in the Newbold neighborhood, shares a roof with a specialty craft beer shop called Brew—a setup as perfectly hip as it sounds. (Ultimo now has a roastery/lab in this neighborhood, too.) The second spot is just a couple miles north in the Graduate Hospital neighborhood.
The Food Scene
Vedge1221 Locust St. | 215.320.7500
Vedge has the distinction of being not only one of the best vegan restaurants in the country, but also one of the best restaurants in Philadelphia, period—a particularly impressive distinction for a city that has such stiff competition (not to mention, home of the cheesesteak). An emphasis on vegetables has resulted in an amazing menu that includes drool-worthy fare like stuffed avocado, country-fried kohlrabi, and eggplant braciole. While the food certainly takes center stage, the beer, wine, and cocktail selections are also top-notch.
Double Knot120 S. 13th St. | 215.631.3868
Okay, Double Knot, which opened in 2016, hardly qualifies as historic, but it seems destined to become a Philadelphia mainstay. It’s a handsomely decorated (dark wood, industrial lighting, leather chairs, bookshelves) hybrid cafe/Japanese fusion restaurant that’s open all day—beginning with a.m. espressos and moving toward banh mi, pork buns, robatayaki-style meat, and handrolls throughout the day. Cocktails are poured into the night at the intimate, speakeasy-like basement bar.
Fork306 Market St. | 215.625.9425
A part of the same restaurant group as High Street on Hudson in NYC (and others), Fork has a brilliant dinner menu, now helmed by Chef John Patterson. Handmade pastas are coupled with grilled lobster, dry-aged steak, bitter green salads, and other seasonal dishes. Fork also does a Sunday brunch that showcases more of the acclaimed pastry/bread program, too.
Zahav237 St. James Pl. | 215.625.8800
James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Solomonov, who was born in Israel and raised in Pittsburg, is the star of this iconic Philadelphia restaurant. Go for the pre-fixe menu, a sampling of amazing mezze and Israeli-style grilled meats and veggies.
Vetri1312 Spruce St. | 215.732.3478
The first venture by Philly native and James Beard Award-winning Chef Marc Vetri and sommelier/partner Jeff Benjamin, Vetri remains a celebrated restaurant two decades (and as many sister restaurants) later. The thirty-two-seat dining room has a rustic wood floor and exposed ceiling beams, and is elegantly dressed with a hand-blown glass chandelier lighting the center of the room. (As of 2014, Vetri has a private dining room upstairs, too, with a dedicated kitchen; intimate ten-person dinners can be had around the chef’s counter, or larger meals around the formal dining table.) The Italian-style tasting-menu-only setup is matched by a 2,500-bottle wine cellar, also Italian-focused, though Vetri offers great craft beer pairings as well.
Wm. Mulherin’s Sons1355 N. Front St. | 215.291.1355
This relative newcomer has embraced the history of its location. Set in an a hundred-year-old former whiskey blending and bottling facility, Wm. Mulherin’s Sons was brilliantly restored and designed, blending pre-prohibition details and vibes with modern touches. A curved bar and expansive arched windows are the focus of one room, done in a white mosaic tile floor. Another dining room is laid in reclaimed wooden planks, with a central fireplace surrounded by a rich velvet couch and worn leather chairs. The wood-fired menu is driven by pizzas and charred meats, with ideally sharable small plates like roasted cauliflower and seafood crudos.
The Ritz10 Avenue of the Arts | 215.523.8000
The Ritz is the gold standard of hotels in Philadelphia. The lobby is housed in the rotunda building that was completed in 1908 as a model of Rome’s Pantheon, using 9,000 tons of Georgia marble—by the same architectural firm behind the first MSG and Washington Square Arch in NYC, as well as the Boston Symphony Hall. (The interior marble was largely sourced from the same Italian quarry as Michelangelo’s David.) First the company home of the Girard Trust Company president E.B. Morris, the rotunda building went on to house the Girard Trust Corn Exchange, and later two different banks, before being converted into a hotel in 2000. The Ritz rooms are in the partner tower, which was designed by the same firm in 1923, and grew from eight to thirty stories in 1931. In 2016, the Ritz underwent a major redesign but you’ll still see pieces of the past, from the tower’s original brass clock to the warping on one side of the former vault (now ballroom) stairs—an imprint of the women who once walked them, hugging the sole banister, on the way into the vault to pick up their weekend jewels.