Cool Things to Do in Philadelphia

The 10 Most Essential Things to Do on Your (First) Visit to Philly


The can’t-miss experiences in the first World Heritage City in the United States…

There’s never a shortage of awesome things to do in Philadelphia — but there are some things you just can’t miss while you’re here.

Whether it’s running like Rocky; refueling with a cheesesteak and wandering along Boathouse Row; or touring Independence Hall, devouring a roast pork sandwich at Reading Terminal Market and visiting a museum on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, these are the experiences that make our city and region stand out among the rest.

Of course, exploring Greater Philadelphia is a bit different in 2021. Masks are required in all public spaces, as is social distancing. And advance tickets are highly recommended or required at many events and attractions. Your best bet: Plan ahead. Look online or call to get a better sense of what experience to expect.

Read on for the 10 most essential experiences to be had in the City of Brotherly Love.

1. Snap a photo in front of the Liberty Bell

Dramatic home of the internationally known symbol of freedom…

— Photo courtesy NPS

It doesn’t make a sound, but The Liberty Bell’s message rings loud and clear: “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” This inscription on the cracked but mighty bell is one reason it became a symbol to abolitionists, suffragists and other freedom-seekers around the world. The bell draws people from around the nation to snag a photo in front of the soaring glass walls overlooking Independence Hall. This American icon is free to visit year-round with no tickets required, though capacity is limited to 20 people at a time as of January 2021.

Where: The Liberty Bell Center, 526 Market Street

2. Pose with the Rocky Statue & run up the “Rocky Steps”

Two of the most famous tourist attractions in Philadelphia…

— Photo by Visit Philadelphia

Since Rocky’s first triumphant run on the silver screen in 1976, the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art have become an international destination. Travelers from around the world embark on their own jog up the stairs, pumping their fists in the air as they cherish the spectacular view of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and the city skyline. To finish off the experience, head to the bottom of the stairs and snap a photo with the bronze statue of Rocky, originally created for Rocky III.

Where: Rocky Statue and Rocky Steps, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway

3. Enjoy an authentic Philly cheesesteak

You have to eat one — or more — on your first visit to Philadelphia…

Campo’s Philly Cheesesteaks — Photo by M. Fischetti for Visit Philadelphia

The Philly cheesesteak is inarguably the city’s most famous food. These awesome sandwiches consist of chopped (or thinly sliced) steak and a choice of cheeses and/or fried onions on a hoagie roll. Those in the know order their cheesesteak with two words only: cheese selection (provolone, American or Whiz) and “wit” or “without” onions. The debate about which local spot cooks up the best sandwich may never end, but for an iconic Philly experience, visit the intersection of South 9th Street and Passyunk Avenue, where rivals Geno’s Steaks and Pat’s King of Steaks feed the masses daily.

Where: Various locations including Campo’s Philly Cheesesteaks, 214 Market Street

4. Tour Independence Hall, the birthplace of the United States

Where the Declaration of Independence was signed and where the U.S. Constitution was created…

— Photo by J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia

While historical attractions abound in Philly, Independence Hall holds monumental significance to the development of the nation. In 1776, the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence in the building’s Assembly Room. Just 11 years later, representatives from a dozen states met here to lay the framework for the U.S. Constitution. Today, the UNESCO World Heritage Site is the centerpiece of Independence National Historical Park, and guided tours are available year-round. As of January 2021, free tours of the hall are available on a first-come, first-served basis, with no tickets required, though note that there is a nine-person capacity limit.

Where: Independence Hall, 520 Chestnut StreetREAD MORE

5. Visit the famous LOVE sculpture

An iconic work of art by Robert Indiana…

— Photo by C. Smyth for Visit Philadelphia

One of the City of Brotherly Love’s best-known landmarks is LOVE itself — the Robert Indiana sculpture in John F. Kennedy Plaza (or LOVE Park, as it’s referred to by many). The sculpture was restored and repainted in 2018, and the park was entirely redesigned to add more green areas and a high-tech water feature. The AMOR sculpture — a Spanish edition of the LOVE sculpture — is on display at Sister Cities Park, a short walk from LOVE Park.

Where: LOVE Park, North 15th & Arch streetsREAD MORE

6. Chow down on food from dozens of vendors at Reading Terminal Market

One of America’s oldest farmers market and current food paradise…

Set below a former railroad terminal, Center City’s 127-year-old Reading Terminal Market serves as both a dazzling tourist destination and a source for fresh produce, seafood, meats and cheese for locals. The public space also provides open seating where customers can enjoy meals from dozens of restaurants, including Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine and acclaimed DiNic’s hot roast pork sandwiches. Retail merchants sell housewares, jewelry, linens and more. As of January 2021, the market is open for indoor dining and shopping, with many vendors also offering takeout and delivery. (Translation: Check ahead with each vendor to get a sense of what experience to expect.)

Where: Reading Terminal Market, 51 N. 12th StreetREAD MORE

7. Visit the awesome museums on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway

Philly’s most artistic mile…

The Franklin Institute / The Academy of Natural Sciences / Barnes Foundation — Photo courtesy The Franklin Institute / Photo by J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia / Photo courtesy the Barnes Foundation

The Benjamin Franklin Parkway, modeled after the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris, is sometimes called Philadelphia’s most artistic mile. Some of the city’s most important cultural institutions are housed here, including the Barnes FoundationThe Franklin InstituteThe Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University and the crowning Philadelphia Museum of Art. (Another super-popular attraction, former prison Eastern State Penitentiary, is just a 15-minute walk from the Philadelphia Museum of Art.) No Philly experience is complete without a dip into the city’s cultural offerings. Note that many attractions are operating under limited hours and only on select days, so be sure to check ahead (and consider buying tickets online) before swinging by.

Where: Various locations including the Barnes Foundation, 2025 Benjamin Franklin Parkway

8. Take in the epic views of City Hall

Discover the stories behind the largest municipal building the country…

— Photo by We Film Philly

City Hall has been the home to Philadelphia city government for more than a century. Once the tallest building in the U.S., the elaborate 14.5-acre masonry structure remains the country’s largest municipal building, and its exterior features more than 250 sculptures, including the 37-foot-tall, 27-ton bronze statue of William Penn atop the iconic clock tower. While interior tours are on hold due to COVID-19, residents and visitors can explore from the outside on one of a number of self-guided tours that cover the history, art and architecture of the iconic building.

Where: City Hall, 1400 John F. Kennedy Boulevard

9. Explore Philly’s hip waterfront

Philly’s ever-evolving waterfront features loads to do in all seasons…

Cherry Street Pier — Photo by K. Kelly for Visit Philadelphia

Once made up of undeveloped piers and underutilized public spaces, the Delaware River waterfront has become one of the most activated spaces in Philadelphia in the 21st century. That’s thanks to the opening of a number of exciting attractions and parks — Cherry Street Pier and Race Street Pier as well as seasonal spots like Spruce Street Harbor Park and Blue Cross RiverRink — and diverse and well-attended events throughout the year. Those gorgeous views of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge — which connects Philadelphia to New Jersey — don’t hurt, either.

Where: Various locations, including Cherry Street Pier, 121 N.Christopher Columbus Boulevard

10. Admire the quiet beauty of Boathouse Row on the Schuylkill River

19th-century boathouses lining the Schuylkill River near the Philadelphia Museum of Art…

— Photo by M. Fischetti for Visit Philadelphia

In 1821, the creation of the Fairmount Dam, now behind the Philadelphia Museum of Art, turned the Schuylkill River into a placid surface ideal for rowing. By the mid-19th century, the city approved the construction of the 10 charming crew clubhouses that make up Boathouse Row. Now a National Historical Landmark, the boathouses — still in use today by amateur and collegiate crew clubs — provide one of the city’s most recognizable and Instagram-worthy sights. Get a close-up view during a stroll along Kelly Drive or a wide-angle look from Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, and don’t miss the boathouses at night, when glittering lights framing the boathouses create idyllic reflections on the river’s surface. (Bonus: As of January 2021, MLK Drive is closed completely to vehicular traffic, so bikers and runners can use the road!)

Where: Boathouse Row, 1 Boathouse Row

SOURCE: Benefits of Community Living


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