Why don’t more travellers to the USA go to Philly?
Philly isn’t exactly a place that jumps out at people when they are planning their USA trips – but it certainly should be! I’ve just come back from a family holiday to Philadelphia for my brother Joel’s graduation from Drexel University - and now I can’t stop telling people about how incredible it is. I love it! As Pennsylvania’s largest city, Philadelphia is notable for its rich history (including the Independence Hall where the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were signed), funky arts scene, incredible food (it’s famous for it’s foot-long cheesesteaks) and vibrant outdoor spaces, including the best park I’ve been to - Spruce Street Harbour Park. Philly is a must-see if you’re heading to the States, and it’s only an hour’s train ride from New York City for the bargain price of NZ$70. Joel has lived in Philly for four years and is now working in the city as a graphic designer – so I was lucky enough to get some local tips on where to go, what to do and where to eat. Here they are!
This was my second time to Philadelphia, and the longer I stay there and the more I get to know it, the more I love it. I would suggest doing a tour one day, then mixing it up and just getting out on foot and exploring. Philadelphia is an easy city to get around, and you can even join some walking tours with a focus on food, history, landmarks – or all three! I love to explore on foot when I get to a new place, you get a real freedom and can do things at your own pace, turning a corner may mean you spot the best eating place or park ever! My brother and a lot of his friends also use the city’s bike share programme, Indego, which started up two years ago. It has more than 500 bright blue bikes, and more than 60 stations and is super easy to use. On almost every block in Philly there’s a bike stand, and you can grab a bike, swipe your credit card, ride to where you want to be and park up. We also used Uber, which is always a convenient and affordable way to get around.
South Street & Rittenhouse Square.
South Street (east of Broad Street) is a great area – a bit like Cuba Street in Wellington – heaps of great food spots, live music, and a cool arts scene. It’s a great spot for people watching, expect to see anyone from punk rockers, business people, skateboarders, and even a few famous locals. Another cool area is Rittenhouse Square, which is one of the five original squares planned by the city’s founder William Penn in the late 17th century. Around all sides of the square are apartments, high-rises, retail shops and commercial spaces – but in the middle there’s a park with a fountain, and it’s a popular place for locals to gather with lunch, or a stroll among the trees and manicured gardens. We stayed not far away, and every morning we would get a take-out bagel from one of Philly’s famous bagel shops, walk to Rittenhouse Square, and eat it next to the fountain. They mix the cream cheese and salmon with dill and other things – the bagels in Philly are to die for!
Spruce Street Harbour Park.
Luckily my brother tipped us off about Spruce Street Harbour Park – I’ve lived all around the world but I think I would have to say it’s the most amazing park I’ve been to, and you’d never find it on the tourist trail unless someone local told you about it. It’s a pop-up park, or urban beach on a boardwalk near the canal – with signature hammocks, LED lights strung in the trees, a floating restaurant, food caravans, a beer garden and games like ping-pong, shuffleboard and bocce – quite the urban hang out spot! The park was opened four years ago and has been a huge hit – in summer at night there’s a packed schedule of music and other gigs. I would go as far as saying the park was the highlight of my visit to Philly.
Take in the history.
Even if you are not that interested in history, Philadelphia has played a major role in America’s independence. We visited the historic hot spots and it was pretty cool to go into the beautiful old buildings and learn more about the role they played in shaping America. Get on foot and walk around – you can explore on your own or get a guided tour to learn more. There’s City Hall, Independence Hall (where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were signed), and Liberty Bell, which was last rung in 1846, and is the huge 2080 pound copper bell that has become an icon of freedom in America. Also historic – but in a different way – are the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which were immortalized by Sylvester Stallone’s run in the movie, ‘Rocky’!
Food Food Food.
Philadelphia’s most iconic food is the ‘cheesesteak’ - essentially a foot-long Italian roll stuffed with steak and cheese (and onions or whatever else you want). My brother took us to one of the most famous restaurants, Jims on South Street, which opened in 1939 and prides itself on still selling original recipe cheesesteaks and hoagies (another Philly staple which is essentially a long seeded roll with an array of meat, and the basics of onion, tomatoes and lettuce). Jims has a great reputation and has been a five-time winner of a local competition, the ‘Best of Philly’ Awards. Back home in Wellington I only eat meat about once a month, but I have to say my cheesesteak at Jims was amazing, but so big I went halves with my mum (as you can probably guess, my brother Joel ate a whole one).