Visiting Philadelphia? What to Do in Philly

Penn's Landing, PhiladelphiaPhiladelphia is more than just the City of Brotherly Love; it’s a city you can’t help but love.

It’s a major hub for culture, education and commerce, but probably best known for for its rich history. Being the cradle of democracy for our country, Philadelphia’s historic importance is only the tip of the iceberg as to why you should visit this artsy, diverse, cosmopolitan and green city. World-class museums, a thriving craft beer scene, stellar restaurants, and amazing markets are what drew me. I’ve been there a few times (it’s less than two hours from my home), so here’s a few suggestions I can make to help fill your time (and your stomach) while you’re there.

Eat Here

Philly has some pretty accomplished chefs, as well as some great little ethnic joints too, all helping to make the city a foodie’s delight. Here are just a few of the off-the-radar places I found and recommend:

Federal Donuts

Before I ever went to Philadelphia, I heard about Federal Donuts because other cities were fighting over who would get the first out-of-town outpost. Federal does donuts, really good donuts. And they do fried chicken, REALLY good fried chicken, the crispy salty perfectly fried Korean-style chicken. And that’s about it. Oh yes, coffee too. Donuts, chicken and coffee — what more do you need anyway?

There are three locations, so check out their website for the one closest to wherever you are. But I must warn you, you will forever crave both their chicken and their donuts once you leave the City of Brotherly Love.

box of a dozen sugar donuts

Cinnamon brown sugar, strawberry lavender, and vanilla spice sugar donuts from Federal Donuts

 

the counter at Federal Donuts in Philadelphia

The counter at Federal Donuts. Fried chicken, donuts and coffee, that’s all you need!

 

fried chicken and donut

Classic Korean fried chicken (with dry ranch dusting) and donut, from Federal Donuts

 

Cleavers  108 S. 18th St. (215-515-3828)

Cleavers is right around the corner from both hotels I like in Philly. Yes, you can venture down with all the tourists to do your own taste test in the war between Geno’s and Pat’s cheesesteaks, but why bother, when you can get a great classic cheesesteak in center city? Made with USDA domestic ribeye steak (or chicken, or even Veggie — WHAT? REALLY?), a Cleaver’s cheesesteak is the real deal. Add an order of fried pickles with siracha aioli, a side of sweet potato fries smothered in melted Cheddar cheese, and a Creamsicle Float. You won’t go wrong. (I didn’t say it was healthfood!) Tell Juan that the gal on Twitter sent you! Oh yeah, and make sure you order your cheesesteak “wit whiz.”

 

Drink Here

Independence Beer Garden at 100 South Independence Mall West, steps from the Liberty Bell and the historic Independence Mall (215) 922 -7100

Germany doesn’t have anything on this truly Americana version of a proper beer garden. Spend an evening here around a fire pit under the sparkling tivoli lights, or better yet, a sunny in Philadelphia afternoon, under the wisteria pergola, drinking craft beer, playing cornhole or jenga, and noshing on the best fried pickles you’ll ever eat. Chose from over 40 craft brews (many local and regional) and dig into some of the best bar food ever. Who needs sauerbraten when you’ve got cheesesteaks, taco, sliders and soft pretzels? Plenty of lighter fare too: I could have eaten a quart of their beet and asparagus salad. (*Note to self: I NEED that recipe!) A trip to Philly isn’t complete without a stop in here, but don’t be surprised if you blow off the rest of your day’s plans… you won’t want to leave IBG.

Independence Beer Garden

Independence Beer Garden, a perfect place to spend the afternoon or a summer evening

2nd Story Brewing Co. at 177 Chestnut St, right near the river. (267-314-5770)

Philadelphia is a city crowned with craft breweries, and 2nd Story Brewing is one of the jewels. You can see the 15-bbl system upstairs, and if you’re in luck, you might catch a tour with brewmaster John Wible. Only around since late 2014, 2nd Story offers 4 standard and 5 rotating taps on draft. Don’t miss their Declaration IPA, but also be bold and try something a little off-beat. I can vouch for good eats too, thanks to their chef who previously came from one of the best restaurants in my hometown in Delaware.

 

2nd Story Brewing Co. Philadelphia

2nd Story Brewing Co.

 

Craft beer bar with taps

Lots of delicious and unique brews on tap at 2nd Story Brewery

 

Oval shaped bar at the Liberte Lounge, Sofitel Hotel, Philadelphia

The bar at Liberte Lounge

Liberté Lounge

at 120 S. 17th St. (215-569-8300)

A chic urban cocktail lounge where power brokers and well-heeled city guests sip and mingle. Mixologists behind the handsome oval-shaped central bar concoct artisanal drinks, some made with fresh herbs and honey procured from the bees pollinating the roof garden!  Hunger pangs can be sated by the contemporary French-inspired cuisine on offer. Part of the Sofitel Hotel, but worth venturing to for an elegant evening, no matter where you are resting your head.

Pink martini drink and Bluecoat Gin

Liquid art at the Art Bar

Art Bar   (215-561-7500)

Philly is such an artsy town, you can’t miss the 2500+ murals all over town or the world-class museums. So how about a little “Liquid Art?”  The trendy Art Bar off the lobby of the Sonesta Hotel at 1800 Market Street offers creative libations in a contemporary space surrounded by art sponsored by the hotel and the city’s Emerging Artists Program. In good weather, you can park yourself cafe-style outside along the side street for some great people-watching. Or, grab a front row seat inside on Thursdays and enjoy live music during Happy Hour. When I was there I was fortunate enough to catch classical and contemporary jazz guitarist Dave Baker, formerly with Hall & Oates.

See This

Observation Deck at One Liberty Place

Opened only recently in November 2015, One Liberty Place offers a panoramic bird’s-eye perspective of the city from the 57th floor. Located in a building meant to emulate the Chrysler Tower in New York, “#Philly from the top” gives a sky-high view of Philadelphia and its surrounding areas. This observatory is a great excuse to stay overnight in Philadelphia just to see the glittering lights of the city after dark hundreds of feet above street level. Guided tours are free with admission, and run on the hour once you get up to the top.

 

Ben Franklin head at Observation Deck at One Liberty Place Philadelphia

At the top of One Liberty Place, Ben overlooking his town

Do This

Context Travel – The premier tour company in town, for “the intellectually curious traveler.” Context Travel is unlike other typical tour agencies, in that they take you deep into a subject, and you’ll be glad you were along for the trip. Immersive and conversational in nature, these very small (max 6 people) or private tours are led by experts in their respective discipline. Explore art with a curator, food with a chef, history with a historian, or architecture with an architect. I’ve taken Context tours in other parts of the world, and they NEVER cease to provide a 5-star experience.

Philadelphia Story-telling Benches – While you’re walking the historic area, sit a spell in the dappled shade, at one of 13 teak benches and let the professional story-tellers regale and entertain you with stories that will transport you back 200 years. Great for all ages.

Philadelphia Craft Beer Trail  – It was in Philadelphia taverns that the American Revolution took hold. Even a century ago, this town was known as the “Cradle of American Libation.” Almost 200 breweries operated in the city and its environs (can you imagine?). But Prohibition in 1920 put an end to that, and brought on the demise of nearly all of Philadelphia’s beer producers for the next 60 years. Good thing for us, things couldn’t be more different today. Over the last 25 years, Philadelphia has regained its reputation as one of the world’s preeminent beer cities, as a leader in the exploding craft beer movement that has taken the country by storm.

Flight of carft beers in a wooden holder

Flight of craft beers

 

Philadelphia Beer Week – Want even more beer? Even though great beer can be found 365 days a year in Philadelphia, the locals felt it necessary to celebrate its diverse beer community with a 10-day long festival, as well as ongoing beer events now running throughout the calendar year. Held in early June, this festival places Philadelphia in the enviable position of being what many believe, the best beer city in America.

Odunde Festival – Held in mid-June, this annual street festival brings a genuine taste of Africa to South Street and one of Philadelphia’s oldest, historically African-American neighborhoods.

Chinese Lantern Festival – A very cool thing held at Franklin Square! An outdoor event, with mystical creatures and magical lanterns glowing in the night. The festival also features a beer garden, Chinese food, performances such as Kung Fu Tea, acrobatics, plate-spinning, face-changing, juggling, and traditional Chinese dance with music. You must bring your camera, and prepare to be wowed.

Chinese Dragon at Chinese Lantern Festival in Philadelphia

Chinese Dragon at Chinese Lantern Festival in Philadelphia (courtesy of Historic Philadelphia)

Stay Here

Bikes parked along Rittenhouse Square

The very French feeling Rittenhouse Square in the heart of American history

Sofitel Philadelphia at 120 S. 17th St.

The perfect luxury option in Philadelphia blending French elegance and American style, right downtown near where you want to be. The Sofitel offers gracious service and stylish but comfortable accomodations. It features both a chic hotspot for artisanal cocktails (the Liberte Lounge) and a brasserie style restaurant (Chez Colette) serving a French-inspired contemporary menu. Chef Luke Rogers oversees the gourmet offerings, using organic vegetables and fresh herbs grown right up on the hotel’s rooftop! They have beehives with over 100,000 bees, producing 8 gallons of honey annually that both the chef and mixologists utilize in their flavorful creations. You’ll love the sophisticated furnishings and artwork, and be sure not to miss the Candle Ritual at 5 pm! Did I mention, it’s a pet-friendly property, too?

Sofitel Lobby with artwork

The gorgeous, and art-laden, lobby of the Sofitel Philadelphia

 

Sonesta Philly at 1800 Market St.

The Sonesta is center stage, in Center City, in a perfect location to find all the action. Walk to Rittenhouse Square and the Historic area, enjoy great restaurants and shopping nearby, and have easy access to the train station and public transportation. You can find my separate review here.

Park Here

SP+ Parking garages are your best best when traveling to Philadelphia by car. Park your vehicle here for your long weekend in Philly, and be assured it will be safe and secure while you walk the town and see the sights. I am partial to the William Penn House garage in Center City, at 36 South 19th Street, because the customer service is awesome. These guys are fast, friendly, and professional!

SP Plus the best parking garage in Philadelphia

Park at SP+ garages when you are in Philadelphia. This is the entrance to the Wm Penn House Garage on 19th St.

 

SP+ parking garage interior

Clean and well-lit, SP+ is the best option for parking in Philly. And the attendants take pride in their job!

 

Note: I enjoyed some of these places while a guest of Visit Philly, but others I visited completely on my own dime. As always, all opinions expressed are my own!

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16 Comments

  1. Time to visit Philadelphia I think! The Independence Beer Garden looks like a great way to spend an afternoon. I would also like to see the Chinese LanternFestival. Great guide – thank you

    1. Katy, the IBG was definitely one of the highlights of my trip. I really didn’t want to leave that afternoon after lunch… I wanted to hang with the rest of the locals. There are games, a large bar, a firepit for the evenings, and lots of room to mingle around…all outside! The food was great, the beer excellent and the weather perfect — I couldn’t have asked for a nicer afternoon in Philadelphia. Thanks for stopping by my blog!

    1. Great to know, Kelly, thank you! Cheesesteaks have long been one of my personal favorite sandwiches. I make a pretty great one myself, too, I must say. I’m headed back to Philly later this year, so will definitely check out LaSpada’s!

    1. Great, glad you enjoyed it! I’m headed back to Philly in the Fall, so he can check back for more great recommendations on what to see and do, and EAT! 😉

    1. Yes, indeed! But you’d walk all those calories off easily wandering around town in the Historic area, or looking at all the art! You really should go sometime soon, it’s a gem of a city.

    1. OMG, I wish Federal donuts would open down here in Maryland or DC, or even Delaware. The donuts really are that good, and I love the different combinations of flavors they do. BUT, what was REALLY amazing, was that chicken! SO crispy, yet SO juicy. Mmmmmm….

    1. They were so good. I tried both of the sauces too, I like the cheddar better on the sweet potato fries, though. After mentioning to other people I had been to Cleaver’s, the response was always favorable… as in “oh, the cheesesteaks are so much better than Pat’s or Gino’s” and their fries are awesome!

    1. Yes, you really do need to get there, especially for the craft beer scene. I was amazed that they had a beer trail and the Beer Festival. It’s a very manageable city too… easy to understand and get around in.

  2. I went to Philly on a whim last year because I found cheap airfare and I had never been. I absolutely fell in love! What an amazing food scene. It quickly became one of my favorite cities in the USA.

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