Any old excuse to head back to The City of Brotherly Love. In many ways, I consider Philadelphia a second home. From the time I was about 10 years old, something about this city fascinated me. And to this day, I find it one of the easiest cities to make life long friends in.
On this trip, I was preparing to do two in person interviews for the Travel Fuels Life podcast. But while waiting for the time to arrive for the recording, I decided to enjoy two days of exploring the city. These are some of the highlights of my trip:
City Hall From Broad Street
Location: Samson and Broad Street
What can I say. I arrived in Philly just after dark, but had to make my way down towards Samson and Broad Streets to get a view of the beautiful City Hall at night. That was followed by dinner at what a friend of mine called the Hooters of German restaurants Brü Craft & Wurst. I laugh when he says that because it's so dark in there, it's hard to see anyone. But they have a healthy portion of good German food and an excellent beer selection.
Wintergarden at City Hall
Location: Dilworth Park, Philadelphia (Christmas season only)
You never know who you'll find down here. Situated on the west side of City Hall in Dilworth Park, the Wintergarden features an ice skating rink at Christmas time, along with some fun decorations and in the evening, a light show bouncing off of the building.
The Amor Sign and Basilica
Location: Amor Sculpture, Ben Franklin Parkway
I find this statue (yes it is considered a statue) to be perfectly placed. It's parked in Logan Square, right across from my favorite church in town - The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Peter and Saint Paul.
The Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul
Immediately upon seeing this church on my March trip, I fell in love not only with the Roman-Corinthian style, but also the brownstone that makes it's facade so unique. I found out later that that stone was easily accessible and that is why it was used. It was actually meant to save money, but I think it is what gives the church such character.
Pope Francis Visits Philadelphia
September 26, 2015 was a big day in Philadelphia. The Pope came for a visit. It still reverberates today, as I must have heard about this visit about 8 times while I was in town. Sadly, the visit to this cathedral was not to be attended by commoners. And in fact, the story goes that the city of Philadelphia removed the homeless from the streets for 3 days so the Pope didn't have to see them. A sad statement for what should have been an uplifting event for all.
The Main Sanctuary
Absolutely stunning. It amazes me that one of the bishops actually wanted to tear this down and rebuild a new church. His untimely death left the new bishop a nice fund from which to refurbish this grand cathedral. Note the windows that are so high. This was on purpose. During the 1860's Philadelphia was in turmoil during the Nativist Riots. There was an Anti-Catholic, Anti-Immigrant fervor in the air and many churches had their stain glass broken by rocks. Thus the stained glass in this church was elevated to a height that was far beyond a human's stone-throwing arm strength.
Basilica Art Work
These works are of incredible detail. There are several alters and many of these works of art came from other churches when they closed their doors. The Cathedral a beautiful representation of Philadelphia love and talent for art.
Every Picture Tells a Story
The Cathedral offers an mp3 download on it's website that will allow you to walk around for 18 minutes and do a self-guided tour. I arrived at 9 AM and did that tour, but then the guide Santos came up and started giving me an amazing tour full of stories and detail, while he waiting on his scheduled tour to arrive. His stories add so much to the experience. This artist rendering helps spur a variety of stories, including the nuns at Gettysburg who got in trouble for helping the Confederates, the Eucharist Conference held here, and especially Saint Katharine Mary Drexel who could have lived a life of lavish extravagance as an heir to the Drexel fortune, but instead spent her life helping African-Americans and Native Americans who she found being treated poorly. She was cannonized for her work in 2000.
Look at the ceilings and the beautiful tapestries. And while you're there, check out the stunning Basilica dome. Truly a work of art.
Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University
Speaking of Drexel, Drexel University has the Academy of Natural Sciences just across from the Basilica. Here, a dapper mantis tries to keep warm with a scarf.
The Thinker at Rodin Museum
Location: Rodin Museum
A little further up from Logan Square - just past the Free Library of Philadelphia, Shakespeare Memorial and Barnes Foundation - you'll find the Rodin Museum, featuring the largest collection of Auguste Rodin's sculptures outside of Paris. This replica of "The Thinker" welcomes you as he stares into the circles of Hell from Dante's Inferno. Not quite the pleasant concept I thought this statue might have represented.
Ben Franklin Parkway
Location: The Oval, Philadelphia
Turn around to see a beautiful shot of the parkway, where flags from every country line the road. In addition, you'll find a wide variety of museums, including The Franklin Institute and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
The Oval and Washington's Monument Fountain
Just in front of the Art Museum of Philadelphia, you'll find The Oval. During the summer months, you may hear a variety of music or see events taking place here. The statue itself features George Washington on horseback. He is surrounded by a variety of animals from bears to bison and this Native American woman.
The Rocky Statue
Location: The Rocky Statue, Philadelphia
Controversy surrounds poor Rocky. Once standing at the top of the Art Museum steps, where Sylvester Stalone's iconic character finishes out the "Gonna Fly Now" montage in the 1976 movie (the sports movie "Rocky" that forever changed sports movies), he now stands to the right of the museum, below the steps. Apparently, he was not considered art. Hmmm, this is a sculpture isn't it? At one time he was by the stadiums, but this wasn't really a fan favorite either. I mean, he's a fictional athlete. So for now, he stands guard while people run the steps in his honor.
Eastern State Penitentiary
Location: Eastern State Penitentiary
I'll be honest, I avoided this place because I thought it was still a working prison. It is not. Instead, it is a historic artifact of major significance and if you're at all interested in crime and punishment, I might rank this ahead of Alcatraz in San Francisco, mainly because this is where it all began in the early 1800's and where prisoners were held into the 1970's!
Two Levels of Hell
I'm a tall guy. I can't imagine having to move in and out of these cells. This pen was started with the concept that all prisoners would be rehabilitated through 2 years of solitary confinement! Thank Benjamin Franklin and Dr. Benjamin Rush who both put forth the theory that this might be an adequate practice.
The Numbers and the Story Behind the Numbers
Those bars you see, represent the number of incarcerated people in the United States. That last red bar has notches on the outside that shows other countries incarceration rates. What I found appalling is, for a country that espouses freedom, this is by far the most forward country in taking it away.
The Hospital Wing
It seems that if you were mentally ill in Pennsylvania, your doctor probably had worked here at some point. This was also a place where wounds were patched up from attacks at the facility.
Pep the Prison Dog
What is really cool about this prison is that you can take an audio tour and see as much or as little of it as you like. Steve Buscemi (of Boardwalk Empire and Fargo fame) narrates as you walk around the facility. You can view as much as it or as little of it as you want. You'll also hear the voices of historians, like the one who tells you about Pep the dog who was originally sentenced to the prison because he had killed the governor's wife's favorite cat. You'll have to take the tour to hear the follow up story.
Other Things to See
You'll also have the change to see the Jewish Synagogue and see the place where an inmate tunneled his way to freedom, if only for 2 hours.
Al Capone's Cell
Interestingly enough, Al Capone was jailed here in May 1929 for carrying a gun in town. He had a pretty posh cell with a skylight.
City Hall from Love Park
Location: Love Park, Philadelphia (aka JFK Plaza)
It's always sunny in Philadelphia. For those that don't know, this is a "tongue-in-cheek" saying. It's not quite London, but I do remember when I moved from here to Texas, I couldn't stand seeing the sun every morning. It just seemed annoying. So, I stood at the street corner waiting for the sun to come out for just a second. It did. Exactly one second after I put my camera away and then it was gone again!
Isn't this a marvelous City Hall? Once it was completed, it was the tallest habitable building in the world. Only the Washington Monument and Eiffel Tour stood taller. Now it is dwarfed by modern skyscrapers. But it's beautiful Second Empire French-style is truly fetching.
Love Park and the Christmas Village
The iconic LOVE statue, which has been associated with this town since the 1960's and which was turned into a sculpture in 1970, is a gathering spot for couples looking for a photograph. At this time of year, the block is also filled with Christmas shops.
Masonic Temple of Philadelphia
Location: Masonic Temple, Philadelphia
Right across from City Hall, Masonic brothers Benjamin Franklin and George Washington stand in James West statue "The Bond." I was honored to get a chance to tour the Masonic Temple back in my days when I was attending the Art Institute.
Isaac T Lin's "Start from Here" Mural
One thing about Philadelphia, there are murals everywhere. Perfect for the Instagrammer wanting a selfie location. This one is located right next to the Church of Scientology on near 14th and Race Street.
Location: Elfreth's Alley, Philadelphia
Okay, big jump down Market Street, to 2nd Avenue and up to Elfreth Alley. This little cobblestone street dates back to 1702. I just happened to be there on trash day. Otherwise, this picturesque alley is well worth a stroll. But remember, people still live here!
Edgar Allen Poe's Home
Location: Edgar Allen Poe's National Historic Site
Twice I've come to Philadelphia to see this home. Twice I've been shunned. First, it is only open Friday through Sunday. So when I arrived for a Monday through Thursday trip, I was out of luck. This time the power was out, as I had planned out being there on Friday. Light a candle!
This mural is actually down the street (at the corner of Green Street and N. 7th Street) on the side of public housing. Just a couple blocks away is Yards Brewing, a great place to grab a George Washington Porter (a personal favorite).
The neighborhood was fine during the day. Check your comfort level. I walked down Spring Garden Street to the west, just about 3-4 blocks. If you have a good telephoto lens, there is a great shot of the downtown skyline if you walk that way and look towards the southwest.
Location: Vine Street Park, Philadelphia
Heading back toward my hotel and just off the Vine Street Expressway (I-676) at 10th Street, you'll see a nice little park and as you walk south you'll enter Chinatown past the foo dogs.
Chinatown Friendship Arch
Location: Chinatown Friendship Arch
As you make your way down N 10th Street, you'll see the Chinatown Friendship Arch, just before you reach (appropriately) Arch Street.
Reading Terminal Market
Location: Reading Terminal Market
The Reading Terminal Market (pronounced like 'red' not 'read') is the best place for a visitor to get lost in food. I mean seriously get lost in it! I ate here 3 times during my 2 day visit. The last day I enjoyed some Philadelphia Scrapple. If you don't know what scrapple is, don't ask, just order it. You'll thank me - at least until someone gives away what is in it.
Okay, I'll tease you with some more food items (the chocolate aisle)! Ready to head to Philly yet?
If this is your first time in the city, it can be a little overwhelming (especially if you're not used to large blue collar towns). For the newcomer, you're best to use City Hall as your anchor point. So many parts of the city are accessible from here. This part of town is referred to as "Center City."
Transportation to Center City
If you're coming to town by plane, you've got a bit of a haul from the airport. There is a regional rail line right from the arrivals gate. At this writing it was about $13 to ride in directly to Center City. Another option is to take an Uber or Lyft. My Lyft driver said there are sometimes over 100 drivers in the area and the queue clears up pretty quickly. My cost to my hotel in Center City was about $17 with Lyft (shared).
If you're arriving by train or bus, you'll most likely be at 30th Street Station in West Philly. The local transportation system is known as SEPTA (Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority). Unfortunately day passes are just for that day, so if you buy your day pass late in the day, it will be a bit costly, so maybe a one fare toll is the way to go. The Philly subways are colored, so the Blue Line is what you would take to Center City. I find Google Maps to be very helpful in finding transportation. There is also a New Jersey Transit Line that is separate from SEPTA, if you are staying on the Jersey side of the Delaware River. The Greyhound Terminal is a few blocks northeast of Center City.
I haven't driven in by car. There are plenty of garages around, but if I did drive in, I'd probably park down near the stadiums at the south end of Broad Street and get a SEPTA pass if you're just up for the day, then ride the Orange Line up Broad Street. Hotels also provide parking. Just prepared for some cost.
Transportation Within the City
Personally, I like to walk. When I was younger I was very nervous walking around the city. But as I've gotten to know the town, I find no problem exploring. But I do stick to some main areas that I'll list below. SEPTA has a One Day Independence Pass, so that is worth checking out. You can ride busses or the subway very easily. I tend to stop my wandering around 9 to 10 PM and opt for rideshare services for delivery right to the door of my place of lodging.
Areas to Explore
BENJAMIN FRANKLIN PARKWAY AREA
Just northwest of City Hall, this area is a fantastic spot to get comfortable with the city. Walking all the way up to the Art Museum and exploring, you'll find plenty to do. Just north of the Rodin Museum is the Eastern State Penitentiary. If you walk south, down to Chestnut and Market Streets on this side of town, you'll find beautiful architecture in Rittenhouse Square and a busy modern shopping district. Head up to the One Liberty Observation Deck at sunset on clear day for amazing 360 views of the city.
SOUTH STREET AND ITALIAN MARKET AREAS
Amazingly, when I lived in Philly, I never made my way down to the urban heartbeat of the city. Get your reservations for Philly's Magic Gardens and then stroll down the street towards the Delaware River, taking in the vibes of Philadelphia. See some cool murals along the way and stop into Jim's Steaks, which locals tell me is one of the best cheesesteaks in the city (watch them make it to order right in front of you).
Head a little further south and enjoy the culture and especially the food in the Italian Market area. Geno's and Pat's are the two most famous cheesesteak places in town. They get a bit of a knock from the locals because they are "tourist traps" but I did find Pat's to be an "experience." Make sure you order your steak properly or to the back of the line you go! The original "no soup for you!" Plus, bring cash, no plastic. And for desert, head to the Rim Cafe for an amazing hot chocolate, you won't be disappointed.
Most tourists will head directly to Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. Also, Benjamin Franklin and Benjamin Rush were both buried nearby at Christ Church, so that is worth a look. I can't recommend the Museum of the American Revolution enough. They had a great presentation when I was there last, called Washington's Tent. Sounded a little boring but the presentation was fantastic. You'll have plenty of opportunity for photos in this area.
CHINATOWN AND MARKET STREET EAST
I found the stretch north of Market Street and south of the Vine Street Expressway (I-696) between Independence Hall and City Hall to be a bustling area. Included, you'll find Chinatown, the Reading Terminal Market, and Convention Center. There are also plenty of name brand hotels in this area, so it's a good place to stay.