Is it possible that Philadelphia is one of the most understated destinations in the USA…?
If you have ventured a little off the beaten path of US ‘must-see cities’ and made it to Philly then you surely don’t need to be told that the answer is an undoubted YES!
Why though? What is it about this town that has you just so wrapped up in it from the moment you leave the airport? Philidelphia has SOUL. It has grit. It has grunge. It also has some of the nicest people I have come across and a LOT of history.
You can really feel the heartbeat of the people of Philidelphia as you make your way around the city. It has a Blue Collar – working class – ‘I got your back mate‘ – kind of vibe that really sings to me having grown up in the outer suburbs of Brisbane, Australia.
Well, back to business, are you short on time and budget conscious but want to experience what I have felt here? Below are my recommendations which are sure to make Philly your little un-sung hero too.
TOP 10 Must See in Philidelphia, PA
1 – Rocky Steps
You just have too! It’s a lot of fun and the view from the top back down on Philly is beautiful.
These are the steps to the Philidelphia Art Museum, but you can just type ‘Rocky Steps’ into google maps or ask a cab driver and they will take you there. I highly recommend you watch the movie before you go. And make sure you run up to the top and throw your hands in the air. It feels great!
After this, I would suggest walking back down the Flag Walkway to Free Library of Philidelphia. The street is called Benjamin Franklin Parkway and is lined with the flags of the world. It is a really picturesque and interesting walk. The building of the Free Library is gorgeous too with an interesting history.
After this, you can turn left and walk to Cherry Street Tavern for a drink and a bite to eat… I’ll get to that in the bars/taverns suggestions!
2 – Pat’s King of Steaks
YUM! I don’t actually eat meat. But I also think that part of experiencing a place when you travel is the food. So I did taste this. And unfortunately, it was phenomenal! There is a bit of local debate on where you can get the best Philly Cheese Steak. Gino’s and Pat’s are right across the street from each other a vie for this title.
With a decent amount of local Philadelphians eating a Pat’s when we got there, we think it was a good choice and I would recommend. There is also a dive bar just across the road called South Philly Bar & Grill that is quite cool. It doesn’t kick off until a bit later in the night but the staff are nice, the music is good and they have arcade games to keep you occupied while the vibe, DJ and crowd picks up later into the night.
See here on how to order your Cheese Steak like a local!
3 – Philly Eagles (Super Bowl Winners 2018) – Lincoln Field Stadium
We were actually here in the evening as part of a private event. There was a live band which was AMAZING, open bar, cheerleaders and we even had a tour of the stadium including the locker rooms and the field. Even though this was part of a private event, you can organise the tour of the stadium that we did publicly. If you’re interested in NFL at all, I’d recommend it. Very cool.
4 – McGillins Old Ale House
This place is a MUST SEE. A top pick for a drink and some grub or a ful blown night out. Everyone in Philly knows this place.
We rode into the wee hours of the morning a couple of times in this bar. The first night we arrived we went straight here and at 6.45pm, 90% of patrons were beyond drunk. Swaying and singing and slurring. Having a great time in true Philly style.
Downstairs has seating and is fairly busy, even before 9pm, with great food, local ale’s and people watching! I can recommend the Nacho’s. After 9pm on the weekend, the dancefloor upstairs is packed and pumping. Karaoke on Sundays too!
A visit to this bar while in town is non-negotiable.
5 – Cherry Street Tavern
A dive bar with true Philly soul and cheap eats, which has been around for over 100 years. You’ll hear the locals calling out to the Owner Joe for a sandwich and singing along to the music that is playing while they sink their beers and Joe calls back to them with some smart-ass wit while he prepares their food.
It has a cute little London side-street bar feel with BIG heart. Get chatting to the bar staff or Joe the owner if you want to hear a thick Philly accent and witty commentary that will put a huge smile on your face.
6 – Time Bar
This is a gem that I am so lucky I get to add in here. We discovered this bar randomly on the very last night. So it almost didn’t even make the list.
I was out the back of McGillin’s, pretty tipsy, possibly having a cheeky drunken cigarette (which sometimes happens when I’ve had a few too many drinks.. shhhh don’t tell my Ma) and a fella called Brock came up to chat in the laneway. He worked next door at Time and said they had live music, great food and he would throw in a couple of free beers if we wanted to pop over.
SURE WHY NOT!? So over we went, Tuesday night around 11.30pm, and… it was magical. Turns out Brock totally underpromised and over delivered!
Live Music – a full Jazz band including a sexy sax and cello. An open mic night. Predominately African-American patrons turned soul singers were passing the mic around singing ad-lib Michael Jackson and Aretha Franklin etc. We had walked into the most fabulous jam session I’ve ever witnessed.
Food – DELICIOUS. We had the shrimp n’ grits. So tasty. And for dessert a bread and butter pudding ice cream that was a dream.
Vibe – see below, enough said!
Some of the best service I’ve ever received and one of the coolest bars I’ve possibly ever been too. Ask for Brock and tip him WELL! <3
7 – Reading Terminal Market
A cute little market filled with locals and out of towners alike. I went on a Tuesday afternoon and the Amish from Livingstone were here selling their fresh produce and other goods.
I got some broad bean crips from the sweetest old Amish man – in full get-up! And then some truffles and chocolate coasted pretzels from some young Amish girls. Apparently, a cheesesteak from here can be just as good as elsewhere and all of the other food stands look delicious. Lunch here could be a fun idea.
8 – Italian Market
My visit to this market was stolen by a hangover, a couple of times. I’d suggest allowing for this to happen while in Philly though because the bars and taverns are so much fun and just as much a highlight themselves as anything else. Therefore you’re bound to sleep in a few mornings to compensate.
All the locals had told me to visit however and I’m annoyed with myself that I didn’t so I’ve added it in here so you can learn from my mistakes!
9 – Free Walking Tour – Philly on Foot
I did an amazing walking tour with Joseph from Free Tours by Foot – Philadelphia. The Independence Mall Tour.
Sometimes, being from Australia, it is hard to comprehend the psyche of the American people and why some things just are the way they are. This tour touched on the Revolution and the founding fathers etc. Philadelphia has so many landmarks that were integral in this part of American history. Learning about all this really enlightened me as to why in the US, although still making NO sense to me, things are a certain way.
The architecture and stories behind the spots we hit in this tour are extremely beautiful and interesting. Its a ‘pay what you feel’ tour too so very budget friendly. Joseph is great so, although he loves his job, tip him decently!
10 – Day Trip
Philidelphia is also just a 1.5-hour train or Mega Bus ride from New York City. So if you’re looking for a stay-cay with a little spice but on a budget come and spend a few days in Philly and you can still zip over for a day to The Big Apple and throw that extra wow factor into the trip.
In all honesty though, even though this was my plan, I didn’t end up doing this in the end. I am actually sat here in the Marriot Starbucks still in Philly, pretty hungover from one last hoorah at McGillan’s last night and starting this blog post for you all instead. And I’m not even mad about it. But NYC is an option and could be the cherry on top of an epic few days.
Thanks Philadelphia for showing me a hell of a time! GO EAGLES!