Philadelphia proved to be a real gem for me. I was there in early August, and still following my now established pattern of ‘just 2 nights’. I didn’t know much about the city – I didn’t even realise it was home to the Rocky Steps! However from the moment I arrived at top notch hostel Philadelphia House, I didn’t stop enjoying myself. Philly, Pennsylvania offers the perfect blend of history and modern appeal.
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3 THINGS YOU REALLY CANNOT MISS:
PHILADELPHIA HOUSE | I’d been travelling solo for almost 5 months by the time I reached Philly. My socialising skills were becoming forced, and funds were running seriously low! This place – thanks to manager Danny and staff – was like a big warm hug from long lost friends. From the moment I walked in the door, there was a welcoming energy and community vibe that is so lost on many hostels these days. I’d highly recommend a stay here if you’re a budget traveller passing through.
ROCKY STEPS | I restrained from running up (also too unfit), but just try to get that ‘Got To Fly’ theme tune out of your head, from the original movie when Rocky Balbao reaches the top of these iconic steps. Also check out: seeing as you’re at the top, step inside the wonderful Philadelphia Museum of Art, to see Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, as well as and one of my fave’s Cy Twombly.
FIRST ART FRIDAY | Philadelphia is one of those easy to navigate cities that feels just the right size. As with many American cities, it’s well worth piggy-backing the monthly open Art events that are hosted every first Friday if you can coordinate being in town that day. This is typically galleries, bars and other random shops throwing open their doors and serving free drinks and nibbles. It attracts a buzzy crowd and is just a genuinely fun atmosphere.
3 THINGS WORTH A SNOOP:
READING TERMINAL MARKET | you can’t go to Philly and not try a Philly Cheese Steak! And this is a great place to find them. There are hundreds of food vendors and loads of choice, including this local speciality. Personally I found it kind of rich and heavy and couldn’t actually stomach the whole thing…. But I gave it a good go. I don’t think the hangover helped.
PADDY’S OLD CITY PUB | if you’re a fan of ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’ starring Danny DeVito – which I am now, after watching a few episodes at the hostel – then you may want to check out this dive bar, which provides the inspiration behind this show, now into it’s 10th series and with more commissioned. Also check out: Philly is a great night out – swing by the Mulberry Market grocery store doubling as a great off license; take your drinks down to the waterfront where there seem to be free fireworks every night; rely on South Street for a host of pubs and bars; order a City Wide (PBR plus Jameson); finish the night with an obligatory slice of pizza heaven.
FOUNTAINS | one thing I really noticed about Philly was how much they love a fountain. And don’t we all like a fountain. On the walk up to the Rocky Steps and Museum of Art there are loads, and another impressive spot to check out is around City Hall by JFK Plaza – yup, complete with fountain. There is some interesting enough architecture, and the recognisable LOVE sculpture by Robert Indiana.
3 THINGS TO STEER CLEAR:
LIBERTY BELL | for a bell, this one clearly holds a lot of significance: it was originally cast in 1752 with the lettering “Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” My issue is that this is a replica of a huge bell with a crack in it, and I don’t need to queue for hours to see it in order to be able to understand that it represents freedom in America’s history.
CHINA TOWN | as mentioned, Philly is fairly small, so you may stumble across this area. It’s marked by a colourful 40-foot Chinese Friendship Gate. The gate itself is nice enough, but there’s nothing particularly special about this neighbourbood. In a positive way, it’s clearly a busy community and home to many people – it’s not really a tourist attraction.
OLD CITY | perhaps unfair, but for once I found the older part of this city less inspiring that some of the newer hubs. And usually it’s the other way round. Old City is the area between Independence Hall and the Delaware River where William Penn and the Quakers first settled. Don’t get me wrong, it’s all very quaint – in fact it boasts the oldest continually inhabited street in America, Elfreth’s Alley – but I think I just found it all a little too toy-town.
1 THING I WISH I’D DONE:
PENNSYLVANIA | with America, I always feel like I’ve done a state some big injustice by forming my opinion of it based on one – often already the most popular – city experience. But when you’re travelling with time and money restraints this scenario, or ‘highlights only’ approach, can be hard to avoid. And hard to research: so there’s Pittsburgh; Lancaster; Erie; Gettysburg…. but I could find comparatively little information on each. So what have I missed?
AND KNOW THIS: Or maybe I should have checked out these places: there are some colourfully named communities in Pennsylvania include Cheesetown, Poorman Side, Bird-in-Hand, and Big Beaver. Raunchier-sounding towns include Blue Ball, Jugtown, Virginville, Climax, and Intercourse.
–> –> –> Next stop The White House | Washington DC –> –> –> (post coming soon)