When it comes to important places in our nation’s history, it’s hard to top Philadelphia. Although Washington, D.C. may be the essential “headquarters” of the U.S. today, Philadelphia was America’s first capital, and it’s where ultra-important documents, like the Declaration of Independence itself, came into existence.
Today, Philadelphia maintains its position as a frontrunner amongst American cities in the way of food, entertainment, and fun. From noshing on cheesesteaks to gazing in awe at some of the most important historic artifacts in the country, we put together this article to orient your experience of Philadelphia.
Why We Love to Travel
From meeting new people to experiencing new sights, sounds, and smells – is there anything more exciting or rejuvenating than a break from the day-to-day mundanity? Traveling is an excellent way to immerse yourself in a new culture, setting, or way-of-life, but the best part is this: you don’t have to venture far from home to enjoy what this world has to offer.
Whether your journey takes you across your own city, to an unexplored part of your state, or even to the other side of the world, there’s no doubt you will still learn a lot about your surroundings – and yourself – along the way.
Benefits of Traveling Locally
While the culture an hour away from your home might not be drastically different from what you’re used to, you can still gain a deepened sense of appreciation for where you’ve laid your roots. Plus, traveling locally has a lot of benefits:
- More cost-effective. Local travel is certainly a budget-friendly way to explore! Many activities and local parks are free or have a low cost of entry. For day trips, you can also pack your own meals to save.
- Eco-friendly way to travel. Travel is hard on the environment, but putzing around your area is more sustainable than air travel.
- Quick trips. Getting out locally means you can do it more often! Long weekend trips are a lot easier to take when the destination is a short drive away.
- Easy to plan. Preparing your itinerary for a local getaway will likely save you some time and stress.
- More convenient. Especially if you have little ones, sticking close to home may be much more convenient than far-off destinations. If you forget something, have an emergency, or need to cut the trip short, being close by definitely has its benefits.
Explore Local: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Philadelphia is the kind of metropole that’s always changing — which means that there’s always something new to explore and discover in its boundaries. Whether you’ve called the city home for a lifetime or you’re just heading that direction for the very first time, there’s so much to explore in Philadelphia, so much to see and do. Here are just a few of our best suggestions.
State Parks in Philadelphia
While Philadelphia, with its 1.5 million residents, is about as urban as it gets, there’s no shortage of natural spaces in its shadow. Here are some of the best state and national parks in and around Philadelphia, PA.
- Benjamin Rush State Park may measure less than 300 acres all told, but it’s still a much-needed respite in busy Philadelphia County. It’s also the site of what’s believed to be one of the largest community gardens in the world.
- Fort Washington State Park is a popular getaway amongst city-dwellers looking for the opportunity to hike, picnic, fish, and play disc golf. Visit in the springtime to see its famous flowering dogwood trees, or participate in the fall “Hawk Watch” when you can observe all 16 species of the East Coast’s migrating raptors.
- French Creek State Park may be just an hour away from downtown Philly, but this stunning wilderness will make you feel like you’ve traveled much further, indeed. Encompassing more than 7,500 acres and including two beautiful lakes, there’s no end to the outdoor recreation opportunities available in this destination.
- Marsh Creek State Park is another that’s just an hour outside of the metro, but instantly transports visitors to a different (significantly quieter) time. The rolling hills that create the backdrop for views of Marsh Creek Lake are filled with adventure — all you have to do is go find it.
- Ridley Creek State Park is the perfect getaway for outdoorsmen (and women) of all sorts. Horseback riding, fly fishing, hiking — you can find it all here, along with stunning views and even waterfalls.
- Independence National Historic Park is more than just a park. It’s the literal birthplace of our nation. You can see the Liberty Bell and explore Independence Hall, which is where the Declaration was debated about and signed on. (It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage site.)
Best Hiking Trails
You don’t have to go far from the center of town to enjoy some fine sightseeing on foot! Here are the best hiking trails in Philadelphia.
Wissahickon Creek Gorge Loop Trail
Meandering through about 9 miles of Fairmount Park, the Wissahickon Creek Gorge Loop Trail is a popular destination for afternoon strollers, morning power-walkers, runners, and more. Along the way, you’ll see wooded areas, waterfront, and even some waterfalls… there’s certainly no shortage of scenery!
Lincoln Drive Trail
Another popular Fairmount Park option, Lincoln Drive Trail is slightly shorter at just over 4 miles round trip, and with only 300 feet or so of elevation change, it’s doable even for beginners. Along the way, you’ll encounter lots of places to sit and rest along the water — and most of it is paved, as well, which means it’s great for biking and running.
Cynwyd Heritage Trail from Manayunk
Running approximately 3.5 miles from downtown Manayunk to the Baga Cynwyd SEPTA station, the Cynwyd Heritage Trail offers canal views, streams, a few stretches along major roadways, and even the chance to meander through a cemetery. If you’re looking for an urban excursion with a little bit of everything, this is a great option.
John Heinz Lake Loop
The John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge is a wilderness preserved in the midst of all the hullaballoo of the Philadelphia area. Spanning about 1,000 acres, the area also offers about 10 miles of hiking trails — of which, the John Heinz Lake Loop might be the most scenic.
Best Restaurants in Philadelphia
One thing’s for sure: exploring Philadelphia is going to work up an appetite. But don’t worry, there are plenty of places to eat to your heart’s content. Here are some of the very best restaurants in Philadelphia, no matter what you’re hungry for.
You might not think you’re craving vegetarian or vegan fare… but if that’s the case, we’re willing to bet you’ve yet to go to Vedge. Created by James Beard nominated Chefs Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby, this fine dining experience is plant based and still delectable enough to make your mouth water.
Amma’s South Indian Cuisine
Looking for the best Indian restaurant in all of Philly? It might be a hard choice, but Amma’s South Indian Cuisine certainly holds its own. Serving up authentic fan favorites like biryani and dosas, their menu is equally navigable by carnivores and vegetarians — and folks of all level of adventuresome taste buds.
You may have to BYOB, but this joint makes up for the lack of booze with a preponderance of sushi options, ranging from innovative rolls to fresh sashimi and everything in between. Crazy Sushi also offers a range of hot dishes, such as teriyaki and tempura, for those in your party who aren’t into the whole “raw fish” thing. (Yes, we know it’s not always raw. But still.)
What’s better than inventive, yet authentic Mexican eats served up in a chic, inviting atmosphere?
Yeah, not much. If you’re looking for the best Mexican restaurant in Philadelphia — or just an incredible taco and a margarita to wash it down with — we can’t go wrong in recommending you check out Lolita. It’s beloved by locals and visitors alike.
Italian should be more than just delicious. It should be comforting, generous, and served up in a familial atmosphere. That’s exactly what you’ll find at Little Nonna’s, widely considered one of the best Italian restaurants in Philadelphia. Although you can’t go wrong with anything on the menu, Nonni’s spaghetti & meatballs is a specialty dish for a reason. Buon Appetito!
Pat’s King of Steaks
It’s Philly — are you really going to call your time here complete without eating a Philly cheesesteak? Pat’s King of Steaks is believed by many to be the original proprietor of these beloved sandwiches; its founder, Pat Olivieri, invented the sandwich back in 1930. The Olivieri family still owns the joint, so if you’re looking for authentic, this is about as real as it gets!
Fun Things to Do in Philadelphia
You’ve eaten the eats. You’ve walked the walks. And now, it’s time to discover what else Philadelphia has to offer.
Luckily for you, the answer is, “A lot!”! Here are some of our favorite to-dos in Philly.
For Kids and Families
Philadelphia is a great city for kids of all ages. If you’re looking to get your family engaged in this town — or just plain old engaged — here are some of the best places to go.
Please Touch Museum
It happens all the time: you take the kids to the museum and find yourself policing their hands rather than actually enjoying the exhibits. If you want to turn that experience on its head, grab the fam and head to the Please Touch Museum, where touching is not just allowed, but encouraged! This place offers two whole floors full of interactive exhibits to inspire and entertain visitors of all ages.
What kid doesn’t love a trip to the zoo? And what kid wouldn’t be extra pleased if the zoo in question were Philadelphia Zoo, which is home to 1,300 animals, many of which are rare and endangered? Along with giving you the opportunity to get up close and personal with a wide range of wild new friends, this zoo has — of course — historical importance, too: it was the first true zoo built in the country. In fact, its initial opening was delayed by the Civil War!
The Franklin Institute
Named for — you guessed it — Ben himself, The Franklin Institute is perhaps the most popular and well-regarded science museum in the area. A wide range of exhibits and experiences beckons the entire family to get involved and intrigued, and there are also a variety of programs for more dedicated and intensive development and study.
We’ve covered some amazing things to do in Philadelphia during the day. But what are the top things to do in Philadelphia once night falls? Here are a few options.
1 Tippling Place
Listen, Philadelphia is teeming with nightlife, and we don’t need to guide you to the nearest drink — you can certainly do that yourself. But if you’re looking for something that’s less like grabbing a beer and more like a beverage experience, we recommend you find 1 Tippling Place… though it may be a bit of a challenge. There’s little signage!
No matter how intimate you are with town from the streets, you’ll get a whole new perspective when you see it from the water — and you may as well enjoy a fine meal while you do so, right? Spirit Cruises offers a dinner cruise with scenic views of Philadelphia, not to mention access to a sumptuous 3-course buffet and cash bar.
Eastern State Penitentiary
If you’re brave, you have the opportunity to set foot into one of the most (in)famous and extensive prison systems our nation has ever seen. The Eastern State Penitentiary once housed the likes of Al “Scarface” Capone himself, and after-dark VIP tours are available. (Again, if you’re brave enough.)
Cheap and Free Things to Do in Philadelphia
Philly ain’t San Francisco, but it ain’t the cheapest city in the world, either. Fortunately, there are plenty of free and cheap diversions to help you get acquainted with town without taking out a second mortgage! Here are a few of our favorite cheap and free things to do in Philadelphia.
Valley Forge National Historical Park
One of the most important battlegrounds in the Revolutionary War, a visit to Valley Forge National Historical Park brings history to life — and these days, it’s a much more pleasant scene with its rolling green hills and bright sunny skies. Get more insight into the legacy of the place with ranger-led trolley and walking tours, or meander its miles of trails on your own. Entry is free of charge.
Once Upon a Nation Storytelling Benches
Scattered throughout the most walkable parts of downtown, the 13 Once Upon A Nation Storytelling Benches offer a unique way to get a better grasp of the area’s history that’s unique, accessible, and fun for the whole family. Listeners will get deeper, more intimate details beyond the stuff that’s printed in the history books, and the entire experience is 100% free.
The Rocky Statue and Steps
Everyone knows the iconic movie scene, where Sylvester Stallone, playing Rocky Balboa, stands victorious at the top. The so-called “Rocky Steps” are actually the stairway to the Philadelphia Museum of Art (which isn’t free, but is also worth a visit), and the sculpture at the bottom is a perfect photo opp as well.
Not a Rocky fan? No worries — there’s still a Philadelphia landmark that’s worth going out of your way to visit. You’ve likely seen photos of the LOVE sculpture, with its tilted O, on Instagram (and elsewhere), and you can visit it yourself — as well as the entire park that’s been built around it. (This park is formally known as John F. Kennedy Plaza, and is located nearby Philadelphia City Hall.)
Spas in Philadelphia
In need of some TLC? We so get that — and you can so get what you need in Philly! Here are some of the best day spas and salons in town, whether you need a quick facial or a more serious and time-intensive treatment.
Artur Kirsh Salon & Spa at The Bellevue Hotel
Sophisticated, distinct, elegant — and a great place to get any beauty service you might pine for, whether it’s hair and nails for a night on the town or something as important as your wedding day. No matter what, at Artur Kirsh Salon & Spa, you’re in good hands, and you’ll be sure to leave feeling and looking better than you did when you walked in.
Widely regarded as one of the best day spas in Philly, Body+Beauty Lab offers services that go above and beyond the ordinary. Along with facials and external wrinkle treatments, this facility also offers injectable treatments and procedures like Botox, lip fillers and jawline contouring.
Best Gyms & Yoga Studios
Staying in shape has to do with your internal “shape” as much as the one people can see from the outside. When you need to access your grit and determination — or just get grounded — here are some great places to turn in Philadelphia.
Fitness Works Philadelphia
When it comes to the gym, it’s already an effort to get there… so the facility might as well make it as easy as possible to access everything you might need, right? Fitness Works Philadelphia is a comprehensive fitness facility that offers basics like free weights and cardio machines as well as group classes, personal trainers, a swimming pool and a sauna. In short, you’ve got everything you need to meet your goals — and then some.
Yoga can be more than just a way of moving your body — it can be a way of moving your life. At Maha Yoga, a wide range of classes offered by kind, genuine, and knowledgeable teachers will help you find your muscles, your strength, and yourself.
Day Trips in Philadelphia
Clearly, there’s enough to do in Philadelphia proper to keep anyone busy for a lifetime (or more). But you’re also so close by to so many amazing destinations that are well worth your time! Here are some great day grips and weekend getaways in the Philadelphia area.
You’ve explored the first capital of the country… so how about taking a trip to the current capital? Washignton, D.C. is just a two-and-a-half hour drive from downtown Philly, and is, of course, absolutely full to bursting with all sorts of relevant cultural experiences, many of which are totally free. We recommend going in springtime to see the cherry blossoms bloom.
New York City
There’s no place like New York — and you’re less than two hours from everything Manhattan has to offer, let alone its neighboring boroughs. Maybe take the train, though, because trust us: you don’t want to have to deal with parking.
Shenandoah National Park
In the mood for a getaway that’s a little less urban? Shenandoah National Park is the closest to Philadelphia, and its endless stacks of mountains make the three-hour trip more than worthwhile. Whether it’s hiking along a forested trail or simply cruising scenic Skyline Drive, a trip to Shenedoah is sure to put you into a whole new state of mind.
Note: some of these activities may need to wait until businesses fully reopen from coronavirus closures. However, there is still much to see and experience in Philadelphia that you can enjoy today! What are your favorite spots in Philadelphia? Send them our way to [email protected] or by tagging us on Instagram @rvshare and using the hashtag #rvsharelocal.