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An insider’s guide to Philadelphia

Fabulous Philadelphia is one of the USA's most historic and progressive cities. James Cartmell at Collette Tours checks in with an insider’s guide to his home town of ‘Philly’, including great places to eat and top things to do...
An insider’s guide to Philadelphia
An insider’s guide to Philadelphia

Made famous by the iconic Bruce Springsteen song, the ‘Streets of Philadelphia’, Philadelphia is a destination rich in American history and culture.

The name Philadelphia — coined by 17th century writer William Penn — joins the Greek words for love (phileo) and brother (adelphos), and you’ll discover a city that’s both friendly and relaxed. As one of the most populous urban centres in the United States, Philly is a lively and vibrant hub. It offers visitors a smorgasbord of live music, great food, shopping and attractions.

Enjoy this insider’s guide to Philadelphia.

An insider’s guide to Philadelphia
An insider’s guide to Philadelphia. Image: Bigstock

Great places to eat in Philadelphia

Philadelphia has a dynamic dining scene and visitors will find no shortage of options for great places to eat. Here are a few of my personal favourites.

Pat’s King of Steaks

When food comes to mind in the City of Brotherly Love, everyone thinks of the famous Philly cheesesteak: sautéed beef and onions, melted cheese, all on a soft long bread roll. Most Philadelphians have a strong opinion about where to get the best one, but for me, it’s Pat’s — end of story.

Barclay Prime

For a slightly more up-market culinary experience, head to one of the top-rated steakhouse in Philly — Barclay Prime. It’s home to the famous $100 cheesesteak!

Reading Terminal Market

The Reading Terminal Market is the best place in the city to grab lunch or buy some unique gifts or souvenirs. With vendors selling homewares, books and handicrafts, ethnic groceries, dairy and cheeses, seafood, deli meats, baked goods and candy, you could spend a whole day wandering around the stalls and still not see everything.

An insider’s guide to Philadelphia
An insider’s guide to Philadelphia: Reading Terminal Market

Where to enjoy a night out in Philadelphia

There are a few great live music venues I would suggest you check out while you are visiting Philly. Franklin Music Hall brims with energy and hosts amazing performers from all around the world. Howl at the Moon is another fun place to go out and party with a group of friends. It has a big focus on dance music but also features live music acts and some cover bands.

An insider’s guide to Philadelphia
Image courtesy of Howl at the Moon

At night, the Old City district comes to life and transforms into an urban playground, buzzing with music, trendy bars and great restaurants. If you are looking for a nice happy hour, check out National Mechanics. Built in 1837, the building was originally the Mechanics National Bank. This place is the perfect fusion of old-world décor and modern menu selections. I recommend the shared plates. The National Wings or plantain chips with guacamole are amazing. There’s also a huge range of cold beers on tap. Try the Yards IPA from Philly’s local brewery.

Philadelphia for history lovers

Philadelphia has a rich history to explore. Many visitors go to Old City during the day to see iconic landmarks like Independence Hall. It’s one of the most important of America’s heritage sites. It was the location for the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the drafting of the Constitution.

An insider’s guide to Philadelphia
An insider’s guide to Philadelphia: Explore the historic Old City.

It wouldn’t be a trip to Philly without visiting the Statue of Liberty. Although it is not in Philadelphia, the statue’s torch was exhibited in Philly in 1876 at the World’s Fair in Fairmount Park. People who came to the fair paid admission to climb into the torch and take in the view from the top. This was so successful that for a time, the sculptor considered giving it to Philly instead of New York! Philly is only a short distance from the statue. You can take the bus or train and make a day of it. 

Ways to relax in Philadelphia

There are plenty of great ways to unwind in Philly. I’m a big sports fan and for me, you can’t go past an afternoon baseball or hockey game at the South Philadelphia Sports Complex. For nature lovers though, I would suggest taking a walk through the famous Gettysburg Battle site or the Valley Forge Historic Park.

An insider’s guide to Philadelphia
An insider’s guide to Philadelphia: Visit the Valley Forge Historic Park. Image: Bigstock

If you’re thinking about a day trip to get out of the city, consider the Brandywine Valley to the southwest. The gorgeous scenery is a perfect contrast to the tall buildings and architecture of downtown Philly. Home to famous American artists, world-renowned gardens, historical battle sites, and charming bed & breakfasts, it makes the perfect weekend trip. While you’re in the area, try the traditional home-style breakfast at Hank’s Place in Chadds Ford. For the hungry traveller, I recommend the ‘Eggs Benedict — Hank’s style’. It includes poached eggs on a southern-style biscuit, Canadian bacon or sausage, creamy old-fashioned chipped beef and a generous portion of homemade fries. It’s amazing!

James Cartmell is business development manager at Collette Tours.

Do you have any tips to add to this insider’s guide to Philadelphia? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.

Additional images: Bigstock

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