Philly 101: A First-Timer's Guide to the City of Brotherly Love

Here's what you need to know to make the most of your visit.

Philadelphia offers tons of authentic and top-notch attractions, but exploring this vibrant city takes some planning—especially for first-time visitors. With so much to see, do and taste, it’s challenging for a novice to know where to begin in the country’s first World Heritage City. From the historic Liberty Bell to the deliciously indulgent cheesesteak, here are our picks for what not to miss when you're here for the first time.

  • 01 of 10

    History echoes through the corridors of Independence Hall, where, in 1776, the Founding Fathers came together to sign the Declaration of Independence. Eleven years later, representatives from a dozen states met here to lay the framework for the U.S. Constitution. Today, the UNESCO World Heritage Site is the centerpiece of Independence National Historical Park, and guided tours are available to visitors year-round. Free, timed tickets are required and can be picked up at the Independence Visitor Center at 6th and Market Streets. Tours usually fill up before noon, so visitors are encouraged to plan accordingly. Visitors must enter a security checkpoint at 5th and Chestnut streets prior to tour. 
    520 Chestnut Street, (215) 965-2305

  • 02 of 10
    ••• The Rocky Steps in Philadelphia. Credit: Photo by G. Widman for Visit Philadelphia™

    The Philadelphia Museum of Art was forever immortalized in the classic Rocky film franchise. While the “Rocky Steps” draw a slew of visitors who want to reenact Stallone’s on-screen training regimen, the museum is even more astounding inside. The massive art collection spans more than 2,000 years and includes sculptures, paintings, textiles, arms and armor, photography, prints, drawings and more. 
    2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, (215) 763-8100 

  • 03 of 10
    ••• 9th Street Italian Market in Philadelphia. Credit: Photo by R. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia™

    Dating back to the 1880s, the South 9th Street Italian Market is the nation’s oldest continuously operating outdoor market. Many of the iconic curb stands line South 9th Street are run by fourth- and fifth-generation merchants. Shoppers can bring home edibles like fresh fruit and vegetables, meats, fish, cheeses and pastries.  While Italian immigrants originally dominated this shopping district, many of today’s vendors hail from all parts of the world.
    S. 9th Street between Wharton & Fitzwater streets

  • 04 of 10
    ••• Philadelphia City Hall.

    The largest municipal building in the country is as interesting to see up close as it is impressive to view from afar. City Hall has been Philadelphia’s government headquarters for more than 100 years, and it’s still the largest municipal building in the country. For a bird’s-eye view of the city, visitors head to the observation deck, which sits just below the 37’ bronze statue of William Penn that tops the building’s clock tower. The building is open to the public from Monday to Friday, and visitors can take either a four-person tower tour that leaves every 15 minutes between 9:30 a.m. and 4:15 p.m. or a 12:30 p.m. two-hour public tour that highlights the art, architecture, the tower and history of the building. 
    Broad & Market Streets, (215) 686-2840

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  • 05 of 10

    Pat's & Geno's

    ••• Geno's Steaks in Philadelphi. Credit: Photo by J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia™

    Arguably the city's most famous dish, the Philly cheesesteak is a must-try for first-time visitors. Those in the know order their cheesesteaks with two words only: cheese selection (provolone, American or Whiz) and “wit” or “witout” onions. The title of best cheesesteak in Philadelphia is hotly contested, but a good place to start your quest is at the corner of S. 9th Street and E. Passyunk Avenue in South Philly.  Here, sandwich spots Geno’s Steaks and Pat’s King of Steaks feed the masses from food stands directly across the street from one another, fueling a decades-long rivalry. 
    Geno’s Steaks, 1219 S. 9th Street, (215) 389-0659
    Pat’s King of Steaks, 1237 E. Passyunk Avenue, (215) 468-1546

  • 06 of 10
    ••• The Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. Photo by D. Cruz for VISIT PHILADELPHIA™

    Originally used to call the Pennsylvania Assembly to meetings, the Liberty Bell is synonymous with Philadelphia and an international symbol of freedom and equality. After almost a century of constant use, the Bell cracked while tolling for George Washington’s birthday in 1846 and hasn't rung since. Visitors can tour the Liberty Bell Center year-round; admission is free, and entry is granted on a first-come, first-served basis. 
    526 Market Street, (215) 965-2305

  • 07 of 10
    ••• Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia. Credit: Photo by R. Kennedy for VISIT PHILADELPHIA®

    This indoor foodie paradise is a one-stop shop for everything from local produce and meats to artisanal cheeses and desserts. The public space also provides open seating where customers can enjoy meals from more than 30 restaurants. While the market is open seven days a week, the Amish vendors, a huge draw for visitors and locals, sell their goods Tuesday through Saturday. 
    12th & Arch streets, (215) 922-2317

  • 08 of 10
    One Liberty Observation Deck in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
    ••• One Liberty Observation Deck offers sweeping views of Philadelphia, New Jersey and beyond. Photo by M. Fischetti for VISIT PHILADELPHIA

    One Liberty Observation Deck opened in late 2015 and is already a blockbuster attraction 883 feet in the air. The breathtaking site offers 360-degree vistas of the entire city and beyond, and it is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day of the year. When the sky is clear, guests can see all the way to New Jersey and Delaware to the east, past University City to the west, down to Philly's stadiums to the south, and up to the neighboring suburbs to the north. The site also includes a selection of art installations that capture the spirit of Philadelphia's past, present and future. Admission costs $19 for adults and $14 for kids ages 3-11. Children under three years old get in for free.
    1650 Market Street, (215) 561-DECK

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  • 09 of 10
    ••• The Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia. Credit: Photo by B. Krist for VISIT PHILADELPHIA®

    Located on Philadelphia’s culture-packed Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the Barnes Foundation houses Dr. Albert Barnes’ renowned art holdings, which feature, among other treasures, 181 Renoirs (more than any other collection) and 69 Cézannes (more than in all of France). The collection includes more than 3,000 pieces, focusing specifically on French Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, American and African art, sculpture, jewelry and home furnishings. The layout of the museum is its own work of art, with objects from different media, time periods and styles displayed amongst each other. 
    2025 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, (215) 278-7200

  • 10 of 10
    ••• Race Street Pier in Philadelphia. Credit: Photo by R. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia™

    Over the past several years, the City of Philadelphia has restored and developed the Delaware River Waterfront, and the area has quickly become one of the most exciting parts of the city. Seasonal oases like Spruce Street Harbor Park and Blue Cross RiverRink Winterfest and Summerfest draw headlines during their short seasons, while the Independence Seaport Museum is a year-round destination for interactive education about Philadelphia's nautical history.  Places like Race Street Pier, Penn's Landing and the Washington Avenue Pier not only offer fantastic vistas of Camden, NJ across the river, they also provide free programming like concerts, multicultural festivals and yoga classes.