As the birthplace of America, it’s only natural that Philadelphia is best known for its rich history. But the City of Brotherly love is also home to tons of cool places to explore, fascinating attractions to see, and unique activities you can only try in Philly. Yes, some things are historic, but others tap into the city’s booming food and beer scene, immerse you in the art world, or invite you to play outdoors.
Climb the “Rocky Steps” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art
It’s a Philadelphia rite of passage: paying homage to fictional underdog Rocky Balboa by jogging up all 72 steps to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and fist-pumping at the top, just like in the movie. (Go ahead and strike the pose for a photo; the locals won’t judge.) The 9-foot-tall bronze statue of Rocky, located to the right of the museum entrance at the intersection of Kelly Dr. and Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr., was commissioned and donated by Sylvester Stallone himself.
A National Historic Landmark, Boathouse Row is comprised of 10 boat houses from the 19th-century lining the east banks of the Schuylkill River, just west of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Local boat clubs with Olympic alumnae still occupy and take great pride in these charming buildings. For an up-close look at the splendor, walk along the river’s Kelly Drive path; consider going at night, when glowing lights outline the houses and reflect beautifully on the river, making for great photo opps.
Sample Beer at a Few (of Many) Craft Breweries
Even Philadelphia’s beer scene boasts untapped history. Taverns began popping up all over the city during the American Revolution; by the mid-20th century, there were around 100 breweries in Philly Proper. Prohibition ended the brewery boom, but it made a comeback in the ’80s and today, Philly’s local beer scene is one of the biggest and best in the country—and world.
Start your self-guided sipping adventure at Yards Brewery on Spring Garden for English-inspired ale, cornhole, and a tour of the modern facilities. Fishtown’s Evil Genius Beer Co. offers fun vibes and eclectic libations like Purple Monkey Dishwasher. Stay north and next, head over to Urban Village for flights of the entire beer menu and delicious flatbread pizza.
Indulge yourself in an intimate and collaborative evening of wine-ing, dining, and culinary education. Take one of 16 seats at COOK’s state-of-the art demonstration kitchen, where you’ll watch and learn about the preparation of your meal by one of Philly’s top chefs, sip cocktails, and then of course, enjoy the decadent cuisine. Classes change every season and there’s a theme for every palate, like Vegetarian Comfort Foods, Brunch On The High Seas, Cider + Cheese Pairing, and many more. Sessions sell out quickly, so check the schedule and sign up ahead of time.
Drink in the Skyline Views from a Rooftop Bar
For the best views of Philadelphia, take a step back—or rather, up. The city’s growing number of rooftop bars take you to new heights and offer al fresco respite from the bustle down below. The Continental Mid-town’s rooftop lounge and patio has a retro vibe and partially enclosed area for year-round enjoyment. The Assembly Rooftop Lounge pours bubbly cocktails in a sophisticated space atop the Logan Hotel, nine floors above Philly’s Museum District. A local favorite, Bok Bar in South Philly turns into a pop-up bar every spring (Wednesday-Sunday) serving cocktails and light bites.
This 19th-century American prison was the world’s first true “penitentiary”, designed to instill true regret in its prisoners with strict discipline. Today, the historical site stands in beautiful architectural ruin with its grand ceilings and hauntingly empty cells, some of which held notorious convicts like Slick Willie Sutton and Al Capone (you can actually peep his cell on a tour). For a historical yet creepy (in a good way) experience, take a daytime tour of the cell blocks, which includes an audio and hands-on history guide, plus acclaimed artist installations.
Center City’s Reading Terminal is home to America’s largest and oldest public outdoor market, and has been since 1893. It’s a true foodie utopia with vendors serving up a wide selection of locally grown produce and poultry, unique eats, fine seafood, scrumptious baked goods, and much more.
Come with an empty stomach (trust us) and stroll the sprawling aisles, ordering snacks like pretzel dogs at Miller’s Twist, or full-on meals at Kamal’s Falafel, and definitely save room for a Beiler’s Donut.
The market is open year round, save national holidays (and Dutch Markets are closed Sundays).
Arguably Philly’s quirkiest tradition, the annual Mummers Parade is America’s oldest folk festival, in which thousands of vibrantly costumed Philadelphians strut the streets on New Year's Day. The 118-year-old celebration is truly a whimsical, only-in-Philly experience; so much so, that the city opened the Mummers Museum in 1985 devoted to all-things Mummery. Take a tour and immerse yourself in a world of ornate fanfare, colorful garb (that you can try on), video archives, history tidbits, and bona fine music. Make sure to hit the exhibit that teaches you the official “Mummer’s strut.”
Philly’s historic Old Town district has a thriving local art scene at its pulse. On the First Friday of every month, the neighborhood comes to life in the form of a collaborative open house: 40+ galleries and studios stay open late and invite the public to immerse themselves in unique art and cultural exhibits (for free, year-round). From 5-9pm, art-loving crowds take to the streets and enjoy free drinks, live entertainment, local artisan booths, great people watching, and fantastic food at restaurants who are also in on the fun. The densest network of events is located between Front and Third streets, and Market and Vine streets.
Hit Up a Museum After Dark
Philadelphia is brimming with museums and there is truly something to interest everyone—from art, to history, science, and folklore. Many museums keep the fun and education going after dark with special evening events: The Franklin Institute’s Science After Hours series (21+) features a different topic every month with experiments, demos, games, hands-on exhibits, and more.
There’s also Dinos After Dark at the Academy of Natural Sciences at Drexel University; peruse galleries and special exhibits, plus enjoy animal presentations and the pop-up beer garden, all for pay-as-you-wish admission.
If you’re walking on South St, it’s impossible to miss Isaiah Zagar’s mosaic masterpiece that spans half the block. The 3,000-square-foot Magic Gardens is comprised of indoor galleries and a large outdoor labyrinth made from found objects like bicycle wheels, mirrors, and china plates; on Saturdays and Sundays at 3 p.m., you can take a guided tour and learn about the history and community values behind the non-profit space. The Magic Gardens also hosts educational programming, performances, tours, mosaic workshops, and a schedule of outdoor events in warmer weather.
Attend a Professional Philly Sports Game
Philly sports fans have a reputation for being wild, but there’s no arguing that their passion for their teams and city is unmatched. Even if the Philadelphia Eagles, Phillies, Flyers, or 76ers aren’t your hometown team, getting tickets to a football game at Lincoln Financial Field, a baseball game at Citizens Bank Park, or a hockey or basketball game at the Wells Fargo Center is the ultimate way to feel the city’s pride with the locals. Before the game, you’ll definitely want to get started at Xfinity Live!, the one-stop eating, drinking, and entertainment hub right across from the stadiums (all the other fans will be there, too).
No trip to Philadelphia is complete without eating a cheesesteak, which is more than just a ribeye-and-melted-cheese sandwich—it’s a cultural icon and local obsession. “Pat’s versus Geno’s” remains the great cheesesteak debate (the famous dueling jaunts are across the street from each other), but those eateries are also tourists traps.
Avoid mile-long lines and get good, authentic steaks where the locals go. Dalessandro’s is loved for their super-soft rolls, grilled onions, and cheese whiz. Jimmy G’s Steaks is renowned for their quality ingredients and toppings (they’re open until 4 a.m. on weekends). There’s also Max’s Cheese Steaks in North Philly, known making a cameo in the movie "Creed," their 20-inch sandwiches, and full bar with daiquiris.
The Philadelphia Zoo is America’s first zoo and a great destination to bring the whole family for a day. It’s home to 1,300 animals from all over the world — from primates, to big cats, and amphibians — many of which are rare and endangered.
This zoo is known for its unique exploration trail system that gives the animals more room to roam and offers visitors a three-dimensional, immersive viewing experience. In addition to animal exhibits, the zoo offers a myriad of interactive activities like special keeper presentations and an aviary where you hand-feed exotic birds. There is also a carousel, swan paddle boat rides, and a 42-acre Victorian garden for exploring.
During the spring, summer, and fall, Spruce Street Harbor Park is a favorite hangout for locals and visitors alike. The pop-up urban oasis is located on the Delaware Waterfront and boasts endless entertainment options: arcades, boardwalk bocce, floating gardens, sparkling hanging lights, food vendors galore, and an award-winning beer garden. You can also just relax and enjoy the scenic ambiance from one of 50 colorful hammocks.
Philly holds the title for being the mural capital of the world, with over 3,800 works of public art displayed around the city. Mural Arts Philadelphia offers a closer, more intimate look at the famous Love Letter mural project by Steven Powers. In this 90-minute guided tour, you’ll board the Market-Frankford elevated train line and roll through West Philadelphia, making stops along the way to learn the unique history behind the series’ 50 painted masterpieces.
Tours are weekly and begin at Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA), Hamilton Building (128 N Broad Street); enter the building’s Front Lobby on the Broad Street side. You’ll then take a short walk to the train, so wear comfy shoes and weather-appropriate clothing.
Want to get a real taste of Philadelphia? City Food Tours invites you to choose your own taste bud adventure on a food-filled tour of this culinary-centric city. Each two-to-three hour guided walking tour takes you to where the locals eat and has a different theme — from popular Flavors of Philly, to gourmet tastings, hidden-gem ethnic eats, and spicy foods at some of Philadelphia’s best restaurants. Save room for architectural sightseeing and the insightful history lessons served up between each eatery stop. Starting locations differ based on your chosen tour.
The Mann Center is a gorgeous non-profit performing arts center located in historic West Fairmount Park, originally acting as the summer home to The Philadelphia Orchestra. The open-air, two-stage venue has a packed schedule during warmer months with all types of shows and world-class artists — from pop, rock, and jazz concerts, to dance shows, and musicals. Many people opt for Great Lawn ticket options so they can catch the show from a blanket in the grass, all while taking in skyline views.
The arena is easily accessible by public transit (the Mann Center Loop bus by SEPTA); there is plenty of well-marked lawn parking for $25.
Hang Out in a Philadelphia Park
Amongst the tall buildings and landmarks in the city, you’ll also find lots of outdoor space and parks worth exploring. John F. Kennedy Plaza (better known as LOVE Park) is home to Robert Indiana’s iconic LOVE statue and serves as the grand entrance to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway; it just underwent a two-year renovation bringing in a new fountain, benches, and lush greenery.
Franklin Square is one of William Penn’s five original squares. Located in Center City (between North 6th and 7th streets, and between Race St and the Vine St Expressway), the eight-acre park contains a Philly-themed mini golf course, a nostalgic carousel, plus food and drink options at SquareBurger.
Since its debut in June 2018, Rail Park, which was once the site of the original Reading Railroad, opened to the public as an urban elevated greenway. The Phase I quarter-mile stretch of abandoned tracks features lush trees, places to sit, metalwork art, and huge swings. To enter Rail Park, head to one of three entrances located at: Broad and Noble streets, 13th and Noble streets, or Callowhill Street between 11th and 12th streets.
“Sneak” Into Independence Hall After Hours
If you’re going to embark on a realistic time-traveling adventure back to 1776 and watch the birth of our nation unfold, Philadelphia is one and only the city to do so. During an exclusive Independence After Hours walking tour, you’ll begin your evening with an 18th-century-style dinner at City Tavern; next, you’ll head to Independence Hall and “eavesdrop” on Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, and John Adams as they discuss the Declaration of Independence right in front of you.
Tours depart from the Museum of the American Revolution (101 S. 3rd St). Tickets are $85 each; making advanced reservations is highly recommended.