When people hear the term “tourist attraction” they often think of cheesy destinations designed to take advantage of the traveler’s ignorance and to take their money. Instead of an organic and genuine experience of some unique locale, the visitor is usually bombarded with commercialized mascots, tacky trinkets and cheap exhibits.
However, one cannot judge Philadelphia and its tourist attractions in quite same way. The City of Brotherly Love is home to historic, cultural, athletic and culinary destinations that attract out-of-town visitors while still offering an authentic experience of what it’s like to live in Philadelphia and what it’s like to be a Philadelphian.
While the city has dozens of such places to visit we’ve narrow the list down to the top ten. They are in no particular order except we started with the one attraction most associated with Philadelphia, Independence National Historical Park.
10. Independence National Historical Park
This historical park is a shrine to not only the city and its role in the American Revolution but to the concepts of liberty and democracy. The visitor center is located at the corner of 6th and Market Street in Center City, Philadelphia. The park itself covers several blocks.
The national park includes a number of buildings and attractions that are straight out of American history including Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, Congress Hall, Washington Square, First and Second Bank of the United States, and Franklin Court.
Admission to the park is free but tickets are required for tours of Independence Hall. You can reserve tickets online or by phone.
Besides the obvious recommendation of giving yourself all day to view the dozens of attractions within the park, there are a few other things you should know before you visit. Avoid bringing a lot of stuff. The more you have the longer it takes to get through security.
It’s also recommended that you start at the Independence Visitors Center to get more information and to use the restrooms. Not to sound vulgar, but there are no facilities in the Liberty Bell Center or Independence Square.
The park is open every day except Christmas. Most exhibits and buildings are opened from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. although hours are extended during the summer.
9. Fort Mifflin
Another historical landmark in the city of Philadelphia is Fort Mifflin. This fortification played a huge role in American Revolution and was used by the U.S. Military until 1954.
Mifflin is located on Fort Mifflin Road and Hog Island Road. The site is opened from March to December, Wednesday through Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 4 pm.
If you plan your visit just right you can catch the highly interesting re-enactors as they demonstrate how Philadelphians lived in 1770’s.
For more information on Fort Mifflin visit fortmifflin.com.
8. Eastern State Penitentiary
This may sound like an odd destination but the Eastern State Penitentiary is one of Philadelphia’s most interesting and enduring landmarks.
The ESP opened in 1829 and housed prisoners until 1971. Now it’s open for tours, houses a museum and hosts several art galleries.
Often considered the world’s first penitentiary, Eastern State revolutionized incarceration systems by establishing a policy of solitary confinement and stressing rehabilitation instead of punishment.
For a while, Eastern State Penitentiary was the home of famous bank robber Willie Sutton and infamous gangster Al Capone.
The pen, now a U.S. National Historic Landmark, is open every day except Easter and Thanksgiving. Besides its normal tours, the facility also offers “twilight tours” in the summer months.
Operators suggest you bring a camera as the penitentiary is very photogenic. However, you will need to buy a permit if you wish to bring a tripod.
You can find Eastern State Penitentiary at 2124 Fairmount Avenue.
7. Philadelphia Zoo
Opened in 1874, the Philadelphia Zoo was the first of its kind in America—of course just about everything in Philadelphia was a first for its country.
Today, the 42-acre parcel of land is home to more than 1,300 animals and attracts over a million visitors a year.
Besides the cute critters, many of which are rare or endangered, the zoo also offers visitors a chance to see John Penn’s home, The Solitude. John was the grandson of William Penn, Pennsylvania’s founder.
If you’re coming in from out of town, the zoo and area hotels offer several money-saving packages that combine zoo admission and lodging. For more information visit their website philadelphiazoo.org. You can also buy tickets online.
The Philadelphia Zoo is opened every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve Day, Christmas Eve, December 31st, and New Years’ Day. It’s located at 3400 West Girard Avenue.
6. Academy of Natural Sciences
Like most things in Philadelphia, the Academy of Natural Sciences is old. It was founded in 1812 and opened its doors to the public in 1828. The academy is the oldest natural sciences institution in the Western Hemisphere.
Situated on the corner of 19th Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the academy features permanent exhibits about dinosaurs, wildlife, and butterflies. Overall, the academy has a collection of over 17 million biological specimens.
Rotating displays of featured research material is another academy attraction. Their library contains hundreds of thousands of priceless scientific documents.
The Academy of Natural Sciences is opened everyday of the year except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.
5. Philadelphia Museum of Art
You’ll tell your friends that you’re going to the Philadelphia Museum of Art to see a Hieronymus Bosch or a Rubens but you’re actually going to do your best Rocky impersonation.
Despite being one of the largest and most renowned art museums in the U.S., it’s mostly known for Rocky Balboa running up the its steps in all of the Rocky movies (except for Rocky IV).
The museum is split between its Main Building, located at 26th Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, and the Perelman Building, found at Fairmount and Pennsylvania Avenues.
The Main Building houses over 200 galleries featuring works from Renaissance Masters and French Impressionists.
The modern Perelman Building with its Art Deco façade provides extra space to display collections never before seen at the museum. The Perelman also features state-of-the-art visitor amenities.
Both buildings are closed Mondays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the Fourth of July. Admission to the Main Building cost twice as much as admission to the Perelman but the first Sunday of every month is “pay what you wish day.”
The Philadelphia Museum of Art was established in 1876 and now contains more than 225,000 objects and artifacts.
4. Rittenhouse Square
Rittenhouse Square is a park in Center City, Philadelphia. Its boundaries are defined by 18th Street (East), Walnut Street (North), Rittenhouse Square West (South) and Rittenhouse Square South (West).
It has several claims to fame. It was one of the five original parks planned by William Pen and unlike other squares in Philadelphia it was never used as a cemetery.
The neighborhood surrounding the park contains the Curtis Institute of Music, the Philadelphia Art Alliance, and the Rosenbach Museum & Library. There’s also a Barnes & Noble book store nearby.
This beautiful park, filled with trees and surrounded by majestic high rise buildings, is just one of several great public areas belonging to the city’s municipal park system known as Fairmont Park.
This organization oversees 63 regional and neighborhood parks within Philadelphia. Its parks cover more than 9,200 acres (New York’s Central Park is only 843 acres).
These parks offer several activities besides walking and relaxing such as horseback riding, tennis, golf and boating.
In addition to Rittenhouse square, Fairmont Park also includes the Centennial Arboretum, the Fairmont Water Works, and Bartram’s Garden.
3. South Philadelphia Sports Complex
Philadelphians love their sports and the city is famous for its passionate and tough fans (they once booed Mike Schmidt and Santa Claus).
The city is home to a number of collegiate and minor league teams as well as franchises in each of the four main North American pro leagues.
The Eagles of the NFL play at Lincoln Financial Field. Major League Baseball’s Phillies take the field at Citizens Bank Park and the NBA’s 76’ers and the NHL’s Flyers both play at the Wachovia Center.
All these venues are located within the South Philadelphia Sports Complex. You can find the complex between South Broad Street and South Darien Street near Pattison Avenue.
Philadelphia is one of the few cities to have all of its major sports team play within the city limits. In fact, the convenient sports complex places all three venues within mere blocks of one another.
The teams’ seasons are spread throughout the year so no matter when you visit Philadelphia at least one of the franchises—more than likely two or three—will be playing.
Seeing a big-time professional game in the City of Brotherly Love is quite an experience for both sports fans and non-sports fans alike.
2. The Gallery at Market East
Located next to several historical attractions, and situated in the heart of the city, is one of Philadelphia’s premier shopping destinations, The Gallery at Market East.
Parking garages for the gallery can be found on 10th Street and 12th Street. The official address for the shopping center is 9th and Market. The gallery contains 130 stores and two international food courts.
Another urban retail center is The Shops at Liberty Place located in Center City’s downtown business district. The main entrance is at the corners of 16th/17th and Chestnut and the 1600 block of Market Street. The entire complex resides between the Liberty One and the Liberty Two office towers.
Liberty Place is home to over 60 shops including J. Crew, Swarovski, Ann Taylor Loft, Express, Nine West and Victoria's Secret.
There are several foods associated with the city of Philadelphia but none are more famous than the cheesesteak.
The two best cheesesteak restaurants in town are located across the street from each other, Geno’s Streaks and Pat’s King of Steaks.
Pat’s was founded in 1930 and Geno’s began serving customers in 1966. Both are open 24 hours a day.
Don’t tell them this but their respective sandwiches are very similar although Pat’s chops up its meat and Geno’s does not.
At Pat’s, which technically doesn’t sell cheesesteaks but “cheese sandwiches,” it’s important to know how to order. Fortunately, there’s a sign providing instructions. It explains exactly what “cheese wit” and “cheese wit-out” means.
Other places to see in Philadelphia include the Franklin Institute Science Museum, Adventure Aquarium, the Rodin Museum, Germantown Historical Society Museum, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts Museum and Penn’s Landing.
While you’re in Philadelphia make sure to drop by the houses of Edgar Allen Poe and Betsy Ross.
Ross lives on at 239 Arch Street, just blocks from the Liberty Bell. Meanwhile, Poe’s residence is just north of Ross’ at 532 North Seventh Street.
The Ross House has a suggested admission while the Poe house is free. Both venues are closed on Monday’s (Poe’s House is also closed on Tuesday). If you’re lucky you’ll meet Ross and Poe impersonators.
Philadelphia has a lot to offer tourists. While some of the aforementioned venues sell t-shirts, mugs and other souvenirs they also offer visitors a real taste of the city and its history. Yes, Philadelphia has its share of tourist traps but they’re not designed to pry visitors away from their money, their designed to give them a true Philadelphia experience.
Copyright 2009 PhiladelphiaSmarts