The City of Brotherly Love is one of America’s most historic and fascinating cities. This bustling metropolis was founded in 1682, and went on to play a pivotal role in the American Revolution just over a century later. It has since maintained its status as one of the most economically and culturally important urban areas in the northeastern United States, and it is also the country’s only officially designated World Heritage City.
If you’re headed to Philly for a first-time or a return visit, these 12 attractions and activities will make worthy additions to your itinerary.
12. Scare Yourself Silly at Eastern State Penitentiary
For a truly unique experience, head over to the spooky Eastern State Penitentiary. First opened in 1829 as an alternative prison where authorities attempted to rehabilitate rather than physically punish prisoners, the penitentiary remained operational until it was finally shuttered up in the 1970s.
Al Capone’s former cell is a key attraction, and Eastern State Penitentiary is also rumored to be heavily haunted. It’s one of the best places in the city to get a dose of the macabre, but unlike the Philadelphia Zoo, Eastern State Penitentiary is most definitely not recommended for children.
11. Take the Kids to the Philadelphia Zoo
Founded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1859, the Philadelphia Zoo is the oldest continuously operating zoo in the United States. Open to the public since 1874, the Philadelphia Zoo has become one of the world’s premier wildlife preservation institutes, and it is well-known for safely breeding critically endangered species in captivity to help boost their populations.
Kids in particular will love exploring the zoo, which is home to more than 1,300 animal species and also features a playground, carousel, paddleboat lake, and loads of interactive educational exhibits.
10. Enjoy the Sunshine in LOVE Park
Philadelphia is famously known as the City of Brotherly Love, and heading to LOVE Park to snap a photo in front of the well-known LOVE Sculpture is a fantastic way to commemorate your visit. The LOVE Sculpture was created by renowned American pop artist Robert Indiana, and it’s a landmark attraction of LOVE Park, which is officially known as John F. Kennedy Plaza.
Interestingly, the LOVE Sculpture has a Spanish-language counterpart in nearby Sister Cities Park. Known as the AMOR Sculpture, this companion piece is also worth a look if you’re interested in outdoor art installations.
9. Indulge in Masonic Mystery
The early history of the independent United States was shaped by many men with connections to the Freemasons, a notorious secret society. Philadelphia is steeped in Masonic history, with the city’s atmospheric Masonic Temple providing a fantastic opportunity to explore it. The grand Masonic Temple dates to the 19th century, and features decorative accents created by celebrated artist George Herzog. Seven rooms are open to the public, which are best seen as part of organized tours, as members of the public are not permitted to explore the building freely…perhaps because the temple may hide tempting and closely guarded secrets.
8. Stroll Through Rittenhouse Square
Rittenhouse Square is one of five original city parks designated by city founder William Penn in the late 17th century. Based around the intersection of 19th Street and Walnut Street, Rittenhouse Square is often cited as one of the most majestic and beautiful urban parks in the United States. The ritzy residential district surrounding the park is also known for its stunning houses, and if you’re visiting during the warm-weather months, Rittenhouse Square is an ideal place to enjoy a picnic lunch.
7. Visit Boathouse Row
If you’re looking for a break from the hustle and bustle of the city center, Boathouse Row is just the antidote. One of dozens of National Historic Landmarks in Philadelphia, Boathouse Row lines the shore of the Schuylkill River, and consists of 10 charming waterside domiciles. Views are equally impressive during the day and at night, when the boathouses illuminate to create dancing light reflections on the water. Take a leisurely walk down the path on Kelly Drive for the best views.
6. Head to South Broad Street
Philadelphia City Hall is the largest municipal government building in the United States, and it’s also widely considered to be one of the most beautiful. You can enjoy fantastic views of this architectural masterpiece from vantage points on South Broad Street in the city center.
If you’re interested in exploring further, the inside of Philadelphia City Hall is as impressive as its exterior and façade. You can also take tours that head up the building’s tower, where you can enjoy great views of Philly’s skyline. The scenic tower lookout also offers a great panorama of Benjamin Franklin Parkway from its breezy observation deck.
5. Chow Down
Philadelphia is one of America’s gastronomic capitals. For meat eaters, it’s obligatory to try a Philly cheesesteak, but this is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to great eats.
One place foodies will definitely want to visit is the indoor food vendor and farmers’ market at Reading Terminal Market. Here, you’ll find everything from exotic ethnic cuisines to locally grown produce and gourmet desserts. The market comes complete with a generously sized seating area, so you won’t have to wait long to indulge your taste buds after making your choice.
4. Go Museum-Hopping on Benjamin Franklin Parkway
The Philadelphia Museum of Art is the crown jewel of Center City West’s famed museum district, which is built around Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Other cultural institutions in the cluster include The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, the Barnes Foundation, the Franklin Institute, and the Rodin Museum. Interestingly, Benjamin Franklin Parkway was inspired by and the glamorous Champs Elysees in Paris, complete with a scenic roundabout at its heart.
3. Run with Rocky
Rocky Balboa, the city’s most famous fictional icon, has been memorialized in a statue at the top of the exterior steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The character dashed up the stairs during a training montage in the beloved 1976 Best Picture winner Rocky. Fans of the film and pop culture in general will love this unique photo opportunity, and if you’re feeling sprightly, you can even run up the stairs yourself. Just don’t try to go 15 rounds with Apollo Creed when you’re done.
2. Take a Tour of Independence Hall
Once you’ve seen the Liberty Bell, head over to nearby Independence Hall for a fascinating tour of this famous institution. This is the famous site where America’s Founding Fathers debated and eventually signed by the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
The hall itself is the central feature of Independence National Historic Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that’s jam-packed with historic buildings and points of interest. Nicknamed “America’s most historic square mile,” the park is also home to the enduring Benjamin Franklin Museum, which is well worth a visit if you’re looking to head indoors for a while.
1. See the Liberty Bell
Millions of visitors have this must-see at the top of their to-do lists when visiting Philadelphia. The Liberty Bell, commissioned in 1752, was used to summon the members of the Philadelphia Assembly to meetings. On July 8, 1776, four days after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the Liberty Bell was rung to signal America’s freedom from British rule. Ever since, it has served as a prominent symbol of American democracy.
The Liberty Bell is right in the center of Philadelphia, so it makes a great starting point for a day of sightseeing in the city’s ever-popular historic district.