Located just a few hours from both New York and Washington D.C., Philadelphia often gets overlooked by tourists. I have never quite understood why, as Philadelphia has so much going on and is absolutely stuffed with unique things to do. From old colonial attractions like the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall to iconic dining venues, Philly is a place that should be on every American travel bucket list.
Best Things To Do In Philadelphia
People seem to forget about the fact that Philadelphia is one of the biggest cities in the United States. In any given year, Philadelphia vies with Phoenix and San Antonio for the title of the fifth biggest city in the United States. Being such a big city, there are endless great things to do here. From colonial centerpieces like the Liberty Bell to iconic Hollywood backdrops like the Rocky Steps, Philadelphia has been cemented as one of the United States’ most important cities since before the country even existed. Here’s my list of some of the best things to do in Philadelphia.
1. Eat a True Philadelphia Cheesesteak
There are few American foods more iconic than the Philly cheesesteak. Served up all over the world, the Philly cheesesteak has definitely made its mark on global cuisine. While the city is flattered by its flagship sandwich’s global success, the truth is that there is nowhere better on earth to get a Philly cheesesteak than in Philly itself. If you’re on a hunt for the best cheesesteak in Philadelphia, be sure to read my post about the best places to get a cheesesteak in Philadelphia.
2. Indulge at Reading Terminal Market
I am a sucker for food courts. I feel like in almost any major city, the best food can be found in local food courts with trendy restaurants. I’ve mentioned similar places in my travel guides to Atlanta, Sao Paulo, and Tijuana, and Philadelphia might have the best of them all at Reading Terminal Market. This indoor market is filled with vendors and restaurants of every kind, and it is almost always packed shoulder to shoulder. This is one of the most iconic places to visit in Philadelphia, and you better go with an empty stomach. From fried cheese curds to milkshakes to cheesesteaks to gyros, Reading Terminal Market will leave your belly full for days.
3. Admire the Architecture of Philadelphia City Hall
Philadelphia’s City Hall is undoubtedly the prettiest building in the city, if not the entire state. Completed at the turn of the 20th century, it was initially designed to be the tallest building in the world. While it was quickly passed by the Washington Monument and the Eiffel Tower, Philadelphia’s City Hall is still the world’s tallest building to use no steel girders for framing. The whole structure is made of just concrete. When you see it, you’ll realize how crazy that is.
At the base of Philadelphia’s City Hall is Dilworth Park, where there are often events going on. From beer gardens to an ice skating rink, there are all kinds of different events here throughout the year. Philly’s iconic LOVE sign is also located here! City Hall is just a short walk from Reading Terminal Market, too, making them both easy to visit in the same afternoon.
4. Grab Some Bubble Tea or Dumplings in Chinatown
Depending where you are in the world, a Chinatown can really be hit or miss. Washington D.C.’s Chinatown, for example, has just a couple of restaurants and a singular bubble tea shop. Philadelphia, on the other hand, has a true, full Chinatown that I highly recommend checking out. In Philly’s Chinatown, you can find food from many different Asian cuisines, great bars, and some fantastic bubble tea. After living in Shanghai for a while, Angel is as snobby about her bubble tea as I am about my coffee, and some of her favorite American bubble tea shops are in Philadelphia. We are big fans of Vivi’s, and highly recommend grabbing a bubble tea there if you’re in the area! For a regional chain, they do a really great job.
5. Eat Lunch in Rittenhouse Square
Rittenhouse Square is one of Philly’s ritziest areas. This green square and its surrounding blocks are lined with great places to grab a bite to eat, and are the perfect place to grab lunch while exploring the city. Prices here are a bit higher than they are in many other parts of the city, but the quality is pretty high, too. We highly recommend Parc, if you’re willing to pony up a bit of dough.
6. Witness History at the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall
There are few cities in the United States that are more historically significant than Philadelphia. Philly was one of the nations first capitals, it was a strategic hub during the revolutionary war, and it was where many of the country’s most famous founding fathers spent a long portion of their lives. The Constitution and Declaration of Independence were both written here, and the Liberty Bell is housed right outside of where the Constitutional Convention took place. No visit to Philly is complete without at least checking out the Liberty Bell and the Constitution Center, which is an interactive, informative museum about American liberty, democracy, and the Constitution.
7. Visit the Rocky Steps and the Philadelphia Museum of Art
Rocky is one of the most famous Philadelphia movies ever recorded, and its legacy still lives on to this day. The steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, commonly referred to as the Rocky steps, are one of the most iconic places to visit in Philly.
While the stairs are nice, they’re just stairs. There isn’t much more to them than that. However, the museum itself is a pretty nice art museum, and it is absolutely worth checking out of art is something that you are interested in. The Philadelphia Museum of Art has the reputation of being one of the best large art museums in the United States, and you might as well pop in for a visit if you’re going to the stairs, anyway!
8. Go For a Jog in Fairmount Park
Fairmount Park is one of Philadelphia’s biggest green spaces, with more than 2,000 acres of land. Winding along the Schuylkill River and containing the Philadelphia Zoo, this park is the perfect place to go for a long walk or a brisk morning jog. There are a few restaurants and cafes located throughout the park, too, providing the opportunity to stop and grab a cup of joe or a snack along the way. East Fairmount Park sits adjacent to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, making these two things very convenient to visit in the same afternoon or morning!
9. Check Out the Trendy Neighborhood of Manayunk
Manayunk is a young, hip neighborhood located in the northwestern part of the city. This is the type of neighborhood where you can find a lot of young professionals who want a slightly more relaxed vibe than the hustle and bustle of downtown. Filled to the brim with fantastic restaurants and bars, this is an awesome place to go for a walk and find some dinner and drinks. Manayunk is not very central within the city, but it is still within city limits and can be reached by train. We highly recommend popping into Lucky’s Last Chance for some of the best burgers in the city.
10. Go Shopping at the Enormous King of Prussia Mall
King of Prussia Mall is quite the sight to behold. This mall goes back and forth with the Mall of America in Minnesota as the biggest mall in the country, and each mall keeps adding new wings to try to outdo the other. Regardless of the accolades, this mall is insanely large and has just about any store you can think of – in some cases, even more than one of them. You could spend a full day wandering around this mall and the surrounding area and still have more stores to check out. King of Prussia isn’t just a mall. It is a really unique experience. While the mall is iconic and massive, it isn’t super accessible by public transportation, as it is located about half an hour outside of the city. If you have a car, though, it is absolutely worth checking out!
11. Sign Up For a Mural Arts Tour
Philadelphia is technically the biggest outdoor art exhibition in the world. Yes, you read that right: the city is an art exhibition. This is because of its many stunning murals that face the sides of building throughout the city. The history behind the beginning of the murals is really unique and interesting, and the murals that are throughout the city are beautiful. Each one has its own significance and meaning, and there is no better way to see the murals and learn about their meanings than going on a tour with Mural Arts Philadelphia. This organization is dedicated to the preservation and cultivation of beautiful murals throughout the city, and going on a tour with them is absolutely one of the best things to do in Philadelphia, as you’ll learn about some beautiful artworks while seeing new parts of the city.
12. Explore Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens
Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens are an adorable outdoor mosaic exhibition made from beautiful, colorful shards of glass. Social media will probably tell you that this is one of the most Instagrammable spots in the city. Throughout the year, the gardens host different events and specials that make them even more worth checking out. Entrance typically costs $15 for adults, $12 for students, $8 for kids over 5 years and and is free for kids under five years old.
How to Get to Philadelphia
How to Get Around Chicago
METRO | BUS | REGIONAL RAIL | UBER
Philadelphia is pretty well connected when it comes to public transportation. The city is served by many bus lines, a limited metro system, a lot of light rail and regional lines, and even a trolley system. Using a combination of each of these methods, you can get pretty much anywhere in the city.
For $13 you can get an Independence Pass, which gets you up to 10 rides in a single day. This pass is a great deal if you plan on using a day to really explore the city. The independence pass is valid on all public transportation, so you can use it to get on a bus, a trolly, a subway, or a train.
The metro system, specifically, is very limited for such a big city, and you might find yourself struggling to get to certain places if you rely on public transportation alone. Still, other than the occasional Uber here or there, Philly’s public transportation does the job of getting you where you want to go.
Safety in Philadelphia
Depending where you look, you may read that Philadelphia is a dangerous city. Some sources even cite Philadelphia as one of the most dangerous major cities in the United States. From my own experience in Philadelphia, I think that these figures are heavily skewed and misleading. If you are in the nice parts of Philly, the risk of anything happening to you is very low. Areas like downtown, Chinatown, Rittenhouse Square, and Fairmount Park are perfectly safe places where you are in very little danger during the day. Certain bad neighborhoods, like parts of West Philadelphia, are what drive the city’s crime rates up.
These neighborhoods are places where you’re unlikely to wind up, as there is really nothing to do there. All of the best things to do in Philadelphia are located in safe enough areas to where you don’t need to worry, as long as you are taking normal precautions. Philadelphia is a massive city, after all, and there are certain precautions you want to take in any massive city to keep yourself safe. To stay safe in Philadelphia, don’t go out to unfamiliar areas late at night, don’t carry large amounts of cash, and always keep an eye on your belongings. Also, avoid public transportation too late at night if you are alone, as public transportation stations do tend to get a bit sketchier in Philadelphia when the sun goes down. Really, though, the answer to the question “is Philadelphia safe to visit?” is definitely yes, as long as you don’t go looking for trouble.
The Best Time To Visit Philadelphia
As a Mid-Atlantic city, Philadelphia experiences the full gamut when it comes to seasons. From frigid, snowy winters to blistering hot and humid summers, Philly’s weather is all over the place. As a result, the best time to visit Philadelphia tends to be in the shoulder seasons of spring and fall, when the weather is the most pleasant and the crowds of tourists are at a minimum. April, May, September, and October are the best months to visit Philadelphia, but the city’s winter festivals and summer music festivals make visiting throughout the rest of the year enticing as well.
If you’re planning a trip to Philadelphia, let us know by commenting below! We’d love to chat ahead of time and answer any questions you have. Otherwise, have a wonderful day and stay present!