A beginner’s guide to Philadelphia
Philadelphia is a city that will excite and inform you in equal measures. Full of history and culture, there are no shortages of fascinating historical landmarks and museums. But it’s also got all the modern flair you would expect from any large American city – with shopping, delicious restaurants and distinctive neighbourhoods. Here’s everything you need to know before your first trip to America’s birthplace.
Things to do
Explore American history
Philadelphia played a crucial role in the creation of the United States – it was even the temporary capital while Washington DC was built! Historic attractions include Independence Hall – where the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution were debated and adopted, the Liberty Bell, Independence National Historical Park, The Betsy Ross House (where the American Flag was designed!) and the former house of George Washington.
Wander between the neighbourhoods
Philadelphia is home to vibrant – and distinct – neighbourhoods. Eat delicious dim sum in Chinatown, explore the cobbled streets of Old City, soak up the Italian vibes of South Philadelphia or go for a relaxed walk in Rittenhouse Square.
Treat your taste buds
While you’re in the city you need to try the famous Philly cheesesteak. But there’s more to the city’s rich foodie scene. The Reading Terminal Market and Italian Market are both iconic landmarks and definitely worth a visit. The city is also home to a wide mix of restaurants thanks to the city’s rich cultural mix.
Admire some art
Philadelphia is home to the oldest art gallery in the USA, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. The city was also home to Thomas Eakins, whose portraits of 19th Century Philadelphians make him arguably the greatest American painter. Plus, the Philadelphia Museum of Art is the third biggest art museum in the world.
Shop ‘til you drop
Make sure you book a sizeable luggage allowance as Philadelphia offers plenty of shopping opportunities – the clothing and shoes are even tax-free! The King of Prussia Mall is also one of the biggest in America and boasts eight department stores including Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s. But if you prefer something unique, wander around the side streets and you’ll find an infinite number of independent owner-run boutiques.
How to get to Philadelphia and find your way around
Philadelphia International Airport is a twenty-minute drive from the city centre and offers 4 non-stop flights to London a day. There’s also a railway line that connects the airport to Philadelphia’s downtown area (plus taxis charge a flat rate of $28.50 between the airport and Centre City).
If you’re planning a multi-centre break, Philadelphia is only two hours from New York City, 90 minutes from Baltimore, and three hours from Washington D.C via car. Philadelphia also sits on the Northeast Corridor (NEC) rail track, which connects the city to Boston, Baltimore, Washington D.C. and New York City.
Philadelphia is very easy to navigate and is rated as one of the USA’s most walkable cities. The city centre is compact and uses the grid system, with many notable attractions less than 20 minutes away from each other by foot.
Other important information
Like all of the USA, English is the official language, the currency is US Dollars and visas needs to be arranged in advance. Philadelphia also has a similar climate to the UK, with the same seasonal pattern. The 4th of July is considered one of the best times to visit with fireworks and street parades but other months still have a friendly atmosphere (with smaller crowds).
If you’ve been to Philadelphia before, what would advise would you offer first-time travellers?