Philadelphia Historic Districts are a joy to wander and the Old City/Historic District is America’s most historic square mile, no question.
In one day you can visit all the elements that represent the birth of the Unites States of America.
The famous Liberty Bell Center is a good place to start. The bell began life as the signal for the start of Congress sessions, but following the Civil War and the abolition of slavery it came to represent freedom and liberty for all. Independence Hall is opposite, where the Declaration of Independence was debated and announced by Thomas Jefferson, then walk across to The National Constitution Center to watch an excellent live show chronicling how the Constitution was adopted.
Just down the road is the grave of Benjamin Franklin. This district is now one of the trendiest in the city with bistro’s, boutiques and contemporary art galleries amongst all the posh houses.
Convention Center District
This is the pumping heart of Philly food where you’ll find the Reading Terminal Market. A huge covered farmers market that’s been there since the old railroad days of the1800’s and contains just about every type of produce known to man, brought fresh every day. Row upon row of vendors from local families to the Amish are there, so take your pick and then grab a table right in the centre and enjoy the food and perhaps some live music too.
I became particularly obsessed with Carmen’s hoagies and Hershel’s East Side Deli sandwiches. It’s all very tempting so you’ve been warned! The Convention Center itself is built inside the huge old railway terminal train shed and is well worth exploring.
Washington Square District
Art is big business in this city and in the Washington Square District, there are some excellent examples of the giant murals that adorn the city. Philly bills itself as the mural capital of the World,
(the program began over 25 years ago to discourage random graffiti in the city) and there now over three thousand of them, many adorning the entire sides of buildings, and they really are spectacular.If you don’t fancy walking around all three thousand, there is a daily tour highlighting the best of them.Whilst you’re here, do some treasure hunting along Antique Row on Pine Street or Jewellers Row on Sansom, you just might find a bargain or two.
The Parkway/Museum District
It’s here you’ll find the Philly’s biggest attraction. It’s a statue, but it’s not a priceless piece of art I’m afraid, it’s Rocky Balboa and he’s at the base of the steps of the Museum of Art.
There is however plenty of real art and culture to discover here, like The Franklin Institute Science Museum where you can walk through a giant heart, The Rodin Museum, which houses the largest collection of Rodin sculptures outside of Paris, The Academy of Natural Sciences and of course the huge Museum of Art itself. Right by here is also Fairmount Park. Bigger than New York’s Central Park, Fairmount has 215 miles of fabulous river views, leafy walks and glorious colonial summer mansions from Philly’s well to do past.
While you’re here, there is a great Segway tour you can take which will glide around some of the park and include the area around the Museum of Art. Segways are two wheeled electric scooters that are navigated via your own body movement. The ITours take place daily near the Museum of Art steps and include a highly entertaining tour guide. Great fun and highly recommended.
Perhaps not the most famous of Philadelphia Historic Districts, Center City lies at the very heart of Philly and it’s the best area to base yourself. Just by here on Broad Street I had a moment. Probably the second most famous record label in the World after Motown is based here, Philadelphia International Records and owners and chief songwriters Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff in particular, churned out hit after hit for Harold Melvin, the O Jays, The Stylistics, Billy Paul, the Three Degrees and even Michael Jackson.
The original ‘Philly Sound’ studios was sadly damaged in a fire, but there is a shop and museum which must be visited for a real 70’s experience. And whilst we’re on the subject of music, you’ll find plenty of live music venues here although the emphasis is on jazz and blues.
Try out Chris’ Jazz Club or World Café Live to hear talented new artists and some established favourites. The Museum of Art also has good live music and wine after 5pm every Friday. Helium is a good live comedy club worth checking out here with nightly shows with dining and an open mike night every Tuesday.