Just two hours from the bustling borough that is Manhattan lies what has to be one of the prettiest cities in the world. Philly is awesome. We bussed it from New York to Philladelphia with Megabus ($24 return for 2!) and arrived at 7.30am. We lucked upon Green Eggs Cafe (212 S 13th street), a typical American neighbourhood cafe serving pancakes, eggs cooked in myriad ways and randomly, absolutely delicious quinoa porridge. We hadn’t really read much about Philly so didn’t really have any expectations but seriously, this city of Brotherly Love made us want to stay forever. It seems like a very livable city. We tend to walk and walk and walk in a new city but you can get a metro or SEPTA card for $8 (8 rides – very good value) if you’re not that into walking.
The streets of Philadelphia have the pretties names – Chestnut, Cypress, Spruce, Walnut…although there was Locust St. too… Speaking of Spruce Street, I feel it’s necessary to immediately share Green Street Coffee Co. (1101 Spruce St.) with you – the best chai latte I’ve had in so long. It’s a tiny little spot but there’s some outdoor seating (however, contrary to popular belief I can attest that it is not always sunny in Philadelphia…) and the staff are really friendly.
On to Philly’s attractions, and there are many. Probably the most important attraction (for tourists and history buffs alike) is Independence Hall and its Assembly Room; the site where the US Constitution and the Declaration of Independence were signed. Lincoln’s body lay in repose here after his assassination; George Washington’s Rising Sun chair is still here and the Assembly Room is pictured on the back of the very rare $2 bill. You need to pick up tickets to visit Independence Hall at the Independence Visitor Centre (1 N Independence Mall W; opens at 8.30am). Tickets are free but there is limited availability so you’ll need to get there early enough to choose a time that suits you. Across the street from here (between the Independence Visitor Centre and Independence Hall) lies the Liberty Bell, which used to ring in Independence Hall but cracked after an unsuccessful repair job on an initial crack. Just across the street from here is the Dream Garden in the Curtis Center – worth a quick visit to check out the 49 foot glass mosaic.
One of Philly’s most famous buildings is the Philadelphia Museum of Art ($20 entrance), with those steps from the Rocky movies. We were there about 11am and it was getting really busy so if I’d definitely advise trying to get there much earlier in the morning if possible. You’ll obviously need to run around up here and throw your arms in the air. There’s a bronze Rocky statue at the bottom of the steps which you won’t want to miss if you’re a fan. We walked from the city out here in about half an hour. On the walk back in to central Philly is the Rodin Museum, complete with a monument sized version of ‘the Thinker’. It’s amazing. The cherry blossoms are framing the statue perfectly at the moment; I think it was my absolute favourite part of Philly. Aren’t cherry blossoms the most beautiful part of Spring?
It happens to be Jazz Appreciation Month in Philadelphia now and we came across a free lunchtime jazz session within the beautiful building that is City Hall. It’s that stunning steepled building in all the Rocky movies. God, free stuff is awesome. Very close to City Hall lies JFK Plaza or LOVE Park, named after the red L-O-V-E sculpture by Robert Indiana. You can see the Rocky steps way up Benjamin Franklin Parkway in the background. There’s not much in the park; it’s just a lovely place to chill out and take in the scenery.
Macy’s (1300 Market St.) has the largest working pipe organ in the world and as luck would have it we got to hear it!! It’s called the Wanamaker Court Organ and was built for the 1904 World Fair in St. Louis (which celebrated the Louisiana Purchase 100 years earlier. Excellent background story available here). The organ is beautiful, takes up 7 (!) floors…I think it would be awesome for aisle music! Honestly though, it would be a beautiful place to do Christmas shopping; they put a 3 story Christmas tree there every year. Awesome. If you’re visiting Macy’s don’t forget to bring your passport to the Visitor Centre on the ground floor to get 10% off. There’s also a pretty new Century 21 if you need an designer outlet shopping fix (821 Market St.)
A few blocks from Macy’s is the Reading Terminal Market (51 North 12th Street) – the perfect place to pick up lunch. Philly Cheese Steaks, pretzels, lobster, sushi, sausage sandwiches, salads – pretty much anything you could want will be packaged up for you to scoff down. Even if you’re not hungry it’s a great place to wander around. No way you’re leaving without a chocolate pretzel though.
A bit of a walk from the Reading Terminal Market lies Christ Church (entrance by $3 donation), possibly the most famous of all America’s churches. Also called the Nation’s Church, it’s here that people such as George Washington and Benjamin Franklin worshipped back in the day. Franklin and a whole host of other famous people are buried in the two acres adjoining the church. Just a few blocks from here is Elfreth’s Alley, America’s oldest residential neighbourhood and what has to be one of its prettiest alleyways. 32 picture perfect houses complete with shutters line this cobblestoned street – reminiscent of old London. There is a museum here but it’s only open at the weekends ($5 including tour of the Alley).
Note: If you’re travelling with Megabus and they say your bus is leaving from 30th Street Station then you need to walk through the back of the station on to John F. Kennedy Boulevard (under the bridge).