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Philadelphia Travel Tips

View of city hall down Broad Street in Center City Philadelphia.

 

I’ve been so busy sharing tips for the places I’ve traveled, that I ignored the fact that the place I could probably give the best tips, is the place I live – Philadelphia! It’s time to rectify that, so in today’s post, I’m going to share some of my favorite places to eat, drink and visit in Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs.

I moved to Philadelphia almost 19 years ago, after growing up in Toledo, OH, which is a mid-size, blue-collar city in northwest Ohio. Moving to a major east coast city like Philadelphia was a bit intimidating. I had to learn how to take mass transit, drive in a major city, and even parallel park (which I still don’t do well). What I’ve discovered over the last 19 years, is that Philadelphia has a ton to offer. It’s a great place to live and visit. I hope you enjoy these tips and find them useful.

 

GEOGRAPHY

The city of Philadelphia is made up of several neighborhoods, all with unique characteristics. The downtown area consists of three major areas – University City on the western border, Center City in the middle, and Old City on the eastern border.

Philadelphia is also surrounded by a large suburban area made up of towns in Delaware, Philadelphia, Bucks and Montgomery counties. Additionally, many areas of South Jersey are considered suburbs of Philadelphia.

 

GETTING AROUND

There are a number of major interstates that run through the Philadelphia area, although sometimes you have to be a local to understand a traffic report. I-95, which is the major north/south interstate on the east coast of the country, runs through the area including taking you to the Philadelphia International Airport. I-76 (which is locally known as the Schuylkill Expressway) is the east/west interstate through the city, that eventually turns into the PA Turnpike. I-476 (which is locally known as the Blue Route) was built in the early ‘90s and is another north/south interstate which eventually turns into the Northeast extension and runs up into northern PA. Additionally, the PA Turnpike runs just north of the city.

Philadelphia also has a pretty decent mass transit system – www.septa.org. There are regional rail trains, buses and trolleys that run from the suburbs into the city. There are trolleys, buses and subways that run throughout the city as well.

 

WHERE TO STAY

As with any big city, there are plenty of hotel options in the Philadelphia area. When selecting a hotel, be sure to consider where you want to be located, what type of transportation you plan on using, and what your budget is.

If you are looking to stay as centrally as possible in the downtown area and want something reasonably priced, check out the Double Tree Center City (http://doubletree3.hilton.com/en/hotels/pennsylvania/doubletree-by-hilton-hotel-philadelphia-center-city-PHLBLDT/index.html), the Embassy Suites Center City (http://embassysuites3.hilton.com/en/hotels/pennsylvania/embassy-suites-by-hilton-philadelphia-center-city-PHLDTES/index.html), or the Holiday Inn Express Midtown (https://www.ihg.com/holidayinnexpress/hotels/us/en/philadelphia/phlmt/hoteldetail?cm_mmc=YextLocal-_-USA-_-PHLMT).

If you want to stay in Old City and closer to the historic sites, check out the Wyndham Philadelphia Historic District (http://www.phillydowntownhotel.com/) or the Best Western Plus Independence Park (https://www.bestwestern.com/en_US/book/hotel-details.39080.html?iata=00171890&ssob=BLBWI0003G&cid=BLBWI0003G:yext:website:39080).

Tip #1: If you plan on staying mostly in the downtown area and are staying in one of the downtown hotels, I would recommend not having a car. Driving in the city can be a challenge, and parking can be frustrating and expensive. Most of the downtown hotels will charge you a daily rate to park a car, so if you do have a car you will need to park, be sure to understand if there are any parking charges before you make a reservation.

There are several areas that are located outside of the city, but are still very close to the city to allow you to get there quickly and easily.

Philadelphia Airport: Check out the Double Tree Philadelphia Airport (http://doubletree3.hilton.com/en/hotels/pennsylvania/doubletree-by-hilton-hotel-philadelphia-airport-PHLDADT/index.html) or the Courtyard Philadelphia Airport (http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/phlat-courtyard-philadelphia-airport/?scid=bb1a189a-fec3-4d19-a255-54ba596febe2).

Conshohocken: Check out the Philadelphia Marriott West (http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/phlwe-philadelphia-marriott-west/?scid=bb1a189a-fec3-4d19-a255-54ba596febe2) or the Residence Inn Conshohocken (http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/phlcn-residence-inn-philadelphia-conshohocken/?scid=bb1a189a-fec3-4d19-a255-54ba596febe2).

Tip #2: Conshohocken is an up and coming area that has a lot of restaurants and bars. There is also access to the Schuylkill River and a nice walking trail. If you need to get into the city, you are just a few miles away. There is also a trolley stop in Conshohocken on the Manayunk/Norristown line, which will take you into the city.

 

WHAT TO DO

There is no lack of things to see and do in Philadelphia. If you are into historic sites, you can spend an entire day just in the Old City area. The Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Christ Church, Betsy Ross House, and National Constitution Center to just name a few attractions, are all located within blocks of each other.

Tip #3: Start your visit of the Old City area at the Independence Visitor Center (http://www.phlvisitorcenter.com/). You can find all sorts of information about the various attractions in the area. Additionally, you can purchase timed tickets to visit Independence Hall (which are required).

Some of my other favorite places to visit in the city are:

Spruce Street Harbor Park: Only open in the summer, but a really cool park on the Delaware River featuring local craft beer, local food, hammocks and gardens. http://www.delawareriverwaterfront.com/places/spruce-street-harbor-park

Philadelphia Museum of Art: Even if you aren’t into museums and don’t go inside, it’s worth taking a look at the outside of this beautiful building. Plus, you have to run up the “Rocky” steps and get your picture taken with the Rocky statue, located on the right side at the bottom of the steps. http://www.philamuseum.org/

The Franklin Institute: If you have kids, this is a great place to go. A science museum, the Franklin Institute has lots of hands on activities, as well as special exhibits. https://www.fi.edu/

Reading Terminal Market: The market houses everything from local restaurants, to local food shops, to other kinds of retailers. From chocolate, to cheesesteaks, to Amish baked goods, this is the place to go to find fresh and local food choices. http://www.readingterminalmarket.org/

Tip #4: The Reading Terminal Market can get very busy – particularly on Saturdays and at lunch time. Try and visit early in the morning or in the afternoon during the week. If you are driving, they do offer discount 2-hour parking in two garages close by. Check out their website for details.

There are also plenty of things to do out in the suburbs. Some of the things I suggest are:

Longwood Gardens: If you are into flowers, plants and trees, this is the place to go. The huge gardens are beautifully kept. They have special exhibits throughout the year. They also recently restored their main fountains, and there is a fountain show every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night. www.longwoodgardens.org.

Peddler’s Village: This is a cute little village featuring retail shops and restaurants. It’s located in a beautiful area of Bucks County. I would suggest also visiting the downtown area of New Hope, PA while you are there. http://www.peddlersvillage.com/

Valley Forge National Park: Another great place for history buffs. The park itself is huge. If you are into history, stop in the visitor’s center and get information on driving the 10-mile Encampment Tour. https://www.nps.gov/vafo/index.htm

King of Prussia Mall: If you are into shopping, you have to include a visit to the King of Prussia Mall on your itinerary. The mall is the second largest mall in the U.S., and includes plenty of stores and restaurants. http://www.simon.com/mall/king-of-prussia.

Philadelphia is a huge sports town as well. Depending on the season, you can catch a game of one of Philadelphia’s professional sports teams – the Eagles (football), Phillies (baseball), 76ers (basketball), Flyers (hockey), Union (major league soccer), or Soul (arena football). College basketball is huge here as well, with big basketball programs at Temple, St. Joe’s and Villanova. You can also catch a minor league baseball game not too far away in Wilmington, DE – the Wilmington Blue Rocks.

Live music is also big in Philadelphia. I’ve written about a lot of the local venues already on my blog, but be sure to look for shows at The Fillmore, Union Transfer, Electric Factory, World Café Live and the Theater of the Living Arts (TLA).

WHAT TO EAT

There are so many good places to eat in Philadelphia, that I could fill up 10 more pages just on restaurants. Instead, I’ll give you my top picks in a couple of general buckets.

Cheesesteak: If you come to Philadelphia, you have to get a cheesesteak. I can honestly say that I have tried “Philly cheesesteaks” in other places, and they are not the same. My go to place for a cheesesteak in the city is Jim’s Steaks, and you need to experience the South Street location. There is nothing like standing in line at Jim’s late at night to get your steak. http://www.jimssteaks.com/

Tip #5: Skip Geno’s and Pat’s. First, the traffic is usually crazy and parking can be a mess. Second, while they have the flash and attract the tourists, they just aren’t the best cheesesteaks.

Downtown Restaurant/Bar: If you are looking for fantastic food and the best German beer selection around, check out Brauhaus Schmitz. Everything on the menu is delicious, the atmosphere is really cool, and the staff is super friendly. https://www.brauhausschmitz.com/

Tip #6: See if you can get seated in the back room. It has a really cool German beer hall look. Plus, the bathrooms are located in the back of the restaurant, so it makes it easy to get to them when you drink too much beer!

Steak House: Even though it’s a chain, I love Ruths’ Chris Steakhouse. There is a location in Center City Philadelphia, but if you are in the suburbs, the King of Prussia location is very nice and the one we always visit. https://www.ruthschris.com/restaurant-locations/king-of-prussia Another great steakhouse in Center City is Butcher and Singer. A little more pricey, but the atmosphere is fantastic and the food is delicious. http://www.butcherandsinger.com/?utm_source=Google%20My%20Business&utm_medium=Website%20Button&utm_campaign=Philadelphia

Italian: You can’t come to Philly and not get some South Philly Italian food. My favorite is Ristorante Pesto. Owned by a husband and wife (Concehtta will likely seat you), the food is delicious. It’s one of those places, that if you ask to hear the specials, you will be sitting and listening for a long time. They do have a liquor license (a lot of places in the Philadelphia area are BYOB), but they allow you to bring your own wine for a corkage fee. http://www.ristorantepesto.com/pesto/home.html

 

WHAT TO DRINK

Philadelphia has become a huge beer town. Most of the bars and restaurants in the area have a really good selection of local craft beer. You can also go directly to the source. Some of my favorite local breweries are listed below.

Victory Brewing: Their main brewpubs are located in the suburbs. They also have a location at Xfinity Live at the sports complex. Good food and a really large selection of their own beers. http://www.victorybeer.com/

Conshohocken Brewing Company: Located in Conshohocken along the Schuylkill River and the trail, this is a great place to just hang out and try their beers. They have a very limited menu, so don’t plan on having dinner. http://www.conshohockenbrewing.com/

Levante Brewing Company: Located in an industrial park in West Chester, PA, their taproom is a little small and can get crowded. But, the beer is worth it. They typically have food trucks on site, and you can order food and have it delivered, or bring your own. http://www.levantebrewing.com/

Yards Brewing Company: Yards is probably one of the most well-known local beers. Located on Delaware Avenue along the Delaware River, they have a nice taproom and food trucks on site. https://yardsbrewing.com/

There are also some nice local wineries, although you have to drive a bit further out to the suburbs to find them. Here are my favorites.

Kreutz Creek Vineyards: The winery is located in West Grove, PA and is only open on Saturday and Sunday, however, they also have a tasting room on the main street in downtown West Chester that is open Tuesday through Saturday. All of their grapes are grown on their property, and the wine is truly handmade (and hand bottled). http://www.kreutzcreekvineyards.com/

Penns Woods Winery: Located in Chadds Ford, PA, they have some very nice wines and a beautiful property. They are open 7 days a week, and often have live music and special tasting events. http://www.pennswoodsevents.com/

Va La Vineyards: For a little higher end experience, check out Va La. Their wine is made in the French style, with a very low production. That means that the wine can be quite expensive. To taste 4 of the wines will cost you $20, but the quality is excellent. www.valavineyards.com

As you can see, there is an abundance of things to do, see, eat and drink in Philadelphia. If you live here and haven’t tried some of these places, check them out! If you are planning a visit, I hope you find this guide helpful.

Have questions about Philadelphia and the surrounding area?  Have you been there and I missed one of your favorite places?  Comment below or e-mail me at tips2livebywriter@gmail.com. 

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