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The City of Brotherly Love: A Beginner's Guide to Philadelphia

by JoAnn December 2013 - last edited October

Perfectly positioned between New York City and Washington D.C., the City of Brotherly Love – as Philadelphia translates from the Greek – offers the big city amenities of those two world capitals but at a more human scale and an often quirkier pace. Take a look at our guide to Philadelphia for the city’s must-see spots.

Independence Hall | City of Brotherly Love | Guide to Philadelphia

Philadelphia, once the nation's capital, has a long and storied place in American history © Tim Hawk/Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau
 

A city of small row houses – some no wider than 12-feet – packed tightly on blocks filled with charming cafes, tiny parks, and trendy boutiques, Philadelphia retains much of the modesty practiced by the Quakers who founded it in 1682. But its history is nothing to sneeze at – this is where America first declared its liberty and a series of interwoven sites like the Liberty Bell, Independence HallBenjamin Franklin Museum, National Constitution Center, and Christ Church stitch together that fabled story as easily as Betsy Ross did (or did not – the truth is not exactly clear!) with the nation's first flag.

Midtown Village | The City of Brotherly Love | Guide to Philadelphia

Midtown Village captures the historic charm of Center City © Paul Loftland/Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau
 

The neighbourhoods within a five-minute walk of the historic district provide glimpses of how Philadelphians live today. Old City offers condos in redeveloped Civil War-era factories, as well as a concentration of art galleries and restaurants like the Asian fusion Buddakan and the sophisticated Fork. Society Hill features stately red brick homes with Federal touches like boot scrapers, marble stoops, and wood shutters.

Rittenhouse Square | The City of Brotherly Love | Guide to Philadelphia

The glittering Rittenhouse Square hosts some of the city's best shopping and dining destinations © bklphoto.com/Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau
 

Philadelphia is built around the five squares that Penn laid out when establishing the city, and no time here would be complete without stopping by lively Rittenhouse Square. Its surrounding streets are chockablock with high-end shopping and restaurants like The Dandelion, a spot-on recreation of an English pub courtesy of the city's top restaurateur Stepgen Starr. Nearby, Broad Street serves as a centre for the performing arts; the east end of Pine Street offers a row of gift shops and eclectic boutiques; and the blocks of Midtown Village, around the intersection of 13th and Sansom streets, features a little of everything, including several popular dining spots from the talented chef Marcie Turney.

Benjamin Franklin Parkway | The City of Brotherly Love | Guide to Philadelphia

The Benjamin Franklin Parkway, a cultural destination, illuminated at night © Anthony Sinagoga/Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau
 

True foodies, though, know that the hippest restaurant scene lies on the fringes of Center City (as downtown is called), just a 10-minute cab ride away. Along Passyunk Avenue eateries like the Belgian-inspired Noord, and the fancy gastro pub Stateside garner raves. North of Old City, the warehouses and studio spaces of Northern Liberties and Fishtown are home to the city's maker community and to happening spots like Fette Sau, a Brooklyn import specializing in barbecue. In the near southwest, restaurants like the New Orleans-inflected Rex 1516 and the sweet and savoury pie spot Magpies put an accent on comfort. And in Fairmount, the simple Fare and the classic Jack's Firehouse serve up eats to visitors who have toured Eastern State Penitentiary, the historic picturesquely crumbling 1820s prison once visited by Charles Dickens.

Philadelphia Museum of Art | The City of Brotherly Love | Guide to Philadelphia

The impressive Philadelphia Museum of Art is one of the country's top collections © Paul Loftland/Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau
 

For more museums, the mile-long Benjamin Franklin Parkway is lined with the recently relocated Barnes, a trove of Impressionist gems; the Rodin Museum, with its stellar collection of sculptures by the French master; the science duo of Franklin Institute and the Academy of Natural Sciences; and, of course, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, one of the most comprehensive collections in America. Behind the art museum, stretches Fairmount Park, the nation's largest urban swath of green, with treasures like Shofuso, a Japanese tea house and garden and Please Touch Museum, a children's museum located in one of the few surviving structures from the 1876 Centennial Exposition, which Philadelphia hosted in celebration of the 100th anniversary of America's founding.

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How well do you know the City of Brotherly Love? What have been your highlights when visiting? Share your recommendations with us below.


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About the author: JoAnn

JoAnn Greco

JoAnn Greco is a Philadelphia – based journalist who writes frequently on travel, hospitality, lifestyle, and architecture. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, National Geographic Traveler, Hospitality Design, History Magazine, and many other publications.