What You Should See in Philadelphia

pablo picasso at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia

Growing up outside Philadelphia means sometimes people (who should know better) ask me for recommendations of what to see while visiting the City of Brotherly Love. This is what I copy-paste into the email:

  1. Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell are worth checking out if you like saying you've seen the most popular tourist attractions in a city. Both are free.
  2. Old City (which is different than the Independence Mall where you find the aforementioned attractions) is quaint and almost entirely constructed of brick. It's worthy of a meander if it's not too cold.
  3. The Barnes Foundation is remarkable for both its architecture and how brazenly they may or may not have violated the wishes of its collector.
  4. Reading Terminal Market is a perennial favorite for two reasons: First is the Pumple Cake; it's a cake that is comprised of a chocolate cake and a vanilla cake, stacked and conjoined with frosting. Inside the cakes are an apple and pumpkin pie, respectively. Second, and I recommend this place not because it's absurd but because it serves delicious food, is Miller's Twist, an Amish pretzel stand. If I had to carb-load anywhere, it'd be here.
  5. This is the true cheese steak hierarchy: John's Roast Pork > Pat's King of Steaks > Geno's > Tony Luke's > any other cheese steak place. It also so happens that they are listed in reverse order of accessibility, so if you're not too particular, just go to that place in Reading Terminal Market (but if you go to a cheesesteak place below Pat's/Geno's, don't expect to have a cheese steak that is superior to those you can get in any other city).
  6. People like South Street, which is fine and eclectic (and has bars and various nightlife) but I rarely go.
  7. Walnut Street is the main shopping locale and runs into Rittenhouse Square park, which is a lovely place to people watch.
  8. The WXPN Studio and The Electric Factory are great concert venues.
  9. University of Pennsylvania has a gorgeous campus, just don't get lost.
  10. Phillies games are where you'll get a true feel for what the city is like: a working class metropolis that is unapologetic in its general dismissal of what other cities deem "enlightened living".
  11. Try Birch Beer; it's like root beer, it's good, and I don't know many other cities you can find it so readily.
  12. Wawa is an institution. Great for 2 am hoagie trips.
  13. Tastycake is our indigenous confectionary brand that has managed to survive the homogenization of America's food culture.
  14. Rita's is the local water ice chain (I am partial to the root beer flavor, myself).