Enjoying Philadelphia Freedom
Marc, a HomeAway staffer, writes about his hometown, the City of Brotherly Love
Philadelphia. City of Brotherly Love. Former nation’s capital. Home of the Liberty Bell, the cheesesteak, and the city where the Declaration of Independence was signed. But there is so much more to it.
The first thing to talk about is location. By car, Philadelphia is two hours from New York City, three hours from Washington DC, and there’s a train line which connects all three cities so you avoid some of that legendary east coast traffic. Philadelphia is also two hours from the Jersey shore and Pocono mountains. This central location makes it an interesting base for exploring the mid-Atlantic region of the U.S.
It has a colorful history, mainly attributed to its sports teams and their passionate fans but when you get beyond that you’ll see some very unique and interesting things that make it a special place to visit.
After years of little growth, the city has undergone a transformation over the past 10 years, in what many locals consider the “Philly Renaissance”. Here are some of the highlights that you may not find in all of the guide books.
Philadelphia has become a culinary hotspot. With chefs like Morimoto (yes, the one from the Iron Chef) setting up shop in the city along with others, Philadelphia has great options for every palate. Places like Rittenhouse Square, South Street, and the Art Museum area are lined with café’s and restaurants which reflect the old and the new.
When it comes to the old, Philly has a ton of cheesesteak places. The three most famous are Pat’s, Geno’s, Jim’s, and Tony Luke’s, all located in South Philadelphia. Ask anyone and they have their preference and its usually a source of debate among locals. If you want to try one out, you have to know how to order it. If you don’t want to look like a tourist there’s a few things to know. First, you have a choice of cheeses (provolone, American, mozzerella, and Cheez Whiz). Second, you have to decide if you want grilled onions and/or grilled mushrooms. If you do, you better know how to order it. Philadelphians are not known for subtlety or manners, so it helps to play by the rules.
For example, if you walk into Pat’s – this is how you would order a cheesesteak with Cheez Whiz, and grilled onions.
“How ya doin… Can I get a wiz wit.” (Yes, there’s no “h” in that statement and “wit” refers only to whether you want grilled onions on the sandwich or not.)
Translation: Hello, how are you doing today. I’d like to order a cheesesteak which has Cheez Wiz, and grilled onions. Thanks!
There are other ways to order additional toppings (hot peppers are called “red hots” and mushrooms are simply called “shrooms)
The un-official sandwich of Philadelphia to many is the Cheesesteak. To those in the know it’s the Roast Pork sandwich. Stuffed in a hoagie roll, and filled with grilled pork, provolone, and broccoli rabe, it’s a super tasty alternative. Tony Luke’s is one of the other places to find it.
Foodies should definitely check out the Reading Terminal Market, located in Center City. It’s a cavernous market full of food stands and vendors where you can get a very comprehensive “taste of Philadelphia”.
Philadelphia has a bevy of museums including some very famous ones, including the Franklin Institute, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Don’t let the Rocky statue fool you out front, the art museum has hundreds of thousands of works from some of the world’s most famous artists, and hosts special exhibits which have included Salvador Dali and Paul Cezanne in the past.
Both are located centrally and easily accessible.
If you are there in good weather, Fairmount Park is one of the world’s largest urban parks, where you can find all the typical activities as well as horseback riding, and there are many historic mansions located in the park open to the public. One of the most famous is Strawberry Mansion.
Sports are huge in Philadelphia. All the major sports have franchises there and you’ll likely see a lot of proud Philadelphians sporting their gear around town. Turn on the radio and you will hear people talking about the Eagles, Phillies, Flyers and Sixers every day of the year. In addition to pro sports, there are a number of local universities which host games throughout the year. College Basketball is the most famous with teams such as Temple and Villanova who are in the NCAA tournament every year . If you are visiting from a rival city (like New York, or Washington D.C.) wear your team outfits at your own risk ?
Philadelphia has a lot of options for going out after dark. The most famous are in Rittenhouse Square, Old City, Delaware Avenue, and South Street. In addition to typical bars and clubs, Philadelphia now has its own casinos where you can try your luck with all the typical casino games.
Outside of Philadelphia
The outlying suburbs north of Philadelphia include charming towns such as New Hope, which flank the border with New Jersey along the Delaware River. This area has a significant historical past – George Washington crossed the river on Christmas Day to in 1776 to defeat the British in a surprise attack on their fort in Trenton, NJ. This was in what many consider to be the turning point of the Revolutionary War.
Along the western edge of Philadelphia you will find what many call the “Main Line”. This is a scenic area accessible from central Philadelphia and contains many historic homes and architecture dating back to the 18th century.
If you are looking to see the beach, New Jersey’s famous coastline is easily accessible from Philadelphia. Among the most popular areas for Philadelphians are Cape May, Margate, Avalon, Stone Harbor, and Ocean City. Atlantic City and its famous boardwalk and casinos are also nearby.
As I said before, the Pocono mountains are within a 2 hour drive from the city. In the winter time there are a number of ski resorts including Camelback, Jack Frost, and Blue Mountain. In the summertime, there are many options for hiking, biking, golf, and swimming. Among the most famous areas are Lake Wallenpaupack, near Scranton, PA and Lake Nockamixon state park, near Allentown along with dozens of other parks and outdoor recreational areas.
When you visit Philadelphia, put what you have heard aside and open your eyes to a place which has significant historical and cultural roots. You’ll find a thriving city, great culinary scene, places nearby for diversions, and more than enough character to keep you entertained. Happy travels!