72 Hours in Philadelphia
Philly is so much more than its historic past. From the city’s leafy squares and hidden cobblestone lanes to its intimate bars and food-focused BYOBs (with a little hipster-driven urban renewal thrown in for good measure), here's how to spend 72 perfect hours in the City of Brotherly Love. Powdered wig optional!
Finding a parking space in this city can be both a nightmare to find and expensive; leave the car at home and get here via Amtrak and use SEPTA buses, trolleys, subways and cabs to get around. No need to fret about where you’ll bed down, either, because the last decade has seen an array of historic buildings transform into classy sleeps, from the industrial-chic Wm. Mulherin’s Sons to Lokal.
Your fresh perspective on Philly starts at the city’s other river, the once forsaken Schuylkill. Railroads, chemical pipelines, and highways once dominated the tidal waterway during the city’s industrial heyday, but a decades-long effort has seen the Schuylkill’s banks reclaimed in the form of an extensive park connecting South Street Bridge and the Art Museum and Fairmont Park. Take a walk along the newest addition—a 2,000-foot boardwalk suspended over the water—to get one of the best views of the city skyline.
The trail’s terminus at the South Street Bridge provides perfect panoramas of the city and easy access to West Philly. From here, hop the SEPTA 36 Trolley west down Baltimore Avenue, a diverse strip with a bohemian vibe and North African flavor. Quirky Clark Park is lovely in the fall; old men will challenge you to a game of chess, drum circles are commonplace, and Amish farmers bring their bounty to its farmers market every Saturday morning. Just down the street, Gojjo is a family-run Ethiopian gastropub that serves savory dishes like sautéed beef short ribs rubbed in Ethiopian spices and onions and peppers served over injera—a spongy, flavor-absorbing flatbread. Farther west, BYOB to Aksum, where owner Saba Tedla and chef Wayne Whiteside plate tasty Moroccan fare that fuses the flavors of the entire Mediterranean.
As the neighborhood’s name and location along the Delaware River suggest, Fishtown started life as the hub of the region’s shad fishing industry. The species was fished out in the early 20th century, and today the once rundown cottages, factories, and warehouses now incubate artists, musicians, chefs, and a buzzy tech start-up scene. The heart of this nabe is Frankford Avenue, where artisanal coffee guru Todd Carmichael opened La Colombe‘s flagship café and bakery. Start your day with a fresh-from-the-oven croissant and some Fishtown coffee, which is made from fair-trade beans from Ethiopia and Guatemala blended by Carmichael himself. Once the caffeine kicks in, stroll down Frankford to Adorn Boutique, which is run by bohemian jewelry maker Sarah Lewis. For a tasty and educational lunch, stop in for a slice at Pizza Brain, the world’s first pizza museum/pizzeria that also happens to house the world’s largest collection of pizza memorabilia. Keep your eyes peeled for their mint condition Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Plinko machine, classic Jughead comics, and vintage Do the Right Thing movie posters (Spike Lee’s character delivered pies).
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There’s no shortage of watering holes along this stretch. Dive into cash-only El Bar, a local joint under the elevated train with a junkyard garden in back where you can enjoy their signature “Kensington Happy Meal:” two hot dogs, one PBR tallboy, a bag of chips, and a shot of Jim Beam for just $5. Beer lovers should pop in at Bottle Bar East for a taste of their more than 700 craft brews, which are served over a copper bar made out of old church pews—in addition to the occasional burlesque show, rock concert, and tattoo art exhibit. For a sip of the old country, grab a picnic table at Frankford Hall, an indoor-outdoor German beer garden run by Stephen Starr where house-made pretzels and brats are washed down with suds served in one-liter steins. Fishtown traces its alcohol enthusiasm to the legendary Johnny Brenda’s, a three-story bar-slash-gastropub-slash-music-club where the taps are all local, the food is farm-fresh, and the live music is loud.
Brunch your hangover away with Pub and Kitchen’s “Wrangler,” the spiciest Bloody Mary in the city. The Fitler Square mainstay elevates greasy spoon classics, including custard french toast with nectarines and smoked trout toast. Afterwards, go classy and cab it up to Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philly’s own Champs-Elysées, which is lined with some of the country’s premier art collections. The latest addition is the exquisite Barnes Collection, a $25 billion collection of paintings by Renoir, Cezanne, Matisse, Picasso, and Van Gogh, among other masters. After making a fortune in the early 20th century by developing a gonorrhea drug, Albert C. Barnes turned his attention to art, collecting more than 800 paintings by Impressionists and Modernist masters. Until 2012 the collection was hidden away in a suburban mansion out of reach to the general public, but it’s now housed in a museum that faithfully recreates the collector’s original presentation of the works. Next, it’s on to the Rodin Museum, where you can consider some 140 bronzes, marbles, and plasters representing every phase of Auguste Rodin’s career. They’re housed in an intimate Beaux-Arts building with tranquil gardens designed by French architect Paul Cret and French landscape designer Jacques Gréber. Don’t skip the Philadelphia Museum of Art, a classical temple housing more than 300,000 works. Even if you’re short on time, be sure to run up its famous stone stairs Rocky-style to end your stay with the classic skyline view.
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