The Philly Renaissance: A Comprehensive Guide to the New City of Brotherly Love
What once was the America’s birthplace, today is the European darling. Like Barcelona in the nineties and Montreal a few years back, Philadelphia has of recently become the eclectic dream. By the time you finally get there, the very first capital of the New World will grow utterly unrecognizable.
This is everything that’s ever been on your bucket list, cosily tucked in the City of Brotherly Love.
What Is the Best Time to Visit Philly?
You’ve just missed the quirky old Philly parade that takes place on 4th of July each year, but that certainly doesn’t mean the summer’s gone from the Northeast. Philadelphia keeps it bright and warm all throughout the autumn, and September and October may be the most colourful months you can spend here. The crowds are smaller this time of the year, and the ambience is wonderfully decadent.
But, that’s just how we like it — all yellow and golden.
The truth is, it’s really always sunny in Philadelphia. Tourists flock to Pennsylvania’s capital all year long, for here each season emits a different kind of charm. Spring is for cherry blossoms and summer for fireworks, while autumn and winter invite visitors inside, to the very heart of the city.
The colder it gets, the louder the music is.
The best time to visit Pennsylvania depends not on the weather, but on your eagerness to escape and enjoy. Whenever you start to feel as if there’s something missing, pack your bags and board the flight. Here awaits a cheesesteak with your name on it, and a couple of comforting morsels extra. Oh, and did we mention the world-class art, music, and architecture?
More on that later, so read on.
What Are Your Options for Exploring the City?
If you can, bring a bike. In case you’re flying across the world to witness the Philly renaissance, you’ll be glad to hear that almost the entire city is walkable. You’ll want to experience it spontaneously and on foot, so make sure your boots are made for walking.
Of course, Philly’s public transportation system is incredibly neat too, which means fast but cheap subway network, trolley lines, and regional rail system. You’ll need them for longer stays and more elaborate itineraries, especially the ones including the academic West and the historic Northwest.
Wherever you’re coming from, the international airport you’ll probably be landing at is very close to the Centre City, so don’t worry about getting lost on your first day. Besides, both the airport and the high-speed rail station are within a walking distance from the closest subway stop.
What Is the Philly’s Cultural Climate?
Because most of you will come across the pond, and because all Philadelphians are major history buffs, we’re proud to be the ones to introduce you to the city’s everlasting love with cultural, political, religious, and personal freedom.
The Declaration of Independence is more than just a movie trope, and it’s been written, signed and publicly read for the first time right here, in 1776. Thanks to Benjamin Franklin and his scientific, philosophical, and artistic followers, the city is now known not only as the birthplace of America, but also as a hotbed of new ideas and a melting pot of brotherly love.
In case you’ve too noticed that our newly popular cry for diversity only blurs the lines of what this cultural concept actually means, then you’ll find Philly to be a refreshing surprise. Historically situated in between the Declaration of Independence and the Liberty Bell, this is the city that proudly keeps the freedom of expression alive. Is it possible at all, you wonder? Come and see.
What to Expect?
Though Philly has always been culturally diverse, it wasn’t until recently that the city fully embraced its heterogeneous way of life. We’re talking about its traditional cuisine, of course, in which regional actually means ethnic and cultural; the same mixture is obvious in every aspect of Philadelphia’s everyday life, from museums and theatres to sports arenas and nightclubs.
They say the Pennsylvanian capital is currently experiencing its second renaissance, and it’s true. The tradition is being revived as we speak, and respectfully modernized into an eclectic fusion of classic and cool. You can see the French revolution being reenacted by drag troupes, just as well as you can enjoy colonial brick homes side by side with hip industrial neighbourhoods and avant-garde galleries.
The result is overwhelmingly vibrant. Don’t choose one side over the other, though — the traditional and the modern aren’t to be separated, for Philadelphia’s essence resides exactly within these charming anachronisms. Enjoy the impressive heritage while you savour the urban spirit, and vice versa: only that way, you’ll be able to feel what Philly is truly about.
Here’s how, what, and where.
It’s good that you can walk all around Philly, but you’ll have a hard time choosing where to head especially if you’re there for a weekend or so. One can always discover hidden gems while moving about aimlessly, so that’s one option to consider. But, if you’re short on time, we recommend you to pick one of Philly’s guided walking tours.
Thus you’ll be able to experience the Ben Franklin Bridge, the little picturesque streets east of Broad, the mansions of the Gilded Age, the first post-war skyscrapers, the Fishtown, and the street mural arts all in a single day, and along with the essential historical sites among which the iconic Independence Hall is an absolute must-see.
In case the official tours aren’t your cup of tea, feel free to explore Philadelphia alone. Don’t miss the City Hall, though, and pay a visit to the Art Institute of Philadelphia. Both landmarks are quintessential to the city’s architectural vibe, and so are the Fisher Fine Arts Library, the Barnes Foundation, the Comcast Centre, and the Wanamaker Building.
For a glimpse down the memory lane, make sure to spend some time in the University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and of course, the National Constitution Centre. The city’s ethnic diversity is alive and well in National Museum of American Jewish History and African-American Museum, situated in the Old City.
To fast forward into the future, visit the Academy of Natural Sciences. The Institute of Contemporary Arts offer an insightful overview of the current state of cultural imagination and the direction in which we can expect it to go, so don’t forget to check it off your list as well.
While on a museum crawl, pay a visit to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the Rodin Museum. Once you’re done with the essentials, take a walk into the whimsical and stop by the Please Touch Museum and the infamous Museum of Medical Oddities.
Now, we won’t try to avoid the touristy in order to reveal what lays off the beaten path and beyond. Since Philadelphians themselves are big on tradition, our mission is to honour it too. So, before a stuffed challah French toast changes your life for good, go to the John’s Pork Roast first, and order a good old Philly cheesesteak. It has your name on it, just as we promised.
Though all-American, Philadelphian cuisine is somehow excitingly ethnic at the same time — essentially, it’s a mixture of wholesome pork and enticing spices that you probably won’t be able to recognize. The city’s restaurant scene has been booming for quite some time, which means that you’ll get to try everything from square or dessert pizza to lobster roll and brisket ramen.
Oh, and don’t forget that Philly is a dedicated pioneer of the bring-your-own-booze concept. Almost all restaurants have a BYO liquor policy, though some places do charge a small corkage fee. In case java is all you care about, order one at La Colombe and prepare to forget everything you know about coffee.
If you’re looking for an outdoor place to enjoy all that tasty food, Philly offers a handful of squares and parks as well. Rittenhouse Square seems to be the most popular among tourists, though almost nothing can rival the thrill of Franklin Square’s carousel rides. The Independence National Historic Park is another green spot to contemplate democracy’s birth and relish the day in peace and quiet.
Spend an hour or two in Philadelphia Zoo before you move on to the city’s most recognizable attraction — the Rocky Statue and Rocky Steps. From there on, you can choose to dive deeper into history and visit the Masonic Temple, or to buy cheap NFL tickets and see the Philadelphia Eagles beat the New York Giants. If that’s not an authentic Philly experience, nothing is.
However touristy it may be, convince yourself to do some souvenir shopping before you leave. Philly houses the oldest American farmer’s market called the Reading Terminal Market, which is a one-stop shop for everything you loved about Pennsylvania’s capital and everything you want to take back home with you.
You know how they say that divine nature gave us fields, but human art built the cities? The vibrant waterfronts of Philly will make you appreciate both. Be it the American birthplace or the European darling, this city is a piece of age-old charm and state-of-the-art thrill, all in one delicious package.