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With his band of Quakers, William Penn founded the City of Brotherly Love in 1682. It was Benjamin Franklin, however, who planted the seeds of the metropolis it is today. Franklin, the ingenious American ambassador and inventor, almost single-handedly built Philadelphia into an American colonial capital. Today, sightseers will eat up Philly’s historic attractions, world-class museums, and architectural accomplishments, and not to mention the city’s native cheesesteaks and other culinary offerings.
The construction of I-676 and I-95 through Philadelphia’s center has made navigating the already challenging grid of one-way streets and alleys even more difficult. I-676 runs east-west through the Center City area, which is bordered by I-95 on the east and I-76 just across the Schuylkill River. Within the city, numbered north-south streets ascend in value from the Delaware River on the east past the Schuylkill River on the west and serve as good reference points. The first street is Front Street; the others follow consecutively from Second to 69th.
Since the days of independence, this pivotal town has grown into a sprawling city while still holding onto its historical roots. Remnants of its past stand tall in its historical district, and between Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and Congress Hall, there is plenty of history to see here. Scholarly tourists should pass through West Philly to tour the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University. P.S. don’t leave the city without trying a Philly cheesesteak from Pat’s or Geno’s.
Make the most of your time in Philadelphia – here are our recommendations. Click the links to explore and book tours or local guides.
Street vendors are major players in Philly’s cuisine scene, hawking cheesecakes, hoagies, cashews, and soft pretzels. Ethnic eateries father in several areas; hip South St, between Front and 7th St., 18th St. around Sansom St., and 2nd St. between Chestnut and Market St. The nation’s third-largest Chinatown is bound by 11th, 8th, Arch, and Vine St., and has well-priced restaurants.
The immense Italian Market spans the area around 9th St., below Christian St. Make yourself a gourmet Mediterranean picnic from the thousands of meats, cheeses, olives, and fruits available. Philadelphia’s original farmer market (since 1893), the Reading Terminal Market, across from the Pennsylvania Convention Center, is the largest indoor market in the US. Stocking globally diverse food, the market is a fabulous lunch spot with something for everything.
You can’t make it through a day in Philly without answering this question. It doesn’t take long for visitors to figure out that Pat’s and Geno’s are infamous rivals in the business of selling Philadephia’s namesake sub: the cheesesteak. The sandwich, made from thinly sliced grilled steak, melted cheese, and often grilled onions, grilled peppers, and mushrooms, has made Philadelphia famous and, some say helped them earn Philly the title of Most Overweight City in America in 1999. Cheesesteaks abound in Philadelphia, but none are most famous than Pat’s King of Steaks unless it’s his cross-street rival, the larger, more neon Geno’s Steaks. The age-old grudge-match between the stands begins anew daily at 9th St. and Passyunk Ave in south Philadelphia. Every Philly native has his or her favorite of the two; transplants soon learn it’s practically a municipal law that you have to pick a side, or face dire consequences. Luckily, with both stands open 24hr. and serving cheesesteaks at a good price, you can give this weighty decision the time and thorough research it deserves.
The Academy of Music, at Broad and Locust St., was modeled after Milan’s La Scala and hosts the six yearly productions of the Pennsylvania Ballet. The Philadelphia 0rchestra, located at the stunning Kimmel Center, performs from September to May.
With 5000 seats under cover and 10,000 on outdoor benches and lawns, the Mann Music Center, on George’s Hill near 52nd and Parkside Ave. hosts big name entertainers like Tony Bennett, Willie Nelson, and the Gipsy Kings, as well as a variety of jazz and rock concerts. The 120-year old Trocadero is the oldest operating Victorian theater in the US and hosts both local and big-name rock bands. The Robin Hood Dell on Ridge Ave. brings in top names in pop, jazz, and gospel in July and August. In September, theatrical entertainment graces the stage. The students of the world-renowned Curtis Institute of Music give free concerts. Merriam Theater stages performances ranging from student works to Broadway hits. Katharine Hepburn, Laurence Olivier, and Sammy Davis, Jr. all have graced this stage. The Old City comes alive for the First Friday celebration, when streets fill with live music and more than 40 art galleries, museums, and restaurants open their doors to entice visitors with free food and sparkling wine.
Philly gets physical with plenty of sports venues four professional teams play just short ride away on the Broad St. subway line. Baseball’s Phillies play at the Citizens Bank Park. Football’s Eagles play at Lincoln Financial Field. Across the street, fans fill the Wachovia Center on winter nights to watch the NBA’s 76ers and the NHL’s Flyers.
In the US, good table manners means quiet eating. Loud chewing, talking with food in your mouth, or slurping are seen as rude, and burping or flatulence is not seen as complementary to the chef. Servers at sitdown restaurants usually expect to be tipped 15-20%.
Dress in the US tends to be more modest than in Europe. Toplessness, particularly in women, should be avoided. Many establishments will require a customer to wear a shirt and shoes. The most acceptable forms of public affection are hugging and holding hands; kissing in public will usually draw some glances. Although most cities are tolerant of homosexuality, gay or lesbian couples should be aware that they may receive unwanted attention for public displays of affection, especially in rural areas. Also, note that many American will say “see you later” without really intending to make future plans.
One of the most offensive gestures in the US is extending your middle finger at someone. Known as “giving someone the finger,” this gesture is considered not only rude, but obscene. On the other hand, a “thumbs up” gesture is a sign of approval and a widely recognized signal for hitchhiking, which Let’s Go does not recommend.