- I grew up in the Philadelphia area, and I’m sharing the best things in the city.
- Tourists should visit the Neon Museum, Elfreth’s Alley, South Street, and the Liberty Bell.
- They should eat and drink at Tattooed Mom, Kalaya, Middle Child, Suraya, and The Tasty.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Philadelphia is the sixth-largest city in the United States. Although it’s famous for its avid sports fans, ubiquitous cheesesteaks, and the “Rocky” film series, there’s much more to explore in this creative metropolis.
As a life-long resident of the Greater Philadelphia area who also lived in Philly after college, I’ve compiled a list of must-see sites and have identified some of the best places to stay, visit, and eat.
Things to know before you go
- COVID-19 PROTOCOL: As of June, visitors to Philadelphia are not required to take a COVID-19 test or quarantine upon arrival.
- WEATHER: Philadelphia generally experiences mild weather conditions that vary from season to season. Temperatures (in Fahrenheit) can range in summer from the mid-60s to the high 80s, in spring from the mid-30s to the low 80s, in winter from the mid-20s to the low 50s, and in fall from the low 30s to the high 60s. Those visiting in winter can expect possible snowfall.
- CURRENCY: The currency is US dollars. Credit cards are accepted at most businesses, though some are cash-only.
- WALKABILITY: Philadelphia’s public-transit authority is SEPTA, which consists of subway and elevated train lines, bus/trolley lines, and a regional train system that goes into the suburbs. Center City (Philly’s downtown) and its surrounding neighborhoods are highly walkable. Less-central areas of the city are accessible via SEPTA or by car.
Where to stay
Insider has previously rounded up some of the best hotels and best Airbnbs in Philadelphia. I suggest staying close to the city center or public transportation if you plan to spend most of the trip exploring on foot.
Canopy by Hilton is centrally located
Situated in the heart of Center City, Canopy by Hilton is a convenient, luxurious choice. One of the newest hotels in Philly, Canopy opened in August.
It has 236 rooms, which cost about $169 (one king bed) to $184 (two queen beds with a premium city view) a night. On-site dining options including an American brasserie and an outpost of Federal Donuts, a local chain. The hotel also provides complimentary bike rentals to guests.
Tip: This modern hotel is also around the corner from the shops and restaurants in Philadelphia’s Fashion District.
The Logan features stunning city views
Rates start at about $175 a night for one king bed.
Tip: For incredible views of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, where the Philadelphia Museum of Art is located, check out the hotel’s Assembly Rooftop, a bar nine floors up.
There are numerous Airbnb options if you want to stay in a classic Philly row house
Philadelphia is known for its row houses, low-rise residential buildings that have been popular since the Colonial era. They’re often characterized by stoops and vibrant accents like window-box flowers.
If you want to stay in this quintessential Philly accommodation, check Airbnb. Listings for row-house apartments in the greater Center City area can range from about $30 to $80 a night.
Tip: For a curated selection of listings, look for property-management companies that specialize in Airbnb rentals, such as Slate and Hearth. Its founder, Jen Jordan, has been nicknamed “The Queen of Airbnb in Philly.”
Lokal is a boutique apartment-style hotel with locations in 2 popular neighborhoods
Lokal’s modern minimalist rooms start at $280 a night for a one-bedroom apartment.
Tip: If you like the decor enough to take home, check out Lokal’s an online store where you can purchase chic pillows, coffee makers, and even mattresses.
Things to do and see
See the Liberty Bell and learn about American democracy at Independence Mall
Learn about the origins of democracy in the US at Independence Mall.
Referred to as “America’s Most Historic Square Mile,” this area comprises Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was signed; the Liberty Bell, one of Philly’s most recognizable symbols; and the National Constitution Center, an immersive museum for visitors of all ages.
Visitors to Independence Hall must purchase timed tickets in advance. Timed tickets are encouraged, but not required, at the National Constitution Center. Entrance to the Liberty Bell is not ticketed and operates on a first come, first served basis.
Tip: If you want to grab a snack nearby before or after sightseeing, the Bourse food hall is a one-stop shop for coffee, grilled cheese, dumplings, and more.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art is one of the most famous museums in the city
Philly’s major museums are situated along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, a thoroughfare dubbed “Museum Mile.”
Fans of the “Rocky” film series often pay homage to the fictional boxer by ascending the museum’s steps and posing with a statue of Sylvester Stallone.
Timed tickets are required to gain entry to the museum. Tickets cost $25 for adults, $14 for students, and $23 for seniors. Visitors 18 and under get in for free.
Tip: You can also use your ticket to access the Rodin Museum, which contains about 150 bronze, marble, and plaster pieces by the French sculptor Auguste Rodin.
The Barnes Foundation displays impressionist, post-impressionist, and modern art
For a more intimate museum experience, check out the Barnes Foundation, which showcases impressionist, post-impressionist, and modern works of art that belonged to collector Albert C. Barnes. Walking around the Barnes’ galleries feels like wandering around a house whose walls are covered in paintings from top to bottom.
Tickets cost $25 for adults, $23 for seniors, and $5 for guests ages 13-18. Kids under 13 get in free.
Tip: To reduce its visitor capacity, the place recommends booking tickets online or by phone.
Experience Philly’s vibrant public paintings on a tour with Mural Arts
Public art enlivens the streets of any city, but it’s hard to beat Philly’s record of 3,600 murals.
Overseen by the nonprofit Mural Arts Philadelphia, these eye-catching works depict subjects as diverse as the Cecil B. Moore Freedom Fighters civil-rights group, autumn trees, and muses embodying the city’s creative spirit. One of the newest murals is an untitled painting of a young woman by Amy Sherald, who created Michelle Obama’s official portrait.
The Franklin Institute is a historic science museum known for its giant model of a human heart
Founded in 1824 and inspired by the innovations of its Founding Father namesake, the Franklin Institute is one of the oldest science education centers in the US.
This family-friendly museum is famous for its giant model of a human heart and a state-of-the-art planetarium, in addition to exhibitions that combine science and pop culture, from Marvel superheroes to Crayola crayons.
The Franklin Institute recommends purchasing tickets in advance. General admission tickets cost $23 for guests 12 and older. Tickets for children ages 3 to 11 cost $19.
Tip: The museum regularly has rotating exhibits that can require a more expensive admission ticket, so be sure to check the website first.
South Street is home to the whimsical Magic Gardens, a popular cheesesteak spot, and boho businesses
Designed by mosaic artist Isaiah Zagar, the Magic Gardens are a whimsical urban oasis tucked away on South Street, a famously avant-garde corridor known for spots like cheesesteak joint Jim’s Steaks and the Theatre of the Living Arts, a music venue currently in use as a vaccination site.
Zagar’s mosaics, which also adorn the sides of buildings in the area, creatively meld materials including handmade tiles, glass bottles, and bicycle wheels.
Tickets must be purchased online in advance and cost $15 for adults, $12 for seniors and students, and $8 for children ages 6 to 12. Entry is free for kids 5 and under.
Tip: At night, this museum hosts monthly pop-up events, from concerts to craft nights. If you’re feeling inspired to make an art project after your visit, there are several options in the area: Wax + Wine, a candle-making and BYO wine bar, and The Expressive Hand, a paint-your-own pottery studio.
See George Washington’s tent at the Museum of the American Revolution
The Museum of the American Revolution is the perfect destination for history buffs and anyone who’s listened to “Hamilton” on repeat.
Guests can explore immersive galleries filled with 3,000 18th-century artifacts and documents curated by the Valley Forge Historical Society. One of the most notable items on display is George Washington’s tent.
Timed tickets can be purchased online in advance. They cost $21 for adults, $18 for students and seniors, and $13 for youth (guests 13-17). Children under 13 get in for free.
Tip: The museum houses the Cross Keys Café, which serves Colonial-era-inspired dishes and has an extensive coffee menu.
Elfreth’s Alley is a scenic street that preserves 18th-century history
Elfreth’s Alley takes its name from an 18th-century blacksmith named Jeremiah Elfreth. It’s a free, non-ticketed attraction, and an audio tour is available online.
Tip: After visiting Elfreth’s Alley, you can enjoy a stroll around Old City, where you’ll find art galleries and independent businesses, such as The Book Trader (a well-stocked used bookstore) and Omoi Zakka Shop (a Japanese gift and stationery store).
Medical history is the focus of the Mütter Museum
The Mütter Museum is a must for the morbidly curious and those interested in medical history.
Located at the College of Physicians, also known as the “Birthplace of American Medicine,” this unusual museum’s permanent collections contain more than a hundred human skulls, parts of Albert Einstein’s brain, and the tallest skeleton in North America.
Reserved tickets are required to visit the Mütter Museum. Tickets are $20 for adults, $18 for seniors, and $15 for students and youth (ages 6-17). Entry is free for kids 5 and under.
Tip: Visitors also have the option of purchasing a dual admission ticket for the Mütter and the Penn Museum, an institution at the University of Pennsylvania dedicated to anthropology and archaeology.
The Neon Museum celebrates electric signs
Admission is limited, so purchase a ticket online to ensure you get into the museum. Tickets cost $10. Children ages 7-12 get in free. Kids under 7 are not allowed inside.
Passyunk Avenue is a bustling dining and retail destination
Tip: If you want a quick snack, grab the famous babka from Essen, a Jewish Bakery, and pair it with a coffee from Rival Bros. You can enjoy your pastry by the Singing Fountain, a landmark surrounded by benches.
Browse the historic Italian Market
Located on S. 9th Street, the Italian Market is one of the oldest outdoor markets in the US.
Browse produce stalls and check out shops like Anthony’s, a coffee house that sells homemade chocolate and gelato, and Molly’s Books and Records. Though not located on S. 9th, Isgro Pasticceria is another neighborhood staple. It’s a must if you like cannoli.
Tip: While you’re in the area, you can also dine at Ralph’s, an Italian restaurant established in 1900.
Wissahickon Valley Park spans 1800 acres
Tip: To access Wissahickon Valley Park via public transit, you can take the SEPTA 27 bus. The west side of the park can be accessed from most stations on SEPTA’s Chestnut Hill West Line, while the south entrance is accessible from Wissahickon Station on the Manayunk/Norristown line.
Where to eat and drink
Middle Child serves giant breakfast sandwiches
Giant breakfast sandwiches filled with fluffy eggs, arugula, and sharp American cheese are the star of the show at Middle Child, a luncheonette in Washington Square West. You have the option of customizing your breakfast sandwich with items like avocado, bacon, and even a hash brown.
It also serves specialties like The Phoagie (a cross between a hoagie and a banh mi) and The Surfer (a turkey-and-Swiss sandwich).
Tip: Meat-lovers should try The Herschel, eggs and corned beef stacked between slices of seeded rye bread.
Mission Taqueria is a fun place to get tacos and margaritas
Mission Taqueria, a lively restaurant in Rittenhouse Square decorated with plants and bright-colored decor, serves tacos with fillings such as carnitas, fried mahi-mahi, and roasted cauliflower. Since the owner has Celiac disease, Mission Taqueria’s menu is entirely gluten-free.
Tip: During happy hour, tacos are $2 and house margaritas are $6.
Good Karma Café is an eco-focused local chain with seasonal specialties
Good Karma, a café with four locations around the city, serves coffee, tea, soups, and sandwiches. True to its name, Good Karma’s coffee beverages are brewed from fair-trade beans.
In addition to its regular menu, this eco-friendly chain offers seasonal drink specials, such as the Pink Petal (an iced latte crafted with beetroot powder, honey, and rose) and the Dandy Lion (iced green tea mixed with lemonade and lavender).
Tip: Good Karma’s Pine Street and S. 22nd Street locations have “secret” patios and front sidewalk seating.
Bloomsday Café has a vegetarian-friendly menu and happy-hour specials
Located in Headhouse Square, Bloomsday borrows its name from James Joyce’s novel “Ulysses.”
This all-day, vegetarian-friendly café is open for brunch, dinner, and happy hour. Bloomsday is closed on Monday and Tuesday.
It offers new spins on comforting classics, from a “waffled” croissant to seared mushrooms with polenta, and has an extensive wine list. If you want to take a bottle of vino with you, there’s an in-house wine shop, too.
The Tasty dishes out vegan diner food
The Tasty, a South Philly favorite, serves vegan iterations of diner eats – think biscuits with meat-free gravy, breakfast burritos filled with scrambled tofu, and tempeh bacon BLTs. There are daily pastry specials as well.
Tip: The Tasty is open Wednesday to Sunday and currently accepts call-ahead orders for pickup only.
Nomad tops pizza with gourmet ingredients
Located near South Street, Nomad is a pizzeria that tops pies with gourmet ingredient combos like fig and guanciale (cured pork) or arugula and bufala mozzarella. Pair your meal with a classic Italian cocktail such as a Negroni or a spritz.
Tip: Nomad has some can’t-miss appetizers, from arancini (fried risotto balls) to a salad with roasted beets, carrots, and goat cheese. There are also two locations in New Jersey with a few menu items you can’t order in Philly.
Suraya, a Lebanese café, market, and restaurant, serves brunch and dinner
For a taste of Lebanon, try Suraya. This Fishtown restaurant has a cafe and a market, and offers full-service dining indoors or outside in a garden area.
The dinner menu spans from hummus and labneh (creamy strained yogurt) to kafta kebab (seasoned beef kebabs) and kawarma (slow-roasted lamb).
On the weekend, you can order from a brunch menu featuring dishes such as ful mudammas (stewed fava beans with poached eggs) and samke harra (grilled branzino fillet), not to mention a pastry basket ladened with kouign amann (a sugary pastry), olive-oil cake, and other baked goods.
Tip: If you can’t decide what to order, opt for the prix fixe Taste of Suraya for a little bit of everything. It costs $65 and serves two.
Try a creamy draft latte at La Colombe’s Fishtown flagship
La Colombe, a Philly-coffee chain with 30 locations in six US cities, has a flagship cafe in Fishtown with an airy, industrial vibe.
Several signature drinks are available on tap, including the draft latte (a cold, creamy beverage) and the black-and-tan, a creation that melds the draft latte with iced black coffee.
Tip: While you’re in the neighborhood, check out the shops along Frankford Ave and E. Girard, such as Jinxed, a vintage-furniture and home-decor store, and Harriett’s Bookshop, which specializes in books by Black authors and women.
Abyssinia is an affordable Ethiopian restaurant
Abyssinia, an Ethiopian restaurant in West Philly, is perfect for vegetarians and meat-eaters alike.
This is a great choice for budget-conscious travelers, since entrees cost between $10 and $15. If you’d like to sample multiple dishes, order a combo platter.
Meat combos include items such as qey wot (beef simmered in berbere sauce) and yebeg alicha (curried lamb stew), while veggie platters contain things like ye’misir wot (split lentils in berbere sauce) and ye’gomen wat (sauteed collard greens with onions, tomatoes, and garlic).
Tip: Abyssinia has a “secret” upstairs whiskey bar called Fiume. It’s temporarily closed, but it’s worth frequenting when it reopens.
Franklin Fountain is an old-fashioned soda and ice-cream shop
Cool off with a retro treat at Franklin Fountain in Old City. This old-fashioned soda fountain churns out ice cream flavors ranging from vanilla bean and Hydrox cookie (known today as cookies and cream) to caramelized banana and butter pecan.
There’s also a rotating selection of seasonal flavors, such as honeycomb and peppermint stick. If you’d prefer a beverage, you can opt for a float or a rickey.
Tip: Go early in the afternoon to beat the crowds. Additionally, be sure to mention any food allergies when placing your order. The chain keeps some ice-cream cartons separate to avoid cross-contamination.
Dottie’s Donuts is a vegan bakery that sells eye-catching creations
Dottie’s, a vegan donut shop with locations in Society Hill and West Philly, produces innovative, eye-catching pastries in flavors like raspberry vanilla, cold-brew Oreo, and maple tahini.
You can also choose from classics such as rainbow sprinkle and Boston cream.
Tip: Flavors change daily, so ask what’s available when you go.
Kalaya serves Thai curries and dumplings
Kalaya is a cozy Thai restaurant in Bella Vista named for the owner’s mother. Curries, dumplings, and salads are all on-offer.
Some of the most popular items are kang gai kow mun (chicken curry), som tum (green papaya salad), and sakoo sei hed (tapioca dumplings filled with shitake mushrooms and peanuts).
Tip: For an appetizer that looks like a work of art, order shaw muang, blue, flower-shaped dumplings with ground chicken, peanuts, and cucumber.
Tattooed Mom is a funky bar on South Street
A mural of mermaids greets patrons at Tattooed Mom (affectionately called TMoms), a funky bar on South Street currently offering outdoor seating and takeout.
With a graffiti meets rococo aesthetic, this watering hole serves playful cocktails like the Pop Rocket, a drink made with raspberry vodka and Pop Rocks candy, and the Fortune Fish, which contains blackberry schnapps and Swedish Fish.
There’s also a full food menu that includes a section dedicated to fries and tater tots.
Tip: Tattooed Mom’s cheesesteaks, burgers, and fried-chicken sandwiches can be ordered with plant-based protein substitutes.
Tuna Bar serves sushi named after Philly neighborhoods
Tuna Bar, a raw bar in Old City, serves traditional sushi rolls like California and yellowtail scallion in addition to specialties named for Philly streets and neighborhoods.
The Broad Street roll contains spicy salmon and avocado, while the Rittenhouse is filled with ingredients such as spicy tuna and lobster tempura.
Tip: The dessert options are just as mouthwatering as the sushi. Conclude your meal with matcha lava cake or yuzu cheesecake.
Eat Sicilian food with city views at Irwin’s
Situated on the roof of the Bok Building, a former high school in South Philly repurposed as a maker space, Irwin’s offers natural wine and Sicilian fare such as caponata (a vegetable dish similar to ratatouille), bucatini with monkfish, and agrodolce chicken (a sweet and sour take on poultry).
Tip: Free parking is available nearby. The Bok Building is also on SEPTA’s 47 bus route, which stops at 8th and Mifflin Streets.
Final tips before your trip
- For mild weather and less busy attractions, visit in the fall or spring. It can get cold (and snowy) in the winter, and the summer months draw more tourists to the city.
- If you visit during the New Year holiday, be prepared for crowds. Philly hosts its famous Mummers Parade annually on New Year’s Day, and things can get rowdy.
- Wear comfy footwear to explore Philly’s historic alleys. Philly has many beautiful alleys worth exploring, and they’re paved in cobblestones.
- Plan to drive or take a rideshare at night and on weekends. SEPTA’s subway lines are currently operating from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday to Friday.