The Roundup

Top 10 Magical, Surprising, and Revolutionary Spots in Philadelphia

by Linda Cabasin
First First Friday bar hopping. Photo by A. Ricketts for Visit Philadelphia.

Whether it's your first time, you're a local, or just really really love cheesesteaks, there's always something new to explore in America's most historic city.

PHILADELPHIA — Seeing the City of Brotherly Love is easy, right? Visit Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, run up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and pose with the Rocky statue, eat a cheesesteak, and hit a game to see Philly’s passionate fans up close. But to know (and love) the city a bit more, check out these ten spots to poke into the quirky corners, trendy neighborhoods, and unique cultural and historical institutions that fill out the picture of Philadelphia today.

Museum of the American Revolution. Photo by Linda Cabasin.

1. Museum of the American Revolution

Okay, you’ve visited Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, but what does it mean? This new (2017) museum brings into sharp focus the war’s risks and the challenges and decisions that faced everyone in the fledgling democracy — including women, enslaved people, and Native Americans.

Matisse works at the Barnes Foundation. Photo by Linda Cabasin.

2. Barnes Foundation

One man’s inspired (and quirky: those iron hinges!) collection of post-Impressionist and early modern art — including 181 works by Renoir, 69 by Cézanne, 59 by Matisse, and 46 by Picasso — is now housed in a splendid (and more conveniently located) building on Benjamin Franklin Parkway that maintains the room layout of the original site.

The Magic Gardens. Photo by Linda Cabasin.

3. Magic Gardens

Whether you call these mosaicked city lots and labyrinthine rooms — full of bit of glass, ceramics, bottles, and more — visionary art or folk art, the fanciful work by South Street free spirit Isaiah Zagar will inspire you to take a fresh look at the world. (Extra credit: Stop by Tiffany and Maxfield Parrish’s 1914 Dream Garden for a similarly inspirational indoor 53-foot long mural of glass mosaics.)

4. Mural Arts Philadelphia

With more than 3,600 examples around town, you can’t miss Philly’s fabulous community murals: a civic triumph. Mural Arts' message that “art ignites change” permeates the walls. Learn all about it on a guided or self-guided tour.

5. Eastern State Penitentiary

It’s so Philly: What do you do with a semi-ruined, massive, infamous prison that once housed Al Capone? Turn it into a semi-ruined, highly popular attraction with art installations and thoughtful lessons about criminal justice. Come Halloween, “The Terror Behind the Walls” exhibit conjures a vast haunted house.

6. African American Museum in Philadelphia

Dig deeper into Philly’s past and present at “Audacious Freedom,” a look at the contribution of trailblazing African-Americans in the city from 1776 to 1876. Rotating exhibits by contemporary artists explore historical and current issues.

Reading Terminal Market. Photo by R.Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia.

7. Reading Terminal Market

Since 1893, the dozens of vendors in this National Historic Landmark building have provided food for ever-hungry Philadelphians. Join them for the real deal, whether for Pennsylvania Dutch fare, meaty sandwiches at DiNic’s, or a classic Bassetts ice cream cone.

8. Rittenhouse Square

William Penn’s 17th-century plans for the city included five squares. Rittenhouse has survived and become a refreshing, elegant green space surrounded by (very un-Penn-like) restaurants and luxury housing. People-watch in the park or explore the dignified side streets for a taste of the good life.

9. Fairmount Park by Bike

Pick up a bike at an Indego station or a rental shop near Lloyd Hall, the vast park’s recreation and information center, on Boathouse Row. (Philly loves its boating clubs.) Take in classic Schuykill River and skyline views along the Kelly Drive and MLK Drive loop.

10. East Passyunk

The South Philadelphia neighborhood stretching from Broad to 9th Streets shows the revitalization of city neighborhoods. Some 150 independently owned businesses, including many of the city’s most acclaimed restaurants, keep the rowhouse-lined streets buzzing, especially on weekends. Take a stroll, see the Singing Fountain, and stay for dinner.

Keep Exploring Philly

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Falling in Love (Again) with the City of Brotherly Love
Three-Day Weekends from Philadelphia
Philly’s Newest Boutique Hoteliers Show Us Around Old City