The city of Brotherly Love lures travelers with a vibrant mix -- history, culture and community. As the spring and summer seasons bring the promise of warmer weather, visitors from all over the world will flock to Philadelphia. And while the landmark attractions are not to be missed -- the Liberty Bell Center, Independence Hall and Betsy Ross House among them -- here’s our list of alternative things to do and see in one of America’s greatest cities.
Do the Roasted Pork, Skip the Cheesesteak
The reputation of Philly’s most famous sandwich certainly precedes it. But, as a tasty alternative to the heaping cheesesteak, seek out one of this city’s roasted pork sandwiches. They are a sleeper favorite for many locals. A handful of shops are gaining notoriety for their roasted pork sammies, including John’s Roast Pork, Tony Luke’s and Paesano’s. At Tommy DiNic’s, located inside the Reading Terminal Market in Center City, pork is rubbed with Italian herbs and spices before it’s slow-roasted for five hours, sliced thinly and served up with provolone cheese and broccoli rabe; no wonder the popular Travel Channel show, Adam Richman’s Best Sandwich in America, gave this creation the No. 1 spot.
Do the Walk, Skip the Cafe
Want to get a taste of Philly? The folks at Chew Philly earn high marks for their culinary and cultural excursions through Manayunk, one of Philadelphia’s most eclectic neighborhoods. Their focus is on gourmet delis, bakeries and one-of-a-kind specialty shops that are family-owned. And, between bites, they turn the conversation to things like architecture and history. The tour through 300-year-old Manayunk covers 1.7 miles of culinary havens, many of them along the scenic Schuylkill River. Plan on 2 1/2 hours and groups capped at 16 hungry participants. All ages are welcome.
Skip the Playground, Visit the Garden
Need to keep the kids intrigued? Many Philly parents will point you in the direction of the Morris Arboretum, run by the University of Pennsylvania. Robyn Unger, a public relations executive who’s lived in Philadelphia all her life, recently took her 4-year-old son and some friends here. “I could not believe my eyes,” she says. “These grounds are just incredible, and the fun tree houses and imitation nests for the kids to climb and explore garnered hours of enjoyment for us all!” The beautiful sprawling property features myriad gardens; the F. Otto Haas Oak Allee is a landscaped European-style lane flanked by Shumard oak trees, hydrangea and hollies. The plant collections feature more than 12,000 specimens, and there are art exhibits and seasonal events featured throughout the year. Birders, bring your binoculars; the wetlands, woodlands and meadows here house hundreds of resident birds.
Skip the Liberty Bell, Visit Fallingwater
OK, don’t skip the Liberty Bell Center; to see this living piece of American history in person is amazing. But for another peek at history, drive to Mill Run and spend the afternoon at Fallingwater. This spectacular Frank Lloyd Wright home was built in the 1930s as the mountain retreat for a private client, and it captured the imagination with the way it stretches over a 30-foot waterfall. It graced the cover of Time magazine in 1938 and, today, is a National Historic Landmark. You need to reserve your spot in one of the guided tours ahead of time; this is the only way to enter the house. You can take a self-guided grounds tour, which gives you an outside view only (and if you visit in late June or early July, you’ll get to see the famous rhododendrons in bloom). There’s an activity center for kids and a cafe onsite.
Skip the Museum, Experience Mutual Arts
What started as an effort to curb graffiti has become one of the most remarkable public arts programs in the country. Run by the City of Philadelphia, the Mural Arts Program allows budding local artists to express themselves through art, and to transform walls and sides of buildings throughout the city into works of art for all to see. To date, the project has resulted in more than 3,600 murals that have helped define the civic landscape. You can take tours by foot, bike and event trolley, and private tours are available upon request. The Mural Arts Program turns 30 this year.
Skip the Cab, Take the Ferry
Need to get across the Delaware River on your way from Penn’s Landing to the attractions at the Camden Waterfront, perhaps? The ride’s only 12 minutes and gives you unique views of Philadelphia, and many landmarks, from the water. The RiverLink Ferry runs May through September.
Don’t Shop Alone, Consult
A personal shopper isn’t just for celebrities anymore. Kristel Closets specializes in personalized shopping tours, highlighting boutiques and businesses that cater to the things you like to buy. A half-day shopping spree lasts three hours and, for $300 for one person or $350 for two, includes a customized itinerary, transportation and extras like alterations and shipping. A full-day service, which includes six hours of shopping and lunch, is also available.
Skip the Bar, Do the Crawl
If you’re a libations aficionado, then head to Graduate Hospital. This buzzing neighborhood is compact and easy to get around, and teeming with some of the best watering holes in Philadelphia. Spend the afternoon taking a walking (and sipping) tour of spots like The Cambridge, a British pub-inspired hangout with a classic cocktail list, and Resurrection Ale House, with no less than 12 brews on tap. This is a great way to discover local craft beers, too.
Gabe Saglie is Senior Editor for Travelzoo, which features hotel, airfare and a bevy of local deals in Philadelphia at www.travelzoo.com/local-deals/Philadelphia/deals.