Philadelphia, PA - Jim Flynn's BestWeekends

Philadelphia, PA

Philadelphia, PA Overview

For the longest time, Philadelphia was a city you passed on your way to New York or Washington. Today, Philly is “hot”. National Geographic Traveler Magazine called it “The Next Great City”.

The city of “brotherly love” (the actual meaning of the word Philadelphia) began with a grant from the British crown to William Penn’s father for a debt owed to him by the crown. The Declaration of Independence was written and signed here, the Constitution was adopted here and Betsy Ross made the first U.S flag in Philadelphia. The city was the first “planned city” in the New World, the first multi-year capital (after 1 year in New York) and had the first public library, volunteer fire department, hospital, university, zoo and computer.

How did the transition in this historic town come about? Many credit former mayor Ed Rendell for the revitalization. He got people back to Center City, cleaned up the streets and encouraged major building. Under his tenure The Kimmel Center, The National Constitution Center, The Liberty Bell Center, the Independence Visitors Center, a major convention center and two new  sports stadiums were built. All that money brought new restaurants, bars and clubs and forced people to take a new look at this wonderful city.

Where New York can be overwhelming and Washington a somewhat transient town, Philadelphia is a city of great neighborhoods. There is a wonderful ethnic diversity here and the people are friendly, welcoming and passionate. Don’t start a conversation about the town’s sports teams unless you have a few hours to spare.

I love walking through different areas of town, each with its own character and eccentricities; funky South Street, the narrow streets, cobblestones and gas lamps of Society Hill, the art galleries of Old City, the smells of the Italian Market and the beauty of Rittenhouse Square just to name a few. Like Boston, this is a city that I could easily call home.

How can you not love a city that brought us Rocky, Tastykakes, hoagies, cheese steaks, hot pretzels and even Scrapple? Fortunately, they have some great hospitals too!


When To Go

As with most major cities, Philadelphia is a great weekend getaway at any time of year. Summer is busiest, Spring and Fall, crowds are fewer and the weather is pleasant. Winter is a wonderful time to visit because the crowds are minimal, pretty much everything is open and there’s just something special about a winter weekend with fires roaring and a little snow on the ground.

Getting There

Philadelphia airport is a major eastern hub with flights coming in from all over the country and the world. The city is on the primary North/South Amtrak thoroughfare and easily reached by train from Washington or Boston. By car the drive from New York is under 2 hours and from Washington, about 3 hours.

Getting Around

No need for a car in Philadelphia, taxis and Ubers are plentiful and mass transit is efficient and readily available.

Things To Do

As with most major cities, there is no shortage of things to do in Philadelphia. Visits to Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell and other historical sites are a must. You can walk or bike along the  Schuylkill River, ice skate at Penn’s Landing, take in the full range of professional sports, visit some wonderful museums, enjoy music, dance and theater, browse the art galleries in Old City and the antique stores along Antique’s Row. There are wonderful markets in which to sample local fare and of course, there is shopping and more shopping.

Walking/Running/Biking

The east and west banks of the Schuylkill River are ideal for walking, running and biking. It’s an 8.5 mile trek, up and back with some great scenery. Start at the Fairmont Waterworks at Kelly Drive and Fairmont Avenue. Philadelphia Bike Rentals will deliver and pick up bikes at your hotel. They also schedule tours. $36 ½ day (5 hours). Trophy Bikes, 3131 Walnut also rents bicyles for $20 for 4 hours, but you have to go and pick it up yourself.

Ice Skating

River Rink at Penn’s Landing (Columbus and Market Streets) has outdoor skating beginning in November and thru March.  $6 entry fee. Skate rental $3. Open 12:30pm-1am.

Spectator Sports

Win or lose Philadelphia fans are among the most rabid and loyal. New stadiums and arenas make the experience even better. A day with the football Eagles, baseball Phillies or the hockey Flyers is a day well spent  For schedules and tickets visit: Tickets.

Sights

Independence Hall, Chestnut Street between 5th/6th, where the Declaration of Independence was announced and the Constitution planned. Open daily from 9am Admission is free, but you need timed tickets which are available at the Visitors Center beginning at 8:30am. You can also get tickets in advance by calling 800-967-2283. Liberty Bell, Market Street. Can’t come to Philadelphia without seeing the famous Liberty Bell. Philadelphia Zoo. Gerard Ave. at 34th Street in Fairmont Park. First zoo in America with some 1500 animals. Elfreth’s Alley. Between Front and 2nd. Constructed in 1702, it is believed to be the longest continually inhabited street in America. Wonderful example of Colonial architecture. Two houses on the street are open to the public, the Museum House and the Chairmakers House.

Tours

The Constitutional Walking Tour of Philadelphia. Free, self-guided tour. 3 mile outside tour includes some 30 historical sites. Can complete this in about 3 hours. Guided and VIP tours also available. Carriage Tours. 5th & Chestnut. Narrated, horse drawn carriage rides. Independence National Historical Park. 20 minutes $25. Add Society Hill and Old City, hour tour $70.

The Laurel Hill Cemetery 3822 Ridge Ave. was Best of Philly, “Tourist Attraction You’ve Never Been To”. Take a guided tour. City families like the Rittenhouse and the Strawbridges are buried here along with 40 Civil War generals and 6 Titanic victims.

Museums

Philadelphia Museum of Art. Third largest museum of its kind in the US. Some 300,000 pieces. This museum offers a stellar collection of artists such as Van Gogh, Monet, Pissarro, Picasso, and Rodin. Surrealist art is well represented by Dali, De Chirico, Max Ernst, and Magritte, with pre-modernist work from the likes of Canaletto and Guardi. From 10am. Admission $12. Franklin Institute. A favorite of children for its interactive displays. Fascinating  for adults as well. Philadelphia Academy of The Fine Arts. Stunning collection of American paintings and sculpture. Mutter Museum. Pathological and anatomical specimens and medical artifacts. Very interesting, but don’t go on a full stomach. Rodin Museum. Largest collection of Rodin works outside of Paris.

The Rosenbach Museum & Library, is another Best of Philly, in this case the “Museum You’ve Never Been To”. You’ll find things like original illustrations from Alice in Wonderland, James Joyce’s death mask, original handwritten manuscripts of Charles Dickens and Joseph Conrad.

Finally, the new American Revolution Museum  is a wonderful addition to the city’s museums and shouldn’t be missed.

Music

The Curtis Institute of Music is one of the best music conservatories in the world. Student entrance requirements are unbelievably stringent. The result is great talent and performances. The Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, is exceptional, made all the better by its modest ticket prices. The Philadelphia Orchestra performs throughout the year and resides at the Kimmel, Center Broad and Spruce Streets. For opera buffs, you can enjoy the theate-n-the-round, outdoors in the Wissahickon section of Fairmont Park. Staged by the Delaware Valley Opera Company.

Dance

Koresh Dance Company, performs sporadically, but is quite spectacular. The acclaimed Pennsylvania Ballet performs from October to June at either the Academy of Music or the Merriam Theatre. Philadanco, is the resident dance company of the Kimmel Center and is a modern and contemporary dance company that tours the country.

Theater

The Walnut Street Theatre is a primary venues for Broadway type shows and Arden  also gets high marks for its modern theater and revival productions.

Art Galleries

Many of the City’s art galleries are clustered in Old City. Noteworthy are: The Clay Studio, Nexus, and Vox Populi, From October-July you can enjoy First Friday, the first Friday of each month, when the 40 odd art galleries in Old City stay open until 9 or 10pm. Many serve complimentary beer, wine and other refreshments.

Antiques

Conveniently, the premier antiques stores are located along what is known as “Antique Row” on Pine Street which begins at the Avenue of the Arts and continues to 9th Street. You’ll find both flea market type stores as well as high end shops here.

Markets

Reading Terminal. Opened in 1892, the Reading Terminal Market is a wonderful indoor market chocked full of food vendors and specialty stores. Butchers, bakers, seafood, sandwiches, vegetables, you name it and you can find it here. You could literally eat your way through the market. Great place for breakfast, lunch or a snack.

Italian Market. Oldest and largest working market in the US. Film goers will remember Rocky running through the Market when he was training. I like to go on Sunday, so I can bring something home. This is a foodie’s paradise. Fresh pastas, cheese, produce, seafood, herbs and meats. Unusual things as well, like a butcher who sells only fresh game.

Shopping

Three malls; The Bellevue, 200 S. Broad, small and upscale, The Gallery at Market East, 9th & Market, traditional suburban style mall, The Shops at Liberty Place, 16th & Chestnut, full size, upscale. Other: trendy chains and boutiques on Walnut Street, South Street is a teenager’s paradise with vintage stores, comic book shops and record stores, Old City is home to unusual and creative products and Chestnut Hill features a group of small, interesting shops and boutiques. Philadelphia also has three unique shopping areas where there are clusters of shops selling similar items. Antique Row, mentioned above is one. Fabric Row is on 4th Street between Bainbridge and Catherine and Jewelry Row on Sansom Street between 7th and 8th are two others.

Events/Festivals

January 1. Mummers Parade. You’ve seen it on TV every New Year’s Day.
March – Philadelphia Flower Show. Biggest and most prestigious in the country.
April – Penn Relays. One of the oldest and largest amateur track and field events in the US.
May – Dad Vail Regatta. Thousands come to participate and see the largest collegiate regatta in the country.
August – Philadelphia Folk Festival. Going for 50+years. Held at Old Poole Farm in Schwenksville.
September – Philadelphia Fringe Festival. Two week festival in venues all around the City. Dance, theater, vaudeville and drag shows. Quite a time.

Dont Miss

  • Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell
  • Boathouse Row
  • Fairmont Park
  • Philadelphia Museum of Art
  • A stroll through Society Hill
  • Elfreth’s Alley
  • The Italian Market
  • A Philly Cheesesteak

The Best Of...

News and Resources

The daily newspapers are the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News. Both have web sites as well. Philadelphia Magazine highlights all the activities and events each month.

Food & Drink

Breakfast/Brunch

All of our Featured Properties have good breakfast fare, but if you want some local color, here’s some ideas;  Sabrina’s Café  in the Italian Market. Good choice for a Sunday, when you can stroll the Market after breakfast and take home some great food. Try “THE TOTS” Friend panko-encrusted tater tots. Topped with grilled hot sausage hash; Caramelized onions, bell peppers, and fennel seed. Topped with basil chimichurri, sour cream, and over easy eggs.

Reading Terminal, with all  its food booths is an adventure and there are lots of choices from fresh fruit smoothies to just out of the oven cinnamon buns to unusual coffees.

It’s Talula’s Garden is a favorite for Sunday brunch. The food is delicious, the setting inside or out is intimate, the coffee is great and they serve a killer Bloody. Could spend the day here. Since 1981, Day By Day has offered a wonderful weekend brunch. Their potato pancakes are worth the visit alone. Harp & Crown is a very cool space in the Rittenhouse area with a fantastic weekend brunch. Harper’s Garden has a delightful outside garden, an excellent brunch menu and $20 bottomless mimosas.

Lunch

Of our Featured Restaurants, Amada and Estia are open for lunch during the week, including Friday. Fork, on Market Street, has won all kinds of awards in the “Best of Philly” competition including “Best Lunch”. The food is delicious, I like the outdoor dining or the little nook facing the street and they have a wonderful wine list. Tria, is another favorite, small plates, wonderful cheeses, killer wine list and outdoor dining as well.  If you are in South Philly (and even if you are not, it’s worth the trip), Paradiso is a delightful Italian with wonderful service, excellent food and a great, mostly Italian wine list. The place that I keep returning to, however, is Rouge,on Rittenhouse Square. This wonderful bistro overlooks the park, opens its doors and windows when the weather is nice, has a great wine list and the roast chicken with white truffled mashed potatoes and their mouth watering burger is to die for. When the weather forces you inside, Ristorante Panorama on Front and Market at the Penn’s View Hotel is a charming room with hand painted murals, featuring excellent Italian food and over 120 wines by the glass. Continental , on Market Street, is an edgy and unique spot with an Asian theme and wonderful food…and killer martinis. Want to try a little something different?  Take a look at the creperie Beau Monde. Sweet and savory crepes, a warming fireplace and outdoor seating in nice weather.

Oyster Bar

The Oyster House in Center City has been serving up fresh oysters for 40 years. Buck-a-shuck weekdays 5-7pm and Saturdays 9-11pm. Good crab cakes too!/.

Wine Bar

Panorama at the Penn’s View Hotel has 150 wines by the glass. just amazing. Delicious Italian apps. Tria Cafe has an excellent wine list and maybe the best cheese selection. Barcelona Wine Bar has a wonderful oval, marble bar, fantastic Spanish wines and tapas. Bloomsday Cafe features “natural” wines with a comfort food menu and lots of snacks.

Sushi

Morimoto, namesake of the original “Iron Chef”, sets the standard for sushi and “dinner as theater” in Philadelphia. Fresh, creative and exciting. The dining room is spectacular. Sushi lovers will not be disappointed.

Picnic Fixins

Di Bruno Brothers, in the Italian Market and at 1730 Chestnut Street in the Rittenhouse Square area is one of those great specialty markets with everything a foodie could want; wonderful cheeses, pates, fois gras, sandwiches, smoked fish, pizza, salads, pastas, coffees, oils and charcuterie. They have kitchenware, gifts, a snack bar and sponsor a “First Friday” beer and cheese tasting each month. Worth the trip even if you are not planning a picnic.

Burger

My mouth is watering just at the thought of the juicy, delicious burger at Rouge on Rittenhouse Square. Served on a soft and toasted brioche bun, covered with Gruyere cheese and smothered with caramelized onions. Second choice would be Five Guys on Chestnut. These burgers are so good you feel like you are doing something wrong when you eat them.

Steak

There are very good steakhouses in Philadelphia; Mortons, Capital Grille and Barclay Prime to name a few, but for the overall experience; food, ambiance and service my favorite is: Butcher & Singer , evokes thoughts of old time supper clubs. The new, 2019, 45 seat Alpen Rose is getting rave reviews for its “re-imagined” steakhouse. Creative menu (dry-aged duck). Any steakhouse that serves Beef Wellington has my vote.

Cheese steak

This is a debate that could last for hours. My son and I spent an afternoon sampling all the “top” cheese steaks and our consensus was that Tony Luke’s, was the best. Lots may disagree, but who else has tasted them all?

Ice Cream

Ice cream is serious stuff in Philly and there are two places I really like;  Scoop Deville, is the favorite of the City’s college kids, probably because they deliver. But the homemade ice cream and related items are delicious. Another hot spot is Tubby Robot.

Sweet Tooth

Shane’s Handcrafted Candies, claims to be the oldest candy store in America (founded in 1876) and given the city’s history it just may be. At any rate, the chocolates are delicious and the store itself is a step back in time.

Cocktails

Cocktails in a major city afford plenty of great choices. When the weather isn’t great, head indoors to local favorite Buddakan for unusual cocktails, sake and delicious appetizers. Make sure you get your picture taken next to the Buddha. Continental on Market Street has terrific martinis, XIX Café at the Park Hyatt has an excellent raw bar to go with an extensive wine list and nice views of the City, Southwark, 701 S. 4th Street makes all the old “highballs” like Manhattans, Old Fashioneds, Rob Roys, Martinis. Ask for something “frufru” and they’ll tell you to go down the street. The Franklin Mortgage & Insurance Co. is another wonderful “retro” cocktail bar. Near Rittenhouse Square. The bartenders here are true artists. They’ll ask you the kinds of things you like in a drink and then make you the best libation you’ve ever had. Outside, Rouge on Rittenhouse Square is one of my favorites, Moshulu, a “tall ship” anchored at Penn’s Landing has great views and outside bars. Here’s two rooftop bars that we like; the Bok Bar (seasonal) and Irwin’s (open year round) great views from both.

Bar Hygge has been called “Best First Date” Restaurant by Philadelphia Magazine for its coziness. Indoor and outdoor seating, couches and comfortable chairs. Brick walls, industrial ceilings. Excellent apps. Also a “Best of Philly” winner for Best Cocktail Bar is R&D Bar. Pretty amazing cocktail list.

Activities

While Away a Rainy Day

It would be tough not to have a good time at McGillin’s Olde Ale House, (est. 1860). Friendly, fun….makes you wish you were a local. Half expect Norm to come through the door. Another favorite is the Black Sheep, in the Rittenhouse Square area. Small, cozy, with a fireplace and great beers. For some live Irish music on Sundays amidst a roaring fire and excellent pub food the Plough & Stars in Old City is just the place.

After Dinner Fun

Philadelphia has the full range of nighttime activities from professional sports to theater to dance and classical music. For some other options try these favorites of ours; Warmdaddy’s. Oh baby, they got the blues…… Chris’ Jazz Café, Great spot. great artists. Tin Angel. Outstanding live, easy listening music in a warm and cozy setting. L’Etage, Upstairs from Beau Monde. Caberet and dancing. Ortlieb’s offers a mix a musical genres.  Johnny Brenda’s.  Best of Philly: Small Concert Venue. “Most small music venues are bare-bones at best…not Johnny Brenda’s second-floor, two-story concert hall, hand-built by local craftsmen out of salvaged architectural pieces and finished with a primo sound and lighting package. Think lots of local bands.”Monk’s Cafe. “Belgian Beer Emporium”. For the beer connoisseur. Panorama in the Penn’s View Hotel. Penn’s Landing/Market. 120 wines by the glass. Fun flights.

Glitter and Garbage bills itself as “classic cabaret realness mixed with hoagie-mouth hotness,” Fun time.

Special Things

A Day in Fairmont Park

Pick up a picnic lunch at Di Bruno Brothers on Chestnut Street, and head to Fairmont Park. Bike or walk the Forbidden Trail, enjoy the dramatic scenery and see the only covered bridge in a major city.  Picnic at Belmont Plateau for a spectacular view of the City skyline or at Valley Green beside a waterfall.

Antiques and Art Galleries

Just about an hour outside the City are the delightful sister towns of New Hope, Pa and Lambertville, NJ on opposite sides of the Delaware River. New Hope is a funky, fun town with shops, bars and restaurants and Lambertville has wonderful antique stores and art galleries.

Where To Stay

Penn’s View

Recognition:

OVERVIEW Penn’s View is conveniently located at Front and Market Streets in Old City, walking distance to many attractions, restaurants and bars. The small lobby evokes memories of small European hotels….lots of marble and interesting murals. This charming little boutique hotel is a great value for a major city. Rates are often in the $150-$250...…

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Ritz Carlton

OVERVIEW The Ritz Carlton brand is one of our favorites and The Ritz Carlton, Philadelphia has recently completed a $25 million redesign which has restored its place at the top of the lodging options in city. Originally built as a reproduction of the Pantheon when it opened in 1908 as The Girard Trust Company, the...…

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Sofitel

Features:
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OVERVIEW We are big fans of the French Sofitel chain of hotels. We think of them as 4+ star hotels at a 3 star price. While there are only 8 in the U.S. they are located in tourist favorites like NYC, Philadelphia, Washington, DC and Chicago. They combine location and a contemporary design with good...…

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The Rittenhouse

OVERVIEW Joining the Ritz Carlton at the top of the list of Philadelphia hotels is the Rittenhouse Hotel located on beautiful Rittenhouse Square in the heart of the City. This serene park is my favorite in Philadelphia and is surrounded by some wonderful cafes that spill out onto the sidewalk in the nice weather. THE...…

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Where To Eat

Amada

As the story goes, tapas style dining began when an 13th century Spanish king attributed his recovery from illness to eating small bites of food with wine between meals. So convinced was he of the merits of this style of dining that he decreed that no tabernas could serve wine without being accompanied with food.…

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Estia

One of my favorite restaurants in New York, is a wonderful Greek/Mediterranean called Avra, which is featured in our New York Profile. Coincidentally, on my visit to Estia, I found that it is owned by the same family. One brother is in NY, the other in Philadelphia. I'm told the brothers are quite competitive, so…

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Lacroix at the Rittenhouse

Lacroix is the signature restaurant of the wonderful Rittenhouse Hotel, but it is as far from a "hotel" restaurant as you can get. There's so much to like here. Let's start with Bar 210, sophisticated lounge perched above the dining level that offers an amazing list of hand crafted cocktails like a Blackberry Bourbon: Maker's…

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Parc

Like Balthazar in NYC, Parc is that wonderful restaurant that serves as a great choice for any meal. Modeled after a French bistro, authentic design elements like antique brass fixtures and vintage framed artwork were imported directly from Europe. Red leather banquettes topped with frosted glass provide a sense of intimacy. French doors open to…

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Vetri Cucina

Vetri may be the toughest table to get in Philadelphia, partly because there are only 10 tables, but mostly because everyone in Philadelphia wants to eat here. The time on the phone to get a reservation, however, is well worth the effort. This is a most wonderful dining experience on so many levels. Housed in…

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Victor Cafe

It seems that every major city has some quirky restaurants that are not particularly well known but beloved by locals and considered a "find" by visitors who happen upon it. Such is the case of Victor Cafe located in South Philly on a mostly residential street. Very good Italian fare plays second fiddle to the…

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May 2020: Little Nell

This months featured property is… charming and sweet. THE ROOMS In 2017, Champalimaud Design refreshed all 86 rooms and suites and all guest floor corridors. The approach was to reinvigorate the spaces to be fresh, light and welcoming, utilizing palettes of blue, tan and grey to complement the relaxed nature of Aspen. Key features include… read more.

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