Philadelphia is one of my favorite east coast cities. It’s rich with both history and culture, and is incredibly welcoming. A weekend in Philadelphia is a great east coast destination, and is not one to overlook in favor of flashier or bigger east coast cities.
Beyond the historical value I also hold a special place in my heart for Philadelphia. I spent my first year of university in Philadelphia, at Drexel University, before transferring schools to Boston where I could be closer to my family.
Every time I visit Philadelphia I can relive a little of my youth and explore more parts of the city, getting to know it even better. It had been over a decade since I last had a chance to visit Philadelphia, so when I saw that my Boston Red Sox were scheduled to play the Philadelphia Phillies in May this year I jumped at the opportunity to attend the game.
A bucket list item for myself and my husband is to visit all the major league baseball parks in North America, and this trip to Citizens Bank Park would kick start our journey.
I booked us a weekend in Philadelphia to explore the city and catch the ball game.
Saturday – Nostalgia and Baseball
We flew in late on Friday night and checked into our hotel near Rittenhouse Square for our weekend in Philadelphia. When I was in University my parents had stayed near that area while visiting for a parent’s weekend and I remembered it being quaint and centrally located.
The next morning we had plenty of options for breakfast in walking distance and settled on a diner with good reviews. It allowed us to walk a few blocks and get a sense of the city early in the morning.
After breakfast we wandered over to Reading Terminal Market; we had planned to grab lunch there on Sunday but since we were close thought it would be fun to explore. I had visited a few times in University. It held the same chaotic vibe as I had remembered, with a tremendous number of stalls and variety of food. There were a few shops and hundreds of tourists milling about appreciating the vintage neon lighting and incredible array of food offering.
Drexel University – Nostalgia
I won’t count the number of years it had been since I last visited my old university, but arriving on campus made it feel like I had just been there yesterday.
Drexel University is located in west central Philadelphia, and shares a border with the University of Pennsylvania. It’s an urban campus but has fantastic green spaces integrated with modern architecture. Primarily it’s well known as an engineering school but has a wide offering of programs.
My husband had never visited so we spent some time wandering around campus – catching glimpses of my old dorm hall and sorority house. Much had changed but I could still find my way from point to point easily, drawing on memory.
The nostalgia was worth the short ride on the subway to get to Drexel, and there was a warm familiarity with the old brick buildings on campus. I could spot where they had made changes and improvements, but it all remained familiar.
Spruce Harbor Park & Penn’s Landing
Information was hard to come by for Spruce Harbor Park when I was planning the trip. I knew it was a new hot spot in the city, and I couldn’t remember anything being there before that was worth visiting. I had seen photos and reviews online that highlighted the fun atmosphere and variety of food locations.
We arrived in early afternoon to discover that all the fun things didn’t open until the evening – lesson learned about digging more for opening hours. However, the vibe was fantastic and you could see hints of what the evening would be like in that area. We had a quiet stroll along the river bank and headed up towards Penn’s Landing.
This area was different than what I expected and given more time in the city I would have returned for an evening’s outing.
Citizens Bank Park – Boston Red Sox versus Philadelphia Phillies
We returned to our hotel to change and head out to the baseball game; while we were waiting for our Uber we found other Red Sox fans in the hotel who had made the same trip.
When I was in University I had visited the old Vet Stadium shortly before it was torn down to make way for the new Philadelphia stadiums. I was excited to see what the improvements were, and the biggest surprise I had was finding that all 3 major sporting venues were in the same area of town – neighbors to one another.
Citizens Bank Park had a fantastically electric vibe as we walked up to it. Philadelphia is such a fantastic sporting city so it came as no surprise. We took a full round tour of the ballpark and I was impressed with the layout, the seating, and all the amenities they had.
We managed to get front row left field seats with a truly incredible view of the ballpark, for a fraction of what we might have paid back at home. With a local beer in hand we settled in for an amazing night of baseball.
Home runs triggered the iconic ding-dong of the electric bell in the outfield. We had friendly heckling for our nearby Philadelphia fans and enthusiastic cheering from all of us Boston fans. It was an absolutely fantastic night to be a baseball fan, and even more so to be a Red Sox fan since they won 7 – 4.
Sunday – History and Exploration
A weekend in Philadelphia is incomplete without an exploration of the historical sites across the old town. Sunday was our free day to explore the city at large, without any specific plans. It was a great opportunity to get a full view of the city and explore the most historical sites in the city.
Philadelphia, after all, is often referred to as the “Birthplace of America,” holds immense historical significance as it played a pivotal role in the American Revolution. Visitors are drawn to this city to explore iconic landmarks like Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, where the founding principles of the United States were forged. Beyond its historical sites, Philadelphia’s vibrant neighborhoods, diverse culinary scene, and world-class museums make it an exhilarating destination for travelers seeking to uncover the rich tapestry of American history and contemporary culture.
When I was first starting to travel I had a piece of advice from my Aunt, who was a prolific travelers. She told me that the best way to acquaint yourself with a new city was to take a tour on an open top bus. The goal was to orient yourself with the city and identify the key sites and neighborhoods to return to.
Even though I had lived in Philadelphia for a year I knew I had not seen everything that the city had to offer, especially the historical elements. It was a great opportunity to explore those sites.
We joined the Big Bus Tour early in the morning, when it was least busy, and were able to complete a near full loop around the city before ending at the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. We were able to see great views and learn about landmarks and history, including:
- Philadelphia Art Museum, and it’s steps made famous by the movie Rocky
- City Hall, and it’s famous statue of William Penn
- We learned about the City’s Percent for Art Ordinance, which ensures that every new construction project in the city has to allocate a percentage of funds for art
- Philadelphia’s Skyline, including the PSFS Building which is uniquely shaped like a vintage Nokia phone
- Through the winding streets of old town, with glimpses of famous buildings
- River front area, including Penn’s Landing and a view of the bridge
Revisiting Philadelphia after years away, I couldn’t help but be drawn back to the magnificent historical icon that is the Liberty Bell. This emblem of freedom holds a special place in American history, as it rang out on July 8, 1776, to mark the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence. The Liberty Bell, with its famous crack, symbolizes the enduring spirit of liberty and democracy, and it’s a site you simply can’t miss when in Philly.
What truly makes the Liberty Bell fantastic to visit is the emotional connection it fosters with the past. As you stand in its presence, you can almost hear the echoes of history reverberating through Independence National Historical Park. The interpretive exhibits in the Liberty Bell Center provide a deep dive into its significance and the struggle for freedom.
The popularity of the site goes beyond its historical importance, the Liberty Bell offers a tangible connection to the ideals upon which the United States was founded. It’s an awe-inspiring experience, and as you gaze upon this symbol of liberty, you can’t help but feel a sense of reverence and appreciation for the nation’s journey towards freedom.
We were unfortunately unable to visit Independence Hall, though I had done so on previous trips. The popularity of this site meant that it required reservations in order to visit. Though reservations can be made on the same day as your visit it was only for much later in the afternoon or the days following. If this site is on your planned itinerary I highly recommend making that reservation so you’re not disappointed.
There are still sites to see within the complex, but not the hall itself.
Reading Terminal Market
Even though it had been years since I last visited Reading Terminal Market, I couldn’t resist the magnetic pull of this fantastic indoor market. This bustling food hall, a true culinary gem, is an absolute must-visit for anyone exploring the city. What makes it so compelling is the vibrant tapestry of flavors and cultures that converge here. From the irresistible aromas of fresh-baked Amish pretzels to the mouthwatering cheesesteaks sizzling on griddles, it’s a food lover’s paradise.
The market’s most popular stalls, without a doubt, include DiNic’s Roast Pork, renowned for its succulent sandwiches, and Beiler’s Bakery, where you’ll find some of the city’s best doughnuts. Don’t miss the Pennsylvania Dutch stands offering hearty classics like soft pretzels and scrumptious shoofly pie. Whether you’re a local or a traveler, Reading Terminal Market is a gastronomic adventure that captures the heart and soul of Philadelphia’s diverse culinary scene.
During our visit we opted to grab lunch at Beck’s Cajun Cafe and followed that up with a visit to Fox & Sons for chorizo fries, which were glorious.
Cheesesteaks at Oh Brother
When I lived in Philadelphia my absolute favorite cheesesteak didn’t come from the Pat’s or Geno’s rivalry, but from an unpresuming lunch cart that parked on my university campus during the week.
On this trip we opted to try Oh Brother, which was a fantastic experience and a delicious sandwich. Like with any of the good cheesesteak places in Philadelphia there was a lot of opportunity to customize the sandwich.
The truth about the Philadelphia cheesesteak is that any of the well known brands will serve you a great and delicious cheesesteak. The debate will never cease but some of the more iconic spots to try for yourself are:
- Pat’s King of Steaks: Pat’s claims to be the originator of the cheesesteak, and their no-frills approach is legendary. The thinly sliced ribeye, grilled onions, and choice of cheese create a timeless classic. What makes it special is its historical significance in cheesesteak lore.
- Geno’s Steaks: Right across from Pat’s, Geno’s is a fierce rival in the cheesesteak showdown. Their cheesesteaks are famous for their thin, tender meat and flavorful onions. The neon signage and late-night hours add to the experience.
- Jim’s Steaks: Nestled in South Philly, Jim’s is a local favorite known for its quality ingredients and generous portions. What makes it stand out is the option to get your steak with sharp provolone, a distinctly Philly twist.
- Sonny’s Famous Steaks: Sonny’s Cheesesteaks in Philadelphia is a beloved local gem that has been serving up mouthwatering cheesesteaks for decades. What makes it special is their commitment to using only the finest ingredients, including thinly sliced ribeye, fresh rolls, and a variety of cheese options.
- Oh Brother: Oh Brother Cheesesteaks in Philadelphia is a must-visit for cheesesteak aficionados. What makes it special is their innovative twist on the classic sandwich, offering a range of creative toppings and sauces, allowing diners to customize their cheesesteak experience in a deliciously unique way.
Each of these cheesesteak spots has its unique charm and flavor, making them all worth a visit. I’d recommend trying them all and deciding for yourself which one deserves the title of the best cheesesteak in Philadelphia – it’s a delicious adventure you won’t soon forget!
Beer at Victory
When we travel we love to find a local brewery to visit and partake in the local brew. We found one that was not too far away from the hotel we were staying at, so spent Sunday evening at Victory.
While Victory Brewery is located outside the city they had a beautiful roof top location that we could enjoy during our visit. It was a delightful location, great craft beer, and a good end to our time in Philadelphia.
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