Philadelphia is one of the best places in the U.S.A. to go for a weekend getaway. Whether you are traveling solo or with family or meeting up with friends for 2-3 days, definitely consider Philadelphia for your next vacation!
I met up with a couple of high school friends last summer after a work conference landed me in Philadelphia. The City of Brotherly Love had flown under our travel radar, but it ended up pleasantly surprising us all.
Philly turned out to be a fun place to visit and meet up for the weekend. We all had a great time and couldn’t believe we hadn’t met up there earlier!
Getting to Philadelphia
As the 2nd biggest city on the east coast of United States (and 6th in the country), Philadelphia is convenient and accessible from many places and has numerous public transportation options. I flew into the Philadelphia International Airport (only 20 minutes away from the downtown/Center City area), while my friends drove a couple of hours from Baltimore and Washington, DC. It made for a perfect location for a reunion!
History of Philadelphia – Birthplace of the U.S.A.
The City of Brotherly Love is one of the most historic cities and the first World Heritage City in the U.S.A. (but still young compared to cities in Europe). It’s similar to Boston in that many important historical events in the creation of the United States of America took place there. Philadelphia was home to key historical figures in U.S. history including Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, and Betsy Ross.
For centuries, the land now known as Philadelphia was home to and cared for by native peoples. These include the Lenni-Lenape People of Lenapehoking and the Poutaxat (Delaware Bay). We recognize these Tribes’ strength and history of resistance to colonization. – City of Philadelphia website
Pennsylvania was settled by the Quakers in the 1600s and named after William Penn, whose statue is featured on top of City Hall. The Quakers were fierce opponents of slavery which eventually established Philadelphia as a birthplace for the anti-slavery movement. The Liberty Bell was formed as a symbol of the abolition movement and liberty from the British.
Philadelphia also became the center of dissent of British rule, with the first Continental Congress meeting in 1774 during the American Revolution. The Pennsylvania State House eventually became Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution were drafted.
In addition to the fascinating history, Philly offers:
- mouthwatering food, from food trucks to markets to fancy restaurants
- impressive historical buildings and tons of statues
- lots of interesting museums and sights that will keep you busy
The city does have a reputation for poverty, crime, and racial disparities. It can definitely feel a little rough around the edges. The city could also use more street cleaning! Just make sure to stay around the common areas and don’t stay out too late at night.
Transportation around Philadelphia
If you’re going to be staying in the Old City or Center City area, there are plenty of options for public transportation. Shared ride services like Uber and Lyft are also plentiful in the city. Parking is difficult and expensive here so renting a car is not recommended, especially if you plan to stick to the main sights in Philadelphia.
The public transit system is called SEPTA and includes the train, subway, trolley, and bus lines. Many options go through Center City and Old City. Check out SEPTA’s website for schedules and maps.
Hop-On Hop-Off sightseeing busses are a convenient option for tourists and hits the major sights. The stands can be found across the Reading Terminal Market on 12th and Filbert Streets.
Although Philadelphia is a walkable city, it’s much bigger than Boston (another walkable city) and this itinerary covers a lot of ground. The steps really add up after a few hours! My friends and I mostly walked but took Lyfts later in the day when we were tired.
Where to Stay in Philadelphia
Center City – Many of the big chain hotels are located in the Center City/downtown area, which is centrally located to most of the sights. It’s pretty dead at night which is beneficial if you want a good night’s sleep. Depending on the hotel and room, you can get fabulous views of City Hall or the skyline. I stayed at the Marriott and the Loews for my conference. Both were comfortable and offered everything I needed for my short stay.
Old City – The Airbnbs I looked at here were smaller and more expensive. But the location can’t be beat!
Fishtown – Safe and fun place to stay, but gets loud at night.
South Philadelphia – Several Airbnbs are available in South Philadelphia, and you can get a real feel for how locals live if you stay here. I booked an Airbnb for me and my 2 other friends in South Philly. Our 3-bedroom house had plenty of space for us and included a rooftop patio (the definite highlight of the place). Street parking is available and Passyunk Avenue is walking distance, where we had a couple of meals during our weekend stay. You may hear cars racing down the street and people chatting late at night, but otherwise, it was a great location and comfortable place for 3 friends to stay in for a weekend.
What to pack for 2 summer days in Philadelphia
Philadelphia in the summer, like many other American cities, is pretty casual. The most important thing to pack are shoes in which you can spend hours on your feet. Sneakers or other comfortable walking shoes are a must! (I made the mistake of packing tevas as my walking shoes for the weekend. Big mistake!)
I usually pack mix-and-match outfits including 2-3 breathable tops, 2-3 shorts/pants/skort, a dress, walking shoes, dressy sandals, minimal toiletries, and a light cover-up. I like to leave space in my carry-on for souvenirs. I didn’t bring a swimsuit, although it is an option if you want to go the hotel’s swimming pool or hot tub or frolic in one of the park’s splash pads or fountains.
Philadelphia is an explorable city and you can pack a lot in one weekend!
Here is the perfect 2-day itinerary:
Day 0.5: Go for happy hour or a nice dinner on your 1st night in Philadelphia
Hopefully you’ll arrive to Philadelphia on a Friday afternoon so you can get started on your fun-filled weekend early. You’ll need at least 2 days in Philadelphia to explore and get a good feel for the city!
If you arrive earlier in the afternoon, head to a smaller museum like the Mütter Museum at the College of Physicians in Center City. This unique museum is centered around the human body and medical discoveries. It’s not surprising that this museum is here considering the number of medical schools and doctors in Philadelphia.
If you arrive in time for happy hour on a Friday night, head to Fishtown or Rittenhouse Square for cocktails or dinner.
Fishtown is a cute, quirky, and upscale neighborhood located directly north of Old City. It has somewhat recently been an area of gentrification. The main street, Frankford Ave., is lined with fishhead garbage cans and bright murals.
Fishtown is a good place for happy hour, a nightly stroll, dinner, dessert, or nightlife. There are many cool places to check out here, including a German beer hall (Frankford Hall), tiki bar, and arcade bar (Barcade).
Tip: Make reservations for dinner at Suraya, a Lebanese restaurant with amazing food and a beautiful patio. Pricy, but one of the best meals I’ve ever had!
After dinner, head to Penn’s Landing, an area along the Delaware River that lights up beautifully at night. Food trucks line the boardwalk, and the Spruce Street Harbor Park has several hammocks and other seating to relax and enjoy an after-dinner drink by the water. Hammocks are first-come, first-serve, unless you want to reserve an area in advance for a group of 10 or less for $75 for 1.5 hours.
If you choose to go to Rittenhouse Square instead of Fishtown, there are many options for food and drink here. Rittenhouse Square is famous for its beautiful, historic, and upscale location and vibe. Some restaurant recommendations from a former local included:
- Four Seasons Spa and Restaurant (no explanation needed)
- Parc (upscale Parisian bistro)
- Vernick Food and Drink on Walnut Street (upscale New American restaurant offering seafood and cocktails)
After dinner in Rittenhouse Square, head to Fairmount Park. This historic, expansive, and lovely park has walking trails, gardens, public art, and a reservoir. It’s a great place to go for a relaxing, after-dinner stroll.
2 days in Philadelphia: The Perfect Itinerary
Day 1: Walk around, get a feel for Philly, and eat
Start off the day with a cheap and filling breakfast of Amish blueberry pancakes or soft pretzels at the Reading Terminal Market, the largest public market in the United States. Vendor stands line up the aisles in an old train station and offers many type of food as well as gifts, flowers, and produce markets. Foodies will LOVE this place where you can find all sorts of delicious food from local delicacies such as raw oysters, Philly cheesesteaks, corned beef sandwiches to ethnic cuisine such as Filipino desserts, Thai food, and vegan Indian cuisine. Hours are 8am – 6pm. We went here multiple times during my time in Philadelphia!
Take a Lyft/Uber or public transportation to the Philadelphia Museum of Art (there will be plenty of walking the rest of the day). This is where they filmed the 80’s movie Rocky with the iconic scene where Sylvester Stallone runs up the steps while the theme song played. Run up the Rocky steps and jump up at the top with your fists in the air! Not only will you feel like a champion, but you’ll get the heart pumping and burn off some calories from breakfast! While you are at the top of the steps, take pictures of the Philadelphia skyline and museum buildings.
Head down the steps and take a picture with the Rocky statue (you may have to wait in line!).
If you’re an art lover, head inside the Philadelphia Museum of Art or the many other art museums in the area. Philadelphia is a treasure trove of impressive art located in equally impressive buildings. Philadelphia Museum of Art is the biggest of the art museums and has many famous works. Some other art options include:
- Barnes Foundation, a spacious and modern building with rooms filled with impressionist paintings
- Rodin Museum, famous for “The Thinker” and other statues
- Institute of Contemporary Art
If you’re more into dark history, check out “America’s Most Historic Prison” at the Eastern State Penitentiary in the museum district. The expansive old buildings come with haunting stories, artist installations, and a social justice element. The prison comes to life through the fascinating audio tour (narrated by actor Steve Buscemi). For sobering and thought-provoking statistics, don’t forget to check out “The Big Graph” outside of the prison (at the end of the main audio tour) and the “Prisons Today” exhibit. This was one of the highlights of my visit (but then again, I have a weird fascination with prisons, as you can see from my San Francisco post).
If science is more your thing, there are some options in the museum campus, including the Franklin Institute (interactive science museum) and the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University (natural history museum).
After the museum, walk down Benjamin Franklin Parkway lined with flags from all over the world.
Frolic in the beautiful Logan Square fountain if it’s hot outside.
Cross the street and snap a picture in front of the “Amor” sign. It’s Philadelphia’s sister cities’ rendition of the “Love” sign, and there’s usually no one here!
Walk down to Love Park. Take a picture of the “I Heart Philly” sign which has an amazing view behind it of City Hall and a water fountain. Take a selfie in front of the Love sculpture.
Walk to City Hall and take a look from different angles. Philadelphia has one of the most beautiful city halls that I’ve ever seen. With a statue of William Penn at the very top, the ornate and massive building covers one block. Plenty of history lessons can be found here in the form of statues and plaques. A splash pad for kids is in front of City Hall and offers plenty of seating for people-watching and relaxing.
If you have built up an appetite, head to Vedge Restaurant in Center City. It’s an upscale vegetarian restaurant located in an old mansion. Or if you just need a snack or sweet treat, head back to Reading Terminal Market for a quick bite and some shopping. I’m telling you, I went here multiple times!
Otherwise, walk straight down Market Street in Center City. If you’re up for some shopping and don’t have one in your hometown, check out Primark (a British fast fashion company similar to H&M or Forever 21; there’s only 13 in the U.S.A.), otherwise take a rest back at your place.
After some rest, head to Chinatown, a good place to get dinner or boba tea. The Chinese friendship gate near downtown and Center City welcomes you. In Chinatown, you will find cheap and authentic Asian food as well as cute gift stores, produce markets, and boba tea shops. Have dinner at a hand-drawn noodle shop or a hot pot or dim sum restaurant. You can also find sushi, Korean bbq, and western Chinese food here.
Offered in June through August, the Chinese Lantern Festival lights up Franklin Park with its massive and colorful Chinese lanterns. Various animals are displayed as well as colorful lighted tunnels, water fountains, and a bubble machine. There are also performances (Chinese traditional music and dances), food trucks, and a beer garden. Tickets are $20 per person. It’s a fun way to spend a summer evening in Philadelphia!
If you haven’t made it to Fishtown on your 1st night, head there for a drink to end your day!
Day 2: History Day.
Grab a coffee and breakfast sandwich or bagel to go and head to Old City, Philadelphia’s historic district. It’s time for some history lessons about the Founding Fathers and the role of Philadelphia in the birth of the United States of America!
Start out at Independence National Historical Park, part of the National Park Service, and get your bearings. The park is in an L-shape in the middle of Old City and contains the major sights of significance in the formation of the United States. The main sights that can’t be missed here are Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell Center, and the Visitor’s Center.
Go to Independence Square and take a guided tour of Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was signed. The National Park tour guide takes a small group through various rooms where the first and second Continental Congress were held and the Declaration of Independence was signed. During high season, you’ll need to reserve timed tickets on Recreation.gov for $1 or you can get them at the door if it’s not too busy (they were sold out when we went in August, but I had reserved tickets 3 weeks before).
After your tour of Independence Hall, head to the Liberty Bell Pavilion. This building houses the now defunct Liberty Bell, which was created to symbolize abolition and freedom. You can read all about its history on the various displays and plaques and then see the Liberty Bell itself.
Visit the Independence Visitor Center and take a break to watch the 30-minute introduction to Independence Hall movie. There are bathrooms here as well as a nice gift shop.
For more in-depth history, take a guided walking tour of Old City. A lot more history outside the Independence National Park took place in Old City and a guided tour is the best way to hit all the sights in one go. You’ll get inside information on the founding of Pennsylvania, the Quaker meeting house (built above a burial ground), and key figures of the American Revolution such as Benjamin Franklin and Betsy Ross. Our tour also took us to
- Elfreth’s Alley, the oldest inhabited street in the U.S.
- Christ Church
- Betsy Ross’ house
- Franklin Court, site of Ben Franklin’s old home and underground museum
The tour through Viator was well worth the $37.50, but free walking tours are available or you can stick to tours offered by the National Park Service.
For history buffs and museum lovers, check out the African American Museum or the Museum of the American Revolution nearby.
After you’ve gotten your fill of United States history, head east to Penn’s Landing and walk along the Delaware River. A short walk will lead you to a walking bridge overpass that places you directly on South Street, an area with restaurants and shops.
You’ve probably built up an appetite after all the history and walking! It’s time to try the famous Philly Cheesesteak. The city’s namesake sandwich can be found all over the city, but one local recommended Ishkabibbles on South Street. You can also get Philly Cheesesteaks in Italian Market where the famous Geno’s and Pat’s restaurants go head-to-head across the street from one another.
If you aren’t interested in the big, meaty, and greasy sandwich, go for lighter fare at Brittany Foy’s restaurant for the most delicious Bloody Mary and Eggs Benedict. Philadelphia is also known for its fried oysters and chicken, as well as tomato pie (which some locals have never even tried!).
After lunch, check out South Street and its eclectic shops, restaurants, and bars. The aftermath of the COVID pandemic and recent violence is evident here with some closed up storefronts. You’ll still find plenty of businesses open during the day but this area sometimes feels a little rough around the edges (I also had a bad experience here when I visited about 20 years ago when a homeless man shouted racial slurs at me).
Stop by Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens on South Street, a “quirky twist for lovers of the creative arts.” Beautiful mosaics made from recycled materials are displayed out front.
If you can walk some more, continue to the Italian Market on 9th street. You’ll find restaurants, chocolate shops, bakeries, and outdoor markets selling fresh fruits and vegetables. They also have non-Italian food here, including Thai and Mexican restaurants.
It’s time to rest! Relax back at your Airbnb or hotel and plan to go out again for dinner and drinks on a rooftop. Rooftops seem to be a thing in Philadelphia. Granted, that was our favorite part of the Airbnb! There are several options for rooftop bars and restaurants for a view of the Philadelphia skyline and the feel of the fresh breeze from high above.
Go for a final cocktail on Passyunk Ave. in South Philly, a vibrant city street aligned with coffee shops, restaurants, and bars. Several of the establishments have outdoor seating and are great for people-watching. Highlights: Barcelona Wine Bar and Cafe for tapas.
Philadelphia exceeded our expectations and we had the perfect moms’ weekend getaway (or maybe it was because we were away from our husband and kids!). The city offered so much and we all enjoyed our short but sweet time exploring and bonding.
Have I convinced you to go to Philadelphia for your next weekend getaway?