Philadelphia is having a moment. Recently recognized in the press for its thriving dining scene, its world-class stores and shops, and its sheer beauty, this centuries-old city is just hitting its stride. Philadelphia appeals to travelers of all ages and interests, but with so many exciting options, it's hard to know where to start. Check out the suggestions below, choose the itinerary that's right for you, and then set out for an exciting day in the City of Brotherly Love.
Families flock to Philadelphia for its many accessible attractions. Youngsters love the Please Touch Museum (4231 Avenue of the Republic, Philadelphia, PA, 215.581.3181) where they can run and play amidst rocket ships, giant tree houses, storybook characters and one of the best vintage toy collections this side of the Delaware River. In Fairmount Park, Smith Memorial Playground (3500 Reservoir Drive, Philadelphia, PA, 215.765.4325) is a mansion specifically designed for maximum, kid-friendly fun. Admission is free, and when weather permits, children from all over the city climb and swing at the enormous outdoor playground. Another favorite outdoor spot, Franklin Square (200 S. Sixth St., Philadelphia, PA, 215.629.4026), is home to the historic Parx Liberty Carousel and an 18-hole miniature golf course inspired by popular local landmarks. Stephen Starr's SquareBurger serves up casual fare on site; don't forget to save room for the signature Cake Shake, which is blended with TastyKake Butterscotch Krimpets, a classic Philly favorite.
You don't need to spend a lot of cash to experience some of the best sites in the city. If you're low on funds, stop by the Independence Visitor's Center (1 N. Independence Mall West, Philadelphia, PA, 800.537.7676) in Old City, where you can score free tickets to Independence Hall (Chestnut St. between 5th and 6th streets, Philadelphia, PA), consult with local tourism experts or simply sit and relax between sightseeing stops. Nearby, the Liberty Bell (6th and Market streets, Philadelphia, PA) is not just an international symbol of freedom, it's open to the public at no charge. As you meander around the neighborhood, keep as eye out for Storytelling Benches, where actors in period costumes recount true tales of the city's history to all who will listen. When hunger strikes, head west to Love Park (1599 JFK Blvd., Philadelphia, PA, 215.683.0246). After you pose for an Instagram-worthy photo in front of Robert Indiana's iconic LOVE statue, sample fresh, affordable cuisine from the wide variety of food trucks stationed nearby.
If you like to eat, you'll love sampling your way through town. Don't miss Reading Terminal Market (12th and Arch streets, Philadelphia, PA) an indoor foodie paradise where 80 vendors hawk everything from fresh fish to loose teas to hard-to-find cookbooks. In South Philly, the Italian Market (S. Ninth Street between Fitzwater and Wharton streets, Philadelphia, PA) draws large crowds to its many food stalls and specialty shops. The area is also home to old-school-style, red-gravy Italian restaurants like Ralph's (760 S. Ninth St., Philadelphia, PA, 215.627.6011) and Villa di Roma (936 S. Ninth St., Philadelphia, PA, 215.592.1295), as well as tourist-friendly cheesesteak joints Pat's Kings of Steaks (1237 E. Passyunk Ave., Philadelphia, PA, 215.468.1546) and Geno's Steaks (1219 E. Passyunk Ave., Philadelphia, PA, 215.389.0659). For dinner, do your best to snag a reservation at Nick Elmi's Laurel (1617 E. Passyunk Ave., Philadelphia, PA, 215.271.8299), both of which are helmed by former "Top Chef" winners.
May 15 marks the start of the 114th Student Exhibition at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (118-128 N. Broad St., Philadelphia, PA, 215.972.7600), when current students display and sell their work. The school-cum-museum is also the starting point for the popular Mural Mile Walking Tours, where visitors learn about the magnificent public art along N. and S. Broad Street. At Philadelphia's Magic Gardens (1020 South Street, Philadelphia, PA, 215.733.0390), which Fodor's recently named on of the top ten under-the-radar attractions in the U.S., visionary artist Isaiah Zagar uses everyday items to create multi-dimensional, larger-than-life mosaic sculptures. Zagar's work also graces several buildings throughout the nearby neighborhoods. When hunger strikes, grab a bite at Le Cheri (251 S. 18th St., Philadelphia, PA, 215.546.7700), an elegant French eatery located inside the Philadelphia Art Alliance building.
If your ideal day involves a healthy dose of spending, get your credit cards ready. In ritzy Rittenhouse Square, Walnut Street is home to outposts for some of the world's best-known brands, from Anthropologie (1801 Walnut St., Philadelphia, PA, 215.568.2114) to Zara (1715 Walnut St., Philadelphia, PA, 215.557.0911). For a quainter, edgier shopping scene, try Old City. Alongside a wide range of celebrated eateries, this charming section of the city is packed with progressive stores, vintage shops and art galleries like Smak Parlour (219 Market St., Philadelphia, PA, 215.625.4551) and Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (116 N. Third St., Philadelphia, PA, 215.922.2600). Most of these spots are locally owned or sell one-of-a-kind, handmade products that you won't find anywhere else.