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On the bus from NYC to Philly, we listed everything we knew about the City of Brotherly Love. Not surprisingly, the list included things like the Liberty Bell, hoagies, Philly Cheesesteaks, the Constitutional Convention, Independence Hall, the famous red LOVE sign and the Tom Hanks tear-jerker of a film, Philadelphia.
Most of the places to visit on our list are within a 2 mile radius, but on our whirlwind 2-day visit, we were looking for the Philly that lies just beyond the tour buses.
Luckily for us, our reader, online friend and former Philly local Don Faust left us well-informed and armed with ideas. His wife, freelance writer and travel blogger Chris Grey Faust, even has a really useful Philly Essential Guide iPhone app – so they know their stuff. Don insisted we hit up the 9th Street Italian Market, the oldest and largest working market in the United States. We cut through Chinatown and headed there first, hoping to arrive before most the market closed at 5pm.
We arrived as the sidewalks were rolling up, but we were in time to take in the smells of salty sausages, steaming hot pizzas, fresh herbs and the DiBruno Bros. House of Cheese. Continuing south along 9th Street, the Italian influence morphs into a Mexican one, and foodie staples like tomato sauce, pasta and basil transform into homemade salsa, fresh tortillas and green plantains, so we spent some time in this area of town, known as South of South (south of South street).
Wandering semi-aimlessly through this part of town, we suddenly stumble upon a back alley filled with the work of the brilliant local mosaic artist Isaiah Zagar, who has created over hundred of mosaic murals all throughout Philadelphia, most famously his Magic Gardens. We could have spent hours discovering the little details in his murals, which sometimes cover entire walls and which are made of all kinds of materials in addition to the typical broken tiles and mirrors – entire plates and bowls, beer bottles, glasses, and ceramics. (Click here to see more of his mosaics).
Recharged and enthusiastic – this sort of discovery is exactly what justifies our often aimless city wandering as we travel – a sign for ‘beer boutique’ is just up the road with plenty of tables outside and fridges in the back with hundreds of the best micro-brews around. Within minutes of sitting down at Hawthorne’s Beer Boutique and Gourmet Eatery, we were being served crispy shoestring fries and beer, no longer disappointed by our late arrival at the 9th Street Market.
Our next stop was Rittenhouse Square, one of William Penn’s (state’s namesake) original five public squares in the city. Named after astronomer and clockmaker David Rittenhouse, a clockmaker and astronomer, hotels, residences, restaurants and shops surround the square and line the area known as Rittenhouse Row, which is also home to cultural hot spots like the Kimmel Center, Wilma Theater, Prince Music Theater and the Philadelphia Horticultural Society.
Throughout our time in the city, we made sure to keep our eyes peeled for the city’s many murals. Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Project began in the 1980s as a part of a larger anti-graffiti campaign and now uses these murals to unite the people of Philadelphia across all backgrounds. Spotting the murals in the self-proclaimed Mural Capital of the World is not difficult, but for more insight and loads more murals, try to get on one of several Philadelphia Mural Tours, rumored to be a true highlight.
Reading Terminal Market
The next morning before we left for Washington, DC, we hit up many of the historical tourist sites on our list before having lunch at Reading Terminal Market. This public market is home to some of the most delicious food we came across on our trip, along with some…creative dishes (chocolate covered onions, anyone?) and typical food prepared by the Pennsylvania Dutch and Amish communities.
Despite the market’s popularity and location next to the Philadelphia Convention Center, the market was easy to navigate and we never stood more than five minutes in line to order. We stocked up for the bus ride with baked goods, sandwiches and although we skipped the Philly Cheesesteak, we did grab a couple of Miller’s soft pretzels, rumored to be quintessential Philly fare.
We only had 24 hours in Philadelphia and will be coming back for sure. What are your favorite off the beaten path places to play in Philly? We would love you to share your thoughts in the comments below..