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Go Beyond…Philadelphia’s historic sites: Markets, mosaics, murals and micro-brews

philadelphia brick houses

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While we were sitting on the Megabus, on the 2-hour ride from NYC en route to visit 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: We wanted to visit Philadelphia beyond the famous sights.

And by the way – we’re not saying “skip the historic sights when you visit Philly” – but what we’re saying that Philadelphia has so much more to offer than historical heritage and the title “birthplace of America”, and we hope that you’ll take the time to see a little bit more of Philadelphia than Independence Hall, Liberty Bell and Carpenter’s Hall.

Visit Philly beyond the historic sights

visit Philadelphia9th Street Italian Market

Luckily for us, our reader, online friend and former Philly local Don Faust left us well-informed and armed with ideas for our visit to Philly. 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.
philadelphia chinatown house of chen

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).

Italian MarketIsaiah Zagar’s Mosaics

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). If you love art, the Magic Gardens are a MUST on a visit to Philadelphia – and if you’re traveling with kids, they’ll enjoy the Magic Gardens, too.

mosaics isaiah zagar

Micro-Brew Boutiques

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. If you’re a beer lover, you should visit Philadelphia: there are plenty of great craft beer breweries, and Frommer’s even named Philly as one of the 14 best cities to drink beer in the entire world (see below Where to drink in Philly for some recommendations).

visit PhillyRittenhouse Square

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.

visit PhiladelphiaMural Arts Project

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. philly muralSpotting the murals in the self-proclaimed Mural Capital of the World is not difficult, but if you love street art, we’d suggest to get on one of several Philadelphia Mural Tours for more insight and loads more murals.

 

Philly does have it’s fair share or street art as well, not connected to the mural project. The Italian Market area has quite a bit, including this (slightly ‘altered’) Shepard Fairey piece.

visit Philly

Reading Terminal Market

The next morning we finally hit up many of the historical tourist sites people have on their list when they visit Philadelphia 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.

reading terminal market philadelphiaDespite 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. When you visit Philly, make sure not to limit yourself to the iconic Philly dishes – there are hundreds of superb restaurants in Philadelphia – see some of them listed below.

 

Visit Philly – Practical Information

Where & what to eat when you visit Philly

  • City Center Pretzel Co – a Philly soft pretzel (816 Washington Ave)
  • Joe’s Steaks + Soda Shop – classic Philly cheese steak (several locations)
  • Dalessandro’s Steaks and Hoagies – for cheese steak (600 Wendover Street)
  • Bud & Marylin’s – Classic American fare in a retro chic environment (1234 Locust Street)
  • The famous 4th Street Cookie company – cookies, duh! (inside Reading Terminal Market)
  • Dutch Eating Place – popular eatery for diner-style breakfasts (inside Reading Terminal Market)
  • Termini Brothers Bakery – cannoli! (several locations)
  • The Franklin Fountain – for a traditional ice cream soda (116 Market Street)
  • Wawa – for a hoagie (locations all over the city)
  • Honey’s Sit & Eat – for brunch and American comfort food (2101 South Street & 800 N 4th Street)
  • Bar Hygge – Brew pub with American grub (1720 Fairmount Ave)
  • Urban Village Brewing Company – Brew pub with brick-oven pizza and pub fare (1001 N 2nd Stret)
 

If you love pizza, you’ll want to hit up a few of these place when you visit Philly: these five pizzerias made the list of the 101 greatest pizzerias in America:

  • Beddia (1313 N Lee Street)
  • Pizza Brain (2313 Frankford Ave)
  • Tacconelli’s Pizzeria (2604 E Somerset Street)
  • Pizza Shackamaxon (115 E Girard Ave #3907)
  • Pizzeria Vetri (1939 Callowhill Street & 1615 Chancellor Street)

Where to drink in Philly

Here are ten of the best places to drink craft beer on your visit to Philly:

  • Evil Genius Beer Company (1727 N Front Street)
  • Second District Brewing Company (1939 South Bancroft Street)
  • Wissahickon Brewing Company (3705 W School House Lane)
  • Love City Brewing (1023 Hamilton Street)
  • Fermentery Form (1700 Palethorp Street)
  • Crime and Punishment Brewing Co. (2711 W Girard Ave)
  • Human Robot (1710 N 5th Street)
  • Separatist South Philly (1646 12th Street)
  • Brewery ARS (1927-29 W Passyunk Ave)
  • Sacred Vice Brewing Company (3233 Amber Street)
 

Where to stay in Philly

The most inexpensive type of private accommodation is an Airbnb – as you can see on the map below, there are plenty of Airbnb’s in Philadelphia. You’ll find cheaper accommodation further away from the city center – so when you plan your visit to Philadelphia, take into consideration if you’re willing to take Uber’s during stay, or if you prefer staying in the center and walk back to your accommodation after a day of sightseeing. If you’re traveling to Philly by car, find out about the parking situation before you book a room / apartment.

visit PhillyTip: If you don’t have an Airbnb account yet, use my referral code to sign up and get up to $40 off your first booking.

Budget accommodation in Philadelphia

If you’re visiting Philadelphia on a tight budget, consider staying in one of these hostels:

  • Apple Hostels of Philadelphia is in a perfect location in Philly’s old town. There’s a shared kitchen and a shared lounge with TV area, Xbox, a foosball table and a pool table. Free coffee and tea all day. The hostel has private rooms as well as 4-bed and 6-bed dorms. Rates for dorms start at US$36, double rooms start at $94 per night.
  • City House Hostels Philadelphia is centrally located and has a shared kitchen, a communal lounge, and 4-bed ($38), 8-bed ($29) and 12-bed dorms ($22).

Bed & Breakfast

  • La Reserve Bed and Breakfast is a historic B&B in downtown Philadelphia near Rittenhouse Square. This is a great place to soak up 1800’s Philadelphia, since the B&B’s décor is reminiscent of that era. There is a communal lounge and some rooms have a full kitchen. Rates start at US$120 per room per night, including breakfast.

Boutique Hotels in Philadelphia

  • The DWIGHT D is a boutique hotel that combines comfort and style and is located near Rittenhouse Square. Each room is decorated in a unique style. Double rooms start at US$234 per night.
  • Rittenhouse 1715 is a charming boutique hotel in a historic building, also located close to Rittenhouse Square. Rooms are held in traditional décor, some have fireplaces. Tea, coffee and snacks are complimentary in the morning, and there is a nightly wine & cheese reception in a communal lounge. Double rooms start at US$234
  • Lokal Hotel is situated in the Old City, close to Liberty Bell and the Delaware River. The hotel has a sleek design and hipster-y feel to it, it caters to a young, trendy clientele. Each room is more like a studio apartment with a full kitchen, bar (including cocktail making set and specialty coffee) and a sitting area to relax. Rooms start at US$357 per night.

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15 Comments

    1. Thanks James! We were really awestruck at the details in the mosaics, just hidden away in that little alley. About the onions – if you ever try them, let us know or better yet make a video 🙂

    1. I think everybody is less inclined to travel in their own country, rather than exploring some exotic, far-away places 🙂 It’s good that we’re both from different countries – while I’m not very interested to travel around Germany, Jess is really keen to see more of it, and we explored some really nice areas last year. And I love traveling around the U.S. – such a diverse country with so many scenic places, great cities and friendly people! Hope we’ll make it to all 50 states one day 🙂

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