The Saturday City: Philadelphia

PhiladelphiaHome to the Constitutional Convention, the World Series-winning Phillies, swing state voters, and greasy cheese steaks, Philadelphia is an eclectic, historic, and quite interesting city. I’ve been there many times, since my family lives there. Family holidays to visit cousins were quite frequent when I was younger, so I got to know the city well. And when I was older, it was a stop on my cross-country tour in 2006.

Philadelphia is one of America’s oldest and most historic cities. Its central location within the 13 colonies made for an ideal place for early American leaders to meet to discuss the future of the colonies, the eventual revolt against England, and the founding of the country. However, its history is goes back prior to that. In 1681, Charles II of England granted William Penn a charter for what would become the Pennsylvania colony. Penn’s plan was to create a city on the Delaware River to serve as a port and a place for religious tolerance. Penn named the city Philadelphia, which is Greek for brotherly love.

A significant contributor to the growth of Philadelphia during the 1700s was Benjamin Franklin. Franklin helped improve city services, founded the first hospital, promoted democracy, went overseas, and promoted science and education – all while discovering electricity. What a guy! Philadelphia was used as the location for the First Continental Congress before the Revolutionary War, the Second Continental Congress during the war, and the Constitutional Convention after the war.

During the 19th century, Philadelphia had a large variety of industries and businesses, especially textiles. By the 20th century, though, Philadelphia floundered due to corruption. Protests and race riots were common in the 1960s and 70s. Drugs and violence plagued the city, and by the 1980s, crack houses were rampant. During the 1990s, the city began to clean itself up. The city started attracting service businesses and promoting itself as a tourist destination. Glass and granite skyscrapers were built, and historic areas such as Independence National Historical Park (located in Society Hill) were renovated.

My favorite aspect of this city is the history – you can’t walk anywhere without tripping over it. There is so much to see. And the best way to see it? A leisurely walk.

Philadelphia’s historic center is located near Society Hill, an area of  town that has been cleaned up in recent years. There’s no better place to start a walk than at Independence Hall to see where the country started.

Philadelphia constitution hall

From there, you can cross the street to see the infamous Liberty Bell. You’ll have to wait a bit, as the line is usually quite long.

Philadelphia liberty bell with the crack

Then wander around to see the old historic homes and streets of Society Hill.

Philadelphia street in black and white

Check out the old Treasury, located right next to Independence Hall.

the old treasury of the united states in phili

Head down the street to see where Ben Franklin, the city’s most famous historical figure, used to call home. If you choose, you can also go see where he is buried.

Philadelphia ben franklin house

The whole area is filled with a lot of green space and little cobblestone streets. If you lose the crowds, it is easy to imagine yourself in Colonial America, especially with all the re-enactors around.

Philadelphia old streets

In the summer, it’s best to go early or on weekdays, as the crowds are abundant and the lines long. Philadelphia gets very hot during the summer, and the last thing you want to do is be waiting in the boiling sun.

After a good day of sightseeing, head down to South Street for the street’s famous collection of cafes, tattoo parlors, and cheese steak restaurants. Residents here are serious about their cheese steak addiction (the best are at Pats and Genos), and no trip to Philadelphia is complete without eating a heart-clogging, cholesterol-rising cheese steak.

  1. Debo Hobo

    Being born and rared in CT. one would think I would have gotten to Philly but never did. I would luv, luv , luv to have an authentic Cheese Steak Wit.

  2. Any city which is best explored on foot is a good city to my mind. Especially when the history appears so well preserved.

    And my bugbear – what is it with Americans that decide that the winner of the “world series” in their baseball competition are “world champions” when no-one else but American (and the odd Canadian) team competes in it. Surely they are US champions?? Aren’t the two leagues more sensibly named as the national league and the American league?

  3. Philly is one of my favorite cities. I grew up near there.

    Don’t forget to go to Pat’s AND Gino’s as you should probably try both versions of the famous cheesesteak. And imitate Rocky by running up the stairs at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. :)

  4. nancy

    We are trying to decide if we should go to N.Y.City or Philly for this New Years Eve. What do you suggest? We live in NJ and have not been to either for New Years Eve.

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