With my boyfriend’s brother getting married in a place I had never heard of in America, I thought it would be a great idea to take this opportunity to visit somewhere new in the US. And what better place to go than the birthplace of the United States, Philadelphia.
GETTING TO PHILADELPHIA
We flew into Newark as flights were significantly cheaper (£350 return pp) than if we chose to fly directly to Philly. After some research, I saw that we could take a train to the City from the airport. Sounded simple enough and after a pleasant 7 hour flight across the pond, we landed in a very rainy, cold and grey America.
From there, things didn’t go exactly to plan. Immigration took a staggering 3 hours (?!), we missed the train I had planned for us and trying to work out when the next one was, was like trying to decipher the hardest of riddles… blindfolded. After umming and ahhing, it was more cost efficient for us to take an Uber and 1.5 hours later, we had finally arrived in Philadelphia.
WHERE DID WE STAY
As we were also travelling with the ‘in-laws’, we booked a self-catering two bedroom apartment at Stay Alfred at The Granary. It was spacious, clean and had a fantastic view of the skyline. It also had a handy little coffee machine in the lobby with all sorts of options to choose from and the porters were friendly, providing that true American customer service which us Brits all love!
THE 24 HOUR ITINERARY
A 4.00am wake up call from jetlag gave me the time to plan out our day of sightseeing, which spanned from one side of Philly to the other. This was mainly because of the small diversion I made to Blaze Pizza (more on that later..).
This itinerary (as shown below) does not involve any form of public transport. We walked the whole way, which came to a total of 17km and 28,500 steps. It was pretty intense, but I feel confident in saying that I believe we saw the key highlights of Philly.
*Disclaimer: I did not have a Philly Cheese Steak, it really did not appeal to me!
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Rocky Steps & Rocky Statue
Our first stop due to proximity to our apartment, was to the infamous Rocky Steps at the Philadelphia Musuem of Art. Embarrassingly, this was actually the only thing I really knew about Philadelphia prior to our trip, and I haven’t even seen the movie! I believe that the usual tradition is for one to mimic Rocky’s climb up the steps with the iconic music blaring, but I wussed out in front of the other tourists. Instead, after climbing to the top at our own pace, we admired the museum’s beautiful architecture which resembled that of a Greek temple.
The top of the steps also gave a fantastic view of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway boulevard which runs all the way from the museum to Philadelphia City hall which you can see in the distance.
And finally, we had our picture taken with the Rocky statue, one of Philly’s most iconic pieces of public art, which has been lying at the bottom of the steps since 2006.
University of Pennsylvania and Blaze Pizza
Oli and I discovered our love for Blaze Pizza (essentially a fast food pizza chain but it is DELICIOUS) in Orlando and since then, whenever we are in the States we return. They haven’t made their way to the UK (yet) so this has become some sort of ritual for us. So much so, that I added a slight diversion in our itinerary which took us across Schuylkill river, to the University of Pennyslvania.
After a lovely walk along the Schuylkill river trail, we crossed the John F Kennedy Boulevard Bridge and came across Philly’s monumental 30th Street Station , which was pretty astonishing from the outside!
From there, we headed up Market Street and arrived at the University of Pennsylvania; a far grander and meticulously well-kept University than the one I attended at home, which satisfied my exact expectations of an Ivy League School, as depicted in the movies. Fun fact: both Donald Trump and Elon Musk studied here!
With tummies rumbling, we decided to beat the lunch time student rush and eagerly arrived at Blaze Pizza. We did get some odd looks; not just because of the accent, but because of the happy snapping which followed as we displayed our pizza’s like trophies. I can only describe the hilarity of this scenario, by likening it to if we witnessed tourists in the UK visiting Greggs and taking pictures of themselves with a sausage roll.
We crossed back over the JFK Boulevard Bridge, witnessed a little kid trying to shop lift from a 7/11 and made our way towards Rittenhouse Square. Along the way, we stopped off at the Mütter Museum which is part of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia (oldest private medical society in the US). This museum is home to various disturbing exhibitions and collections of medical abnormalities, including the Soap Lady (a preserved human body which was enough to give me nightmares) and pieces of Einstein’s brain in glass slides.
RIttenhouse Square was exactly how I had pictured it; a little green oasis in the heart of the city. We stopped off here to give our feet a rest, but it was a perfect spot to do some people watching and to relax. As it was lunch time, there were many businessmen and women sitting on the benches and having a bite to eat. We were not here very long, but there were lots of restaurants and high end shops in the area.
Feeling rejuvinated, it was time to plough on and continue with the rest of the itinerary; time to learn about some American history and the birthplace of the US! We arrived at a rather hectic and crowded Independence Hall, and before long we had been ushered through airport like security. We had missed the next available tour but learnt that we could take ourselves into the ‘Great Essentials Exhibit’ which houses original copies of the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution of the United States.
If I am completely honest, I was incredibly underwhelmed as we walked into the exhibit. It was dark and dingy and reminded me more of a village hall, rather than the room of an iconic and highly important building which contains America’s most treasured objects.. Nevertheless, we were greeted by a man who told us about the 26 (of 200) known surviving copies of the Declaration, of which 1 is kept in the UK’s National Archives in London!
An iconic symbol of American freedom, the Liberty Bell is contained in another free exhibition (Liberty Bell Centre), behind the Independence Hall. It was actually cast in London before being shipped over to the States, and was hung in the steeple of Independence Hall. After learning about how terrible are ancestors were at not only casting the bell (it cracked, eventually beyond repair) but also at how they invaded Philadelphia, we took a picture of the bell and moved on.
Reading Terminal Market
It was time to head back on ourselves and I had read about a historic indoor food market which was on the way. This market was one of the highlights for me and is an absolute must in Philly! It had so many different vendors with such a variety of food to eat, both savoury and sweet, that it was so hard choosing between them all. We settled on a delicious gyro from one place, sriracha fries from another, and we picked up a few cookies from a vendor who was selling the their last remaining stock for the day at a discounted price.
Philadelphia City Hall
Continuing our journey back towards our apartment, we obviously had to make a stop at the Philadelphia City Hall which really was incredible. It also reminded me of the Disney castles in the parks, as you could walk straight through the middle.
Our last point of interest was the Love Park, also known as the John F Kennedy Plaza. It has been nicknamed the Love Park due to the Love sculpture which was created and sent to Philly by artist Robert Indiana. It was a great place to finish off our busy day in the city and they even had a couple of table tennis tables for us to have a game or two!
I really enjoyed this city, so much more than I thought I would.
I loved the history, the architecture and the amount of greenery there was considering you are in a city. There are still a couple of other things which I would like to see in Philly, not to mention returning to the food market, so I look forward to going back one day!