Globetrotting Mama's Guide to Travelling in Philadelphia

Showing brotherly love alongside the famous Swann Fountain in Philadelphia, one of many picturesque spots on the gallery- and museum-laden Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Photo by Heather Greenwood Davis.

It is the city of brotherly love and one of my favourite places to visit in the United States of America. With so much culture to explore – from art galleries and museums to outdoor sculptures, Philadelphia is a destination for families and culture-seekers. If you are looking to explore this city located in Pennsylvania, these tips will help. This post originally appeared in the Toronto Star. You can view the original article here.

In a world of pick or choose, Philadelphia swings both ways.

Travelling with your partner, solo or a group of culture-seeking adult pals? It’s your city, with lively nightlife, upscale hotels and chefs that you’ll swoon for.

Travelling with the family? No problem. Education meets entertainment, open spaces welcome all and around every corner there are homegrown snacks that you’ll want to take home with you.

It’s the opposite of the typical “Chinese Food and Pizza” restaurant way of thinking: It does two things, very, very well.

In the last five months, I’ve visited the city twice with and without kids. Both times, I left longing to go back.

Here are our picks for the must-dos:

With the Kids

Where to Stay: Wherever you like. 25 blocks of city (river to river) means you can get quickly and easily to anywhere you need to be. There are hotel options that range from budget to luxurious. The Best Western Independence Park is right in the heart of the Old City with the historical icons steps away. If space is a priority, the Embassy Suites Philadelphia City Centre is great, or if it’s a great Sunday buffet you’re after, try the Four Seasons — both are on the edge of the beautiful Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

Where to Eat: Reading Terminal Market. Whether it’s the much talked about chocolate chip cookies at The Famous 4th Street Cookie Company, the home of the best sandwich in America (and the lineup to prove it) at DiNic’s or the fact that you’re around the corner from the Pennsylvania Railroad of Monopoly fame. Kids will love the buzz, sights and smells of this indoor market with offerings to satisfy every possible craving.

Prefer a less hectic option? Pop over to the City Tavern (with its period settings and costumed staff) or The Franklin Fountain where ice cream sodas and mile high sundaes rule the roost.

What to Do: The question is, “What not to do?” You’re going to run out of time before you run out of options. You can focus on an introduction to the arts with stops at The Barnes Foundation (where the Art See scavenger hunt will keep kids busy), spend an afternoon searching for the sky-high artwork on the Mural Mile or wander the glass mosaic masterpiece of Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens. Want them edu-tained? Hit the National Constitution Centre, The Franklin Institute, The Academy of Natural Sciences, the President’s House (an outdoor exhibit examining the lives of nine slaves who served the country’s first president), the Please Touch Museum and more.

Rather keep them outdoors, set them free amidst the carousel and mini golf at Franklin Square. Or let them explore the outdoor art: From the famous LOVE statue to oversized “Your Move” game board pieces, there are more outdoor sculptures here than any other U.S. city. And no trip here is complete without a run up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art just like Sylvester Stallone did in the Rocky movies.

Where to Shop: Head to Market St. where American brands you recognize line the beautiful district — Burlington Street Factory, Ross, Macy’s and more.

With the Culture Seekers

Where to stay: Impress your fellow travellers with a stay at either The Ritz Carlton (a former bank turned four-star hotel) or Le Meridien Philadelphia (housed in a former YMCA building and home to a 75-foot high central atrium courtyard).

Where to Eat: Looking for a casual meal? Try JG Domestic where Chef Jose Garces’ 40-acre local farm is showcased in the menu. Do not miss the Sweet Corn (with smoked onion cream, bacon and cheddar) or the Bourbon Beignets. For something lighter, the Chicken Avocado salad inside Granite Hill, Stephen Starr’s stellar offering inside the Philadelphia Museum of Art will hold you ’til dinner.

What to Do: Art. The options rival Washington on the museum front. From the Philadelphia Museum of Art (the third largest art museum in the United States) to the newly restored Rodin Museum (home to The Thinker) to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (featuring 19th- and 20th-century American paintings), there’s something for every taste.

A personal favourite? The Barnes Foundation which opened this summer and houses the private collection of founder Dr. Albert C. Barnes — an eclectic mix of classical works from Cezanne, Matisse and Picasso, alongside African sculpture and iron works.

A fan of architecture? Celebrate the Frank Furness-designed Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts through Dec. 30 at the exhibition honouring the 100th anniversary of the architect’s death.

Where to shop: The city’s art gallery gift shops (I liked PAFA’s and Philadelphia Museum of Arts’ shops the best) offer pieces you won’t find elsewhere alongside ones you’ll have to consult the bank manager for. For the latest in fresh, young designers’ offerings, head to the boutiques located along 2nd and 3rd streets in the Old City. With options that include the quirky and the jaw-dropping and no sales tax on clothes, you won’t go home disappointed.