We’ve been loving your submissions for our I Heart My City project
– and today’s city comes to us via Albert Lee, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. There were few people who showed as much enthusiasm for their cities as Albert, and we’ll let him explain why in his own words:
I’m a proud hometown boy. Was raised in the Chinatown section of Philadelphia where our home housed three generations. I serve as the head concierge at the Independence Visitor Center (the official visitor center for Philadelphia and its surrounding counties). My overall duty is to make sure that while you’re here, regardless of how long, you’re going to have a good time.
That is my promise even if our doors are closed. In fact, I carry maps in my bag to make sure people get to go where they need to. Want to get in a fancy restaurant at 8 p.m.? I’ll take care of you…even if we are on a street corner. Philadelphia has been good to me and I see no greater reward than showing it off and getting paid for it!
Still haven’t sent in your own city suggestions? Easy enough. Just complete our list of fill-in-the-blank questions then copy and paste the list into an email, fill in your answers (as many as you like), and send your responses to IntelligentTravel@ngs.org.
Philadelphia is My City
The first place I take a visitor from out of town is through Independence Hall. To live in a democracy where we can exercise our freedom, we have to visit the site where our Declaration of Independence was signed– It is the hall of our independence!
When I crave chocolate I always go to the Naked Chocolate Cafe -voted by USA Today as one of the top ten places in the world to enjoy chocolate.
To escape city life I head to Fairmount Park – nine times the size of Central Park in New York and filled with historic mansions, numerous bike trails, and the first zoo in the country.
If I want to sing karaoke I go to McGillin’s Olde Ale House,
Philadelphia’s oldest continuously open tavern, where every Wednesday evening, ringers, rejects and American Idol wannabes come to belt out tunes for the cheers and jeers of the happily drunk crowd.
For complete quiet, I can hide away at Old City Coffee on Church Street. Tucked away on a little side street in historic Philadelphia, its coffee is invigorating and the atmosphere surreal. You could hear noise but you have to find it first!
If you come to my city, get your picture taken with the Love Statue.
Located at JFK Plaza or better known as “Love Park,” this art piece provides a solid example of the definition of Philadelphia– the City of Brotherly Love translated in Greek.
The Reading Terminal Market is my one-stop shop for great food, flowers and fun. Opened in 1893 as the market for the Reading Railroad (think Monopoly), you can get everything from fresh cuts of beef from the butcher, red roses from the florist and macaroni and cheese that Oprah herself swears by.
Locals know to skip Maggianos and check out Villa Di Roma instead. No one beats your grandmother’s home cooking but this neighborhood restaurant sure comes close. Where do you go to enjoy Italian – where it’s called gravy and not sauce!
When I’m feeling cash-strapped, I visit all free historical sites at the Independence National Historical Park and the free monthly entertainment at the Kimmel Center, home to the Philadelphia Orchestra.
For a huge splurge I have Sunday brunch at Lacroix. At $65 a person it’s quite steep, but what can you expect from a menu that offers foie gras squares, squid ceviche, hand-rolled gnocchi, wild king salmon and a flowing chocolate fountain right at your fingertips. It’s not every day you can dine like royalty.
Photo ops in my city include beautiful skyline shots and the best vantage points are on the top of the Observation Deck underneath the feet of William Penn at City Hall and on top of the steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
If my city were a celebrity, it’d be Will Smith – always classy, always remembering his roots and always stylish. Yeah, that sums up Philadelphia. Did I mention he is from here?
The most random thing about my city is Philadelphia Cream Cheese was never invented here but by a dairy farmer in New York.
My city has the most sports-crazed men I’ve ever seen in my entire life!
My city has the most stylish and educated women in the entire country!
In my city, an active day outdoors involves running through the Art Museum Loop, sculling in the Schuylkill River, hiking on the Wissahickon and mountain biking on Forbidden Drive.
My city’s best museum is without question, the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The oldest art academy and museum in the country, its collection spans over 2,000 years and contains not only Van Gogh but a medieval armor collection and a Japanese tea house. It is the real center of the city’s arts and culture.
My favorite jogging/walking route is the Schuylkill Banks Trail where its beautiful scenery is only enhanced by all the good-looking people training along it.
For a night of dancing, go to the 700 Club where there is no dress code, no cover, no haters and just good hip-hop and funk. Everyone and I mean everyone comes to dance. Or, for live music, check out World Cafe Live with live performances every night.
Geno’s Steaks is the spot for late-night eats. Open 24 hours, it’s where wedding parties, prom-goers, sports fans as well as party guests go to feast on chopped rib-eye steak, fried onions, and American cheese on a kaiser roll– the world famous Philly Cheesesteak and there is nowhere better.
To find out what’s going on at night and on the weekends, read the blog site uwishunu.com. Your inside guide to Philly.
You can tell a lot about my city from all the murals that adorn our neighborhoods. With over 2,700 murals we are the largest outdoor art gallery in the world. Each mural is a collaboration of both artist and community and the end result is a masterpiece loved by many, shared by all.
In the spring you should see The Philadelphia Flower Show which is the world’s largest indoor flower show. The Penn Relays, the nation’s oldest track and field meet, and the Dad Vail Regatta, the oldest and largest regatta in the nation every Mother’s Day weekend.
In the summer you should see the Welcome America Celebration, our kickoff to July 4th which includes an all-you-can-eat ice cream festival, a ceremonial tapping of the Liberty Bell and even a screening of Rocky on the very steps he made famous. Or the Summer Solstice Festival at the Kimmel Center; the only way to count down to the first day of summer is with an all-day/all-night party! And enjoy America’s pastime with a game at Citizens Bank Park with the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies.
In the fall you should catch a Philadelphia Eagles game – Philadelphians love our football because we bleed green and we really know how to tailgate! And run, don’t walk, to Terror Behind the Walls, an haunted house inside Eastern State Penitentiary– just voted the Top Haunted Attraction in the Nation. What’s scarier than walking through a real prison? And watch art imitating life with the Philadelphia Fringe Festival!
In the winter you should catch student recital series at the Curtis Institute of Music, Philly’s version of Juilliard. Enjoy that warm Christmas feeling with the annual Holiday Light Show. And learn the Mummers’ Strut as you watch the Mummers promenade down Broad Street at the oldest New Year’s parade in the country.
You can tell if someone is from my city if they call it water ice rather than Italian ice. We pronounce it “wudder ice.”
A hidden gem in my city is the magic gardens. Located on 1022 South Street, there is no easy way to explain this work of art. Imagine an empty parking lot filled with broken beer bottles, bicycle rims, and ceramics welded together to form a mosaic garden telling the story of one artist’s life. Yep… This is the work of Isaiah Zagar whose imprint is unmistakable and seen throughout Philadelphia. Well worth the visit but don’t forget to bring the camera!
For a great breakfast joint try Morning Glory. Their buttermilk biscuits are always homemade and so delicious! Well worth the wait.
Don’t miss the 9th Street Italian Market Festival in May where food, wine and song are just the beginning. This annual festival celebrates the traditions of Italian culture but also the rich diversity that surrounds our community. From aged cheese to toe-tapping rhythms, if it May it’s time to hit 9th Street.
Just outside my city, you can visit home of the Amish in Lancaster County. In only 90 minutes, you can truly experience the simple life where electricity is a no-no, and horses and buggies, not cars, are the way to get around.
The best way to see my city is on foot because it’s the perfect size!
Stretching from the Delaware River to the Schuylkill River, this 2.8-mile stretch of land provides the perfect blend of history and culture with world class restaurants and shops filled in between.
If my city were a pet it would be a puppy dog because we’re so friendly and irresistibly cute! We promise not to slobber all over you.
If I didn’t live in a city, I’d live in the little village where my father was raised in China. Home to water buffaloes and lychee trees.
The best book about my city is Philadelphia Murals and the Stories They Tell. Our parking lots, our abandoned warehouses, our barren walls are the canvases from which we bring new life, a new sense of community and a new love of who we are as citizens of this great city called Philadelphia. These are our stories. This is our identity. This is our community. To live it is to love it!
When I think about my city, the song that comes to mind is Summertime
by Will Smith and Jazzy Jeff. No matter what the weather is outside, we’re always chilling at the Plateau!
If you have kids, you won’t want to miss the Please Touch Museum. Now in its new 80-million-dollar home, it is the premiere East Coast children’s museum dedicated to our littlest visitors. From Alice to Wonderland to a rocket launcher, you learn by playing.
Wing Bowl could only happen in my city. On the Friday before the Superbowl, up to 27 individuals, men and women, have a chicken-wing eating contest. Up to 20,000 people have attended to witness this true spectator sport while cheerleaders called “Wingettes” lead them on.
Amazing how it has already celebrated its 17th year!
My city should be featured on your cover or website because with its unparalleled history, world class cuisine and thriving arts and culture, Philadelphia has far outgrown the shadow of New York and is ready for the main stage. Are we truly the next great city? Far and beyond!
Photo by B. Krist for GPTMC