Insider’s Guide to Philadelphia

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The city where the U.S. got its start is rich in history, for sure. But Philadelphia also can brag about its art collections, science centers, and culinary spots—all destinations within walking distance of City Hall, the centermost point of Center City.

> Museums en Masse:

Locals compare the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to Paris’s Champs-Élysées—a reasonable stretch, given its impressive museums.

Book ahead to visit the Barnes Foundation, known for its collection of Cézannes, Renoirs, and Matisses arranged alongside African sculptures and French ironwork.

The parkway runs from City Hall to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where visitors like to run up the steps featured in the film Rocky before viewing the Eakins. (Gah ’head. Everyone does it.)

> Founders Tour:

Independence Mall, today a national park, is where it all began—or, at least, where it all got signed.

The flat national park extends out from Independence Hall, where John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and 53 other brave fellows met to lend their John Hancocks to the document that would proclaim independence from King George III.

Along the cobblestones of Chestnut Street are the Liberty Bell, with the crack that was caused by its clapper, and the remains of George Washington’s Philadelphia digs.

> South Philly Fare:

Fans of actor-director Sylvester Stallone’s work will recognize South Ninth Street between Fitzwater and Wharton Streets as the place where Rocky Balboa caught an apple during his famous run.

Others may know the stretch as one of the oldest open-air markets in the nation. Don’t miss: the endless cheeses and olives at Di Bruno Brothers, the truly odd meats at D’Angelo Bros., the loaves of Italian bread at Sarcone’s Bakery, and the house-made mozzarella at Claudio.

> Authentic Old City:

Historic sites in downtown Philly include wee Elfreth’s Alley, the onetime home of myriad makers, among them an African tailor, a German shoemaker, glassblowers, first lady Dolley Madison, and seamstress Betsy Ross.

This neighborhood, which is home to the historic Episcopal Christ Church and the redbrick Betsy Ross House, has become just as popular for its clutch of bistros, cafés, art galleries, and boutiques.

> Travel Trivia: 

  • Philadelphia’s Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, founded in 1805, is the oldest art school in the United States.
  • The first U.S. patent was awarded to a Philadelphian, Samuel Hopkins, in 1790 for a new way of making potash.
  • One percent of all new construction in Philadelphia must be designated for public art.
  • East-to-west thoroughfares were named for Pennsylvania founder William Penn‘s favorite trees. Chestnut, Walnut, Locust, Spruce, and Pine remain.

This piece, reported by Lauren McCutcheon, first appeared in the December 2014 issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine.

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