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The city of brotherly love is home to some of the country's most significant historic attractions, not least the Liberty Bell (tel: 001 215 597 1785) the symbol of American independence. The Barnes Foundation (tel: 001 215 278 7000; barnesfoundation.org) moves to its new home on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway next Saturday, and the Rodin Museum (tel: 001 215 568 6026; rodinmuseum.org) reopens in July. And on the streets you can discover some of the 3,500 murals scattered around the “mural capital of the world”.
Philadelphia airport is seven miles from Downtown. The Septa Airport line (tel: 001 215 580 7800; septa.org, every half hour from 5.09am to 12.09am daily, from $4/about R30 single) takes about 30 minutes to Market East station. Taxis cost $28.50. The 30th Street Station is on the Amtrak line from New York to Washington DC (tel: 001 800 872 7245; amtrak.com).
GET YOUR BEARINGS
Philadelphia is bordered by two rivers: the Delaware and the Schuylkill. It is a green and walkable city, with a mix of historic cobbled streets, skyscrapers, Art Deco and 19th-century architecture.
Most visitors will stay in Centre City, especially the 25-block grid based on William Penn's 1682 Grand Plan. The eastern waterfront district between Vine Street and South Street is the city's oldest, while Downtown is split into four main districts around City Hall - Parkway and the museums, upmarket Rittenhouse Square, Washington Square and the convention centre.
Septa runs underground, trolley, train and bus services. A one-day Independence Pass ($11) gives unlimited travel, including the airport. Singles cost from $2. The Independence Visitor Center (tel: 001 215 965 7676; independencevisitorcenter.com, 8.30am-5pm daily) at 6th and Market Streets sells the Philadelphia Pass (tel: 001 877 714 1999) for $55 per day, including entry to at least 30 attractions.
For budget stays, it's hard to beat Thomas Bond House B&B at 129 South 2nd Street (tel: 001 215 923 8523; thomasbondhousebandb.com), an 18th-century mansion. Doubles from $115, including breakfast. The Art Deco Hotel Palomar at 117 South 17th Street (tel: 001 215 563 5006; hotelpalomarphiladelphia.com) has doubles from $199, room only. Or splash out at five-star Rittenhouse on Rittenhouse Square (tel: 001 215 546 9000; rittenhousehotel.com), with its Aveda spa. Doubles from $325, room only.
TAKE A HIKE
Start on Front Street, where it meets cobbled Elfreth's Alley, the oldest continuously inhabited street in the US, occupied since 1702. After wandering through the alley, turn south on to 2nd Street and you'll see the grand 18th-century Christ Church (tel: 001 215 922 1695; christchurchphila.org, 9am-5pm daily except 1-5pm Sunday, free). Many of America's founding fathers worshipped in the box pews, including George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, whose influence is everywhere in the city. Turn west at Chestnut Street to the collection of historic buildings in Independence National Historical Park (tel: 001 215 597 8787; nps.gov/inde). Here, Independence Hall (9am-6pm at weekends, to 4.30pm other days, entrance by tour only, $1.50) was the scene of the drafting of the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution. You can still see Washington's original chair.
The Liberty Bell Center (9am-6pm weekends, to 5pm other days, free) houses the cracked bell that became a symbol of freedom.
Nearby, the Presidents' House was home to Washington, as well as slaves he brought from Virginia. A block north on Arch Street, the National Constitution Center (tel: 001 215 409 6600; constitutioncenter.org; 9.30am-5pm Mon-Fri, to 6pm Sat, noon-5pm Sun, $12) is a rousing introduction to “We, the people”.
End at the African American Museum (tel: 001 215 574 0380; aampmuseum.org; 10am-5pm Tues-Sat, noon-5pm Sun, $10) with tales from some of the key figures excluded from the first declarations of liberty.
LUNCH ON THE RUN
A short walk away, the stalls at Reading Terminal Market (tel: 001 215 922 2317; readingterminalmarket.org, 8am-6pm daily 9am-5pm Sundays) sell food from around the world, plus bakeries run by local Amish communities. Try a pretzel with honey mustard for $2 at Miller's Twist or follow in Barack Obama's footsteps and pick up a traditional Philly cheesesteak at Carmen's for $8.
TAKE A VIEW
Whether you join the Rocky fans imitating Sylvester Stallone by running up the 72 steps to the Philadelphia Museum of Art or climb at a more leisurely pace, you're rewarded with a great view of the city. Looking over the greenery of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, you can see City Hall with its rooftop statue of William Penn. Punching the air and shouting “Adrian” is optional.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art (tel: 001 215 763 8100; philamuseum.org; 10am-5pm daily except Mon, $16) is the US's third-largest museum, with eight centuries of European art plus Asian and American collections.
Grab a pavement table outside Parisian-style brasserie Parc (tel: 001 215 545 2262; parc-restaurant.com) to watch the glamorous residents of Rittenhouse Square over cocktails, costing about $10.
DINING WITH THE LOCALS
Alma de Cuba at 1623 Walnut Street (tel: 001 215 988 1799; almadecubarestaurant.com) has a mix of South American influences. Ceviches cost $28 for a sharing trio. Continue with Brazilian shrimp stew for $26. Or head to Midtown Village for modern Greek at Opa at 1311 Sansom Street (tel: 001 215 545 0170; opaphiladelphia.com) where mains cost $13-$22.
SUNDAY MORNING: GO TO CHURCH
George Washington worshipped at St Peter's (tel: 001 215 925 5968; stpetersphila.org; Sunday services 9am and 11am), which still looks much the same today thanks to the high-backed box pews and Rococo organ case. So too did Absalom Jones, a slave who helped to set up the city's first African-American Episcopal church, Mother Bethel Church at 419 South 6th Street (tel: 001 215 925 0616; motherbethel.org; free tours 10am-3pm daily except Mondays) after buying his freedom. Don't miss the beautiful stained glass windows, and small museum downstairs.
TAKE A RIDE
The Mural Arts programme (tel: 001 800 537 7676; muralarts.org) started in 1984 to crack down on graffiti, with offenders invited to join artists in beautifying the city. A two-hour trolley bus tour (10am Sat, Sun, Wed; $25) takes a different route in weekly rotations, all leaving from Mural Arts at the Gallery, 9th and Market Streets .
OUT TO BRUNCH
The menu at Forkat 306 Market Street (tel: 001 215 625 9425; forkrestaurant.com; 11am-3pm Sun) includes three-egg omelettes ($8.50) and a jumbo crab-cake sandwich for $14, plus salads and French toast.
With no tax on shoes and clothing, the city is a retail delight. Walnut Street and Rittenhouse Row have a string of designer and mass market stores, including Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie. Go further west for independent boutiques, such as Dahlia at 2003 Walnut St (tel: 001 215 568 6878; dahliajewelry.net) for quirky jewellery from Israeli designers (closed Sat). Or head to Macy's (tel: 001 215 241 9000; macys.com; 10am-8pm Mon-Sat, 11am-7pm Sun) in the historic Wanamaker Building, the city's first department store and a setting of the movie Mannequin.
A WALK IN THE PARK
Fairmount Park (30) (tel: 001 215 683 0200; fairmountpark.org) is almost 11 times larger than New York's Central Park. It is surrounded by 19th-century mansions, and is home to the Philadelphia Zoo (tel: 001 215 243 1100; philadelphiazoo.org; 9.30am-5pm daily, admission $18).
- Belfast Telegraph