Over the years numerous taglines have been coined to apply to America's most historic city, Philadelphia. It has been called the 'Athens of the Americas', the 'city of brotherly love', 'the friendliest city', the 'most honest city', 'the safest city' and, most recently, 'the city that loves you back'. Fabulous 'Philly', fifth largest metropolis in the United States, is all these things and more, which is why it is regarded as one of the world's most dynamic destinations and the happy home of more than three million people.
The city is sensibly sited 60 miles (97km) inland from the Atlantic coast on a protrusion of land at the merging of the mighty Delaware River and the Schuylkill River, land granted to William Penn, an English Quaker, back in 1682. Penn's vision was to establish a 'green countrie towne', but because of its location controlling the Delaware Valley and its good freshwater port facilities, Philadelphia soon outgrew its original boundaries and by the 18th century was the second largest English-speaking city in the world.
Today Philadelphia draws tourists mainly for its historical wealth, centred around Independence National Historical Park, regarded as the most significant historic square mile in America where the United States was conceived, declared and ratified. The Constitution of the United States was written here in 1787 and the city was the nation's first capital between 1791 and 1800.
Philadelphia is also a shopper's paradise, featuring the world's largest mall, as well as offering some of the finest dining establishments in the country, thousands of acres of beautiful parkland, attractive boulevards where street fairs and parades are common events, and a vibrant arts and entertainment community. In short, to add to all its other tags, Philadelphia can justifiably be said to offer something for everyone.
The city of Philadelphia is well equipped with public transport, most of it run by SEPTA. There is a subway system, but this does not serve the city centre and is mainly useful for accessing the extremities of the city. Good, reliable buses are the main standby, particularly the purple minibuses of the PHLASH bus service that are designed for visitors. PHLASH runs in a circuit from the Philadelphia Museum of Art on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway through the downtown area to Penn's Landing. The route includes 33 stops and buses arrive every 10 minutes every day from 10am to midnight during summer, and till 6pm in winter. Unlimited ride day passes are available. Through the rest of the city and suburbs SEPTA buses cover 110 routes. A useful one for tourists is the Ben FrankLine (Bus No. 76), which runs between the zoo and Penn's Landing taking in some top attractions on the way. SEPTA also runs a good network of commuter trains serving the suburbs. Taxis are plentiful in the city centre, but scarcer elsewhere, particularly at night.
With its origins in the 1800s, the Philadelphia Mummer's Parade is the traditional celebration of the New Year and one of the country's oldest folk customs. Mummery in America is as unique to Philadelphia as Mardi Gras is to New Orleans, and various groups of mummers (masked or costumed merrymakers) compete for originality, themes and costumes in a colourful extravaganza of feathers, sequins, elaborate floats, music and dance. The parade consists of three divisions, the Comics, who are an unstructured division of dancing clowns and satirical performers; the outrageously dressed Fancy Costume Brigade; and the String Bands with marching musicians and precision drills.
The Battle of Gettysburg was the most significant battle of the American Civil War. Over three days in early July, the blood of almost 50,000 soldiers was split on the fields outside the town of Gettysburg, in the battle that would become the turning point of the civil war. Today, a re-enactment of the battle takes place as close to the original days (1-3 July) as possible featuring tens of thousands of participants and spectators to educate and make aware of the early violent past of this powerful nation. The event is hugely popular and receives visitors from all across the United States. There are plenty of food and merchandise stalls too.
Philadelphia Live Arts Festival/Philly Fringe
The Philadelphia Live Arts Festival - and its offshoot attraction, the Philly Fringe - are two concurrently-run performing arts festivals, that each year bring downtown Philadelphia to life. The Live Arts Festival's program is determined by selection, with half of the performers coming from Philadelphia, and the other half being flown in from around the globe - and its emphasis is on providing audiences with high-quality, compelling and thought-provoking entertainment. The Philly Fringe, on the other hand, is an 'unfiltered event', which provides a platform for local artists to show the world what they're made of. The event's organisers claim that the purpose of the Philly Fringe is to 'create a cityscape' filled with dance, music and theatre performances, and with nearly 200 self-produced shows taking place in a fortnight, it is bound to do just that.
Philadelphia Cherry Blossom Festival
The Subaru Cherry Blossom Festival of Greater Philadelphia is as much a festival held in honour of the pink-blossomed trees, as it is a celebration of Japanese culture. Visitors to the festival - over and above experiencing the numinous beauty of the cherry blossoms (more than a thousand of the black-limbed trees will be in bloom) - will also be treated to Japanese drumming and martial arts performances, a traditional tea ceremony, an origami demonstration, and a presentation given by a master sushi chef from Japan. The ideal spot for a romantic or family picnic, visitors should pack their cameras and head down to Fairmount Park for an unforgettable day spent in the sweet lap of nature.
Independence National Historical Park
On July 8, 1776, the Liberty Bell rang out from the tower of Independence Hall summoning citizens to hear the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence. Today the Hall stands proudly, revered as the birthplace of the American nation, in Independence National Historical Park, an eight-block historic neighbourhood in the very centre of old Philadelphia. The Liberty Bell itself is on display here, in a pavilion in Market Street between 5th and 6th Street. Independence Hall on Chestnut Street was originally built as the Pennsylvania State House in 1732, but became famous after first the Declaration of Independence and later the Constitution of the United States was ratified here. The rest of the 45-acre Independence Park is packed with historically significant buildings and museums, interpreting the events and lives of the movers and shakers involved in Philadelphia's years as capital of the United States from 1790 to 1800, including George Washington and John Adams. About 20 buildings are open to the public daily, with times varying according to season. Advance tickets are required for Independence Hall, obtainable from the adjacent Visitor's Centre or bookable in advance through the National Parks Service.
Franklin Institute Science Museum
Philadelphia's most visited museum, the Franklin Institute on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, opened in 1934 and fast became recognised for its innovative and imaginative exhibits that demonstrate the influence of science in our lives. The museum complex is divided into four sections. Firstly the Franklin National Memorial is dedicated to Benjamin Franklin, featuring a huge statue of its namesake and a collection of memorabilia associated with the great man. The second section features a collection of hands-on and interactive science and technology exhibits, ranging from a walk-through model of a heart to a lightning gallery. This section also includes the Discovery Theatre where scientific shows are given each afternoon, and a puzzle section. The basement area is the location of the Fels Planetarium. The third section consists of the Mandell Futures Center, a relatively new addition to the museum's offerings, which features eight futuristic permanent interactive exhibits covering space, earth, computers, chemistry and health. There is also an Imax theatre arena here showing a variety of films. Lastly the museum offers the CoreStates Science Park, located on the lawn between the main museum buildings. This is a garden full of high-tech play structures like a stand-on organ, maze and a high-wire bicycle. The museum also features several restaurants and a snack bar.
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Philadelphia's elegant art museum, established in the 1870s, houses a permanent collection of more than 225,000 works in 200 galleries, recognised as being one of the finest art assemblages in America. Exhibits include not only magnificent paintings, but also sculptures, period furniture and historic rooms. The beautiful building that houses this collection is built in the style of a Greco-Roman temple and stands on a hilltop off Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The two-storey building is designed with L-shaped wings leading off a central court, and exhibits are arranged in period groupings. The museum also has a cafeteria and a formal restaurant, and regularly hosts visiting exhibitions.
The Barnes Foundation, housed in the French provincial mansion of Albert Barnes, holds one of the finest collections of French modern and post-impressionist paintings in the entire world. Dr Albert Barnes was a wealthy Philadelphia born and bred pharmaceutical entrepreneur who established the foundation in 1922. This artistic experience without equal offers the chance to view an awesome number of masterpieces by artists such as Matisse, CÃ©zanne, Renoir and Picasso. There are also objects like furniture, ceramics and jewellery from around the world in this rare collection of artistic treasures. *Note: The Barnes Foundation is closed until late 2012.
Part of the Independence National Historical Park, the area between 3rd and 4th Streets is where the home of America's most remarkable historic figure, Benjamin Franklin, once stood. The house no longer exists, but the remaining courtyard has been covered with a 54-foot high (16m) steel skeleton 'ghost structure' and provides a novel and fascinating tribute and insight into the life of Franklin, a printer, diplomat, inventor, publisher, author, statesman, postmaster, founder of the University of Pennsylvania and more. On the site visitors can see an underground museum filled with paintings, objects and inventions associated with Franklin, and use a bank of telephones listening to testimonies from famous personalities about the achievements of the great man. There is also a US Postal Service Museum and active post office on the site and in a nearby house an architectural exhibit explaining Franklin's fire-resisting building techniques can be viewed. Another building in Market Street houses an 18th-century printing office and bindery where demonstrations are given, and alongside is the restored office of the newspaper published by Franklin's grandson, Benjamin Franklin Bache.
Philadelphia's state-of-the-art Zoo, opened in 1874, was the first in the United States and today takes first place as one of the world's most renowned zoological gardens with its wonderful animal exhibits, award-winning education and conservation programmes, recreational opportunities and scientific accomplishments. More than one million visitors a year are drawn to this leading city attraction. Among the special features offered are more than 1,600 rare and exotic animals and 42 acres of picturesque Victorian gardens. Highlights are the Peco Primate Reserve, an interactive exhibit featuring 10 species of primates; the Rare Animal Conservation Center giving close up views of some of the world's most endangered animals; the Reptile and Amphibian House, which has an interactive adventure path showcasing 87 species including the King Cobra; an African animal section; the chance to ascend in a helium balloon; children's petting zoo and daily live animal shows.
The city of Doylestown, about 25 miles (40km) north of Philadelphia in the centre of Bucks County (of which it is the county capital), is renowned for its Historic District which contains more than 1,000 structures dating from between 1851 and 1910. This treasure-trove of architectural heritage, bounded by Union, Cottage and East Ashland Streets, Hillside Avenue and South and North-West Streets, draws hundreds of visitors to the city, which has been named one of a 'Dozen Distinctive Destinations' by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The city also offers inviting antique and handcraft shops, numerous excellent restaurants and in the surrounding Bucks County countryside there are vast recreational possibilities, from fishing and boating on the scenic Delaware River to hiking through nature trails and discovering surprises like the 300-year-old Fallsington village. Nearby too is the site where George Washington crossed the Delaware River and changed the course of the American Revolution.
Rated as one of the most popular summer drives in America, a tour of Pennsylvania's Dutch Country is a relaxing and rewarding experience, enjoyed by an estimated five million visitors every year. Central to the area is Pennsylvania's scenic Lancaster County, just one and a half hour's drive west of Philadelphia. The main drawcard is the fascinating lifestyle of the local Amish (plain Quaker) farming communities, who live according to age-old traditions and values without making use of any modern conveniences, even eschewing electricity and telephones. The area abounds with interesting historic and rural attractions, including 28 picturesque covered bridges on quiet country roads, the oldest Mennonite meeting house in America and the home of a former US president. Many visitors opt to tour the area in a horse and buggy or by bicycle. Another big attraction in the area is the food, which, because of the local agriculture is 'fresh-from-the-farm' home style cooking, all offered at local restaurants and markets. Be sure to try the area's famous Shoo-Fly Pie, an open pie made with molasses and sweet crumbs. To wash down the farm fare there are wineries and breweries open for tours and tastings. Shopping for local crafts and antiques is another popular pastime.
Gettysburg National Military Park
The small town of Gettysburg in Adam's County, south-central Pennsylvania was the site of the largest Civil War battle ever waged in the Western Hemisphere. It was here, too, that Abraham Lincoln delivered his immortal address. The bloody Battle of Gettysburg started on July 1, 1863 and lasted two days, resulting in a Union victory. The Gettysburg National Military Park now stands testimony to the battle, incorporating about 6,000 acres of land, 26 miles of park roads and more than 1,400 monuments, markers and memorials.
Hershey's Chocolate World
No Charlie should miss out on the treat of visiting Hershey's Chocolate World in the town where chocolate making has become an art. Hershey, billed as 'the sweetest place on earth', is about 90 miles (145km) from Philadelphia via Lancaster. A free-of-charge simulated factory tour ride is offered at the official visitor's centre of the Hershey Foods Corporation, and a new Chocolate Tour begins in a tropical rain forest where the chocolate beans grow, and follows the journey as they make their way to Hershey's. Visitors can attend a 20-minute presentation on how Hershey's Chocolate is made, run every half hour in the 3-D Theater Lobby. There are also gift and souvenir shops, a food court, and the Hershey's 3-D show.
About 35 miles (63km) west of Philadelphia on US 1 (accessible by bus and train) is the scenic cultural and historical Mecca of the Brandywine Valley, sprinkled with magical natural settings, country inns, fascinating museums and beautiful gardens in the heart of Chester County. Visitors can enjoy Longwood Gardens, the Brandywine River Museum (with its unique art collection in a grist mill), the Chaddsford Winery, the Simon Pearce glassblowing studio and shopping in historic Kennett Square to name just a few of the attractions in this naturally beautiful part of Pennsylvania.
Please Touch Museum
The Please Touch Museum, located in Memorial Hall in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia, is a shining example of what must be one of the rarest cultural attractions anywhere in the world: a museum where children are actually encouraged to lay on their hands on the exhibits. Mainly aimed at kids seven years and younger, the museum seeks to educate and entrance its visitors in equal measure, by offering them a hands-on experience of an assortment of life-size, interactive 'exhibition zones'. Although the exhibits change frequently (the curators wouldn't want their lilliputian clientÃ¨le to get bored, now, would they?), highlights have included an Alice in Wonderland area, complete with rabbit-holes and garden mazes, a miniature supermarket, and a scaled-down SEPTA bus display. Parents and grandparents are undivided in their approval of the museum, and its child-friendliness - describing it as an ideal way to spend a day out with the kids. A useful tip: the museum offers an irresistible selection of wholesome food and drinks, so take some antibacterial hand soap along, to use before snack time.
Philadelphia International Airport
Location: The airport is located seven miles (11km) from downtown Philadelphia.
Contacts: Tel: +1 215 937 6937.
Time Zone: GMT -5 (GMT -4 from March to November).
Departure tax: None.
Transfer between terminals: Philadelphia International Airport consists of six terminals (A, B, C, D, E, and F), which are connected by free shuttle bus services.
Facilities: ATMs can be found in the main concourse of each terminal and Travelex offers currency exchange and flight insurance. There are numerous restaurants, cafes and fast-food outlets throughout the airport. A shopping centre called Philadelphia Marketplace is located in the connecting link between terminals B and C, featuring numerous shops and eateries. There are also duty-free shops available in terminals A and E and wireless Internet throughout the airport.
Parking: Short-term parking at Philadelphia International Airport costs $4 for half an hour and $2 per 30 minutes thereafter going up to a flat rate of $40 after 3.5 hours. Long-term parking has similar hourly rates, but the daily rate is just $20. The Economy Lot costs just $11 per day and is connected to the terminal via a free shuttle service.
Transfer to the city: The most popular transport is SEPTA which provides a high-speed rail service between the airport terminals and central Philadelphia and is the fastest connection to the city centre. Fares cost US$7 one way. Philadelphia Trains depart every half-hour between 6am and midnight and the journey takes about 20 minutes. SEPTA also connects to the Greyhound Bus Terminal and Amtrak at 30th Street Station. Bus Routes 37 and 108 run to downtown. Taxis are available day and night, charging a flat rate for transport to the city centre at $28.50. Taxis are found on Commercial Transportation Roadway at zone 5. Shared shuttle vans are also available in zone 7. Call: +1 215 937 6958 for ground transport information or go to their desk on arrivals at each baggage claim area. They can arrange for limousine passage departing from zone 6.
Car rental: Car rental agencies represented at the airport are Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Hertz and National. Information phones are available at all baggage claim areas for each of the on-airport car rental agencies.
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