Philadelphia looms large in American history. Independence Hall is where the Declaration of Independence was adopted and the U.S. Constitution drafted. It houses the Liberty Bell and Penn's Landing -- where William Penn arrived in 1685. But here's the real surprise -- it's a rather hip metropolis.
Most attractions are located in a finite space -- stretching from Rittenhouse Square, a lovely park bordered by cafes, bookshops and boutiques, to the Waterfront. Rocky ran up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum, but he would have been wiser to go in. Or taken advantage of the city's other cultural gems.
For openers, Philadelphia is neatly laid out, a compact Center City, which explains its many walking tours. From Franklin's Footsteps (phillytour.com) to architectural tours -- the Art Deco walk meets June 11 and The Gilded Age June 25 (email@example.com) -- there is something for everyone.
Foodies should check out the Sixth Annual Great Chefs Event June 14, when acclaimed chef Marc Vetri joins Top Chef's Tom Colicchio and Iron Chef Jose Garces, among 30 others, for a food and music festival to benefit a foundation for childhood cancer (Urban Outfitters, 5000 S. Broad Street).
If time is pressing, public transport -- the SEPTA and the Phlash trolley -- is everywhere. Market Street, a main thoroughfare, is the nucleus; many sights are on or near it.
The Avenue of the Arts has a number of cultural must-sees, including the Academy of Music, which is staging the opera Phaedra June 12 and the rock musical Next to Normal June 21-26, and PAFA (Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts), housing an extraordinary collection of 19th- and 20th-century American art. The Rodin Museum has the largest collection of the sculptor's works outside of Paris, while the ICA celebrates the art of our time. But one of the quirkier sculptures here is outside City Hall: Claes Oldenburg's 45-foot steel Clothespin.
Of special note is the newly opened National Museum of American Jewish History (nmajh.org). A beautifully designed five-story museum, with more than 1,200 artifacts, original films and interactive displays, it's the only one dedicated to the American Jewish experience, which began in 1654. Barbra Streisand, Louis Brandeis, Sandy Koufax and Albert Einstein are among the 18 in the prestigious Hall of Fame, but what makes the museum impressive is its lively, informative curatorship. It's overarching theme -- the quest for freedom -- is moving and eye-opening.
The trials Jews faced reflect the tension and conflicts of America -- torn between its great claims of liberty and shameful manifestations of bigotry. From the first colonial families (whose descendants include the Ochs-Sulzbergers, owners of The New York Times) to the experience of Jews in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, to the great waves of immigration and the creation of Hollywood, the history of American Jews is inseparable from American history. Most telling, the museum doesn't whitewash their story; it illustrates the totality of a people and a nation. Michael Rosenzweig, the museum's president and CEO, calls it "a powerful testament to what all free people can accomplish, for themselves and society at large."
Of course, come nightfall, Philadelphia has an array of theater, comedy clubs and music venues, like the famed Electric Factory, best known for electronic, heavy metal and rock. On June 18, "Get The Led Out," the American Led Zepplin performs, while Tuesdays is Open Mic@ Mugshots Coffeehouse.
But the City of Brotherly Love also sports diverse culinary fare. While many visitors try the Philly cheesesteak, which dates from the late Thirties, the city offers top-notch ethnic bistros. Two shout-outs are Parc Brasserie, located on Rittenhouse Square, an open-space park designed by William Penn, and Dandelion, a few blocks away. Park Brasserie is a bit of Paris in Philly and ideal for dinner. Sit outside and watch the park lights gently brighten as night falls -- while enjoying a first-rate French meal and expert service. There are excellent classic dishes, such as steak tartare or coq au vin, but start with the leek and goat cheese tart and end with the tarte au citron. Don't miss the cocktails -- theirs or any kind you can concoct.
By contrast, Dandelion is a unique three-story English pub that radiates a pre-war charm. From its pen-and-ink cartoons to an actual English bar, it's like stepping into Brideshead Revisited. The restaurant serves afternoon tea, a traditional roast on Sundays (Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, etc) and dinners of strict English fare, but brunch is a treat. The chicken and duck liver pate is luscious. Then choose either the real English breakfast (eggs, Cumberland sausage, black pudding, tomatoes, mushrooms, bacon) or the Royale (eggs Benedict with smoked salmon). And don't miss the homemade scones and raspberry jam. From the British beers to the toffee pudding, Dandelion is an Anglophile's dream -- an ironic twist, given the city's revolutionary spirit.
Whether the artistry is traditional or culinary, Philadelphia is eclectic. The city has partnered with social-platform Foodspotting to promote local restaurants, wineries, hotels and markets.
If You Go
Hotel Palomar is a trendy chic hotel in Rittenhouse Square, close to terrific restaurants and attractions. The abstract of Ben Franklin in the lobby, coupled with the room's slick design, are arty reminders this is Philly in the 21st century. Second, the hotel is both pet- and eco-friendly. From the organic coffee to the indoor air quality, the attention to comfort and the environment is first-rate. Revel in the in-room body and massage treatments: Wake up and smell the lavender! After a day of sightseeing, there is a complimentary wine hour. Rooms have Wi-Fi and for the exercise-conscious, a 24/7 fitness center. Given the beauty of the hotel, coupled with its amenities, you'll be lucky to leave your room.
www.hotelpalomar-philadelphia.com; 117 South 17th Street, Philadelphia, PA; (215) 563-5006
Parc Brasserie 227 S. 18th St., Philadelphia; parc-restaurant.com
Dandelion 124 S. 18th St., Philadelphia; the dandelionpub.com
Photos by: Debra Griboff