Old City, New City – the Sites of Philadelphia, PA

The sights, sounds and tastes of Philly swirl around me as I try to capture everything we did in our 4 day weekend getaway to Philadelphia, PA. We were there in March for the annual Love Run, a 5K and Half-Marathon. This trip contained a lot of firsts for me – first time running a 5K for one thing! First time visiting Philly, which means first time going up the Rocky steps, seeing the Liberty Bell, sauntering through Rittenhouse Square or finally eating a real Philly cheesesteak. It was an amazing weekend filled with so much to see and do.

Reading Terminal Market

The first thing we did after getting off the train that took us from New York to Philly, was to head over to nearby Reading Terminal Market for lunch, on the corner of 12th and Arch street (right by the convention center).  This is one of America’s largest and oldest markets, located in the current landmark building since 1893.  People come here to buy produce, meats, cheese, baked goods and more, but it is also a great place to grab a quick meal or drink.

We chose to try out Tommy Dinic’s [51 North 12th street, {215} 923-6175] for some traditional meat sandwiches.  There was a long line, and I was confused at first because there seemed to be two lines, along with a packed wrap-around counter where people sat.  It took awhile, but I finally realized one line was for the counter, and one for take-out….or so it seemed.  A couple sitting right next to where we were standing happened to have finished their meal and got up to leave.  We thought, “should we just sit down?”  It didn’t seem like anyone was coming over from the front of the line, so we went for it!  No one said a word.  Which is to say, I’m still not sure how the two lines work…..but it was great to sit at the counter and watch all the sandwiches being made.  I had the roast pork and broccoli rabe sandwich.  It had just the right amount of jus soaking into the bun, tender roast pork and broccoli rabe held together with some provolone.  It was the best sandwich I’d had in a long time, and felt like enough food for the entire day.

Dinic’s Pork and Beef

For a history of the market, list of merchants and more, visit readingterminalmarket.org

Historic Philadelphia

This is one of the best cities to immerse yourself into American history.  In a block of space called the “Old City”, starting at Walnut and 6th streets and going over roughly to Race street and the piers, you will be able to see no less than all of the following:  Independence Hall (where they signed the Declaration of Independence), the Liberty Bell, The National Constitution Center, the U.S. Mint, The Betsy Ross House and Elfreth’s Alley.  There is much more, but those were the highlights we chose to see.

Start your visit at the Independence Visitor Center, where you can get reserved tickets to see different sites, brochures, maps, snacks and more.  Independence Hall gives tours every 15 minutes, but depending on the crowds you may have to wait in line.  For more information see here.

Independence Hall

Independence Hall:  This building used to be the Pennsylvania State House, and it was here that congressmen such as Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Adams, John Hancock and Thomas Jefferson assembled to debate and sign the Declaration of Independence.  The draft that Thomas Jefferson wrote was adopted on July 4, 1776 (Independence Day) and the document was signed on August 2, 1776.  Eleven years later The United States Constitution was signed here (September 17, 1787).  The tour will take you through various rooms, including the courthouse which used to be the nation’s Supreme Court and the Assembly Hall where both documents were debated and signed.  The rooms are set up in the furnishings and signing implements of the time, so you can stand there and image what it might have been like to be there.

Assembly Room

Franklin Court:  Benjamin Franklin is a major figure in Philadelphia’s history, and he lived in the Old City.  His house no longer exits, but a “ghost” house structure was built on the original location which can be visited, along with a museum about his life, at nearby Franklin Court (between 3rd and 4th streets).  The only original structure still standing is the arched carriage entryway to his property which included rental units and a printing shop.  As I stood there I imagined Benjamin Franklin, one of the richest men in town, getting in his horse-drawn carriage and riding out through that archway, perhaps on his way to Independence Hall.

What is left of Benjamin Franklin’s once grand court

National Constitution Center:  If you continue up a few blocks you will come to the National Constitution Center, which was a nice place to sit down and rest our feet for a bit while we watched an engaging multi-media presentation on how the constitution came to be.  Tickets can be purchased at the door. For more information visit constitutioncenter.org 

U.S. Mint:  If you are a finance geek, you may also want to stop by the Philadelphia U.S. Mint next door, the nation’s first mint.  They still produce coins and provide other services.  You can take a tour of the mint, learn about its history and watch coins being made.  We bought tickets at the door, but for more information you can visit here

The Liberty Bell:  Now fully immersed in the feel of the times, you can’t miss a stop to see the Liberty Bell, a few blocks south between 5th and 6th streets.  A visit to the Liberty Bell center is free, and it will teach you about how this bell became a symbol of liberty for all.  You can see exhibitions, a film, and of course the cracked Liberty Bell itself.  The reason why it is cracked has not been recorded, but most likely after 90 years of hard use, small cracks and repairs that did not go well caused it.  This is the bell that originally hung in the Philadelphia State House (now Independence Hall) and rung in the congressmen for assembly.

The Liberty Bell

By now you might imagine we were starving, and fortunately one of the best cheeseteaks in town can be found in the Old City, Sonny’s Cheesesteaks [228 Market Street, {215} 629-5760]  It was packed and there was a line to get seating that we stood in for a good half hour, but it was so worth it!  Once seated, one of us went up to order our loaded cheesesteaks.  You wait to pick up your sandwich and drinks at the other side and bring it to your table yourself…then dig in!

Menu at Sonny’s Cheesesteaks

Now fed and refreshed, we finished our tour of the Old City by going to Elfreth’s Alley and seeing the Betsy Ross House on the way.  The Betsy Ross House is where the seamstress and flag maker Betsy Ross (1752-1836) lived and is said to have sewn the first American flag.  Information on events and a virtual tour of the house can be found here.  As you cross over on Arch street and then up on 2nd street you will reach Elfreth’s Alley.  This is an ally that was built in 1703 to provide a convenient route to the docks.  Over the past three hundred years it has been preserved as a national historic landmark, and is an exceptional example of early American structures.  This is the place to snap a photo and feel what it might have been like to live in colonial America.

Elfreth’s Alley

City Hall

A pleasant morning or afternoon can be had touring City Hall, located at Market and Broad street.  We bought tickets for the tour at the door and were met by a pleasant older woman who we had to ourselves as no one else was on the tour.  She was more than happy to share her knowledge of how Philadelphia came to be, the importance of William Penn and to answer any of our questions.  William Penn designed the city of Philadelphia in 1682 and named many of its streets and squares.  We had a pleasant discussion as to who is considered most important to Philadelphia – William Penn or Benjamin Franklin?

The highlight of the tour was going up in the tiny wooden elevator to the top of the City Hall Tower.  The 548 foot tower is the tallest masonry structure in the world without a steel frame, and on top of it sits the 37 foot statue of William Penn, weighing over 26 tons.  There is a railed deck around the foot of the statue so you can go right out and take birds-eye view pictures of all of Philly.  There is another observatory deck nearby, but it costs more, and I think it is nicer to take in the views of Philly from right here at City Hall, underneath the statue of William Penn.  Almost every time you see something on Philly they show City Hall, and I can say I was right up there at the top of the tower!

Underneath the statue of William Penn

View from the tower of Benjamin Franklin Parkway, all the way to the Rocky Steps

City Hall

Love Run Philadelphia Half Marathon

Here is what I remember from the morning of race day:  got up at 5:30am to start getting ready for the race.  Bagels and peanut butter purchased the night before, ready to eat for breakfast because nothing will be open (check), three layers of clothing and a running cap because it will be just above zero degrees Fahrenheit that morning (check), pin on my number and do some stretching (check), then I headed out the door. I was running the 5K which was being held alongside the half marathon.  It is hard to describe the intense energy you feel when after walking through cold, empty city streets early in the morning you then come out onto the Benjamin Franklin Parkway at dawn along with thousands of other runners, walking down the pathway with you, next to rows of national flags, having your picture taken, taking in deep breaths as the sun rises.

Th 5K race path goes through downtown, and I can still remember what it was like to run past City Hall, cruising down the center of the street with the other runners.  I’m a beginner, and this was my first 5K, so it took me about an hour to finish, but I will never forget what it was like to cross my first finish line….I felt proud.

For more information on the race and how to register, visit Love Run.

Rocky Steps and Statue

You have to do the Rocky steps, which are the steps going up the Philadelphia Museum of Art that Sylvester Stallone ran up in the famous scene in “Rocky” (as if you didn’t already know).  Another must do is to take a photo next to the Rocky statue nearby.  You have to wait a bit in line, and grin while everyone impatiently waits for you to finish your shot, but it all goes by too quickly in my opinion.

Rocky Balboa statue

To celebrate after the race, we had a wonderful dinner at The Dandelion [124 South 18th street (215) 545-2262].  It’s a pub with a cozy dark interior, a fireplace, and seating upstairs. It has an upscale feel to it and a higher-end menu to match.  Instead of the usual pub fare, I chose the Tandoori Chicken entrée, with coconut basmati rice with almonds, pistachios and raisins.  It was very good, we even said we’d come back to Philly just to have that dish again.

Rittenhouse Square

On our last day we took a walk up and down Walnut and Chestnut streets and ended our walk here.  Rittenhouse House Square was planned by William Penn in the late 17th century, and today it is in the middle of Center City’s most exclusive neighborhood.  Surrounded by high rises, luxury shopping and eateries, the park is pleasant to stroll through any time of year.  We had brunch at Parc [227 South 18th Street (215) 545-2262], a French restaurant which wasn’t cheap, but the menu had every French bistro brunch item you could think of. Afterwards we rested on a bench in the park, people watched and even caught an impromptu waltz or two by some couples who just felt like dancing in the park.

Philadelphia, known as the city of brotherly love, is a city filled with love of all kinds, including perhaps the most important love of all – the love of freedom.  I took away with me a renewed sense of what that means, and how it has helped build this city through to today.

Top 10 Things To Do

  1. Reading Terminal Market – Tommy Dinic’s
  2. Independence Hall and Franklin Court
  3. National Constitution Center and the U.S. Mint
  4. Liberty Bell
  5. Philly Cheesesteaks – Sonny’s in Old City
  6. Elfreth’s Alley and Betsy Ross House
  7. City Hall
  8. Love Run and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway
  9. Rocky steps and statue
  10. Rittenhouse Square

Accommodations

We had a lovely stay at the Club Quarter’s Hotel, located near Rittenhouse Square and walking distance to everything.  It was clean, efficient and modern with amenities like a gym and nice touches like free bottled water on our floor.  We snatched a great discounted price online, so it was reasonable for the weekend.  They have a beautiful lobby, where every evening at 5pm guests gathered for a complimentary glass of wine or two. Club Quarters Hotel 1628 Chestnut Street (215) 282-5000

For more hotel options and deals, visit www.visitphilly.com

If you’re looking for a more historic and charming accommodation, try out one of the many bed and breakfasts, which often provide more reasonable prices along with Wifi and complimentary breakfast:  Bed and Breakfasts in Philadelphia

Date of trip:  March 2018

Published by Irena Springer

I am a travel blogger who loves to make the most out of each and every trip.

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