Philadelphia is the quiet city that I imagine would make you comfortable enough to never want to leave. Sure when it’s light out there are parts of the city full of tourists lining up around the corner to get a glimpse at the history that was made here at the beginning of a new nation, a nation that would be greater and stronger from the nation who ‘found’ it.
If you look beyond those crowds though it’s a city with friendly people who’s passion for their home brims to the top. Just walking down the street leads to conversations with locals about the love they have for their city and around almost every corner there is something to be seen, more than historically, but ever presently.
Philadelphia with it’s brick draped soul is a historical landmark alive with tourists and rather quiet in the evenings. In fact, basking in the warm summer air with barely a soul about in this square with no convenience you can’t predict the crowds that come with daybreak when walking past the Liberty Bell center or through the empty President’s House.
Founded in 1682 by William Penn (yes, this is where Pennsylvania comes from) and within 70 years it had become the largest city in America with the second busiest port in British America behind London. Twenty years later it was briefly the capital and is well known for being the place where of course the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4 1776.
The famous Liberty Bell was commissioned from a London firm and arrived in the city, cracking upon first being rung once arriving in Philadelphia. Recast tin 1752 and 1846, the bell crack’s lengthened and was eventually placed in the Declaration chamber in 1848 thanks to a growing interest. Just five years later President Franklin Pierce spoke of the bell as a symbol of the American Revolution and American Liberty.
Stumbling towards the effervescent green of the Love park in JFK Plaza, was the stunning green fountain, water that color something rarely seen in life. Coloring the fountain is a tradition in support of various events and it is a way to make this fountain in a city of water features truly stand out. Although a sign in bright red letters saying LOVE makes it stand out all it’s own thanks to Robert Indiana who is responsible for that sign that is synonymous with tourists posing in front of it. Originally placed in the park in 1976 it was removed in 1978 until the locals recognized they loved what was now lost so it was bought and permanently placed back in it’s old location that same year.
The walk from JFK Plaza/Love park to the Art Museum is pleasant with the Swann Fountain a few blocks down to give you a chance to rest from the 15 minute walk towards the steps Rocky held his arms up at the top of.
One of the highlights of Philadelphia was visiting Eastern State Penitentiary, a world famous prison that held more than a handful famous prisoners. Left to decay for over 20 years it was than opened to the public and is run completely from admissions and private bookings. Getting into a historical prison is in itself a unique thing, but stepping inside a prison almost two hundred years old with paint peeling off and dust having built up in certain rooms was quite a sight.
Al Capone’s old cell has been recreated to give you a glimpse of how differently he managed to live with his record player and nice furniture. Seeing and hearing some of the former prisoners describe their experiences in the prison was to get a glimpse of it when it was fully functioning and despite appearances it’s not as scary or eerie a place as you might imagine.
Within 15 minutes walk from the prisons walls stands the iconic Philadelphia Art Museum. With those memorable stairs leading to the entry steeped in cinematic history with that famous Rocky scene being recreated by countless tourists and locals doing their own Rocky training back and forth running the steps and turning right back around to do it again.
The museum has pay what you wish Wednesday making it easy to get inside the iconic museum on a tight budget. And if you happen to have a yoga mat handy than just go right up the stairs and if you are lucky you get a view of the city from the first floor while doing your poses. There are a number of other events that take place in conjunction with the evening.
The next day it was time to stand in the morning lines between tour groups to see the bell in it’s glory and than cross the street to see the room where the Declaration was signed all those years ago in Independence Hall. If you get a ticket and go not long after opening you can see both before 10am if tied for time.
Let’s talk about food in Philly. The first thing that had to be eaten was the Philly Cheesesteak which is thinly sliced steak with cheese, onions and a slathered in a special sauce. Eat it and you’ll see why it’s a pretty big deal! Reading Terminal Market is the place to go (or personally can a campsite be set up in there?) as it has so so many options, but Tommy DeNic’s sandwich has been named the best in America so of course I had to go there. I wish I’d had time to try those apple fritters or at least remembered after my sandwich (the world went into a blur after devouring my DeNic’s).
Standing outside the Liberty Bell center seeing it through glass as crowds wander past grabbing photos from every angle walking past this symbol of American liberty and history the plaque’s final paragraph is so perfect I have to quote it word for word: “The Liberty Bell survived to provide a very personal message for everyone who stands before it – male or female, young or old. The only requirement you need to hear its symbolic message is a desire to search for the meaning of liberty that lives within you. Cracked and silent, yet world famous, the Bell reminds us to focus on strengths not weaknesses. Threatened many times, the Liberty Bell outlasted adversity, offering hope for a better tomorrow, when liberty truly may touch us all.”
This message reminds that America is a country founded on hope of a better life. That is what the American dream is founded on and it is a country that tries to provide that, even when it’s failing, it tries harder than many of the long ago founded countries. It’s youth spurs it forward and this is never more evident than the historical landmark of Philadelphia.
Here is all the information to get from the airport to downtown.
If you need a five minute break on the walk between downtown and the art museum, the Swann Fountain is worth a stop.
Philly has a lot of attractions that you can visit for free and here is the list of the top attractions.
You need tickets (despite being free) for some attractions and here is the website. The building is located directly across the road from the Presidents House which sits in front of the Liberty Bell Center.
Liberty Bell Center requires no ticket.