When longtime Philadelphia residents Larissa and Michael Milne turned 50, they left their careers behind to travel around the world for a year (with a miniature Rocky Balboa statue) and write about their adventure for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Now that their long trip is coming to an end, here are the things they can’t wait to get back to in the “City of Brotherly Love.”
Philadelphia is My City
The first place I take a visitor from out of town is the Swann Fountain in Logan Circle to get a quick snapshot of all Philly has to offer. From here, you can see City Hall, topped by a statue of William Penn, showcase the city’s history, while the Franklin Institute, Academy of Natural Science, and Philadelphia Museum of Art offer opportunities for scientific and cultural enrichment.
When I crave donuts I always go to Frangelli’s Bakery in South Philly. This tiny corner shop fills jelly donuts to order, then hand-dusts them with your choice of either powdered or granular sugar. Heavenly!
To escape the busy streets I head to the Joseph Fox Bookshop, which offers an excellent and surprisingly varied collection of titles and is run by true book lovers. You won’t find cappuccino or scones here — just good books and a great place to browse.
If I want to feel intellectual I go to the University City neighborhood around the Penn and Drexel campuses to see a sporting event, theatrical performance, lecture — or just shop at some of the funky boutiques. If you get hungry, stop at one of the many food trucks for a bite — they’ve raised “lunch-truck” cooking to an art form.
For complete quiet, I can hide away in Washington Square. Technically part of Independence National Historical Park, this leafy square is rarely visited by tourists. Located diagonally across from Independence Hall‘s backyard, Washington Square is surrounded by beautiful historic homes and buildings and houses the Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War Soldier.
If you come to my city, get your picture taken with the “Rocky” statue at the base of the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps (at the east entrance). Rocky Balboa of the Rocky films is Philadelphia’s most famous citizen, and an inspiration to underdogs everywhere. No matter when you stop by, there are people from all over the world getting their photo taken with “The Italian Stallion.”
If you have to order one thing off the menu from SquareBurger it has to be the Tastykake Shake. Made with Philly’s signature snack cake, the Butterscotch Krimpet, it’s an ethereal combination of cake and ice cream that can be sipped through a straw.
Headhouse Farmer’s Market is my one-stop shop for fresh, local produce and baked goods. Philly is chock-full of farmer’s market, but Headhouse, located in historic Society Hill, is my favorite because it’s held in an authentic open-air market pavilion that dates back to the 1700s. It’s easy to imagine Ben Franklin shopping for apples here!
Locals know to skip Pat’s or Geno’s and check out Jake’s Sandwich Board instead. The well-known dueling cheesesteak places in South Philly are more about legend and reputation than actual flavor these days. Jake’s offers several varieties of the Philly classic with better meat, better rolls, and real cheese (not Cheez Whiz!)
When I’m feeling cash-strapped I go to World Café Live, a restaurant/concert venue run by UPenn’s nationally renowned public radio station, WXPN. Each Friday at noon, ‘XPN hosts a free concert featuring whatever musician happens to be playing in town that weekend. Past performers have included Willie Nelson, blues legend Joe Louis Walker, and Adele (before she was famous). Anyone can attend for free, simply sign up online.
Photo ops in my city include Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, Boathouse Row, and, of course, the “Rocky” statue. The best vantage point is from the top of the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps, which provides a panoramic view of the skyline.
If my city were a celebrity it’d be Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa — tough, but with a heart of gold.
The most random thing about my city is there is no sales tax on clothing. Shop ‘til you drop at the boutiques near Rittenhouse Square, including the flagship store for Anthropologie. Or go for the huge suburban mall experience at King of Prussia, one of the nation’s largest, 20 miles northwest of town.
In my city, an active day outdoors involves a walk, run, rollerblade or bike ride along the Schuylkill River Trail in Fairmount Park. The trail runs for about 10 miles within the city, and along the way you can race the rowers in the river and take in beautiful gardens and statues, including Frederic Remington’s life-sized bronze “Cowboy” dramatically perched on a bluff over the river.
My city’s best museum is the Barnes Foundation, one of the world’s finest collections of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art. Established in 1922 by the somewhat quirky Dr. Albert Barnes, the museum languished in relative obscurity in a Philadelphia suburb for decades. The collection was recently moved to a brand-new, more accessible location on the tree-lined Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The setting and the paintings will have you feeling like you are in Paris.
My favorite jogging/walking route is through the dozens of wide, tree-shaded streets lined with charming 18th- and 19th-century brick townhouses (Philly boasts the largest collection of Georgian architecture outside of London) in the historic Center City district. This is city living at its best!
For live music, check out World Café Live in University City. In addition to the “Free at Noon” concerts on Friday (see above) WCL offers live performances most nights of the week in two different venues, a larger concert hall and a more intimate lounge setting. Food/drinks served.
To find out what’s going on at night and on the weekends, read The City Paper and The Philadelphia Weekly. Both are free and available either online or in print from newspaper boxes on many street corners.
You can tell a lot about my city from the message on top of the PECO Building. The city’s main electricity/energy provider has a huge electronic billboard (ecently updated with energy-efficient LED lights) on top of their headquarters, and it’s constantly broadcasting event information or cheering on the sports teams.
You can tell if someone is from my city if they say “Yo!” It’s our catchall phrase for “hello,” “well-done,” and even, “why are you taking my parking space?”
In the spring you should go to the Penn Relays. Held at historic Franklin Field on the University of Pennsylvania campus, the Penn Relays Carnival is the oldest and largest track-and-field meet in the country. The three-day event offers an impressive array of races for athletes from teenagers to octogenarians. It always runs like clockwork and in the past has featured greats such as Jesse Owens, Allyson Felix, and Usain Bolt.
In the summer you should take in a Phillies baseball game. We love our Fightin’ Phils, and have set records for the most continuous sellout crowds. The ballpark is beautiful, the food good, and the atmosphere electric. I’d recommend going to one of the night games around Independence Day when there are fireworks after the game.
In the fall you should visit Valley Forge National Historical Park. Come see where Washington and his cold and hungry troops spent the winter of 1777-78 before emerging as a determined and unified Continental Army to fight the British. Historic encampments and colonial buildings dot the wooded glens and rolling hills. Don’t miss a drive over the Knox Covered Bridge.
In the winter you should take in the Mummers Parade. A New Year’s Day tradition, this parade is part cornball, part spectacle — and 100% Philly. Think Mardi Gras with marching bands and better costumes. It goes on all day, but is definitely worth checking out for an hour or two.
A hidden gem in my city is Fort Mifflin. Sited at the juncture of the Schuylkill and Delaware rivers, this fort played a pivotal role in the Revolutionary War. Rebuilt in the early 1800s, it later housed Civil War prisoners and has even been recognized as one of the most haunted places in America. Sitting just north of the runway at Philadelphia International Airport, observant passengers will spot it just prior to landing.
For a great breakfast joint try the Green Eggs Café. The crème-brûlée French toast, red-velvet pancakes, and eggs benedict (they offer six kinds!) are just a small sample of the breakfast choices. Even Sam-I-Am would approve. The three locations are all packed on weekends, so come early or enjoy a more leisurely pace midweek.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Don’t miss the Welcome America Festival in early July. America started here, and we Philadelphians celebrate our nation’s independence with a weeklong festival which includes historic reenactments, kids events, and artistic performances — topped off by a huge outdoor concert on July 4th.
Just outside my city, you can visit Cape May, a beautifully preserved Victorian-era seaside village at the southern tip of New Jersey. Only 90 minutes from Philly, it’s the perfect place for a relaxing beach getaway — or visit at Christmas when the town is decorated to gingerbread perfection.
The best way to see my city is by walking. Nothing is too far away, and when you’re on foot, you won’t miss all the nooks and crannies that make the city so special.
If my city were a pet it would be a Labrador Retriever — protective and staunchly loyal, but still willing to wag its tail and play.
If I didn’t live in a city, I would live in a cottage by a lake, but there would have to be a fresh food market nearby, because I’ve come to expect good food living in Philadelphia.
The best book about my city is Rocky Stories by Michael Vitez and Tom Gralish. Two Pulitzer-prize winning journalists explore “The Rocky Phenomenon,” profiling people from around the world who have made the pilgrimage to Philadelphia to run up the Rocky Steps and experience the inspirational magic.
When I think about my city, the song that comes to mind is “New Attitude” by Patti LaBelle. This Philly native can belt it out like few others, and one of her biggest hits is an oldie but goodie that epitomizes the city’s can-do spirit.
If you have kids, you won’t want to miss Franklin Square Park. This neighborhood park, just off Independence Mall, has a playground and carousel, plus a mini-golf course featuring small-scale models of Philly’s historic buildings. It’s a great place to work off some youthful energy after seeing the Liberty Bell.
The signing of the Declaration of Independence could only happen in my city. Stroll among the many historic buildings in Independence National Historical Park and learn the story of America’s founding fathers, and the document that created American and changed the course of world history.
My city should be featured on your cover or website because it offers world-class culture, sports, education, food, and history — all in a tidy, approachable, and affordable package. And when you get there, tell ‘em we said “YO!”