Philadelphia: the inside track
Not just the birthplace of the nation, Philadelphia has a dynamic food culture, a booming arts scene and cool to spare. Philly native Nell McShane Wulfhart shares her insider guide.
Home-grown style and sips
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Shopping in Philly runs the gamut from classic (at Macy’s in the historic Wanamaker building) to cutting-edge, with local fashionistas producing one-of-a-kind lewks. Bonus: clothes and shoes aren’t taxed! Check out Fishtown for boutiques like Toile, which sells clothes by up-and-coming Philly designers. And it’s not just about fashion – the neighbourhood is home to remarkable local distilleries. Skip the duty free; instead pick up award-winning Bluecoat Gin at Philadelphia Distilling and micro-batch herbal liqueurs at Rowhouse Spirits.
Fairmount Park, a sprawling series of woods and hiking trails, is one of the largest urban parks in the nation, and makes a fabulous afternoon nature excursion for the whole family. There are gorgeous smaller green spaces too. Rittenhouse Square (known in summer as ‘Rittenhouse Beach’, thanks to the hordes who sun themselves on the grass) is right in the centre of town and hosts farmers’ markets and art fairs. Tiny ‘parklets’, stocked with just a few chairs and tables, are hidden all over town.
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Philly’s food scene is booming, with over 2500 restaurants to choose from and the likes of high-profile chefs such as Jose Garces building restaurant empires here. Head to his Amada restaurant for exquisite Andalusian tapas paired with adventurous Spanish wines, or try sophisticated modern Israeli food by Michael Solomonov at Zahav. Also look out for the city’s dozens of tiny BYOBs with sophisticated menus and affordable prices – book a table at Will, where chef Christopher Kearse sends out French-inspired seasonal plates including scallops with garlic flower buds and monkfish tail in a lobster bouillon.
Go hard or go home
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Philly fans are infamously passionate, and the city’s nine professional sports teams keep emotions keyed up year-round. Tailgating in the parking lot of Citizens Bank Park or Lincoln Financial Field (the two South Philly stadiums) with portable barbecues and coolers crammed with beers before a big game is an unmissable part of the local sports experience, though cheering on the Eagles (American football) or the Phillies (baseball) with hyper-enthusiastic crowds isn’t bad either.
Rocky is the quintessential Philly movie, but Trading Places, The Sixth Sense and many others were filmed here – not to mention National Treasure, which sees Nicholas Cage running around from City Hall to Reading Terminal Market. Check out the spots that made it onscreen with Philadelphia Movie Sites Tour, or stick with the hometown hero on a self-guided Rocky journey. The imposing and historic Eastern State Penitentiary offers tours, too – it was the asylum featured in Brad Pitt hit Twelve Monkeys.
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An extraordinary 3600 murals and counting (including tributes to city history and beloved local groups like The Roots) have turned the city into an enormous, bright open-air gallery. More traditional work can be found in the two world-renowned museums on the Parkway: the Barnes Foundation and the Philadelphia Museum of Art (snap a photo with the Rocky statue while you’re there), which give New York and Washington DC, just one and two hours by train, respectively, a run for their money. History buffs must make time to visit one of the city’s newest attractions, the Museum of the American Revolution which brings the past to life with immersive galleries, astonishing historical works of art and Revolutionary-era weapons.
Bed down at the fresh-from-a-redesign Logan hotel, which has its own art collection and is just a 15-minute ride from the airport, with direct flights from London Heathrow with British Airways. The LEED-certified Courtyard Philadelphia South at the Navy Yard has a cool futuristic vibe; plus, it’s walking distance to the stadiums. And, there’s old-school glamour in abundance at the chic Warwick which is surrounded by the city’s most luxurious shops.
Words by Nell McShane Wulfhart
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