By Jim Ferri
Two days in Philadelphia doesn’t sound like a long time, but there’s plenty you can do (and eat).
When I had visited Philadelphia in the past, I had focused mainly on the historic perspectives: Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, Penn’s Landing, etc., all good places to visit during two days in the city. But this time I found a more modern facet of the city’s personality: in just the past few years Philadelphia has developed “a restaurant reputation” that rivals many other American cities. From a gustatory perspective, Philadelphia has been transformed.
Philadelphia now has numerous, good, affordable restaurants that cater to every taste and cuisine (including some BYOBs). In fact, in a review earlier this year, The New York Times heralded Philadelphia’s new breed of “bold-face chefs” as offering foods that are “more likely to come from a nearby farm than a fryer.” Might it be that the city’s celebrate cheesesteak is no longer king?
Try the Cheesesteak
But bold-face chefs or not, I had to try a cheesesteak. On a recommendation from a Philly local, I dragged my wife to Jim’s Steaks at 4th and South Streets. There we were greeted with walls covered with autographed photos of local celebs (“You’re the best Jim!”), signs (cash only no credit cards…) and menu items (cheese steak with whiz $7.60, cheese steak with provolone…). The entire place — from the line of customers snaking around inside (and soon spilling out onto the sidewalk), to the guys behind the counter and the eating area upstairs – bordered on controlled mayhem. I thought it fine, although my wife didn’t particularly like either the food or the ambiance.
Two days in Philly is also enough time to have some excellent meals. At the risk of sounding like a tout for the local restaurant association, I’ll say that both of us had very good meals at Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse (111 South 17th Street), La Famiglia (8 South Front Street) and at the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Museum Restaurant. We also made a visit to City Tavern for lunch one day, and enjoyed some good dishes created from Revolutionary recipes, as well as sample ales made from the formulae of the Founding Fathers, all served by staff in period costumes. It’s over on 2nd Street, a short walk from Independence Hall.
A Walking City, Perfect for a Two-Day Visit
Which brings up another point: Philadelphia is a walking city, perfect for a two-day visit. I mean a real walking city, great for those who just like to stroll about discovering little nooks and alleys, shops and historic sites. The city is laid out in a grid pattern (downtown is only about 25 blocks across between the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers), which makes everything fairly easily accessible, especially in the four-square-block area around Independence Hall.
In that area alone you’ll find more major historic sites than probably in any other area of similar size in the country – and not only places of major national historic significance such as the Liberty Bell and the Betsy Ross House, but also places such as the National Museum of American Jewish History and picturesque Elfreth’s Alley, where residents of the city have lived for the past 300 years. It’s hard to walk anywhere without tripping over some historic plaque of one kind or another.
Ben Franklin Galore
Something else you become aware of is that in Philadelphia you can never get very far away from Ben Franklin. Seemingly half of the things in the city are named for him: there’s the Benjamin Franklin Bridge (linking the city with New Jersey), the Benjamin Franklin Parkway (patterned after the Champs-Elysées and providing a visual link between City Hall and the Museum of Art) and The Franklin Institute, for starters. In just two days in Philly, you see a lot of Franflin.
Along with a number of other adult visitors I had a great time in The Franklin Institute. It’s a great science museum with, among other things, a giant walk-through heart, which is said would be ideal for a 220-foot tall person. The place contains a variety of fascinating exhibits, some interactive. You can calculate how much blood you have in your body (I’m a 30 cupper), see how your arms help you jump, even kick a soccer ball at very real-acting interactive goalie. There’s a lot more including many of Franklin’s inventions, exhibits on the weather and a monstrous locomotive in the Institute’s Train Factory.
If you haven’t had your fill of Ben after visiting the Institute, go visit his grave in the Christ Church Burial ground in the historic center before you leave the city. There it’s a custom for people to leave a penny on his grave for good luck, since “a penny saved is a penny earned.”
I tossed a quarter and bought a lottery ticket on the way back to the hotel.
If you go:
Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau. 1601 Market St #200, Philadelphia, PA 19103. (215) 636-3300. https://www.discoverphl.com/