"Rocky Steps" at Philadelphia Museum of Art

8 Great Things to Do in Philadelphia

Let’s start off by stating that this is not your typical “must-see top attractions” kind of list. Instead, this round-up is for the traveler who finds beauty in the unusual and enjoys traveling truly off the beaten path.

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Aside from the usual historical sightseeing options like the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, Philadelphia has a wide variety of things to do and see, and is (in my not-so-humble opinion) one of the coolest cities in the country. So if you’re looking to hit up the “City of Brotherly Love,” here are either unique reasons why you should visit Philadelphia and its surrounding areas.

#1: Unique Museums

Sure, Philadelphia has a number of renowned museums dedicated to fine art, history and science, but what’s the fun in that? The city has a number of truly unique and specialized museums as well, sure to pique anyone’s interests.

For example, the Mütter Museum – which is dedicated to strange and mysterious medical history – displays preserved body parts and organs, abnormal skeletal formations and eerie medical instruments throughout its cabinets.

But if you’re into the creepy and crawly, check out the Insectarium–the largest insect museum in the nation. For something a bit more light-hearted, the Mummers Museum and kid-friendly Please Touch Museum are must-sees during your visit.

#2: Art Museum Steps

"Rocky Steps" at Philadelphia Museum of Art

Speaking of museums, you can’t visit Philadelphia without heading to the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s steps! The wide stone steps that lead up to the museum’s East Entrance have been dubbed the “Rocky Steps” after that famous scene in Rocky. The steps have become synonymous with both the Rocky films as well as Philadelphia, and after Rocky III was finished shooting, Sylvester Stallone donated the iconic bronze statue of his fictional character to the City of Philadelphia.

Whether you’re a diehard Rocky fan, visiting the Museum of Art or simply looking for a killer workout, running up the “Rocky Steps” à la Rocky Balboa is a must, followed by a picture with the boxer himself, of course!

#3: Eastern State Penitentiary

Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia © Donnie Nunley

If you’re a history buff, Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary is definitely one sight you should see. During the 18th century, a group of prominent Philadelphians proposed an idea to revolutionize the prison system by building a penitentiary made to reform criminals through reflection, rather than just house and punish them. Once the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was convinced and the enormous castle-like structure was built, it changed the penal system forever.

The penitentiary was known to house notorious criminals, such as Al Capone and Willie Sutton, helping build its notoriety. Eastern State Penitentiary offers guided tours to the public and if you’re visiting around Halloween, the “Terror Behind the Walls” haunted attraction is a must-see for the brave at heart.

#4: Reading Terminal Market

Moving onto something a bit more lighthearted, Reading Terminal Market is a great pit stop for fans of farmers markets and those looking for a bite to eat.

In 1892, Reading Terminal Market opened its doors after the open air market scene was dismantled. Today, business is still booming and it’s busy as ever! Whether you’re looking for fresh local produce, Amish baked goods, authentic Philadelphia treats, crafts and clothing or specialty food items, Reading Terminal Market has something for everyone.

#5: Pat’s vs. Geno’s

Pat's King of Steaks, Philadelphia (homepage screenshot)

Cheesesteaks and Philadelphia go hand-in-hand, and for as long as local Philadelphians can remember, there has been a cheesesteak rivalry going on in South Philly. Located across the street from each other at the intersection of 9th St. and Passyunk Avenue you’ll find Pat’s King of Steaks and Geno’s Steaks.

Pat’s has been there since 1930 and is often credited as inventing the Philly cheesesteak, but when Geno’s moved in across the street in the ’60s, a real battle began for the title of “Philly’s best cheesesteak.” Although they may not be the best cheesesteaks in the city, the hyped-up rivalry makes visiting both and deciding for yourself all worth it in the end.

#6: Mural Arts Tour

If you’re the artsy type, you should definitely consider checking out the world’s largest outdoor art gallery put on by the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. The “City of Brotherly Love” has a rich history, even richer culture and truly diverse communities, and the Mural Arts Program aims to reflect this.

The program works to unite artists and communities to create art that transforms both public spaces and people’s lives. There are a variety of tours available to choose from, including walking tours, trolley tours and even self-guided tours.

#7: Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens

Philadelphia's Magic Gardens
Philadelphia's Magic Gardens © Gabe Kirchheimer

But for those who prefer mosaics to traditional murals, Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens may be more up your alley. Conveniently located on Philadelphia’s well-known South Street, the gardens include a large indoor and outdoor space filled with the beautiful mosaic artwork and sculptures of famed mosaic mural artist, Isaiah Zagar.

In addition to preserving the artist’s work, the Philadelphia Magic Gardens work to spark creativity, community engagement and education about mosaic, folk and visionary art, and visitors both young and old will certainly leave inspired.

#8: Tours for the Traveling Lush

Yards Brewing Company, Philadelphia

Last but not least are some attractions for the traveling lush … or simply your average beer aficionado and self-proclaimed wine connoisseur. Philadelphia has plenty of breweries and wineries in the city and surrounding areas.

For beer lovers, check out the Philadelphia Brewing Company and Yards Brewing Company within the city, or head out towards the suburbs to check out the Victory Brewing Company or Sly Fox Brewing Company.

For fine wine connoisseurs, take a trip to Bucks County and visit the wineries and vineyards part of the Bucks County Wine Trail.

  1. For those without a car, Philadelphia is a very walkable city, because of the grid pattern laid out by William Penn and his chief surveyor, Thomas Holme four centuries ago. The city, separated from New Jersey by the Delaware River, has a well-developed transit network, so one can get nearly anywhere within the region using trains, trolleys, and buses. Named streets in Center City go east-west, while numbered streets (2nd, 5th, etc.) go north-south (and are one-way for vehicular traffic). The exceptions to the numbering scheme are Front Street, which is in front of the Delaware River and would be 1st (or First) Street anywhere else; and Broad Street, which would be 14th (or Fourteenth) Street. Before the twelve-lane Roosevelt Boulevard was built in the 1960s, Broad Street, with three lanes in each direction, was the widest street in Philadelphia.

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