What Is Philadelphia Known For and Famous For?
If you’re planning a visit to Philadelphia, you’re in luck. Philadelphia is one of America’s cornerstone cities, with a vibrant, distinctly American history, one that Founding Fathers knew quite well. Nowadays, it is a bustling hub with plenty of exhilarating activities and cultural centers.
Below you will find an organized list of some of the city’s most famous attractions and must-do activities. Don’t worry if you’re on a strict budget, as there is no shortage of free attractions as well. You are invited to continue below to learn more about what Philadelphia is known for and famous for.
What Food Is Philadelphia Known For?
Philadelphia has no shortage of unique eateries. If you consider yourself a foodie, then Philly is a go-to destination. Learn more here about where you can find the best food in Philadelphia.
No cuisine is more synonymous with Philadelphia than the Philly cheesesteak. Between a 6–12-inch hoagie roll goes sliced beef, chopped onions, and melted cheese. There are several noteworthy establishments throughout the City of Brotherly Love that claims the title of best cheesesteak.
An excellent place to start is Pat’s King of Steaks at 1237 East Passyunk Avenue. The founders of this Philly institution are credited with creating the very first cheesesteak sandwich. Just down the street, you’ll find one of their fiercest competitors, Geno’s Steaks.
Philadelphia-style soft pretzels are the city’s staple snack. These can be found freshly made at just about every corner of the city. There are many unique takes on this Philly classic; just make sure that you are visiting a bakery that sells freshly made pretzels.
What makes Philly’s soft pretzels unique? Philadelphia-style pretzels are rolled into a tight figure-8 rather than the characteristic large loop and twisted center seen in most pretzels. The local tradition is to top them off with mustard, but you are welcome to use whichever condiments suit you best.
Fine Dining in Philadelphia
It would be unfair to talk about food in Philadelphia without mentioning the many critically acclaimed restaurants dotted throughout the city. Philadelphia is known for much more than just pretzels and cheesesteak.
Positioned along the Atlantic seaboard, the city is a sneaky candidate for excellent seafood. Philly is home to a diverse set of offerings to please your palate. You can find everything from spicy Thai dishes to some good-old-fashioned soul food, including homemade mac n’ cheese.
Entry to the Italian Market is free, with the pricing of products being set by individual vendors. This is one of the oldest open-air markets in America and is open to visitors every day. The Italian Market is located on S. 9th St in historic South Philly.
Here you can find over 200 individual businesses spanning over 20 city blocks. Items sold range from gourmet foods, fruits and vegetables, homemade chocolates, and much more. Be sure to visit the area if you happen to be in Philly during May.
On Saturdays and Sundays during May, the Italian Market holds the claim of being “Philadelphia’s Largest Block Party.” Festival events incorporate live music, arts and crafts, the Traditional Procession of Saints, and much more. You can learn more about the Italian Market Festival here.
Which Museums & Attractions Is Philadelphia Known For?
Known for its role in the nation’s founding, Philadelphia is the quintessential American city. Continue below to learn more about the many unique museums and attractions to add to your itinerary.
The Best View in Philly: One Liberty Observation Deck
The One Liberty Observation Deck provides panoramic views of the city from the 57th floor of One Liberty Place, located in downtown Philadelphia. This is currently the tallest attraction in Philadelphia, with much more than just an observation deck in place.\
Each floor is also home to themed experiences, such as:
- Benjamin Franklin sculpture
- Listening stations focused on the city’s history
- Special touch screens that allow users to zoom in on single points hundreds of feet below
There are admission fees, but optional guided tours do come free with the price of admission.
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Whether you realized it or not, you are probably familiar with the Museum of Art. The steps of this Philly stronghold were where Rocky Balboa ran the stairs in Rocky. When you come to visit, don’t just stop at the steps. On the other side of those doors is one of the most extensive art collections in the country.
The museum’s most impressive works include those by:
- Van Gogh
And many other world-renown artists. Also included are notable structural exhibits from all over the globe, including a 16th century Indian Temple Hall, a 17th century Chinese Palace Hall, and a Japanese Teahouse, among other exhibits. You can visit the main website for current hours and rates.
National Museum of American Jewish History
The National Museum of American Jewish History contains over 30,000 artifacts illustrating Jewish history dating back to 1654. The museum offers 60-minute guided tours of the core exhibition. You can visit this website to learn more about current hours and rates.
The Philadelphia Zoo is the oldest in the USA. The 42-acre zoo holds almost 1,300 animals, from gorillas to penguins and everything in-between. One of the zoo’s unique features is the Zoo360, a property-wide network of mesh trails allowing animals to roam above the grounds. You can learn more about the zoo here.
Eastern State Penitentiary
The highlight of the Eastern State Penitentiary is Al Capone’s cell. The prison was inspired by the Quakers and, as such, focused on reforming prisoners through isolation and reflection rather than the capital punishment methods standard of the era.
This is a good place to visit for those seeking a haunting or chilling experience. The prison even turns into a haunted house with six distinct themed attractions along the tour. Families with children are encouraged to participate in one of the family-friendly tour options that emphasize a much less gruesome retelling of the events that took place at the prison. Learn more about current rates here.
Sunset Cruises on The Delaware River
The sunset cruises in Philadelphia have a little something for everybody. The contemporary food stations and unique views of the Philadelphia skyline make the Spirit of Philadelphia a go-to destination for romantic nights out. There are also afternoon cruises and cocktail cruises that are affordable alternatives to the dinner option.
One of the best times of the year to ride the cruise is in July when the bridges in Philadelphia are illuminated in red, white, and blue by nightfall. The Spirit of Philadelphia is not the only vessel in the fleet; there is also the smaller and more intimate Freedom Elite. The Freedom Elite offers its patrons a more exclusive experience, with fine dining and complimentary service.
What Kind of Entertainment Can You Find in Philadelphia?
The city is also home to some of the nation’s most iconic entertainment values. Whether you are talking about visiting the Academy of Music to watch a ballet or looking for a few hearty laughs, Philadelphia has something for everyone.
Academy of Music
The Academy of Music is a famous concert hall and opera house located in Downtown Philly. It is the home of both the Pennsylvania Ballet and the Opera Philadelphia. The concert hall has been designated a National Historic Landmark since 1962. You can learn more about the Academy of Music here.
The Philadelphia Orchestra has consistently been ranked among the top orchestras in the world, being a member of the “Big Five” of American orchestras. The orchestra performs at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts in Center City. More than 130 subscription concerts take place in the venue every year. You can learn more about it by visiting the official website.
Helium Comedy Club
The Helium Comedy Club is a 21+ comedy club that hosts the most famous comics from around the nation. For the price of admission, patrons can enjoy live stand-up comedy, with the comics located no more than 60 feet away from where you are seated. The audience also has access to a wide selection of foods and beverages, including craft beers. On the menu is a widespread list of entrees, desserts, and homemade cocktails.
Philadelphians are notorious for being die-hard sports fans. No trip to the city is complete without the indulgence of a game-day experience. The city’s football team, the Eagles, calls Lincoln Financial Field their stomping grounds, with select home games taking place in the autumn months.
If you miss the Eagles play in the autumn, you can still catch a game from either the Flyers (NHL,) 76ers (NBA,) or Phillies (MLB) while you are in town. Both the Flyers and 76ers call the Wells Fargo Centre downtown their home, while the Phillies can be found at Citizens Bank Park from spring to fall.
Even if you can’t catch a game while you’re visiting, you may find stadium tours intriguing. These guided tours take you through parts of the stadium that fans usually have limited access to.
What Can I Do for Free in Philadelphia?
There is no shortage of activities that fits every budget. Some of Philly’s most famous attractions don’t cost anything to enter. You can immerse yourself in American history by visiting the Liberty Bell Center and Independence Hall. Or you can take a stroll around the famous Rittenhouse Square.
If at the end of this you are looking for more free things to do, check out this guide of walking tours!
Enjoy the Sightlines- What Architecture Is Philadelphia Known For?
You are encouraged to dedicate at least a portion of your stay in the city to the sightlines. As one of the oldest cities in the US, Philadelphia is home to some of the nation’s most iconic architecture.
- Vanna Venturi House– Widely considered to be the first post-modern house built in America.
- Margaret Esgerick House– A unique concrete-and-stucco rectangle with a flat roof and wall of windows
- Fisher Fine Arts Library– An iconic structure with a red brick facade, designed between 1888 and 1890
- 30th Grand Central Station– This is one of the few remaining grand train stations in the US. The main concourse stretches farther than 200 yards and is topped off with 95-foot-tall ceilings. It remains the metro’s central train station today.
There are several other buildings downtown that are excellent candidates for this list, including the Cira Centre, which is shaped like a diamond. While traversing the city to reach the destinations in this article, be sure to take in the unique architecture.
Liberty Bell Center
A visit to the Liberty Bell Center is an absolute must for first-time visitors. The site is home to the legendary cracked bell, which traces its origins back to America’s founding years and remains one of the nation’s most revered symbols.
The Liberty Bell Center is located in front of Independence Hall, between Chestnut Street and Market Street. Due to this attraction’s popularity, visitors are encouraged to plan trekking out to the Liberty Bell Center early in the morning. Be sure to check the official National Park Service website for current hours and fees.
Across the way from the Liberty Bell Center is Independence Hall, which is also free to enter. This is the site where the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution were adopted. You will also be guided through Benjamin Franklin’s desk, a gallery of portraits, historic furnishings, and meeting rooms.
The efforts to restore Independence Park to its original quality were quite extensive, setting a model for preserving the legacy of other designated World Heritage Sites. More than 5 million people visit Independence Hall every year. You are encouraged to visit the official website for current hours and visitor guidelines.
You might also recognize Independence hall and the Liberty Bell from scenes in the movie National Treasure.
Rittenhouse Square is one of the 5 original squares planned by William Penn in the late 17th century and is by far one of the most popular parks in Philadelphia. The square is located amongst the city’s most revered fine dining restaurants. Equally breathtaking is the historic architecture surrounding the square.
You can do a bit of window shopping if you please. However, you are certainly encouraged to enjoy the craft of some of Philly’s critically acclaimed dining experiences and the many unique shops that dot the surrounding area.
Reading Terminal Market
Entry to the market is free, but you’ll have a hard time resisting the offerings of more than 80 vendors of everything from produce to baked goods to coffee, and much more. International cuisine is well-represented in the market, but vendors are not limited to the food category. You can also find homemade crafts and jewelry here.
One of the world’s largest and oldest markets is open daily, so make sure to head over to N. 12th St between Market and Arch the next time you’re down near city hall. You can visit this website for current hours and visiting policies.
John F. Kennedy Plaza (aka LOVE Park)
The JFK Plaza is the home of the famous LOVE statue, one of the most popular photo-ops in the city. The Plaza also has one of the most popular holiday markets in the nation, Christmas Village. The authentic German Christmas market includes over 60 vendors selling European food, holiday ornaments, and crafts.
Across the street, you’ll find the architectural treasure known as Philadelphia City Hall. The building has been a National Historic Landmark since 1976. It is the world’s largest free-standing masonry building. For a brief while in the early 20th century, it was the tallest habitable building in the world, before the days of towering skyscrapers.
This is the oldest continuously populated street in America, allowing visitors to briefly turn back the clock to the early 18th century. The 32 buildings on the street were all built between the 1720s and the 1830s. Guided cell phone tours are available to visitors. Elfreth’s Alley is located in the Old City section of Philadelphia, just a stone’s throw from the Benjamin Franklin Bridge.
Recreation Opportunities in Philadelphia
Perhaps you are looking for a chance to stretch your legs out and breathe in some fresh air. The good news for you is that Philadelphia is also famous for its unique parks.
Franklin Square is another one of the five original squares planned for the city. The park is home to many amusements for young families, including a mini-golf course, a carousel, and a playground. The park is accented by grounds perfect for a picnic.
Perhaps the most unique feature of the square is the fountain at its center. The fountain was originally built in 1837 and has been fully refurbished. The fountain also puts on a one-of-a-kind show, starting in spring once the weather warms up.
Wissahickon Valley Park
Also free to enter, Wissahickon Valley Park is a breath of fresh air located just 5 miles northwest of downtown Philadelphia. More than 50 miles of hiking trails, mountain biking loops, and horseback trails are just some of the many activities the park has to offer its guests.
Birdwatchers are encouraged to bring a pair of binoculars if you have them, as the park is home to many species that are native to the region. You can also go fishing in Wissahickon Creek. There’s something for everybody to love here; visit the official website for current hours and visitor policies.
It’s been said that at the top of your list should be the iconic cracked Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. No trip to the city is complete without a full appreciation of the local cuisine, starting with the famous cheesesteaks and Philadelphia-style pretzels. To fully immerse yourself in the Philly experience, you are also encouraged to visit the city’s many iconic buildings.
If you’re planning a trip to Philadelphia be sure to check out this guide to help you plan your travels!