how to visit philly for a luxurious & epic weekend
Philadelphia; the city that brought us cheesesteaks and Rocky. It’s a land where one can easily walk from the birthplace of the constitution to a drag bar. Where visitors can explore haunted prisons and drink gourmet cocktails made by an Iron Chef. Here the exploring never stops. We headed into town for a weekend of art, culture and eating to find our recommendations on how you can experience this artsy yet historic city.
In a city where there are tons of hotels, it is often difficult to decide where to stay. Our choice was easy, as we wanted something central and sophisticated with gracious hospitality.
We chose The Loews Philadelphia Hotel. Located in the heart of the city, it is in the perfect location to explore the metropolis. From our hotel room, we not only had a breathtaking view of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, the Delaware River and Historic Philadelphia, but also could get to just about anywhere in the city in under 20 minutes. Check out our full experience and photos here.
There are so many fabulous places to eat in Philadelphia and since we were only there for a weekend we did our best to experience the most extraordinary places the city had to offer.
Bank & Bourbon: Located inside the Loews, it is one of the finest restaurants in the entire city, serving traditional American fare with a modern twist. The interior is rustic yet stylish with exposed pipes, wooden beams, and comfortable tufted leather banquettes. Since we visited in October, it was warm and inviting for the chilly autumn weather. For brunch we ordered the Flat Iron Steak & Eggs and the Sharp Cheddar Cheese Omelet. The cuisine was homey and packed with flavor. See our full article here with more photos.
Alma de Cuba: With a 4.5 Zagat rating, you will not be disappointed here. Created by "Restaurateur of the Year” award winner, Stephen Starr, it's the perfect date spot. The romantic airs and soft lighting create a Hemingway mood from a time when Havana was Havana. Here they serve mouthwatering spins on the classics, outstanding cocktails, attentive service and amazing happy-hour specials all help make it a lovely escape.
Waffles & Wedges: Created by two world-travelers, the owners of this incredible restaurant used their learnings from globetrotting to create the perfect place to indulge. At this brick front takeaway spot you can find sliced baked potato rods & Belgian waffles with sauces & toppings. The most popular dishes are the dish revolution waffle, party crasher or waffle chick. We recommend you try them all!
Reading Terminal Market: Centrally located, the Reading Terminal houses a huge variety of delicious treats. Here you’ll find everything from locally grown and exotic produce, Amish specialties, fresh meats, seafood, and poultry. There are also handmade confections and baked goods straight from the oven. It’s not only edible goods they sell. This spot is a chef's heaven. You will also find everything you need to create a memorable meal, from cookbooks to table linens, to kitchen ware, to fresh cut flowers, and more. Plus the widest variety of restaurants under one roof in the city.
Big Gay Ice Cream: This New York favorite opened in May 2015 in Philadelphia, their first of the famous ice cream shops to open outside of NYC. Their ice cream is a “must-try”. It’s been rated in the top ten for best ice cream in Dessert Professional, The Daily Beast and USA Today. They’ve also been featured on Cooking Channel, Food Network and VH-1. Order The Salty Pimp, their most popular cone. It has vanilla ice cream, dulce de leche, sea salt and chocolate dip.
As a New Yorker, I know that when I go out for a night of drinking with friends we’re headed to a neighborhood with variety. I’m looking for a place that has a solid cocktail lounge, a wine bar, a craft beer-focused watering hole and a classic Irish pub all within walking distance of each other. In Philadelphia that area is known as Fishtown. In addition to places to drink, they also have spots serving up late night grub.
We know you won’t always be in Fishtown so below are a couple of our favorite spots outside of that area.
The Olde Bar: Located in Philadelphia’s landmark Old Original Bookbinder’s, The Olde Bar is a contemporary oyster bar and cocktail lounge steeped in the city’s nautical and culinary traditions. In 1898, it was originally an oyster saloon and remained so for a little over 100 years. In 2015, Iron Chef Jose Garces bought the location, restored much of the historical pieces and made it into what it is today. One of our favorite parts about the cocktails here are that they are incredibly creative and they offer an awesome happy hour deal of buck-a-shuck oysters.
Assembly Rooftop: With jaw-dropping outdoor spaces, unrivaled views of Philadelphia’s art district and cozy outdoor fires, Assembly Rooftop is a wonderful spot for a sunset cocktail. Located nine stories high, the rooftop pours a list of bubbly cocktails, plus a wealth of champagnes and sparkling wines by the glass and by the bottle.
Elixr Coffee: With a rustic, yet cozy feel, Elixr Coffee is a great place to get caffeinated and relax with friends. It’s conveniently located in Center City, which makes it a no brainer to visit when exploring the city. They specialize in lighter roasted unique and exquisite coffees. The coffee won't taste dark or ashy; instead they have tea and juice like qualities. In addition to having delicious brew, they are also globally conscious and only source their beans directly from farmers.
There is a lot to do in Philly. If you’re visiting for a weekend, I’ve boiled down the essentials for you below. However, I could have spent days wandering the historical streets, art museums, boutique shops and legendary locations in the area. The city is filled with a fascinating culture of old & new.
Philadelphia's Magic Gardens: Step into a land of mosaics at the Magic Gardens. A space that has been transformed into a half block of art that visitors can walk inside, around and under. The space was created by Isaiah Zagar, an award-winning mosaic mural artist, in 1994. In 2002, the Boston-based owner of the lots discovered Zagar’s installation and decided to sell the land, calling for the work to be dismantled. Unwilling to witness the destruction of the now-beloved neighborhood art environment, the community rushed to support the artist. After a two year legal battle, his creation, newly titled Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, became incorporated as a nonprofit organization with the intention of preserving the artwork at the PMG site and throughout the South Street region.
Eastern State Penitentiary: Known to be a haunted prison today, Eastern State Penitentiary was once the most famous and expensive prison in the world. However, it stands today in ruin, a creepy world of crumbling cellblocks and empty guard towers. Take a 40 minute audio tour of the space and hear the chilling tales of those who experienced it first hand. If you’re ready to be spooked try their “Terror Behind the Walls” evening tours. Visiting here is both fascinating and eerie.
Penn’s Landing: Located on the Delaware Waterfront, Penn’s Landing has scenic views of the Benjamin Franklin bridge and fun events all year long. In the summer, the Spruce Street Harbor Park pops up and has even been called one of the world’s best urban beaches. In winter, enjoy an outdoor adventure on their Olympic-sized ice rink complete with a heated pavilion and a snack bar.
Rittenhouse Square: Created by William Penn in the late 17th century, Rittenhouse Square is one of his 5 original creations. It is nestled between the shopping area on Walnut St. and tons of wonderful restaurants. Filled with interesting sculptures and beautiful gardens it's no surprise that it is widely considered one of the finest urban public spaces in the United States.
Independence Hall & The Liberty Bell: A trip to Philly isn’t complete without visiting Independence Hall and The Liberty Bell! Both are free to get into and have tons of historical information on the events that shaped our country. Since they are directly across the street from each other, it is easy to see both in a couple of hours. History buffs will love visiting and going on the walking tours.
The spots mentioned in this piece are our recommendations. However, there is much more to do in the area. If you’re looking for something specific check out VisitPhilly.com for details on everything there is to do in the area. You’ll be sure to find something you love!
Also, if you're from Philly, check out our guide on Chestnut Hill - Philadelphia's best kept secret town. I hope you enjoy!