10 (Or More) Things to Do in Philadelphia

(Photo courtesy of Visit Philadelphia)

We all know it called “The City of Brotherly Love,” but this year’s location for the Mortgage Bankers Association’s Annual Convention & Expo was once actually also dubbed the “the City of Homes” or “the City of Neighborhoods.” One of the most historic American cities, with robust food, arts and sports culture, MBA is excited to welcome members this year to Philadelphia.

While the Annual Convention will offer plenty to keep you busy, here are 11 things to try around town. While this is far from an exhaustive list of all the things to check out in Philadelphia, we hope it will serve as a good starting point and open your eyes to some unique attractions.

Grab a Famous Bite

Located just steps from the Pennsylvania Convention Center, Reading Terminal Market dates to 1893. Today, it features myriad tasty eats in dozens of booths, from Pennsylvania- or Philadelphia-specific specialties like pretzels, scrapple and cheesesteaks to international fare and delectable desserts. Reading Terminal Market, open daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., is located at 1136 Arch Street.

Particularly interested in the aforementioned Philly cheesesteaks? Another option is to check out the S. 9th Street Italian Market, which says it’s the oldest operating outdoor market in the U.S. It’s home to more than 200 individual businesses. Importantly, in the area there’s both Pat’s King of Steaks and Geno’s Steaks, said to be locked in a battle for cheesesteak supremacy (although some reporting suggests the beef between the two may be overexaggerated.)

The neighborhood features a wide variety of food and nonfood vendors. The Italian Market is located at 919 S. 9th Street, and hours vary by individual merchants.

Meander Down Elfreth’s Alley

Elfreth’s Alley is often referred to as the “oldest residential street in the United States.” Located in the Old City neighborhood, it dates to 1703 and has been continuously inhabited since the early 18th century.  

Many of the houses on the span, built between 1720-1836, still are private residences (including one property on the market for sale as recently as this spring). But Nos. 124 and 126 serve as the Elfreth’s Alley Museum, dedicated to preserving the history and culture of the street.

Act Out Your Own Rocky Scene

One of the most recognizable cinematic moments filmed in Philadelphia was Rocky Balboa jogging up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. After a statue commemorating the moment was created for “Rocky III,” Sylvester Stallone presented a version of it to the city in 1982. After a protracted argument about the appropriate spot for it, the 8-foot, 6-inch statue now sits at the bottom of the steps.

The Rocky Steps are located at the Philadelphia Museum of Art at 2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

But, Don’t Miss the Art While You’re There

If you’re already at the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps, you might as well recover from your Rocky reenactment with a gander at some of the collections inside. A nearly 150-year-old museum, it has more than 200,000 works ranging from the ancient world to contemporary art in its collection.

There are dozens of permanent exhibits, and a number of rotating exhibits to choose from while the convention is in session. The Philadelphia Museum of Art is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, and 10 a.m. to 8:45 p.m. on Friday. See its site for other pricing and admissions information.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art also owns a few other properties, including the Rodin Museum, featuring more than 150 works by celebrated French sculptor Auguste Rodin. The Rodin Museum is located about a 15-minute walk from the main property, at 2151 Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

  • Looking for Different Vibes in Your Museum Visits? Try the Eastern State Penitentiary

The Eastern State Penitentiary used to be a working prison, opened in 1829. With grand architecture, it served as an experimental site for the “penitentiary” model, which aimed to “inspire penitence, or true regret, in the hearts of prisoners” via practices such as solitary confinement. Although many of those practices eventually faded away, it served as a prison until 1971. Some of its most famous inhabitants included gangster Al Capone and Willie Sutton, who escaped from the prison via tunnel in 1945 (although he was quickly caught and returned).

Eastern State Penitentiary now offers a number of tours and events to educate visitors about our modern-day prison and criminal justice system. The organization, per its site, hopes its “innovative preservation, interpretation and public programs will move visitors to engage in dialogue and deepen the national conversation about criminal justice.”

Various types of tours and visits are available. The penitentiary is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day and located at 2027 Fairmount Avenue. More information can be found on its website.  

Or Hoof It to the Shoe Museum

The Shoe Museum at the Temple University School of Podiatric Medicine features more than 1,000 shoes. Exhibits include shoes worn by service members and First Ladies of the United States, shoes belonging to famous athletes including Joe Frazier, Arnold Palmer and Billie Jean King, a bridal shoes exhibit and shoes from more than 30 countries, including a 2,000-year-old pair of Egyptian burial sandals. 

The museum was founded in 1976 and is located just a few blocks from the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, at 148 N. 8th Street. Reservations for tours, available on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., can be made by emailing the museum curator, Dr. Andrew Meyr, at ajmeyr@temple.edu.

Get Out in Nature

While the buildings and residential character of Philadelphia hold great appeal, there’s plenty of green space to enjoy as well. One popular hiking and walking route is the Schuylkill River Trail. You probably won’t be able to tackle the entire thing this trip–it stretches 120 miles beginning in Frackville, Schuylkill County–but it also spans 30 miles within Philadelphia.

There are many attractions along the route in the city, including Bartram’s Garden in the Southwest area, the oldest surviving botanic garden in North America. There’s also the Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk, featuring a 2,000-foot-long pathway over the river that boasts some of the best skyline views of the city.

Hours and access may vary by area and trailhead, but in general the trail is open every day from sunrise to sunset.

Admire Murals Galore

Philadelphia is home to the “nation’s largest public art program,” the more than 35-year-old Mural Arts Philadelphia. Per its site, Mural Arts engages communities in 50-100 public art projects each year, and “has united artists and communities through a collaborative process, rooted in the traditions of mural-making, to create art that transforms public spaces and individual lives.”

The works are spread out in different areas of the city, but there are some near the Convention Center, including “The Past Supporting the Future” and “Water Gives Life.”

Mural Arts Philadelphia offers a number of tours, including some self-guided options.

Let History Ring

Any to-do list for Philadelphia would be remiss not to include the plentiful historical attractions. The Liberty Bell, formerly known as the State House Bell, rang in what was then the Pennsylvania State House, now Independence Hall. Later, it served as an important symbol for abolitionist groups, who actually gave it the name “The Liberty Bell.” The bell, along with its famous cracked surface, now resides in the Liberty Bell Center at 526 Market Street. It’s viewable daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Right across from Liberty Bell Center is Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence and United States Constitution were both debated and adopted by our Founding Fathers. Independence Hall does require tickets in October, and will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. More information is available on the National Parks Service website.

Another nearby stop is the President’s House, located just around the corner from Independence Hall. It aims to highlight the paradox of slavery and freedom at the first executive mansion, where Presidents George Washington and John Adams lived before the relocation of the nation’s capital. At least nine enslaved people served Washington at the residence. An open-air site, it shows the outline of the original buildings, along with remaining foundations. The full name of the memorial is President’s House: Freedom and Slavery in the Making of a New Nation, and it is open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

See Poe’s House…and Nothing More

One of America’s most renowned poets and writers, Edgar Allan Poe spent some time in Philadelphia, including in a small red brick house with his wife and mother-in-law. That residence is now the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site. Attractions include readings of Poe’s works in the Reading Room, a code-breaking exhibit and tours of the residence.

The Edgar Allan Poe site is open Friday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. and is located at 532 N. 7th Street.

Wander The Woodlands

If you’re looking to mix history and nature, check out the 54-acre property on the banks of the Schuylkill River known as The Woodlands. It features a cemetery serving as a resting place for some of Philadelphia’s most famous citizens. Previously owned by the Hamilton family (a prominent Philadelphia family, but with no relation to Founding Father Alexander Hamilton), the Hamilton Mansion is also in The Woodlands, with a neoclassical interior and plentiful architectural history.

The Woodlands is located at 4000 Woodland Avenue, open every day from dawn until dusk.