This year, thousands of freshmen won’t have the usual Welcome Week on campus and an opportunity to get to know the city of their college. Many other students, including me, have been away from Philly for almost 6 months, and won’t return for a while. If you’ll begin studies at Drexel this fall or just miss the city after being away from campus for months, I offer you a few ways you can explore some of the coolest places in Philadelphia.
- Tour of the city
This interactive guided tour by You Visit is an opportunity to visit must-see places before even arriving in the city! It includes high-quality 360-degree photos and descriptions of 25 places in Philadelphia. This virtual tour focuses on some of the most important landmarks and points of interest such as the Independence Hall, Reading Terminal Market, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. From learning about the history of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge to exploring paintings at the Barnes Foundation, this resource offers a comprehensive excursion through Philadelphia.
- Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens
One of the most mesmerizing places in Philly and one of my personal favorites is the Magic Gardens. Located in South Philadelphia, the Magic Gardens are the lifetime work of the mosaic artist Isaiah Zagar. This unique, immersive space is covered in mosaics made using tiles, bottles, bicycle wheels, and mirrors, and it chronicles the artist’s life. This virtual tour offers you a chance to explore the outside portion of the Gardens, which I wholeheartedly recommend you visit in person, whenever you first get a chance.
- Philadelphia Museum of Art
One of the most famous art museums in the world, and one that for many is best known for its Rocky Steps — is truly worth exploring many times! The museum houses a wonderful collection of art, spanning millennia and many geographic locations. Some of my favorite parts of the museum are the period rooms, which have the ability to transport me to another place and time, like the French medieval cloister room. The museum has created several online exhibitions, such as African American Art, Arts of the Islamic World, and A Tribute to Nurses and Doctors. These offer high-quality images and short descriptions of the art and are a perfect way to learn more about what’s in the PMA.
- Barnes Foundation
The Barnes Foundation is my favorite art museum in the city. It houses a grand collection of modern European paintings — including paintings by Renoir, Cezanne, Van Gogh, and Picasso. This unique collection belonged to Dr. Albert Barnes who arranged the paintings as well as African art, Native American ceramics, Greek antiquities, decorative ironwork and Pennsylvania German furniture in ensembles based on light, space, line, and color. During the pandemic, the Barnes Foundation decided to bring art to people’s homes by creating a video series called “Barnes Takeout,” focusing on one artwork in each video. Some of my favorite paintings there are Van Gogh’s “The Postman” and the Modigliani’s “Redheaded Girl in Evening Dress.” These videos are filled with thrilling facts about the art and a great way to prepare yourself for visiting the Barnes when you’re back in town!
- Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University
Did you know that the oldest natural history museum in the Americas is in Philly? The Academy of Natural Sciences offers 37 dioramas of animals, various interactive exhibits, opportunities to meet 30 types of dinosaurs in the Dinosaur Hall and even see live animals. However, while you can’t physically experience everything the Academy has to offer, you can browse through its online exhibitions. One of them is a tour of the museum, which offers a peek into the history of the Academy and some of its main exhibits. However, my favorite is the exhibition on Treasures From Rare and Historic Books, which offers beautiful and inspiring illustrations.
- The Penn Museum
The Penn Museum is the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and it houses archaeological treasures from all around the world, including Africa, Asia, the Americas, the Mediterranean and Egypt. It was recently renovated and now includes wonderfully designed interactive exhibits that you should definitely visit when you can! Meanwhile, they have an awesome set of at-home experiences you can choose from, including videos of the galleries and detailed photos of many objects in the collection, such as from the Africa Galleries. They also offer Digital Daily Digs, which are short videos that each focus on one artifact. One of the most impressive is the Sphinx of Ramses II, which is the first object you see when you enter the museum.
- Mural Arts Philadelphia
Mural Arts Philadelphia is the nation’s largest public art program, which has been active for more than 35 years. Mural Arts Philadelphia believes mural-making can unite communities and inspire change in people’s lives and the city. Thanks to this program, there have been over 3,600 murals produced in Philly. When you arrive in the city, it will be impossible to miss them! Mural Arts have created a virtual map, which allows you to see photos of the murals all around Philly. They also offer virtual tours, such as this one focusing on A Love Letter for You, a series of murals created along the Market- Frankford train line.
Thanks to the Internet, even when far away, there are numerous ways we can still discover Philadelphia. Hopefully, when you feel like you miss the city, these virtual opportunities can help you imagine that you’re browsing the galleries of your favorite museum or walking down the streets of Center City! And if you’re a freshman — you can start compiling a list of places you definitely want to visit once you’re there.