Philadelphia is filled with history: America’s founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence here in Independence Hall, and the city’s Liberty Bell rang in 1776 to summon citizens for the first reading of the Declaration. Philly is also home to Fairmount Park and Rittenhouse Square, both perfect for a place to lay in the grass or for somewhere to walk your dog. Noteworthy museums include the odd Mutter Museum and the Philadelphia Museum of Art with its remarkable collection of impressionist art. Philadelphia is my hometown, so it’s difficult for me to pick and choose my favorite destinations, but here are five that I definitely recommend to anyone staying, visiting, or passing by the City of Brotherly Love.
1. Reading Terminal
When it comes to satisfying your appetite in Philly, you can only eat so many cheese steaks. So when lunchtime rolls around, head to the Reading Terminal Market in the Market East District. This market is located beneath the Reading Railroad’s 1891 train shed and harbors almost 100 different vendors. Here, you can sample food from around the world, including Greek, Thai, Mexican and Indian specialties, while perusing homemade crafts and jewelry. While there is a central dining area, many of the food stalls also have their own seating.
2. Rittenhouse Square
While it was once a grazing area for livestock, Rittenhouse Square is now one of the swankiest areas in the city. Named for David Rittenhouse, the first director of the United States Mint, this neighborhood now features plenty of top-notch restaurants, elegant stores and a host of trendy nightlife venues. The park itself is a great place for a picnic or an outdoor stroll.
3. Eastern State Penitentiary
This is one of Philadelphia’s most important historic sites. Having opened in 1829, this Quaker-inspired prison sought to reform prisoners using isolation and reflection rather than capital punishment and physical abuse. Although it was shut down in the 1970s, the Eastern State Penitentiary led the way to reform in the judicial system. Today, you are welcome to tour the facility; the highlight for many is Al Capone’s cell.
4. Masonic Temple
This sturdy stone temple is one of the largest of its kind and was once the meeting place of one of history’s more legendary organizations. Tour the temple’s seven meeting rooms, each of them dedicated to ideal forms of architecture: Oriental, Gothic, Egyptian, Renaissance, Ionic, Corinthian, and Norman. Or attempt to uncover the mysteries behind the masons (members of which include Ben Franklin and George Washington).
Housed within the College of Physicians, this museum is dedicated to the exposition of medical oddities. While most museums like this fill their halls with old pictures and antique scalpels, this building is overflowing with jars containing about 20,000 preserved body parts and other objects. Some highlights include items that belonged to Marie Curie, a tumor removed from Glover Cleveland’s mouth, an informative display on Siamese twins and the tallest skeleton on display in the U.S. Warning: Be prepared to be extremely grossed out.