Planning a weekend in Philly? You’re in luck – this lil ole place just happens to be my home city, so I think I know a thing or two about planning a trip here!
Not to sound biased, but I’ve been to many of the most famous cities in the world, and I still find Philly to be one of the best. It has just the right balance of history, culture, and roughness that just works.
Of course, if you’re wondering, I did not grow up in Philly proper but in the suburbs and for the most part I’ve alway lived in the suburbs. Hence why I call it my home city, not my hometown. (If you’ve been abroad, you get it). My parents grew up in Philly and, in fact, both sides of my family have at some point lived in the city since they came over from Ireland and present day Ukraine. And, yes, if you’re wondering, the blood does run a very solid kelly green.
Anyway, that’s all to say I think I can help you with how to spend a weekend in Philly! So, without further do, here’s my complete guide:
Quick Philly Travel Tips
- The Name: It’s pretty much always Philly. Philadelphia is for when we’re feeling fancy, and this is not a fancy city.
- Getting in: If you fly in, you’ll go through the Philly Airport (PHL). It’s small for an international airport and fairly easy to navigate. You can take SEPTA into the city and walk to your hotel or just get a Lyft/Uber.
- Reservation City: Most Philly restaurants require some kind of reservation. Don’t expect to be able to just walk in, especially during. weekend.
- BYOB: As a bonus, many restaurants are BYOB, so take advantage!
- Money Matters: Most of Philly is credit card friendly, but you will want cash for Chinatown and really any hole-in-the-wall restaurant.
- Getting Around: If you’re here for a short time, the best way to get around is on foot or by car. There are the SEPTA buses and subway as well as Indego bikes but you’re best off with just walking.
- Safety: Philly gets a rap for being unsafe, but you should generally be okay. If you park on the street, don’t leave ANYTHING visible in your car – not even a crumbled up napkin on the floor. Carjackings are the biggest pain. If you’re out at night, just get a ride back to your hotel. Walking is usually fine but it tends to be after dark that things can go awry.
How to Spend a Weekend in Philly
Day ONe: Historic Philadelphia
Check-In & Drop-Off
Where you stay in Philly depends on if you have a car or not. If you don’t have a car, I’d recommend staying in Center City right around City Hall. It’ll put you right by a lot of places you’ll want to go, and if you need to go outwards, you’ll be able to take SEPTA, rent a bike, or get an Uber/Lyft fairly easily. I wouldn’t recommend trying to figure out parking in this area, though.
If you have a car, I would stay around the Fairmount neighborhood. There’s a lot of street parking that’s fairly reasonable and if you go into the neighborhood a bit, some streets will be completely free.
When my friend, Alyshia visited, we were guests of the Maj Hotel, a newer boutique hotel right on Spring Garden Street. It’s in maybe 5-10 minutes on foot to the Art Museum and Fairmount Park and then under 30 minutes to get into Center City. Spring Garden Street is also only paid parking 8:00 AM – 8:00 PM and then free on Sundays, so you just have to worry about paying for a bit on Friday and on Saturday. (Use the ParkMobile app to pay)
Now, most hotels have a 3:00 or 4:00 PM check-in, so really you’re just going to drop your things off before heading out!
Brunch or Lunch
From your hotel, head over to Philly’s historic area for either brunch at Eggcellent Cafe or lunch at Revolution House. If you drive there’s a decent amount of inexpensive parking by Penn’s Landing. Otherwise you can take the subway to 2nd Street Station or just grab a Lyft.
Historic Philadelphia (Old City)
Whenever I have someone visit Philly for the first time, I like to take them on what I consider the historic route. I go in this order:
- Elfreth’s Alley – the oldest continously inhabited street in America and one of my favorite photo ops
- Betsy Ross House – creator of the original American flag – it’s free to enter the courtyard but the house requires a tour
- Benjamin Franklin’s Grave – located in Christ Church Burial Ground. You have to pay to go in but you can also see it from the side. Bring a penny to put on his grave for good luck!
- National Constitution Center – learn all about the constitution. Ticket is kinda pricey, so I’ve only been in once.
- Independence Hall Visitor Center – part of the NPS, check out the interactive museum if you’re curious about Philly and US history
- Liberty Bell – free to enter. I take friends in if the line is short but if it’s too long you can kind of see it from the side of the building
- Independence Hall – one of the best views in the city! You’ll pop out to the main greenspace in front of the hall when you exit the Liberty Bell. You can do tours of the hall and walk around the exterior. It’s been a while since I’ve done one.
- Franklin Court – see fragments of Ben Franklin’s house and check out his museum.
- Statue of Chief Tamanend – this is right at the entrance of Penn’s Landing (if you drive, you’ll park right near it). Chief Tamanend was head of the Lenni-Lanape tribe, and his treaties with William Penn is why Philly exists This is one of the few decent recognition of Native Americans in the city.
There are even more historic buildings and museums in the area if you have time to see them all. Check out this tour if you want something more guided.
The only place I would discourage you from visiting is the Museum of the American Revolution – they chose to host an extremist hate group recently and don’t deserve your money.
There are SO many places you can go for dinner in Philly, and our restaurant scene is really underrated. For Friday night I’d recommend getting dinner in Center City and then going to a speakeasy or bar afterwards. Again, make sure you make reservations!!
Here are some of my favorite places:
- Sampan $$$ – My FAVORITE spot by far. Pan-Asian cuisine and the options are freaking divine. Opt for the chef’s tasting menu for about $55 – you’ll choose seven different dishes, and it comes with cute little ice cream cones for dessert.
- Steak 48 $$$$ – excellent steakhouse. It’s expensive and fancier but is very generous with its portions.
- Grandma’s Philly $$ – great for Thai food – they have a fun set-up they call “Thai Tapas.”
- Thanal Indian Tavern $$ – absurdly delicious Indian food. Get drinks right down the street at The Mulberry or Sky High.
- Parc $$ – by Rittenhouse Square and just a great French bistro vibe
- Uptown Beer Garden $ – cool spot that does a lot of themed decor. Awesome if you’re here around Halloween or Christmas. There’s some bar food if I remember correctly as well.
Realistically, I am not the best person to recommend a bar in Philly simply because I don’t drink so what do I know? However, I did at one point save a bunch of cocktail bars that looked fun, and we managed to get in at 1 Tippling Place without reservations after we got dinner at Sampan.
The decor at 1 Tippling feels like getting drinks in some rich dad’s study but it’s very unpretentious and when we were there they were playing some of the best of the early 2000s. There was a fun moment when “Small Things” came on and everyone started singing.
My friends, Alyshia and Kerry, really liked the El Diablo drink, and I enjoyed getting a mocktail versions of the Lavender 75 and Mexican Strawberry if you’re not sure what to order.
This is a pretty full on day, so be sure to get some sleep after!
Day Two: Artsy Philly
Breakfast in Reading Terminal Market
Start day two of your weekend in Philly at one of the best places to visit – Reading Terminal Market! As far as I know it’s one of the oldest markets in the country, having opened in 1893 when residents wanted to move the outdoor public markets indoors. It used to be connected to the Reading Railroad. It’s FULL of vendors and opens at 8:00 AM, so perfect for breakfast.
City Hall & Love Park
Before the next activity, take a minute to check out both Love Park and City Hall.
Love Park is pretty small; really what I want you to see is the famous LOVE sign. After all, we’re the City of Brother Love!
And then our City Hall is just such a stunning building. It’s a sort of French Baroque style and, in my opinion, could easily compete with some of the most famous landmarks in Paris.
For a short time after it’s completion, it was the tallest habitable building in the world, and legend has it that Philly sports teams started their losing streak when we built a building taller than the William Penn statue that sits up at the tippy top. (We started doing better when a construction work had a tiny Billy Penn statue up on the Comcast Center in 2007!)
Go into the median on Broad Street to get the ultimate photo.
Center City MuralArts Tour
One thing you must do during your weekend in Philly (and what took me ages to do) is do a Mural Arts tour. The MuralArts program is honestly one of the coolest things to come out of this city, and is a huge reason why we have the highest concentration of murals in the whole world. (The rough count is 1,500 but there are so many, no one knows for sure).
Essentially, Mural Arts works with communities and businesses to work on 50-100 public art projects each year. Many of them are these absolutely stunning creations, and even if you can’t do a tour, you’ll see mural after mural no matter where you go.
We booked the Mural Mile Center City Walking Tour, which meets under the giant paint brush sculpture next to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Our guide, Michael, was so delightful and not only took us to different, significant murals in the area, but also talked about some of the unique architecture you’ll see.
Lunch in Chinatown or in South Philly
For lunch, you have two options. Philly has a thriving Chinatown (at least until the 76ers try to ruin it) and a ton of a really good hole-in-the-wall eateries. Even if you don’t eat here, be sure to walk to the Chinatown Friendship Gate.
If you’re not in the mood for Chinese, head over to South Philly. You should be able to catch the 9th Street Italian Market or, at the very least, you can get a cheesesteak at Angelo’s Pizzeria. It’s takeout and cash only but my friends have recommended it for cheesesteaks, and it’s right around the corner from the next stop for the day.
Just know it can be pretty busy so if it is, put your order in and come back later.
Wander around Magic Gardens
The Philly Magic Gardens are easily one of the city’s lesser known gems. I told you today was a artsy day!
It’s basically this small bi-level sculpture garden completely covered in whimsical mosaics by artist Isaiah Zagar. He got started in the sixties after moving to South Street and would just begin decorating different walls with his mosaic creations. His work even helped save the neighborhood from being decimated with a highway.
Today you can visit the garden he created and the South Street community saved from destruction. If you walk around the neighborhood, you’ll also be able to see plenty of his other mosaics as well.
Options to Visit:
- Entrance Tickets – If you just want to pop in to see the gardens or have a tour guide for them, you’ll just want to book on their site.
- South Philly Art Tour – Cool small group walking tour if you want to make the most out of the area and see more murals and art in addition to the gardens
- Private 2-Hour Walking Art Tour – Same idea but private! Still includes tickets to the gardens at the end.
Dinner at Perla
Chances are you’ll finish up in the Magic Gardens right around dinner, and I recommend you stay in South Philly to eat. Specifically, I highly, highly recommend making reservations at Perla, this awesome, family-style Filipino restaurant that specializes in kamayan. My friend, Millette, took me here when I told her all I wanted to do was experience a kamayan, and she approved.
If you’re not a fan of eating with your hands, just look up restaurants in South Philly and Passayunk. There’s a TON.
Day Three: Rocky Time
Partly why I prefer to stay in Fairmount is the proximity to Fairmount Park and the Art Museum! Now, this is what I’d do if the weather is nice. During Alyshia’s weekend in Philly, it actually rained a bunch and the park was busy both with a race AND, unbeknownst to us, the first official Rocky Day, so we wound up just relaxing so we could avoid being outside.
Anyway, if you have good weather and time before your flight, follow this itinerary for Sunday!
Brunch at Maj
Even if you don’t stay at the Maj Hotel, come get brunch here. It’s BYOB and the menu is both affordable and delicious. Seriously, that fried chicken eggs Benedict… *chef’s kiss*
Get a coffee from Cosmic Cafe and walk around Fairmount Park
If you didn’t get enough walking in the last two days, this morning is a great way to end your trip! Head to Fairmount Park and grab a coffee from Cosmic Cafe. It’s such a cute little cafe and a perfect starting point to go for a stroll or a run by Boathouse Row.
Climb the Art Museum Steps
What’s a trip to Philly without climbing the art museums steps and doing your best Rocky impression? In fact, if you’re a runner, I highly recommend going for a run along the trail that runs by Cosmic Cafe and finishing by running up those steps! There are even footprints you can put your feet in to really nail the view.
Of course, no need to run. You can just go right over and climb the stairs to check it all out! Trust me, you’ll be joined by a lot of other fans and apparently, there’s even a Rocky shop now.
Depending on how much time you have, it’s also well worth it to check out the Art Museum.
Lunch from Parkway Corner Deli
Before you leave, you absolutely HAVE to get a hoagie for lunch (and a cheesesteak if you haven’t already gotten one). My friends recommended Parkway Corner Deli for a spot in Fairmount, and it’s literally right across the street from the Maj. If you want a classic Philly combo, get a hoagie or cheesesteak, some chips, and a nice, cold Diet Coke!
Parkway has seating if you want to eat there. Otherwise, if the weather is nice, I’d get it to go and then head over to Belmont Plateau for one last skyline view before you head to do the airport.
And there you have it – my absolute PERFECT weekend in Philly!. Let me know below if you have anywhere else to add!
For more Pennsylvania travel, read these next:
- Pennsylvania Bucket List: 97 Places to Visit
- What to Expect at the Shofuso Japanese House and Garden
- A Complete Longwood Gardens Christmas Guide
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