A Mini Guide For A Winter Break In Philadelphia, USA
A couple of years ago I spent Thanksgiving weekend in America, specifically Philadelphia. My sister was living and working there, and it coincided with one of the Jet 2 weekend breaks direct from Newcastle to New York. Just a couple of hours on the train from NYC, it was the perfect way to minimise travel time by avoiding connections. This mini guide to Philadelphia should help you plan a trip if you fancy visiting yourself.
I can’t take any credit at all for researching or planning what we did during our few days, I left it entirely to Caroline to show us round and plan the visit. She did well, I was really pleasantly surprised at how cool the city was.
Despite not being involved in the planning, I did pay close attention to everything we did, and obviously took a thousand photos.
How to get to Philadelphia from the UK
Like I said we took advantage of the direct Jet 2 flights from Newcastle to New York that they put on during winter. They also do these from cities like Leeds/Bradford, Glasgow and Stansted. From landing at Newark airport, we found we were able to get a direct train all the way from there to Philadelphia. We didn’t have to travel into New York and go from there, so it made it much easier.
We did pre book Amtrak trains using their website, as like anywhere they’re cheaper in advance. The train passed through New York, and went on to Philadelphia’s 30th Street Main Station in just a couple of hours.
It was dark when we arrived that evening, but it was also Thanksgiving so of course we had to join in the festivities and go out for dinner.
Thanksgiving in Philadelphia
When researching where to go for dinner on Thanksgiving evening, it was similar to eating out on Christmas Day in the UK. There were a lot of expensive set menus, or buffet style meals that we just didn’t really fancy. Caroline sorted us one of the nicest restaurants to have dinner, Parc on Rittenhouse Square and we just accepted we would have to pay a bit more for it.
It was also one of the only places that weren’t doing traditional turkey dinner. After eating all day while we travelled we knew that wouldn’t be something we wanted. Instead, it was actually a really nice French meal, and it was fun to experience Thanksgiving and how festive it all was.
Aside from that one evening, Thanksgiving didn’t really play a part in the rest of our weekend. I’m sure it could have if we wanted, but even with the infamous crazy Black Friday sales we didn’t notice any extra crowds or anything like that. Instead we could enjoy the weekend break like any other.
Sights to see in Philadelphia
Who knew there were so many? I certainly didn’t! I knew of the Rocky steps and the Liberty Bell but that was about it. Turns out there’s a lot more than that and we filled our first full day seeing the majority of them.
Philadelphia City Hall
The gorgeous government building sits in the area known as Centre City, on Centre Square. This was once one of five public squares that city founder William Penn designed, until the City Hall was built on top of it.
At the very top of the clock tower, a bronze statue of Penn himself sits, and for many years this was the tallest building in Philadelphia.
The observation deck can be reached by lift, with views out over the city and up into the highest point of the tower. We didn’t venture up, but the building itself is well worth a visit.
During the winter months the Christmas market, or Holiday market as the locals refer to it, is there with plenty stalls selling food, drinks, souvenirs and gifts. They’re lined in rows both in front of the City Hall and in the square inside.
There’s also a public ice rink for outdoor skating.
The buildings that took the crown of tallest in Philadelphia, Liberty One and Liberty Two towers are the iconic skyscrapers that now form part of the Philadelphia skyline. Prior to their construction there was an agreement in place that no building within Centre City would be built taller than the hat of William Penn’s statue on top of City Hall.
The construction of One and Two Liberty Place faced a lot of criticism and backlash at the time, but are now a much loved feature of the skyline, particularly Liberty One, which resembles heavily the attractive Chrysler Building in NYC.
Between them they hold office blocks, a hotel, a restaurant, shopping mall, a spa and a fully enclosed glass observation deck with views across the city.
Another one of the five original city squares within Philadelphia, Rittenhouse has a different kind of vibe to it. It’s surrounded by luxury apartment buildings, chic bars, boutique shopping – including the flagship giant Anthropologie, and restaurants. Parc restaurant that I’ve already mentioned can be found here too.
The square itself is a beautiful green space, with fountains, sculpted gardens, park benches and is generally a space for relaxing in the sun during summer. In winter, it is filled with lights and a giant Christmas tree. It’s a place where events are held, or perfect for a stroll.
Rocky Steps and Statue
The Rocky steps, all 72 of them lead up to the entrance of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and were made famous of course by Sylvester Stalone and ‘Rocky’. Both the Rocky steps and the Rocky statue are two of the most iconic sights in Philadelphia.
When visiting, there are countless people recreating the famous scene by running up the steps. I definitely wasn’t going to do it myself, running up 72 concrete steps isn’t my idea of fun – but the view from the top straight down Benjamin Franklin Parkway to the City Hall is worth a leisurely climb up.
You’ll find the boot prints of Rocky at the top too, as well as a lot of street sellers offering to take your photo.
The bronze Rocky statue was donated to Philadelphia by Sylvester Stalone after filming had complete, and it can be found to the side of the steps at the bottom. Another place where tourists crowd for photos, but form an orderly queue and you can get your own.
You can actually see these from the train as you arrive in Philadelphia, but these 15 little colourful boathouses are worth visiting. They line along the Schuylkill River, and are home to many sailing, rowing and boat social clubs.
The Liberty Bell
The Liberty Bell Centre houses the Liberty Bell that first rang to mark American Independence Day. It’s famous for the giant crack that runs through it, which occurred when it was rang for the first time. To fix it and get it sounding right they actually had to make the crack bigger.
The bell can be seen as part of a free tour of the Liberty Bell centre, which details the history of it, as well as much more on the abolishment of slavery and American history.
Be prepared for long queues and security checks, but it is worth a visit.
This is the building where the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were both signed. They can both be found in the Old City of Philadelphia and can be visit on the same day as a visit to the Liberty Bell Centre given their close proximity.
Independence Hall is a UNESCO Heritage site, and for most of the year tickets are required to get in but are free of charge. Did you know that Philadelphia was once the capital of the USA? I didn’t before visiting here and doing a guided tour of the area.
Philadelphia’s Old City
There is so much more to see in this area of the city, including Declaration House where Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, Congress Hall and Carpenter’s Hall both of which hold significance in the US history.
The oldest street in Philadelphia can also be found here, and in general the neighbourhood is gorgeous with houses full of character and cool little bars and restaurants.
I’ve written a much more detailed post on all of these things, the Liberty Bell, the landmarks and buildings of interest, and the Old City in general here.
Places to eat in Philadelphia
Rather than go into a lot of detail here, I will instead direct you to a full post on places to eat in Philadelphia. Food is a huge part of travel and so I wrote this post on the Phildaelphia food spots not to miss not long after we got back so I didn’t forget all the places we went to.
A summary of the highlights include, Marathon for pancakes, Parc for weekend brunch and Rose Tattoo Cafe for an evening meal. Just don’t make the same mistake I did and forget to get a Philly cheesesteak!
I went from knowing very little about Philadelphia to finding that it is a really interesting place over the course of the few days we spent there. If you enjoy history then it’s a must visit, and if you’re in New York for an extended period of time then it’s a great option for a day trip.
Other posts you might like:
Pin this post: