Philadelphia's 11 Most Underrated Things to do
There's more to the City of Brotherly Love than the Rocky steps, cheesesteaks, and the Liberty Bell.
Cheesesteaks, the Liberty Bell, and the Love Park sign: these are things we all think of when planning a trip to Philadelphia. But chances are, you won't catch a local eating his or her cheesesteak at Pat's or Geno's. As the birthplace of our country's constitution, its first capital, and home to a vibrant nightlife, the City of Brotherly Love is a critical stop for anyone visiting the east coast. Located halfway between New York City and Washington D.C., it's a prime location for anyone looking to experience American history. After all, you can't miss the Old City, which houses the constitution center, and Elfreth's Alley—the oldest residential street in the United States. While these are all sights worth checking off the Philadelphia tour list, they are not the only ones. Here are a few lesser-known foods, neighborhoods, and sites you can't miss during a visit.
1. Roast Pork Sandwich
While a great cheesesteak sandwich is the city's most famous, it isn't the only one that it does well. Freshly baked hoagie rolls, crusty on the outside and soft on the inside, filled with slowly roasted pork, sharp provolone cheese, broccoli rabe, and a long hot pepper or two is something that can't be skipped if you're in town. Go straight to John's Roast Pork in South Philadelphia for the best roast pork and cheesesteak in the city, and check their hours before making the trip—this isn't a late-night establishment.
2. Eastern State Penitentiary
Located in the Fairmount neighborhood, Eastern State was the first penitentiary in the world, and has been replicated across the globe several times since opening in 1829. Choose from an assortment of tours that it offers, such as history or architecture, and view a replica of the cell where Al Capone was held in 1929 through 1930. If you happen to be in the city around Halloween, be sure to stop by for Eastern State's annual haunted house.
This hip, up-and-coming neighborhood is typically not on the tourist radar. Fishtown, however, has been experiencing a huge growth spurt over the past few years. It's as if there's a new café or bar opening every few weeks. Start at the intersection of Girard and Frankford on a Friday or Saturday night, and take your pick of assorted food trucks, bars, dance clubs, and even a bar-and-arcade combo. Johnny Brenda's is a great spot to check out for beers, food, and a game of pool; the Barcade for some old-fashioned arcade games; and the Barbary for dancing.
4. Soft Pretzels
While New York City's street vendor pretzels are great, they don't compare with the pretzels that can be found at Center City Soft Pretzel Co., located at 8th Street and Washington. This bakery serves hot, fresh pretzels at the affordable price of three-for-$1. Since the main clientele here is the city's street vendors, they don't open until midnight, which allows vendors to purchase fresh pretzels to sell during the early morning commute for other city workers. The best way to experience this treat is by showing up as soon as they open their doors, in order to ensure buying hot ones.
5. Sarcone's Deli and Bakery
The rolls that Philly is famous for, that are used by many local hoagie and cheesesteak shops (such as John's Roast Pork, above) come from Sarcone's bakery. At Sarcone's deli, a few doors down from the bakery, you can find some of the best Italian hoagies in the world.
6. The Italian Market
Forget the Reading Terminal Market (or at least add this to the list). While on your South Philly food tour, be sure to swing through the Italian Market. This stretch of south 9th Street is filled with assorted vendors and incredible deals on produce and meats. Even if you're not in town to do your grocery shopping, experiencing the atmosphere gives visitors a good feel of what this city is about and how the locals live. During the winter, vendors keep fires lit in drums to keep warm while working, which only adds to the atmosphere.
7. City Hall
Located in Center City and across the street from the famous Love Park, this building's architecture is incredible. With the statue of William Penn on top, this was the tallest building in the city until 1987. Take a tour of the interior, get an uninterrupted view of the skyline from the observation deck, or simply admire the exterior and capture an iconic snapshot from the stretch of Broad Street on the southern side.
8. The Mummers Parade
If you plan on spending New Year's Day in Philly, you can't miss the Mummers Parade; a city tradition. Many groups and organizations in town work on costumes and routines all year, and the entire length of Broad Street south of City Hall is closed for the parade. Come January 1, people line the street to admire the costumes and watch the string bands. Go early in the morning and try to find a spot around the intersection of Broad and Washington; this is one of the best places to see the various performances.
9. Khyber Pass Pub
Almost everyone visits the Old City neighborhood, and most stroll right past the Khyber without even acknowledging its existence. This small, hole-in-the-wall bar recently went through a renovation and now offers some of the best barbecue in the city. With 22 rotating craft beers on tap, beer lovers will definitely appreciate the microbrews on offer. Afterward, stop by the Plough and the Stars, located directly across the street, which offers the best Guinness in the city due to its imported Irish tap system.
10. Behind the Art Museum
Everyone likely pays a visit to the art museum for a victorious run up the stairs, as Rocky Balboa did in Rocky—but leaving without first wandering out back is a mistake. With a beautiful walkway along the Schuylkill (skoo-kill, for the out-of-towners) River, newly built gazebos, and incredible views of the boathouse row lights, this is one of the most beautiful areas to walk at night.
11. Belmont Plateau
Located within Fairmount Park, the largest urban park system in the country, Belmont Plateau offers some of the best views of the Philadelphia skyline from afar. This open, grassy area of the park is great for picnics or a game of Frisbee with a postcard-worthy backdrop. Fairmount also has a large network of hiking and biking trails if you want to stay outdoors.