The great thing about Philadelphia is that downtown is less than 30 minutes from the airport. Add that it’s only around seven hours from the UK on a direct flight with Delta Air Lines, then the city definitely becomes viable for a long weekend.
It has all the buzz of New York but is obviously smaller and that means you can walk everywhere. There are lots to see including the birthplace of US independence, some great art museums, and a unique submarine experience.
Start with the Constitutional Walking Tour. It has nothing to do with and takes you around the Independence National Park area, the heart of Philadelphia. Independence Hall, a UNESCO World Heritage, built-in, where the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution were debated and adopted in the late 18th century is the star attraction.
Across the street is the Liberty Bell, originally in the steeple of Independence Hall, and paraded around the US for 25 years as a symbol of American independence. The park also contains the first US bank buildings and the Carpenters’ Hall, the venue for the First Continental Congress of the United Colonies of North America. At the opposite end is the modern interactive museum, the Constitution Centre.
Independence Seaport Museum
A short walk from here is the waterfront area along the Delaware River, Penn’s Landing, home to the Independence Seaport Museum. It tells of seafaring in Philadelphia, but moored outside are two vessels well worth a visit.
The 1892 Cruiser Olympia is the world’s oldest floating steel warship and the sole surviving naval ship of the Spanish-American.
Below it is the 1944 Submarine Becuna which prowled the Pacific for Japanese ships, sinking three of them. A narrow ladder leads you down into the cramped bowels of the crew quarters, engine room, and torpedo tubes. It can’t have been much fun spending time underwater.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art
Philadelphia is noted for the quality of its art collections and the city’s Museum of Art is the third-largest in the country and there’s a statue to commemorate the occasion.
Inside there are Renaissance masterpieces, an excellent French Impressionist collection and works by Picasso, Duchamp, and Matisse. The American art gallery has fine examples of paintings by Winslow Homer and Thomas Eakins.
Among its 3,000 masterpieces, are 181 Renoirs, 69 Cézannes, 59 Matisses, 46 Picassos, 16 Modigliani’s, and seven Van Goghs. Although it only moved to its present, the rooms are laid out exactly as Barnes intended. He mixes time periods, geographic areas, and styles to create his “wall ensembles” which lead to a certain amount of artistic indigestion by the end of your visit.
It’s good to get out into the fresh air, yet there’s no escaping the art. This is the mural capital of the world and the city has more than 4,000 examples, painted over thirty years and still being added to. You can get a map from the tourist office but it’s more to take a two-hour Mural Mile Walking Tour and learn the stories of the people, places, and themes of each mural.