What comes to mind when you think of Philadelphia? Football? Steel Mills? Rocky? There’s all of that and so much more in this city. Plan a day or two in the City of Brotherly Love and you’ll find history, architecture, gardens, art, and of course, for movie buffs, there’s always ROCKY!
Philadelphia is only a 3 hour drive from Frederick and will leave you with experiences and memories to tell all your friends about… and your pictures will make a great Facebook or Instagram album!
Make sure whomever is in the passenger seat has their camera or phone out, because you’ll want to capture the sites right away. If you drive into Philadelphia on Interstate 76, some of the first things that will catch your eye will be historic Boat House Row and the Philadelphia Museum of Art (which will come back up when we start talking about Rocky later). Boathouse Row is on the Schuylkill River, and these 150 year old buildings add something to your knowledge that you probably didn’t already know about Philadelphia… they love their boat races. The city hosts several major rowing regattas every year and brings in athletes from across the country at high school and collegiate level and beyond to compete. As for the Museum of Art, if it’s one of the first things you see when entering this city: it sets the stage for you and you won’t forget it. This impressive structure sitting aside the river on a hill with its Greek Revival Architecture will catch you off guard and make you excited to see the city. The museum is a grand entrance view to the city and is one of the most visited, and largest, museums in the world.
Once you have made your way into Philadelphia, there is, of course, the history to consider — and where every trip to Philadelphia usually starts: Independence Hall. Independence National History Park is located in the middle of the city, and contains everything that usually comes to mind when we talk about the founding fathers and the Revolutionary War. Make sure you pack a good pair of walking shoes as you’ll want to make it through all the buildings and exhibits. Take a walk through the Liberty Bell Center to learn all about the history of the bell and its impact here in the United States, as well as around the world. Then, stroll down to Independence Hall to see where both the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution were signed. While in Independence Hall, you’ll be able to see original printed copies of the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution, as well as many other original artifacts from those crucial days in our young democracy. You’ll also be able to walk into Congress Hall to see where the original House of Representatives and Senate met and set forth many of the laws that still guide our government today. (On a personal note; it strikes me how much they accomplished in these comparatively small buildings against what we can’t seem to accomplish today in the massive government that has emerged in the last (almost) 250 years. It just makes you stop and think.)
After taking time to enjoy the National Historic Park, you can either enjoy a packed lunch on the lawns near the park or, my personal suggestion, find your way a few blocks down to Reading Terminal Market. The Market is one of the most popular tourist spots in the city, right up there with the Historic Park, and should not be missed. The building houses over 80 vendors providing every type of cuisine imaginable. If you weren’t hungry before you walked in, the scents and sites that welcome you as you walk in the doors will change that. You can’t leave Philadelphia without having a traditional Philly Cheesesteak, but you can also find German potato cakes and schnitzels, crab cakes from the local seafood vendors, spicy Indian dishes…. if you’re craving it, you’ll find it there! And while you’re there, take home a bag of fresh local produce in the farmers market. The building has existed as an institution since 1892 and was built under the Reading Terminal Railroad Station, ergo the name, and as such, it has its own place in history in the city.
Once you’ve stuffed yourself with food and moved to the city square, take in some of the buildings. You may not be a student of architecture, but these impressive city skyscrapers will still make you stop and stare. If you walk into the 12 story Wanamaker Building, built in 1911, you’ll find not only the 1st department store in Philadelphia, but also the largest playable pipe organ in the world (taking up 7 stories of the building) , which was brought from the St Louis Worlds’ Fair in 1909, and is still played twice daily. Talk a walk around the corner to the Avenue of the Arts/Broad Street to visit many theaters and Art Studios, as well as numerous skyscrapers, including a stop at the Wells Fargo Building to take a step back in time in their Wells Fargo Museum. And for students of history and the civil war, you’ll want to make a stop at the Union League of Philadelphia building. If you weren’t aware of this piece of Civil War history, the Union League was established during the war as an organization dedicated to promoting loyalty to the Union and, after the war ended, became another unofficial arm of the Republican Party, encouraging freed men to register to vote. While this is still an active philanthropic club, and membership is required to access most of the building, you can visit the Heritage Center on the lower floor on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3pm through 6pm .
And now I’ve saved my two favorites for last: City Hall and Rocky!
One of the most beautiful, buildings you can see anywhere nearby can be found right in the middle of Philadelphia. This building takes my breath away every time I see it, which is multiple times a year. City Hall is the closest you’ll probably get to seeing a 17th century French Palace in this country. The building itself is the largest municipal building in the United States; containing over 700 rooms, and it sits on more than an entire city block. As you drive into the heart of the city, enter the square, and this building comes into your view; you’ll likely feel awestruck. From the beautiful design work, to the 37 foot stately statue of William Penn at its peak, to the interior courtyard large enough to hold community events in an outdoor setting, to the statues and designs lining the interior columns and arcades leading from each exterior in, you will not be let down. While the building is the heart of the city government and access is limited to city business, you should definitely take a walk downtown to see this building and walk through the courtyard. And if you happen to take your visit during the winter, you can go ice-skating in the rink they set up, making it feel reminiscent of the rink at Rockefeller Center in New York City. This building has been used in movies most recently including Philadelphia and Law-Abiding Citizen, which leads to the Rocky tour and Hollywood’s love of Philadelphia.
For the movie lover, Philadelphia has more than its share of the Hollywood experience. The list of movies that have been filmed there and are focused on the city includes, among others, Transformers (Revenge of the Fallen), Witness, Twelve Monkeys, Trading Places, and The Sixth Sense. And in the world of television, the city has been the filming site of episodes of Cold Case, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, and How To Get Away With Murder. The Rocky movies have immortalized Philadelphia for fans of what is arguably one of the most successful film franchises of all time. Anyone who has seen the movies feels as though they know the sites of the backstreets, the Delaware River Waterfront, Boathouse Row… They can almost smell the aromas coming from places like Pats Steaks and the Italian Market. They can feel the steam as he runs through the backroads and passes the homeless warming their hands over a barrel fire. And of course they know the site of the Museum of Art coming into view as he climbs those famous 72 steps, and where there now stands a 10 foot tall statue of Rocky, dedicated to a character that has become an iconic symbol of the city of Philadelphia. You can actually plan out a visit to many, if not all, of the locations you’ll see in the Rocky movies, as well as take the same run that Rocky took (although it may take more than one run to complete it all since the made for movies sites don’t fit together as well in reality).
Whether you’re a film lover, foodie, history junkie, or anything else, this is a trip you’ll want to take. If Philadelphia didn’t cross your mind when planning out a weekend adventure before, add it to your “places to visit” list and set aside two days for a short drive into the city. Then, set a plan of attack to fit everything in! It’s one of those gems that is practically in Frederick’s backyard, and people often forget that it’s there and just how much it has to offer.