Have you thought of Philadelphia in a weekend? Philly is an affordable cultural and historic gem hidden in plain sight between its two flashier neighbors, New York and Washington DC. Philadelphia is a foodie destination and an easy weekend trip from anywhere in the mid-Atlantic. Here’s an insider’s getaway guide to what to do and where to stay for Philadelphia in a weekend.
Philadelphia in a Weekend
I love my adopted hometown of Philadelphia. While Philadelphia is easily overshadowed by its nearby neighbors New York and Washington DC., Philly is an affordable, walkable city with great museums, history, and food.
1. Fine Art
A Philadelphia eccentric, Dr. Albert Barnes, collected Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings. Curiously, he exhibited them alongside farm tools and other things. The Barnes Foundation is now located on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. It’s just down the street from the small Rodin sculpture museum. And from the massive Philadelphia Museum of Art, which has paintings, sculpture, furniture, weapons – even whole rooms! – from Europe, Asia, Latin America, and the U.S. Both the Barnes and the Philadelphia Museum of Art offer kids’ programs.
For Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Etruscan and other ancient statues and artifacts, we go to University City, to the Penn Museum (full name: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology).
2. Fun Art
In a funkier mood, I like the zaniness of Philadelphia Magic Gardens (near 10th and South). An artist transformed a building and adjacent lot into a giant mosaic sculpture. The artist built tunnels and rooms. And covered them with broken tiles, mirrors, bicycle wheels, and bottles. Truly, a wacky urban oasis.
Or I visit one of the 4,000 gorgeous murals on walls all over Philadelphia. While I’ve taken one walking tour, the Mural Arts program offers lots of different tours, by foot, trolley, and train (muralarts.org).
3. Street Food
Reading Terminal Market is a Philly favorite. Since 1892, Philadelphians have bought food from farmers, bakers, and cheese makers at Reading Terminal (12th and Arch). Reading Terminal offers a huge variety of prepared food. We go for Pennsylvania Dutch farmers’ markets, Middleastern and Amish bakeries, Indian curries, Southern barbecue, and much more. Note: Amish and Mennonite shops close on Sundays.
In Center City, Philly’s Chinatown has lots of good low cost Thai, Vietnamese, Korean barbecue, and of course Chinese restaurants. South Philly has casual Mexican taquerias, where I get beef tacos but more adventurous eaters can experiment with goat or tongue tacos. Plus, I love South Philly’s inexpensive Vietnamese restaurants. Philadelphia has delicious authentic Naples pizza; here’s where to find the best pizza in Philadelphia neighborhoods.
4. Best skyline views
Sure, I love the art at the Philadelphia Art Museum – but after trotting up the Rocky steps, another reward is the great view of the Philly skyline. Or if I’m energetic, it’s fun to walk halfway across the Ben Franklin Bridge for its dramatic view of the Philly skyline. But it’s easier to take a quick elevator trip up a Philly skyscraper to view the city from above, especially pretty during golden hour (One Liberty Observation Deck, for a fee).
5. American History
Of course, Philadelphia is the home of Independence Hall (Chestnut between 5th & 6th), where both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were debated. But Philadelphia also has our country’s first Supreme Court and the church where Benjamin Franklin worshipped. Plus, a narrow block of Colonial-era houses that date to the 1700’s and are still lived in (Elfreth’s Alley, 2d between Race & Arch). And they’re all free.
The National Constitution Center (525 Arch) uses interactive exhibits to make the U.S. founding document understandable. And Philly’s newest museum is the Museum of the American Revolution (101 South 3rd).
But Philly doesn’t just have colonial history. Philadelphia’s abolitionist and Underground Railroad history are fascinating. Audacious Freedom: African Americans in Philadelphia, 1776-1876 is at the African American Museum (7th & Arch).
6. Philadelphia parks
For spring flowers, I head to the Azalea Garden, right behind the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It’s a favorite spot for wedding photos when azaleas bloom in April/May. And it’s pretty – and free – all year. Plus, adjacent to the Azalea Garden is a sculpture garden and a lawn sloping down to the Schuylkill River, where I like seeing the Boathouses used by rowers on the river. Bonus: all free. Bathrooms and a casual café are in the Fairmount Park building at the foot of Boathouse Row.
Next to the Philadelphia Art Museum is a bike and walking path, the Schuylkill River Trail. It extends along the river from Center City, past Boathouse Row, and for miles more. It’s fun to watch rowers near Boathouse Row. And it’s free. Walk (or rent a bike by the hour at Wheel Fun Rentals) to people watch and appreciate the river view.
Here’s where to find other fun Philadelphia parks, some open only in summer or winter.
Traveling Mom Tip: In late March/mid-April, skip the crowds in DC and instead enjoy the cherry blossoms in Philly’s parks – all free. Where to see cherry blossoms in Philadelphia. For other favorite spots of Philly locals, click here.
7. Foodie Destinations
Surprise! Philadelphia is now a foodie destination. And because of Pennsylvania’s weird liquor laws, lots of restaurants let us bring our own wine (BYO). So a great meal is more affordable.
For farm-to-table American, I love Pumpkin (1713 South, BYO), White Dog (University City), or splurging on the 3-hour tasting menu at Marigold Kitchen (University City, BYO). The award-winning Israeli restaurant Zahav (2d & Chestnut) and vegan restaurant Vedge (1221 Locust) are both fantastic and require reservations weeks in advance.
In South Philadelphia, we go to Monsu for Sicilian (9th & Christian, BYO, cash only). And Passyunk Avenue has a row of terrific upscale Italian restaurants.
8. Where to stay – The Study at University City
My husband and I are fans of unique boutique hotels. Especially when they have personality – and a good location. So we enjoyed The Study at University City, a new hotel located smack dab between two colleges, Drexel and the University of Pennsylvania.
The Study’s University City location is an easy walk to restaurants, bookstores, a modern art museum, and theater and sports events at Drexel and Penn. Oh, and the Egyptian Sphinx and other ancient wonders at the Penn Museum. Plus, it’s a quick taxi, Uber/Lyft, or subway ride to Center City.
Convenient to Drexel and Penn
Clearly, The Study is a convenient hotel for college visits to Penn and Drexel. The Study even posts a daily schedule of events at both Drexel and Penn to help high school students checking out colleges, parents visiting college kids, or others.
Good fit for any Philadelphia visitors
And The Study hotel is a good fit for other Philly visitors. The lobby feels like a comfy living room, with inviting leather chairs, bookcases, and paintings by local artists. Unlike most urban hotels, the Study’s lobby is huge. So it can be a useful spot to meet up, get some work done, or relax during downtime. The lobby even has a small café and writing desks with free postcards. Bonus: If you write a postcard like I did, The Study will mail it.
Like most of the 212 rooms, our room at The Study was bright, sunny, and minimalist, with big windows overlooking University City. But the “bookish” feel extends to about 20 rooms that have their own alcoves with leather chairs and books – like a private study. Limited closet space might be a challenge for families.
My husband and I enjoyed dinner at The Co-op, The Study’s restaurant. Especially dessert. It’s helpful that the Co-op restaurant opens at 7 a.m., stays open for dinner til 10, and that the bar/lounge stays open from afternoon until late.
My husband and I also appreciated the small extras at The Study. Like the cookie jar of gingersnaps that greeted us at check-in, morning coffee and newspapers in the lobby, and the free water bottles in our rooms. Plus, the supply of headphones in the gym for those of us (me!) who forgot to bring them. While the small gym was fine for me, The Study also offers $10 per-day passes to the full-service gym at Drexel University. Since parking can be a challenge in University City, we were glad to use the valet parking service.